Humans, Meet ’Your Inner Fish’ on PBS Science Show
Neil Shubin would like to introduce you to your family tree, the one with roots reaching back more than 3 billion years.
In a three-part PBS series debuting Wednesday and based on Shubin’s best-selling book, "Your Inner Fish," the paleontologist shares scientific research that connects humans to the early animals that made us what we are today.
Shubin is an engaging guide for a trip across time and continents and complexity, making room for humor and providing clarity for non-scientists - all while asserting the imperative of scientific theory and findings in a sometimes-doubting world.
"My personal strategy is to show the power of the scientific evidence and how fun, how joyful it can be to discover something no one else has seen before," Shubin said.
He knows that firsthand. Most notably, he was part of a team in 2004 that discovered an Arctic fossil representing "a beautiful intermediate between fish and land-living animals," as he wrote in his 2008 book, one that combined scales and fins with the arms, wrists and joints of early land animals that crawled from the sea.
The PBS series (check local listings for times) uses globe-spanning video along with animation and illustration to show human physical traits that are the legacy of early animal ancestors. Episode one covers "Your Inner Fish," with episodes two and three focused on reptiles and monkeys, respectively.
Among the many examples: A genetic mutation in early primates resulted in the human ability to distinguish colors but eroded our sense of smell, while the fetal amniotic sac developed as a way to keep reptile eggs from drying out.
Shubin, an associate dean for the University of Chicago’s biological sciences division, understands he’s fighting head winds, whether he’s in the classroom or on TV. There’s competition for attention in a multimedia world and, of course, those who dismiss evolution in favor of creationism.
His answer is to return to the importance of data, such as the DNA test results presented in "Your Inner Fish" that link humans to other animals.
"We live in a society where evidence really matters. We don’t go to a surgeon who doesn’t rely on evidence. We don’t fly in an airplane where the engineers didn’t use evidence to justify the aerodynamics of the plane," he said.