View Full Version : Science Saturday: Wet Paleontology

01-12-2008, 04:01 AM

01-12-2008, 12:17 PM
Good diavlog. Another Science Saturday that is actually about science not the philosophical musings and opinions of a couple of science writers. I wish Sciences Saturdays were all like this.

01-12-2008, 12:28 PM
I love these Zimmer diavlogs. Neil sold a book, it sounds interesting.

01-12-2008, 02:10 PM
I love the nuts n bolts theme development on Science Saturdays, as well. Sure would like PJ Myers to make another appearance, too. Pair him with James Pinkerton so that PJ could remind him that he's just signed on with the alpha luddite, Huckabee. With all Pinkerton's neo-futurist utterances on BHTV, what's he doing with the Huck? Money? Evangeli-cred? Stars in his crown? I'm really puzzled with this one.

01-12-2008, 02:24 PM
I'll second both Pisc and Wolf. That was a great way to spend an hour.

I especially liked the obvious enthusiasm that Neil displayed for his work. I think that one of the keys to moving some people out of their anti-science mindsets is to expose them to people like Neil -- we should stop preaching to the unconverted about why they "need to" learn science, and instead just show them the happy consequences of a developed interest. Cheerleaders are better than scolds. most days.

It's hard to imagine that the thoughts of chipping away at rocks in the Arctic and nurturing fish eggs could be exciting, but Neil sure showed that it is. Made me want to go back in time and change my major.

Some minor bits of constructive criticism, for Carl: In the future, if you do BH.tv with someone you know well, you should feel free to move away from the strict parameters of a straight-up interview, and allow a little more of yourself and your shared experiences to come into play. I got the sense that, sometimes, you were asking questions that you already knew the answers to, and it felt a little pro forma.

I also felt, at some other times, that you interrupted Neil to get him to explain something that really wasn't that hard to understand from context. It's good that you want to lay some groundwork and not leave listeners floundering; on the other hand, it's also the case that many regular visitors to this site aren't dummies, and aren't going to panic if they hear a few new concepts that aren't immediately defined. In particular, the science literacy of the BH.tv audience is much higher, on average, than the readership that the editors of the NYT seem to aim at, and if you narrow it down to the "Science Saturdays" fans, the gap gets even bigger.

A big part of what I look for on this site, especially when expert guests appear, is the opportunity to have my brain stretched. Worst comes to worst, I have available the pause and rewind buttons, not to mention the Google. So, I'm just saying that while I appreciate your concern for the audience, you don't need to spoon-feed us. Let your partner tell the story without worrying whether we understand every last bit the first time we hear it. He's a teacher, after all, and probably knows how to get his point across.

Thanks for listening.

01-12-2008, 02:28 PM

I hadn't heard this about Pinkerton. Do you have any links? I agree with you: at least on the surface, this is disturbing news.

01-12-2008, 03:52 PM
The University of Chicago alumni magazine has a long excerpt (http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0812/features/fish_out_of_water.shtml) from "Your Inner Fish."

In addition to all his other talents, Neil Shubin is a good writer:
My knee was swollen to the size of a grapefruit, and one of my colleagues from the surgery department was twisting and bending it to determine whether I had strained or ripped one of the ligaments or cartilage pads inside. This, and the MRI scan that followed, revealed a torn meniscus, the probable result of 25 years spent carrying a backpack over rocks, boulders, and scree in the field. Hurt your knee and you will almost certainly injure one or more of three structures: the medial meniscus, the medial collateral ligament, or the anterior cruciate ligament. So regular are injuries to these three parts of your knee that these three structures are known among doctors as the “Unhappy Triad.” They are clear evidence of the pitfalls of having an inner fish. Fish do not walk on two legs.

01-12-2008, 04:21 PM
I hadn't heard about this either, but with the way Pinkerton has been pumping Huckabee since he was not just second tier but like, fringe, it's not that surprising to me that Pinkerton would want to join his campaign, whether he thinks we will invite warp drive in his lifetime or not.

01-12-2008, 05:14 PM
Agreed, a good writer. Notice how the last bit moves in stages from extreme medical terminology to comically street obvious; from "medial meniscus" to "Fish do not walk on two legs".

01-12-2008, 05:42 PM
Matt Yglesis reports on it. (http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/01/the_pinkerton_factor.php)

As does Politico. (http://www.politico.com/blogs/jonathanmartin/0108/Bringing_in_Pinkerton_Huck_builds_a_policy_shop.ht ml)

01-12-2008, 06:49 PM
Much as I vehemently disagree with Pinkerton every time he's on B-Heads, I must admit he's way too smart for Huckabee and way too old for mid-life crisis.

01-12-2008, 07:53 PM
The only hypothesis I can form for that combination is an acute sense of denial of mortality; it would explain a strong religious affiliation and delaying a mid-life crisis to a 3/4-life crisis.

01-12-2008, 09:26 PM
Thanks for the links, thprop.

01-12-2008, 09:44 PM
...delaying a mid-life crisis to a 3/4-life crisis.

Been there; done that :)

01-12-2008, 10:31 PM
Hostility toward biologists would not diminish, and may increase, if they did a better job explaining evolutionary theory. When, in 2005, John Calvert and friends were corrupting the Kansas science standards, they included the statement, "Biological evolution postulates an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernible direction or goal." You can quibble with the word "unpredictable", seeing as you can't always get what you want but you always get what you select, but, on the whole, the statement would be unobjectionable to biologists. Nevertheless, the Kansas folks included it because they expected it to be inflammatory and, in fact, it was removed from the 2007 standards. Theologically conservative Americans' objection to evolutionary theory isn't so much that they don't understand it as that they don't like what it reveals. There isn't much that biologists can do about that, although they should continue to confront it as citizens.

Anyway, Itchhyostega says you have a big future on dry land.

01-13-2008, 12:53 AM
Wow, excellent diavlog. Zimmer does a great job as always and Neil if very fun and informative to listen to. I hope you get him back for another vlog.

01-13-2008, 04:11 AM

That was a good read. Thanks for the link.

Bloggin' Noggin
01-13-2008, 06:53 PM
Great diavlog!
Neil is delightful as a blogging head. He seems to be reasonably free of ego -- unlike Craig Venter, for example. Tiktaalik is the star so far as he's concerned, not himself -- he's just Tiktaalik's spokesman. And he seems entirely comfortable being himself on camera (e.g., showing his enthusiasm). I hope he returns to BloggingHeads.

Carl could learn something from Neil in that last respect -- he always seems rather uneasy on camera and he seems to keep his own personality in the background more than is necessary. I completely sympathize with Carl in this -- I know I'd have a hard time on camera myself -- but I wish he could relax a bit and let go of his self-consciousness.
Carl is great, though. And I was delighted when he brought up his own visit to that road-bed site. I definitely want him to come back for more SciSats.

01-13-2008, 07:24 PM

Good to see you back. Where you been?

Bloggin' Noggin
01-14-2008, 03:15 PM
Thanks, Brendan. I took a trip and had house guests, and then I was sick for a bit. And then I've been trying to read some philosophy.
But besides that I've been struggling just to keep up with the content that the site has been churning out. I guess pretty soon watching every BloggingHeads episode will be like watching everything on PBS. I'll have to become a bit more selective.

01-14-2008, 04:01 PM

Sorry to hear about the illness, and I hope you're over it.

I know what you mean about feeling swamped by the offerings. It doesn't seem like too much to me to watch one diavlog a day, but when I've been away, it does feel like I'll never catch up.

What philosophy has usurped your attention lately?

uncle ebeneezer
01-16-2008, 02:22 PM
Hey Where's the love for this guy?:


Why all the hatin'?

Seriously though, excellent diavlog. This was a nice treat for me since I'm currently digging through (pun intended) Zimmer's book "Evolution". He is such a great writer and also a heck of an interviewer. And Neil is a wonderful guest.

His enthusiasm for the topic is a big plus. I have found through Bloggingheads that with the right person, even subjects that I might not normally get into, can be made quite engrossing. Matt Lee is the best example, since I never would have guessed that I could sit through MULTIPLE hour-long discussions of the inner workings of the UN. Just shows that with the right person guiding the discussion, almost any subject can be made interesting (and enlightening.)

Welcome back Bloggin'. When you have some free time, here is some make-up homework:


It went a bit over my head but I'd love to hear your (and everyone else's) thoughts on it. Cheers- UE

Bloggin' Noggin
01-17-2008, 12:38 AM
Did anyone else see Neil Shubin on the (writerless) Colbert Report? He was good.
Can we say that BloggingHeads.tv scooped the Colbert Report? (Or do we have to say that BloggingHeads was the dry run?)

By the way, when is Colbert going to have Bob Wright on as the founder of the BloggingHeads media empire? I trust he'll at least go on Colbert when _God: the Autobiography_ comes out.

01-17-2008, 04:06 AM
Yes, I saw him, as well as the odious Jonah Goldberg on the Daily Show -- a follow-up to yesterday's appearance of the even more odious John Bolton.

Dr. Shubin was great -- a little nervous (who wouldn't be?) but he managed a couple of mini-soundbites to explain key aspects of My Inner Fish before Colbert cut him off.

01-17-2008, 08:17 AM
By the way, when is Colbert going to have Bob Wright on as the founder of the BloggingHeads media empire? I trust he'll at least go on Colbert when _God: the Autobiography_ comes out.

Given the power of the legendary Colbert Bounce, I'd have to think that Bob is already planning on it, and will go right to #1 on the best-seller list as a consequence.

01-17-2008, 12:48 PM
Did anyone else see Neil Shubin on the (writerless) Colbert Report? He was good.
Can we say that BloggingHeads.tv scooped the Colbert Report? (Or do we have to say that BloggingHeads was the dry run?)

You can see it here. (http://www.comedycentral.com/motherload/index.jhtml?ml_video=147281)

01-17-2008, 02:44 PM
Tim Radford has an article in the Guardian (http://books.guardian.co.uk/booksoftheyear2007/story/0,,2232906,00.html)about the upcoming year in science books. Is he scooping George and John? Your Inner Fish is the first book mentioned. Looks like there will be some good stuff to talk about. They had better put Carl to work - make the young guy earn his pay.

Fishing for facts
From decoding DNA to the humble potato ... Tim Radford looks forward to a feast

Tim Radford
Saturday December 29, 2007


Consider the average human: all life is there. A man is not just 99% chimpanzee; he is also 90% mouse, 30% lettuce and more than a smidgeon of brewer's yeast as well. The logic of Darwinism dictates that if life's variety stems from a common origin, then each living thing represents the latest edition of evolution news, complete with an encrypted story-so-far, spelled out in life's four letter alphabet. DNA isn't that easy to read, but Neil Shubin is about to have a go with what may or may not be the book of the year, but is certainly a candidate for title of the year: Your Inner Fish (Allen Lane).

This "journey into the 3.5 billion year history of the human body" is a reminder that if life began in the sea, then quite a few fishy features must still survive, even in humans. Shubin is a palaeontologist, and not the only one to contemplate the scales of history, and our place in the social swim. Richard Fortey, already the author of three stunning books on the history of the planet and the life that colonised it, will also deliver Dry Store Room No 1 (HarperCollins) in January. This "secret life" of the Natural History Museum might seem a text for specialised appetites. But the museum is a repository of astounding riches: animal, mineral, vegetable and fossil, and behind almost every one of its 70m specimens is a story of eccentric pursuit, intemperate scholarship, intellectual enchantment and scientific skulduggery. Like Shubin, Fortey tells a story that puts us in our place, and perhaps helps explain how we got here.

Robert Oppenheimer led the Manhattan project that developed the atomic bomb. He also tried to warn the world of the consequences: in the course of doing so he antagonised the US establishment and became the victim of a political witch-hunt in McCarthy-era America. Kai Bird and Martin Sherman tell the story once again in American Prometheus (Atlantic) in January. The fire from heaven, of course, was delivered to a city in Japan in August 1945.

In February, Andrew J Rotter produces Hiroshima: The World's Bomb (Oxford). The message of Manhattan should have been: "never again". But nine nations now have their own stockpiles of atomic weaponry, and with ominous signals to and from Iran it won't hurt to learn afresh the scorching lessons of triumph and tragedy.

The new year science book bonanza includes Marcus du Sautoy's Finding Moonshine (Fourth Estate), a study of the secrets of symmetry and a window on to the murky, mesmerising world of mathematics. Another television regular, Michio Kaku, returns in February with Physics of the Impossible (Allen Lane) billed as a scientific tour beyond science fiction, fantasy and magic. This pedagogy of paradox - lessons in the science we haven't got, and perhaps cannot have - is the latest in a genre launched 12 years ago by Lawrence Krauss's little knockout, The Physics of Star Trek. Sean B Carroll picks up the challenge of the creationists with The Making of the Fittest (Quercus): another look at what DNA tells us about the two-billion-year process that turned a primitive blob in the primeval ooze into Paris Hilton in her Jimmy Choos. The blurb tells us that such evidence points to the end of the "rancorous, distracting debate over the validity of the theory of evolution". If only . . .

My personal bet for the most nourishing book of the month, however, is John Reader's Propitious Esculent (Heinemann). There's nothing humble about the spud, as any aficionado of Redcliffe Salaman's The History and Social Influence of the Potato will confirm. But Salaman's epic appeared in 1949 and there is now so much more to tell about these tempting tubers: think global history with a side order of fries.

No peek into the future of science publishing is complete without a mention of John Gribbin, author of more than 100 volumes and yes, there he is again with his co-author Mary Gribbin and Flower Hunters (Oxford) in the spring; or Philip Ball, in there twice, once with Nature's Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts (Oxford) and again with Universe of Stone (Bodley Head), a look at the world of Gothic that culminated in the cathedral of Chartres. Richard Dawkins edits The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing and Maryanne Wolff takes a look at the science of reading - how does the brain turn marks into Das Kapital and squiggles into Biggles? - in Proust and the Squid (Icon).

The New York physicist Alan Sokal became a famous writer without being read by anyone: in 1996 he delivered a parody of post-modernism entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" and the editors of a learned journal published it, seemingly without reading it. It wasn't just rubbish, it was risible rubbish. Beyond the Hoax (Oxford) promises to be Sokal's cheerful challenge to dodgy debate and intellectual self-indulgence, and I expect no less of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science (Fourth Estate) rehearsed every Saturday in this newspaper.

01-17-2008, 06:31 PM

Great find. Thanks for sharing.