“Neil Shubin: Your Inner fish” a success by any standard

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Neil Shubin’s latest book on evolutionary theory is by all standards a great success. It ranks around 200 in Amazon books and first in Evolution Science Books. When I checked the book’s availability in our library system there were close to 40 pending holds.

A sales rank of 200 means 225-250 books per week are sold. Compare this to a rank of 24,000 for Behe’s boo “Edge of Evolution” sold at a bargain price of $6.99 down from $28.00 or 111,550 for the regular priced version. Those numbers translate to few copies per month being sold.

Neil Shubin is a professor of organismal biology at the University of Chicago. He, as part of a team of scientists, discovered the now infamous Titaalik transitional fossil which causes so much consternation amongst Intelligent Design Creationists. His book Your Inner Fish introduces its readers to an exciting overview of how our evolutionary history links us back to a common ancestor with fish. Of course, that’s not where our common ancestry ends.

Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today’s most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

Nova has an exciting video Podcast on Tiktaalik.

Nova’s in-depth expose “Jugment day: Intelligent Design on Trial” discusses Tiktaalik.

On Youtube we find many more fascinating videos about Shubin’s book and his work.

Sales Rank

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54 Comments

I see “Your Inner Fish” at number 22 on the NYT hardcover nonfiction bestseller list. Great! I hope the book helps stiffen the opposition to introducing miracles into science (aka, creationism).

… discovered the now infamous Titaalik transitional fossil…

I do not think that word (“infamous”) means what you think it means. :)

RBH

Along with “Your Inner Fish”, I regularly refer the curious to Dr. Kevin Padian’s “Padian’s Critter’s” slideshow and Dr. Barbara Forrest’s paper, “Understanding the Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals”. I particilarly revel in giving out these links when being a troll on creationists’ and other right-wing evolution-deniers’ blogs.

RBH, you are right… Still funny.…

Although I have lived in this country for quite a while, English still trips me up.

Moderator: Please remove self-proclaimed “Biblical Scholar and Scientist Extraordinaire” Clarence David Parsons’ blatant advertisement for his bogus “Quest” books. He’ll probably sell some of them to ignorant home-schoolers and gullible church schools, but “Quest” is not science by any stretch, and his presence here is a sign of his desperation at flogging his vanity-press pseudoscience.

Just happened upon your site and came to this page first. _Your Inner Fish_ was the book I finished before the one I am on now (_Monkey Girl_ ). Shubin has written a wonderful book, and though some who have more background in evolution science may find it too simplistic, it filled in more that a few gaps in my own knowledge. He is also a great writer, and it is a fascinating read. I would like to have paid a bit less for it, especially considering it length, but still worth the price.

Stunning stuff from Shubin! Kids now want to do biology and especially evolutionary biology.

Picked up this book and (and two more evolution for everyone and Scientists confront creationism) today and finished TIF in one sitting. Pleasantly surprised to see it being the lead story in PT.

One small quibble, Shubin misspells jury rigged as jerry-rigged at least five times. Hope he corrects it in the next print run.

At one place he says something like, “We have three kinds of cells in our eyes to detect three kinds of color, like the ink jet printer uses inks of three colors …”. The engineer in me says we use three inks in the printers because we have three kinds of cone cells in our eyes. Persumably ink jet printers designed for mammals with two kinds of cones might do with two color inks and the printers meant for organisms without color vision might be just black and white.

Overall a good book. Have already read the crown jewels in PT’s postings and links, the knee, the hiccups, the gonads etc. But still learned new things about the development of the 12 cranial nerves, connections between the inner ear and the lateral line in fish etc. Mentions with passion finding the original Appolo 8 space capsule in the back room of a Chicago museum etc.

The most interesting thing I learnt was about the bones of the middle ear. Every one knows they are the jaw bones of the reptiles. But learnt today that this fact was discovered full three decades before the publication of The origin of Species. Interesting because one of the stupid arguments by the creationists go like this: “The jaws of the reptiles have two articulation points. The mammalian jaw has just one. If mammals evolved from the reptiles, during the transition they could not open or close they jaw, how did they eat?”. Of course, mammals evolved from a common ancestor to reptiles, not from reptiles. Anyway what happened to that jaw bone of the reptiles was discovered way back in 1830s!!

Shubin is probably conflating jury-rig with jerry-build. American Heritage Dictionary (but not Merriam-Webster) accepts jerry-rig as synonymous with jury-rig and gives that etymology. It’s an example of evolution.

The web site…

http://www.news.com/5208-1008_3-0.h[…]amp;start=-1

…says:

Although their etymologies are obscure and their meanings overlap, these are two expressions. Something poorly built is “jerry-built.” something rigged up temporarily in a makeshift manner with materials at hand, often in an ingenious manner, is “jury-rigged.” “Jerry-built” always has a negative connotation, whereas one can be impressed by the cleverness of a jury-rigged solution. Many people cross-pollinate these two expressions and mistakenly say “jerry-rigged” or “jury-built.”

I think the distinction of temporary vs. shoddy seems to separate the definitions. Maybe someone can read the usage in context to offer an opinion on right or wrong usage.

Actually, the tricky thing about language is that you can’t really assign it “evolution” in the sense of biology – languages don’t reproduce, and a single person is not limited to just one. They are, however, imperfectly transmitted, and a community of speakers is a ripe place for new innovations. What actually sticks out of these mistaken usages and new coinages seems somewhat up to chance, but they contribute to a linguistic sphere that is constantly changing with the passage of time.

Science Nut: I think the distinction of temporary vs. shoddy seems to separate the definitions. Maybe someone can read the usage in context to offer an opinion on right or wrong usage.

The usage in all the five or so occasions was “building something constrained by the available materials and existing architecture”. Definitely not shoddily built. One example is “jerry/jury rigging a VW Beetle to run at 150 mph speeds” to make a point human body is built on a fish architecture.

This link says it has no connection to jerry being a derogatory reference to the Germans by the allies during WW-II.

Erik: I would like to have paid a bit less for it, especially considering it length, but still worth the price.

Same thought went through my mind, remembering a poster here waiting for the paperback edition of Dawkins’ TGD. Then a counter thought, “the creationists are exhorted to give 10% of their income and here I am quibbling about 10$ (assuming the paperback would set me back by 12$)”. Then a counter counter thought, “me willing to sacrifice 10$ for the defense of science, or them willing to pay 10% of their income to their cause, of a jihadi willing to commit suicide for his cause or my soma cells undergoing apoptosis so that germline cells could propagate are all different parts of the same spectrum. An individual willing to sacrifice something for the greater good of a self-identified group!”.

Pleased with my own “insight” I rewarded myself with an overpriced coffee and the books:-)

The engineer in me says we use three inks in the printers because we have three kinds of cone cells in our eyes. Persumably ink jet printers designed for mammals with two kinds of cones might do with two color inks and the printers meant for organisms without color vision might be just black and white.

Wouldn’t the biologist in you say “wait a minute, that can’t be the complete story, considering that trichromatic vertebrates are tetrachromatic at low light levels, and a substantial amount of humans may be so at all light levels due to carrying variant alleles. And the physicist in you would probably say that “yes, in fact two different wavelength sources or receptors would suffice to place both intensity and color of light to give a reasonable color experience. And I note that the wavelength regions of color sources and receptors doesn’t need to correspond much.”

But that would be at low resolution for color and intensity. So listening to the inner engineer he is completely correct in concluding that corresponding resolutions would match number of sources with number of receptors for lower resolutions. To have a fuller experience of color tri- or tetrachromats would need at least trichromatic graphic sources (prints and screens). The gain in using more sources is presumably small.

The gain in using more sources is presumably small.

I didn’t listen too well to my inner biologist as he nattered more on this. Presumably evolution confirms this, otherwise we would likely see more tetrachromats - it seems easy to pop in or pop out alleles for different pigments, as well as vary organic pigments wavelength bands.

PvM Wrote:

A sales rank of 200 means 225-250 books per week are sold. Compare this to a rank of 24,000 for Behe’s boo “Edge of Evolution” sold at a bargain price of $6.99 down from $28.00 or 111,550 for the regular priced version. Those numbers translate to few copies per month being sold.

That’s nice, but the last few times I was in a book store I saw “Darwin’s Black Box” but not “Finding Darwin’s God” (the first popular book refuting DBB). Checking Amazon, DBB is ranked in the 7000s, and FDG in the 20,000s. I checked only the first version listed, but it correlates with my book store observation.

What concerns me is that, for years, I have noticed that “our side” acknowledges both the pro-science (e.g. FDG) and anti-science (e.g. DBB, EoE) books, while web sites, editorials, etc. that rave about DBB and other anti-evolution books almost never mention books like FDG. Either the writer simply doesn’t know that it and other refutations exist, or (IMO more likely) they just pretend so.

Either way, for all the pretense of “teach both sides” and “keep an open mind,” anti-science activists take pains not to advertise anything that is inconvenient to their propaganda.

Neil Shubin’s book is apparently a must read book by the general community.

I just checked my local public library and they just got the book. There are a dozen holds on it already. This is unusual.

Just read Jennifer Clacks book Gaining Ground, The Origin and Early Evolution of Tetrapods. It strikes me that we now have a reasonably good transitional series of fossils for the evolution from fish to amphibians.

So much for the creo lies about gaps and no transitional fossils. We’ve also just barely scratched the surface in a literal and figurative sense. Much of the earth’s surface is covered with sedimentary rocks, in some cases miles and miles deep. In another few decades or a century who knows how many more informative fossils will be found?

To do a thorough job we would have to carefully dig through thousands of cubic kilometers of rock. Somehow the funding for that never seems to be there. LOL

Languages do not reproduce, but neither do species, yet both evolve. The evolution of language seems to me to be at least analogous to evolution by natural selection as words are coined or their meanings are changed and then the new words or the new meanings compete for survival. On second thought, maybe changing of meaning is an example of gentic drift.

Jerry-build certainly implies shoddiness, whereas jury-rig implies a possibly clever improvisation. I forget who said it, but we shd probably resist changes that destroy unique meanings, as when we use unique to mean unusual and thus have no word that means unique. On that ground, if I were Shubin’s editor, I wd resist jerry-rig because it will dilute the unique meaning of jury-rig.

Sorry, genEtic drift. I can’t type.

One additional point in favor of the book: He points out that evolutionary understanding is useful in the study of medicine - in particular, anatomy.

raven Wrote:

To do a thorough job we would have to carefully dig through thousands of cubic kilometers of rock. Somehow the funding for that never seems to be there. LOL

And the funding won’t be there as long as scientific research has such a dismally low priority in the US. And it’s not just the unprecedented anti-science bias of the GWB administration; even the most science-friendly politicians would rather feed bureaucrats and “safety nazis” than fund research. Especially if it’s not directly related to, say, curing cancer.

Nevertheless, evolution does not need the 99.9999…% of fossils that have yet to be found to succeed. But what it does need is much more and better PR. So is there any indication that this hot-selling book is reaching anyone but the “choir”? In 1999-2000, even in my most pessimistic moments I had high hopes that “Finding Darwin’s God” would change the “sound bites” of the “debate,” but sadly almost no one has even heard of the book.

And please, can we all get past this “us vs. ‘the creationists’” stereotype? Certainly there’s a large segment of the public that will not accept evolution under any circumstances, but there’s an even larger segment that is willing and able to learn.

Matt Young:

Shubin is probably conflating jury-rig with jerry-build. American Heritage Dictionary (but not Merriam-Webster) accepts jerry-rig as synonymous with jury-rig and gives that etymology. It’s an example of evolution.

Evolution…with a little help from intelligent lifeforms ;) Thanks Neil Shubin for a great story: “How human got hiccups!”

Nevertheless, evolution does not need the 99.9999…% of fossils that have yet to be found to succeed.

Evolution fact and theory succeeded half a century ago in the academic and well educated communities. Since then it hasn’t had any real serious scientific opposition, just religious fanatics.

We need the fossils to provide more details about the actual events of past life and how it evolved. They won’t change the big picture but will improve the granularity.

The amount of funding for paleontology is miniscule compared to other sciences. The granting agencies just don’t think paying people to dig in the dirt is worth a lot.

raven Wrote:

Evolution fact and theory succeeded half a century ago in the academic and well educated communities. Since then it hasn’t had any real serious scientific opposition, just religious fanatics.

The activists may all be religious fanatics (with rare exceptions like Berlinski), as is maybe another ~25% of the population that will always take the activists’ word over that of mainstream science. But another ~50% of the public, including many that claim to accept evolution (or what they think is evolution) still falls for “it’s only fair to teach the controversy.” My question is whether this book will reach a significant % of that group.

The highest quality coffee-table books use ten inks to reproduce fine art, inlcuding photographs.

Neil Shubin’s book is apparently a must read book by the general community.

Wamba has not met the general, but has read Your Inner Fish and agrees that it a must read, and a fun read!

Standard printers use four inks - CMYK which stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Like paints, they work by colour subtraction, with the three colours when added together tending towards a muddy black, and the black ink being there to get a more accurate black. A better comparison would be with monitors or computer screens which use RGB - red green blue, which when added together produce white light. Back to Newton!

Wow, ten inks - “when only spent money is worth the cost”!?

A better comparison would be with monitors or computer screens which use RGB

Incidentally screens also use tricks to enhance experience, mainly on resolution and definition, but also with white/black contrasts. Color television use both chrominance and luminance frequency bands.

Color television use both chrominance and luminance frequency bands.

Um, come to think of it, they overlap. So it is different codings, not frequency bands, for the two different types of information. D’oh!

A sales rank of 200 means 225-250 books per week are sold. Compare this to a rank of 24,000 for Behe’s boo “Edge of Evolution” sold at a bargain price of $6.99 down from $28.00 or 111,550 for the regular priced version. Those numbers translate to few copies per month being sold.

How do you figure? “The Edge of Evolution” was released on June 5, or about 39 weeks ago. With 111,550 books sold, the average is close to 3,000 books per week.

The title “Your Inner Fish” implies that the idea of being descended from fish is something to be proud of. I don’t think it is something to be ashamed of, but I also don’t think that it is something to be proud of.

The most interesting thing I learnt was about the bones of the middle ear. Every one knows they are the jaw bones of the reptiles.

As the old ads with the Marlboro Filters Man would say, “almost everyone knows.”

Larry, quoting PvM then being obtuse, said,

A sales rank of 200 means 225-250 books per week are sold. Compare this to a rank of 24,000 for Behe’s boo “Edge of Evolution” sold at a bargain price of $6.99 down from $28.00 or 111,550 for the regular priced version. Those numbers translate to few copies per month being sold.

How do you figure? “The Edge of Evolution” was released on June 5, or about 39 weeks ago. With 111,550 books sold, the average is close to 3,000 books per week.

Larry, listen carefully. I checked a couple of minutes ago. EoE (bargain price) is at #10,120. EoE (full priced version) is at #54,039. The number quoted by PvM (111,550), unless I’m sadly mistaken, refers to the rank, not the number of sales. I’ve never even looked at sales ranks until now, but I could figure that out.

I confess that I don’t know if there’s a definite way to interpret #s of sales from the ranking. However, the only way for a book to jump from #24,000 to #10,120, or from #111,550 to #54,039, in only a day is if there is a very low rate of sales in those ranking ranges. When that’s the case, only a few sales more will cause a big increase in the ranking.

I’m betting that more experienced Amazoners will be able to confirm this.

Banned Larry Wrote:

How do you figure? “The Edge of Evolution” was released on June 5, or about 39 weeks ago. With 111,550 books sold, the average is close to 3,000 books per week.

I am sorry you do not understand the concept of rank…

The title “Your Inner Fish” implies that the idea of being descended from fish is something to be proud of. I don’t think it is something to be ashamed of, but I also don’t think that it is something to be proud of.

Why not?

PvM:

The title “Your Inner Fish” implies that the idea of being descended from fish is something to be proud of. I don’t think it is something to be ashamed of, but I also don’t think that it is something to be proud of.

Why not?

Apparently, being descended from a pair of humans who allegedly wrecked the entire Universe, thus allowing death, unpleasantness and imperfection to occur is somehow more palatable than the idea that all terrestrial vertebrates are highly modified fish.

Banned Larry Wrote:

why is BANNED larry WRITING at all.

Ichthyic:

Banned Larry Wrote:

why is BANNED larry WRITING at all.

Because I feel in a good mood and think that his writings serve as a reminder of the vacuity of ID.

Sometimes ignorance is best exposed rather than hidden. Of course, Larry should not confuse my good mood with his ban being revoked.

PvM, Thanks for confirming my understanding of the rank issue. When Larry Farfromreadingcomprehension wrote his note, I at first thought to myself, “Is it possible that Pim was referring to #s of books and that Larry was right? Nah.”

Larry? Larry? You there? any comment?

(Sorry for feeding the troll)

And I, too, am proud of my fishy, amphibious, and reptilian ancestors as well, as distasteful (or tasty!) as some of them might have been. Without them, where would we all be?

GvlGeologist, FCD said:

I checked a couple of minutes ago. EoE (bargain price) is at #10,120. EoE (full priced version) is at #54,039. The number quoted by PvM (111,550), unless I’m sadly mistaken, refers to the rank, not the number of sales.

Is it credible that one of the most popular books about science, written by one of the best-known scientists in America, would have a sales rank of #111,550? With such a low rank, it would not even be worth stocking in book stores. Even #10,120 doesn’t sound credible.

PvM said:

The title “Your Inner Fish” implies that the idea of being descended from fish is something to be proud of. I don’t think it is something to be ashamed of, but I also don’t think that it is something to be proud of.

Why not?

I don’t believe in ancestor worship – and fish are particularly unworthy to be worshipped as ancestors.

Because I feel in a good mood and think that his writings serve as a reminder of the vacuity of ID.

I know – you just censor the really cogent stuff, like my arguments about co-evolution.

I’m surprised you got to post here at all!!

I hadn’t heard of the book until I read the “tadpole hiccup” post here. Last week I went into our local mom & pop bookstore; I couldn’t remember the author, but when I said “inner fish” they instantly lead me to the book. It is obviously selling well at their store.

I haven’t read it yet, but it’s sitting at home on my shelf, waiting.

I bought two books that day at the same store: “Your Inner Fish”…and an enormous 2006 Oxford Dictionary.

The dictionary has entries only for “jerry-built” (“badly or hastily built with materials of poor quality”) and “jury-rigged” (“makeshift; improvised”).

No mention whatsoever of “jerry-rigged” or “jury-built.” But the more people misuse the words, the more chance they become part of the language. I personally thought that “jerry-rigged” was the correct word.

Of course, one could point out that neither pride nor shame is relevant to the accuracy of the conclusion that we’re part of the fish clade. We yam what we yam.

I know – you just censor the really cogent stuff, like my arguments about co-evolution.

Grandeur, hell, delusions of adequacy…

Larry said:

Is it credible that one of the most popular books about science, written by one of the best-known scientists in America, would have a sales rank of #111,550? With such a low rank, it would not even be worth stocking in book stores. Even #10,120 doesn’t sound credible.

You’re implying that Amazon is lying? Or that PvM or I are? Look it up yourself. Then apologise. Or admit that you don’t admit to reality just because it doesn’t agree with you. Reality is what it is, whether we like it or not. Kind of like evolution, you know?

Incidentally, “best-known scientists in America”??? On the basis of notoriety for writing a popular-press book of pseudoscience, maybe. Not on the basis of actually doing science, to contributing to our knowledge, though.

Larry is completely out-of-it, just MSU.

Proud of ancestors?

Larry, perhaps you’re more proud of the DIRT, which is the ancestor of all mankind, according to Genesis.

Or are fish somehow more shameful as ancestors than a handful of mud?

Larry Wrote:

Is it credible that one of the most popular books about science, written by one of the best-known scientists in America, would have a sales rank of #111,550? With such a low rank, it would not even be worth stocking in book stores. Even #10,120 doesn’t sound credible.

And yet… Perhaps your portrayal as ‘one of the most popular books about science’ is the cause of your confusion?

I don’t believe in ancestor worship – and fish are particularly unworthy to be worshipped as ancestors.

Who is talking about worship?

I know – you just censor the really cogent stuff, like my arguments about co-evolution.

Not at all, I have seen little cogent stuff from you but you know very well the reasons for your ban, now don’t you?

Just,

Or are fish somehow more shameful as ancestors than a handful of mud?

Seems like the handful of mud (or something equivalent to that) would be someplace in the line of succession regardless - just a few billion years earlier than a YEC would place it, and with several intemediates that they wouldn’t admit.

Henry

When something is not credible, I investigate further.

And what criteria do you use to decide that something is both not credible and not worth your time, as you are not worth ours?

Larry Wrote:

When something is not credible, I investigate further.

No you whine and accuse. That’s not investigating. Describe your procedures of further investigation of the Amazon ranking system and we can talk.

PS: Larry is well aware of the real reason that he was banned and I have moved his comments to the bathroom wall. I am in a good mood after all.

Edge of Evolution

Paperback version: Rank #980,705 Hard cover: Rank #23,892 Hard cover discounted version: Rank #14,280

Not much evidence to support Larry’s portrayal of the book as “one of the most popular books about science” is mostly wishful thinking, which matches ID creationists pipedreams about becoming scientific.

Compare this to Neil Shubin’s book

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #181 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)

Popular in these categories: (What’s this?)
#1 in Books > Science > Biological Sciences > Paleontology
#1 in Books > Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Evolution
#1 in Books > Science > Evolution

Another book published by a professional scientist recently that is not only relevant to evolution but that explicitly deals with the scientific errors of creationist claims is the book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald R. Prothero, on issues about geology and paleontology, published late last year. Because of dealing with geological issues as well as paleontological issues, Prothero’s book has relevance to young earth creationism as well as to old earth creationism.

No you whine and accuse.

*bing*

that’s what he’s into.

he doesn’t care about the subject at all.

or haven’t you figured that out yet?

he’s just nuts.

I just want to thank all that commented on Shubin’s new book and piqued my interest. It gave me incentive to check with Amazon. I just ordered it, along with Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (Donald Prothero), The Dinosauria (Dave Weishampel, who was my Paleo TA in undergrad!), and, sadly, a book on small engine repair.

I will enjoy reading them over our Spring Break. Well, maybe not the small engine repair book.

Neil Shubin is coming to Ottawa, Ontario this weekend to speak at the Archives about the evolution of the human body, the theme of his “Your Inner Fish” book. There will be a model of Tiktaalik and casts of the bones and I am pretty stoked about this.

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