Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Your Inner Fish"

Neil Shubin is provost of The Field Museum as well as a professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, where he also serves as an associate dean.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, and reported the following:
Page 69 captures science in microcosm. The paragraph on that page is about my very first fossil-finding expedition, to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia Canada. Our goal was early fossil mammals or, even better, their closest reptilian relatives. We made all kinds of plans to get there, including having a very precise vision of the kinds of rocks and places we wanted to look at for fossils. The idea was that the beaches of Nova Scotia were perfect for our hunt because they were two hundred million years old and were formed in ancient streams and lakes. Also, they were revealed to us each day by some of the world's largest tides. As the tides went up and town, they exposed beautiful orange cliffs. So, off we went in the Summer of 1985 to look for fossils.

My little expedition was remarkable for what we didn't find: a single scrap of bone. Failure, and learning from one's failures, is a key part of scientific discovery. There was another lesson. With a little persistence, and a great degree of luck, we ended up finding what we were looking for. Page 70 reveals how my colleague and friend, Bill Amaral, single handedly honed in on an area with fossil bones. The Nova Scotia expeditions were made a great success by a completely human mix of ingredients: planning, persistence, and luck.

What did we learn? From one of the little reptiles we discovered in these ancient rocks we saw the beginnings of our mammalian way of chewing food. Captured in these ancient hills is a bit of our very ancient past. That is the story of Your Inner Fish. The story of the human body is told from the bodies, fossils, and DNA of reptiles, fish, even sponges. That story is our past, it defines our present, and will shape our future.
Read an excerpt from Your Inner Fish and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Neil Shubin's research and other publications at his faculty webpage.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue