Your Inner Fish


Neil Shubin

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Your Inner Fish Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Neil Shubin

Neil Shubin earned his Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard in 1987. In 2006, Shubin and his team found the fossil Tiktaalik roseae, an important intermediary form between fish and land animals. This discovery catapulted Shubin into the public eye, as he was named ABC News’ “person of the week,” gave several interviews about the fossil, and wrote Your Inner Fish to help educate the public about scientific topics. Since then, Shubin helped produce a television show under the same name to bring contemporary science topics into the classroom. Shubin was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, and he now works as a professor at the University of Chicago, focusing his research on limb development. Shubin has published numerous articles in scientific journals regarding his research on fossils like Tiktaalik, the embryonic development of salamanders, and gene expression in fish fins. He published his second popular science book in 2013, titled The Universe Within, that traces elements’ paths from stars to fossils.
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Historical Context of Your Inner Fish

The theory of evolution is often credited to Charles Darwin, based on his research about animals in the Galapagos in 1858. Though Darwin’s version of evolution (closer to what is now known as natural selection) is now widely accepted, the specific mechanics of how a species would evolve or adapt enough to be deemed a distinctly new species are still in question. The debate over evolution has been a controversial subject in America, with new opposition to the idea in the 20th and 21st centuries. With evolution, science seems to come into conflict with the religious belief in creationism or “Intelligent Design”—the idea that God created each animal fully formed, rather than there being a long process of mutation and adaptation to the environment. The National Academy of Sciences voted to accept evolution as scientifically sound and begin teaching it in schools in 1998. For decades, scientists focused on finding the mythical “missing link” that proves that species evolved from shared ancestral forms. Contemporary scientists look less towards individual links and more towards shared evolutionary pathways, by going back to the fossil record and the genetic information of modern-day animals. In 2006, Shubin and his team of paleontologists found the fossil Tiktaalik roseae, which offered a possible intermediary form between fish and land animals because of its small primitive legs and flexible neck. The scientific world exploded over whether this was “proof” of evolution.

Other Books Related to Your Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish seeks to both interest and educate the general public about scientific issues that might otherwise never receive attention, much like books such as Bill Bryson’s A Brief History of Everything or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Two of the most well-known popular science authors were Steven Hawking and Carl Sagan. Your Inner Fish specifically deals with the topic of evolution and comparative anatomy, drawing from Charles Darwin’s classic The Origin of Species to the works of Richard Dawkins.
Key Facts about Your Inner Fish
  • Full Title: Your Inner Fish
  • When Written: 2006-2008
  • When Published: January 15, 2008
  • Literary Period: Contemporary non-fiction, Pop science
  • Genre: Popular Science, Non-fiction
  • Setting: Arctic Circle, Philadelphia, Chicago

Extra Credit for Your Inner Fish

Small-screen treatment. Your Inner Fish has also been made into a TV series on the PBS network, delving deeper into the evolutionary ancestry of humans through the lens of the Tiktaalik fossil and genetic experiments.

Paleontology from home. The University of Chicago maintains a website about the fossil Tiktaalik roseae that helps people see the anatomical structures of this fossil. Visitors to the website can fully explore both the fish and amphibian features of this ancient creature. The website can be found at