NCSE’s 2015 Friend of Darwin Award Goes to Neil Shubin: Scientist, Author, Movie Star, and Storyteller

And the First 2015 Friend of Darwin Award Goes To: Neil Shubin, scientist, author, movie star, and storyteller.

As I write this post on Friday, March 20, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is in full swing. Like most everyone else who filled out a bracket, mine was already thoroughly busted yesterday, when two 3-seeds (Iowa State and Baylor) were beaten by 14-seeds (University of Alabama Birmingham and Georgia State). Some small consolation comes from the knowledge that out of 11.57 million bracket entries on ESPN, only 273 (that’s 0.0024 percent!) were still correct after the first day of tournament play!

Why am I bringing up NCAA basketball in a blog post about NCSE’s 2015 Friend of Darwin recipient, Neil Shubin? Well, I admit that it is partly because nobody else at NCSE follows college hoops and I just had to share with somebody. But mostly it’s because tens of millions of people watch March Madness, and they watch because the tournament always supplies plenty of passion, surprises, skillful feats, dedication, and above all, suspense; and if I could get the attention of those millions for just a few minutes, I would point them in Neil Shubin’s direction because his scientific story has every bit as much drama as a Cinderella-run deep into the tournament.

Early on in his career, Shubin became fixated on finding fossils that would illuminate the emergence of tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) from fish ancestors more than 300 million years ago. To that end, Shubin and his collaborators devoted many years of painstaking, expensive, and often uncomfortable work in the Canadian Arctic, one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth. The goal: to find fossil evidence of the vertebrate transition from aquatic environments to terrestrial ones. The quest was far from guaranteed to succeed, but succeed they did. Fossilized remains of —> Read More