Pharyngula

I thought it might be useful for the readers of Pharyngula to get my sense of the Colbert show experience.

Being a scientist on the show carries with it some challenges. We need to convey facts of science correctly and do so in a way reveals how fun our science is to do and to think about. We need to educate, enlighten, and excite. The challenge is we need to do this in 5 minutes with Stephen Colbert sitting across the table. To make matters worse, the show does not tell you the tack Colbert is going to take in advance, largely because so much of what he does is ad lib.

Because of this, I was terrified when I received the invitation last Fri. I took a few hours to accept, largely because I needed a family conference on the strike. Once I came to terms with my decision (the readers do a good in the commentary on the various issues that swirled for us), I began to prepare for the interview.

How did I prepare for the Colbert interview? In watching successful science interviews (of which there are a number of real good examples to emulate) I saw some general patterns to a successful visit. It also definitely appears that Colbert likes scientists and he want them to be able to tell their story.

The best answers I saw responded to Colbert’s questions with a sentence that captured the essence of the science in an entertaining way. So, the day of my interview I came up with a number such answers for the questions I thought I’d get. For the most part, I prepared with answers defending evolution vs. other non-scientific approaches.

I was pretty nervous before the interview, so much so that I didn’t sleep much the night before. And, as it turned out, my predictions about Colbert’s questions were largely wrong– Colbert didn’t even touch creationism and did a number of riffs on things that weren’t even in the book (like the final questions). I was aided, though, by the experience of preparing my answers. It exercised my brain in a way that allowed me to respond to the questions he really asked.

In thinking about the experience a few days later I have one thought on language. As scientists we are very used to using language with a great deal of precision (note the string in the commentary on common ancestry, group inclusion, etc.). The challenge is adapting our highly precise vocabulary to the demands of a five minute performance on a show which is fundamentally not about science. It is a tough tightrope to walk to balance between language that is both engaging and precise. I had mixed success, but that has to be our aspiration for these kinds of experiences.

You can ask the question, a valid one, why bother with these kinds shows? If it is so difficult, and the conceptual and linguistic apparatus of science doesn’t easily conform to this venue, why do it? For me the answer is that we need to make science part of the public conversation. We live in a society where Britany Spears latest foible gets more ink than Mello and Fire’s 2006 Nobel discovery of RNAi– a breakthrough on a little worm that will likely lead to treatments of many diseases. Something is wrong here.

Thanks for your comments and criticisms and I hope my personal experience gives some perspective.

Neil Shubin

Comments

  1. #1 Reginald Selkirk
    January 17, 2008

    I thought you did very well. Colbert did bring up Creationism a few times.

  2. #2 zer0
    January 17, 2008

    You did very will and I will be reading your work. Bravo.

  3. #3 Cameron Pittman
    January 17, 2008

    Yeah that was a great interview. Very interesting and definitely accessible to the average viewer.

  4. #4 Brownian, OM
    January 17, 2008

    You struck a real blow for the good guys, Neil. You came across as knowledgeable yet not at all stuffy or pretentious (which really puts off the non-scientists, for some reason. Tom Cruise can publicly berate Brooke Shields all he wants, but God forbid a scientist should come across as too intellectual….)

    We need to educate, enlighten, and excite.

    I think you scored three out of three on that count.

    Well done!

  5. #5 ryanb
    January 17, 2008

    I thought you did very well. First book I think I will buy based solely on what I saw of you on the show. I went from knowing nothing about your book to very interested.

    Colbert plays a really interesting character, and the interviews he has with people who don’t seem to understand the humor is painful to watch. But you seemed to figure out how to play the game. It was fun, entertaining, and I learned something to boot.

  6. #6 Lana
    January 17, 2008

    You didn’t appear nervous. In fact, you seemed relaxed, confident and tickled to be on the show. And you were clearly enthusiastic about your work.

  7. #7 waldteufel
    January 17, 2008

    Great interview! Just the right mixture of clear thinking, wit, and cool, measured response to Colbert.

    Now, I’m off to see where I can get a copy of your book.

    Thanks.

  8. #8 Barklikeadog
    January 17, 2008

    Bravo Neil, I caught the show when you were on and was astonished that such a thing was on national television. Kudos to Colbert too. Loved it and I’ve been telling my students to see the clip & consider the book. I’ll read it for sure. We need more like you. Again, Bravo.

  9. #9 Mena
    January 17, 2008

    Dr. Shubin, I also think that you did a very good job on the show. Oh, and I liked the Fermilab lecture too. I have been to enough of those things now to realize that there are some people, like yourself, who are able to communicate science very effectively to the general public and there are those who don’t realize that they need to drop down to an undergraduate level to do so since they aren’t addressing a graduate seminar or symposium. Kudos and darn that Stephen Colbert for making it such a short interview! ;^)

  10. #10 denise
    January 17, 2008

    You did great. I think you did a good job of explaining things quickly, clearly and not so technically that it disrupted the comedic nature of Colbert’s approach or became hard to follow. I think this is a success. Using comedy and being able to speak non-scientist is a great asset to the scientific community. It helps people who are interested in the subject but afraid of the vocabulary to feel more comfortable.

  11. #11 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    question:

    your choice of the ear as an example representing the history of our evolution was excellent.

    what made you pick that specific example to use on the show?

    did you have experience using this example previously?

  12. #12 Sparky
    January 17, 2008

    Great Interview Neil!
    I’ll agree with the statement earlier that this will be the first book I’ve ever rushed out and purchased solely because of the interview. The ear analogy for evolution was a great device. (Even my 87 year old grandfather got it!)
    You kept it short, you kept it sweet, you managed to push forth complicated concepts to an audience that is not the intelligentsia elite. You’ve done the community as a whole proud!

    To that, I salute you!

  13. #13 Reginald Selkirk
    January 17, 2008

    Yeah, so; questions. If I buy your book, will it make my breath fresher and my teeth whiter? Does it have enough pictures of naked women in it?

  14. #14 Reginald Selkirk
    January 17, 2008

    Excuse me, I’m going to rush out and buy a copy of the book right now.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    Does it have enough pictures of naked women in it?

    who cares? just look at the cover, man!

    fish in suit!

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    well, the cover of Natural History, anyway.

    close enough.

  17. #17 Interrobang
    January 17, 2008

    Dear Dr. Shubin,

    As the “house rhetorician” around here, I have to say your ideas on communicating science (or, really, communicating any complex, precise ideas) to a lay audience are spot-on. Is there any chance you might like to write an article telling other scientists and science communicators what techniques you use to make science communication educational, enlightening, and exciting?

    Thanks.

  18. #18 Steve P.
    January 17, 2008

    Great job Neil! I have to say that you handled yourself very well on the show, I really enjoyed it. Myself and many others have noticed that Colbert didn’t seem to jump full tilt into his usual creationist banter that he used against Dawkins and other scientists I’ve seen on the show.

    I look forward to reading your book!

  19. #19 The Kenosha Kid
    January 17, 2008

    Britany Spears latest foible

    What were you just saying about precise language?

  20. #20 teacherninja
    January 17, 2008

    Your comments on communicating science to the public are well taken. Why is it England has professors like Dawkins and Weiseman with titles like “Chair for the Public Understanding of…” and we don’t in the US? I think this is something we should work on. We’ll nominate you first, of course.

  21. #21 Peter Ashby
    January 17, 2008

    Not living in the US means I haven’t seen your appearance. However I would just like to say that the story of Tiktaalik, especially the predictive bit: we looked for the right rocks of the same age, went and found it, is wonderful. I have used that a number of times in conversation, real and online, as an example of how evolution is an experimental, predictive science.

    I have followed the story of the first amphibians for a good 20years now and I was really proud of science when Tiktaalik was found to so neatly fill that gap. The whole story is a fascinating and inspiring one about one of the seminal processes in the history of life on this world. To have it so complete is a true triumph which makes me proud to be a biologist.

  22. #22 Blake Stacey
    January 17, 2008

    And, as it turned out, my predictions about Colbert’s questions were largely wrong– Colbert didn’t even touch creationism and did a number of riffs on things that weren’t even in the book (like the final questions).

    I presume you refer to the bit about taking the “steering wheel” away from Darwin. Transhumanism on The Colbert Report — now my day is complete!

  23. #23 AllanW
    January 17, 2008

    Congratulations. It’s a difficult task to appear so relaxed while ensuring good scientific information is broadcast in an entertaining way but you pulled it off.

  24. #24 Bert Chadick
    January 17, 2008

    I thought you did a great job on Colbert. Obviously the host had done some research about amphibian transitional forms, and minimized his usual TV persona’s creationist wackiness. It was a little five minute gem in the vast wasteland.

  25. #25 Brownian, OM
    January 17, 2008

    I just placed my order for Your Inner Fish on Amazon, also based solely on your interview.

    Not only was I moved to buy your book, but halfway through I suddenly realised that these aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

    You can go about your business.

    Move along, move along.

  26. #26 RamblinDude
    January 17, 2008

    Nicely done. Colbert reaches a wide audience, and anyone who can keep up with him is going to have an impact on them.

    One of the things that made it a good interview was that your comments intrigued Colbert enough that he wanted to find out more. Much of it was new and unusual (to the lay person) information. It kept him from having to devote so much of his energy into being the Creationist contrarian just to keep the show rolling.

    Now, if only more scientists would bother with these kind of shows…

  27. #27 Helioprogenus
    January 17, 2008

    I could never have guessed at the anxiety you felt before the interview Neil. You seemed to be sharp, quick witted, and in fact, very funny. The science was precise, and you explained things in a way that would allow a lay audience to truly understand it. Also, as an added bonus, it was all done through the entertaining Colbert format.

    In fact, your interview seemed as natural, well-balanced, and sophisticated as Neil deGrasse Tyson’s who is well known to be a natural in the spotlight. I’d go as far as to say, yours was even more informative, because your quick wit, and smooth redirections allowed you to cover a great deal of topics that are usually impossible with Colbert’s sardonic humor.

  28. #28 Todd
    January 17, 2008

    I thought that was the best Colbert science interview done so far. Your answers to Colbert’s questions were quick and to the point.

    Do you think the writer’s strike may have helped make the interview go as smooth as it did? Colbert is a sharp wit but I wonder how the interview would have differed if he’d had his writers preparing questions and comebacks (if they do that for the interviews).

  29. #29 Brownian, OM
    January 17, 2008

    Peter Ashby @#20

    You can catch the interview here.

  30. #30 Geral
    January 17, 2008

    You did great, I loved watching your interview. It must be hard to prepare for an interview like Colbert’s, but you were very quick on the responses and answered them intelligently.

    I look forward to more interviews and I’m going to request a copy of the book too.

    Thanks for stopping by Pharyngula.

  31. #31 Greg Peterson
    January 17, 2008

    I bought your book because in the article excerpted from it, in the part about hiccups and tadpoles, you suggested that if tadpoles drank water from a glass upside down their hiccups would stop. I like my science with a shot of funny, and you, sir, made me laugh.

  32. #32 Ron
    January 17, 2008

    Enjoyed watching your bit on Colbert. It seems from this and other interviews I’ve seen that Colbert is a friend of science. He lets the scientists talk, makes witty comments, and actually asks questions that allow the scientists to explain things further (e.g. his question about genes).

    Looking forward to the book.

  33. #33 Cuttlefish, OM
    January 17, 2008

    Nicely done! Fantastic job! I have just one small wish–
    I found my inner monkey, inner lizard, inner fish;
    (And all of this in just my ear? That’s so cool what you did!)
    My question, though, is where to go to find my inner squid*?

    (*or cuttlefish. That would be even better.)

  34. #34 Tom Trombone
    January 17, 2008

    Excellent job on the Colbert Report, Neil! I think you really got across what is so inherently exciting about the topic. It was easy to see Colbert was genuinely interested. Needless to say I ordered the book from Amazon immediately. (I remember you — fondly — from your grad school days; it’s great to see you now having such a positive impact on the presentation of science in the public realm!)

  35. #35 fnxtr
    January 17, 2008

    Well, there was the one creationist reference:”I am not constrained by the data.” Perfect.

  36. #36 bunbuns
    January 17, 2008

    RNAi is good – but don’t forget about aptamers!

  37. #37 MAJeff
    January 17, 2008

    Dr. Shubin,

    As a sociologist who studies public discourse, framing (gets ready to have head handed to him by the other folks here), and media, I’ve just got to say, Job exceptionally done. I was impressed, and entertained. And, I bought a copy of your book for myself and my dad based on the interview.

  38. #38 Callimachus
    January 17, 2008

    Hey, Neil (pardon me if I dispense with the “Dr.,” since I remember you from well before that, when we used to play “Diplomacy” in your parents’ basement).

    Great work! The comments about precision in language are especially apt. It’s not just a matter of having enough time, though.

    I work as a copy editor at a newspaper, and one of the jobs dumped in my lap is editing the semi-weekly astronomy/skywatching column, since I have a background in that. Words like “brightness” and “magnitude” that can be interchanged with other words by the average newspaper editor have precise meanings in astronomy that will be destroyed by a substitution.

  39. #39 Ginger Yellow
    January 17, 2008

    “Your comments on communicating science to the public are well taken. Why is it England has professors like Dawkins and Weiseman with titles like “Chair for the Public Understanding of…” and we don’t in the US? ”

    Wiseman discusses this very question in one of the recent Skeptic’s Guide podcasts.

  40. #40 Acanthos
    January 17, 2008

    You did very well on Colbert, and he can drive almost anyone, friend or foe off their balance.

    A few questions if I might?

    1. What is it that makes you sure Tiktaalik is not just a better preserved Elpistostege watsoni?, as opposed to an Elpistostegid?

    2. Are you and Alhberg friends?

    3. Oh, and who was the first person to actually recognize Tiktaalik for what it was? Was it recognized in the field, or did someone suddenly realize afterwards in the lab what it actually was?

  41. #41 Peter Ashby
    January 17, 2008

    Thanks Brownian.

  42. #42 Mike from Ottawa
    January 17, 2008

    Dr Shubin: You did an excellent job on Colbert. You should do as many more such appearances as offer themselves. Along with others here, I didn’t detect any nervousness and it seemed like you couldn’t have been more comfortable.

  43. #43 Mike Goad
    January 17, 2008

    That was an excellent interview! It took me a while to find it on-line, but I’m glad I did. Score one for science!!!!

  44. #44 Greg Esres
    January 17, 2008

    Neil Shubin wrote:

    The challenge is adapting our highly precise vocabulary to the demands of a five minute performance on a show which is fundamentally not about science. It is a tough tightrope to walk to balance between language that is both engaging and precise. I had mixed success, but that has to be our aspiration for these kinds of experiences.

    Hmmmm. Sounds like “Framing”.

  45. #45 andyo
    January 17, 2008

    Hmmmm. Sounds like “Framing”.

    Posted by: Greg Esres | January 17, 2008 5:49 PM

    I don’t think so. Adapting language is not the same as compromising standards to appease (religious) people. Anyway, I think the bulk of the problem with framing is in the realm of religion vs. science, and probably other instances where there is a vested interest from the opposition to undermine science, and not in the public science education generally.

  46. #46 andyo
    January 17, 2008

    Mr. Shubin,

    It was great to see yet another scientist on the Colbert Report. As I said in the other thread, those are my favorite Colbert interviews. Congratulations, you did great.

  47. #47 Ken Mareld
    January 17, 2008

    Snaps to you Dr. Shubin (cringing with that reference).
    In that five minutes you were able to get to the gut of what we are all trying to say.
    I will buy your book.

    Ken

  48. #48 Jeanette Garcia
    January 17, 2008

    You looked perfectly relaxed and in control. I was surprised that Colbert actually let you talk. I have already sent away for your book on Amazon.

  49. #49 SLC
    January 17, 2008

    An excellent interview by Prof. Shubin. It is unfortunate that so few scientists take the trouble to appear on shows like the Colbert Report (which I must confess I never watch), or make public presentations to general audiences. We need more Shubins, Tysons, Krausses, and Millers out there to counteract the crap from the Dumbskies of the world.

  50. #50 Doc Bill
    January 17, 2008

    I thought you were great on Colbert. It was entertaining without compromise.

    In contrast, Mike Behe really screwed the pooch when he remarked that Colbert was “wrong,” thus giving the comedian the opening to feign insult and slam shut the interview. Behe became the foil, the butt of the joke, a boob and several other body parts I won’t mention.

  51. #51 CitizenVA
    January 17, 2008

    Caught the interview, and you came off very well. I ordered the book from Amazon right away! Got an E-Mail this morning saying it had already shipped! Looking forward to reading it! :)

    Thanks,
    CVA

  52. #52 Mrs Tilton
    January 17, 2008

    Oh yeah, Shubin? Well answer this, then: if we evolved from fish, WHY ARE THERE STILL FISH???!!!

    Ahem…

    I’ve read one or two of your papers in Nature; amazingly cool stuff, but a bit of a hard slog for laity like me. It’s great that you’ve now put out something at a more popular level, and I will definitely be picking it up.

    BTW, you did just fine with Colbert. Better than fine, actually. I suppose it’s only natural to feel nervous in that sort of setting, but you came across comfortable and assured. And down-to-earth and friendly as well — a sort of anti-Prof. Frink. If you get more opportunities to appear on television, snap ‘em up is what I’d say.

  53. #53 BicycleRepairMan
    January 17, 2008

    I loved your appearance on Colbert, Shubin, it was excellent. It seemed like Colbert wanted to bombard you with “so stupid and bizarre questions they dont have an answer” , yet you calmly answered every one of them with spot-on science. To me this interview was one of the finest examples on how to confront soundbite media with precise science. I think many people are sort of thinking that scientist only deals with these.. complicated/abstract questions where the science is just to specialized.. but you showed how the genes have real effects on our bodies.. people are often ignorant or indifferent to facts like that.

  54. #54 Pete Dunkelberg
    January 17, 2008

    How many Tiktaaliks have you found? What are you looking for now?

  55. #55 Mrs Tilton
    January 17, 2008

    OK, just ordered it. But on this side of the Atlantic I have to wait till the end of the month for it to ship! Grrr…

    Listen, America, one day soon the euro is going to be the world’s reserve currency, and from that happy day on I WILL NO LONGER NEED TO WAIT TWO WEEKS FOR BOOKS BY NEIL SHUBIN!!! And, if you cup your hand (which used to be a fin) round your ear (which used to be a gill), you just might hear a faint bwa-ha-ha from beyond the horizon…

  56. #56 andyo
    January 17, 2008

    An excellent interview by Prof. Shubin. It is unfortunate that so few scientists take the trouble to appear on shows like the Colbert Report (which I must confess I never watch), or make public presentations to general audiences. We need more Shubins, Tysons, Krausses, and Millers out there to counteract the crap from the Dumbskies of the world.

    Posted by: SLC | January 17, 2008 6:36 PM

    Colbert’s got 3 out of those 4 covered already. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has appeared 2 or 3 times, he’s a “friend of the show” and hopefully got the “Colbert bump”. Ken Miller also has done a good appearance. Also, Dawkins, Brian Greene, Peter Agre, and some others I forget.

    I have seen Tiktaalik referenced before too in the show and another guest also brought a replica to discuss it (sorry, I forget the name of the guest). In short, Colbert is actually scientifically literate, especially compared with his fellow TV comedians. and throughout his show there are sometimes little science in-jokes. You should probably watch it, if TV is your thing.

  57. #57 Carlie
    January 17, 2008

    I thought you also did a great job in the PBS evolution series a few years ago. I’m really glad that there are paleontologists who can communicate so well with the media.

  58. #58 MAJeff
    January 17, 2008

    I don’t think so. Adapting language is not the same as compromising standards to appease (religious) people.

    As someone who’s been doing research and working in the field of framing, and particularly it’s relationship to language, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Framing is about choosing the right metaphor (“cupcake recipe”), about using specific exemplars, and about using language in ways that draw upon a preferred way of approaching the topic at hand. It’s been blown out of shape in these conflagrations, but it doesn’t help when you don’t know the literature and spout crap.

  59. #59 paul01
    January 17, 2008

    Dr. Shubin

    It seems your book came out in Canada because I had already bought it and had read 80% of it when I saw the interview. I was impressed with how well you expressed the gist of the book in the time you had alotted. Also I do believe Colbert was pitching as in 5-pitch, so you could hit the ball.

  60. #60 paul01
    January 17, 2008

    oops.

    “came out in Canada a few days early” is what I meant to say

  61. #61 Peter Hollo
    January 17, 2008

    As someone who’s been doing research and working in the field of framing, and particularly it’s relationship to language, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Thanks MAJeff, saved me from having to hop on and be much ruder :)

  62. #62 Peter Hollo
    January 17, 2008

    …mind you, the stray apostrophe in “it’s” is a shame :P

  63. #63 Matt LaCrosse
    January 17, 2008

    I thought you did pretty well considering it was Steven Colbert across the table. That guy is great at ad lib comedy.

  64. #64 Sarah
    January 17, 2008

    The interview was fantastic! I’ve ordered your book and am looking forward to reading it.

  65. #65 Steve Zara
    January 17, 2008

    I thought it was first rate. You came across calmly and clearly, and made your points in an entertaining way. I have seen some well-known scientists who have experience with the media having problems dealing with Colbert’s style (Brian Greene was an example), so I think should count this as quite a success.

  66. #66 Alex
    January 17, 2008

    Great post. :)

  67. #67 Lago
    January 17, 2008

    “I have seen Tiktaalik referenced before too in the show and another guest also brought a replica to discuss it (sorry, I forget the name of the guest)”

    It was Neil’s buddy “Ted Daeschler” that was on with Tiktaalik before. They have worked together for quite a while and were involved in the Red Hills finds like the Rhizodont known as “Sauripterus”

  68. #68 andyo
    January 17, 2008

    Wow, some people are really touchy-feely about this framing stuff. I guess MAJeff and Peter Hollo (thanks for not being rude to me, by the way) are proponents of it? Not that there’s anything wrong with that (in my opinion).

    As someone who’s been doing research and working in the field of framing, and particularly it’s relationship to language, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Well, I haven’t really done much research, nor have been working in the field of framing, and particularly its relationship to language, so I may not know what I’m talking about as thoroughly as yourself, whom, by inference from your post, you were actually referring to when writing that.

    But that was a cheap shot. You know, just like stating other people don’t know about stuff and you’re an expert, or commenting that someone saved you from having to be rude to someone else.

    I was just responding to the other poster who thought Mr. Shubin was framing, and from the looks of the post, he was being critical because of that. From what I’ve read from the opponents of framing (of which I am not one, but I don’t go the other way either because I’m not an “expert”), they think that framing in the religion vs. science conflict tends to compromise standards of science, hence my reply.

  69. #69 Karen S.
    January 17, 2008

    Great interview! I loved the article (not to mention that compelling cover art) in NH magazine. My library ordered your book and someone has already checked it out. I’m the next one in line for it.

    I sincerely hope more scientists will follow your lead and talk to the public about science.

  70. #70 andyo
    January 17, 2008

    By the way, thanks for the clarification, Lago.

  71. #71 Lago
    January 17, 2008

    “By the way, thanks for the clarification, Lago.”

    No problem. Here is more on their friendship if you are interested:

    http://www.citypaper.net/articles/070199/feat.covstory1.shtml

  72. #72 Ben
    January 17, 2008

    As a former (medical) student of Dr. Shubin’s, I am happy to report that he is every bit as interesting and enthusiastic and intelligent as a teacher as he represented himself to be during the interview. Bravo, Dr. Shubin!

    But, the real question is: Does Tiktaalik have a puborectalis homolog?

  73. #73 LeeLeeOne
    January 17, 2008

    Colbert! Pharyngula! Colbert! Pharyngula!

    Can life get any better?! I think not!

    Oh my, I love to get picky.

    “…does not tell you the tack Colbert is going to take…”

    Should not the author have used “tact” instead of “tack” in this subquote?

    Either I’m off in left field, an English major/minor needs to correct me, or just maybe, I’m (insert facial signs of humility here) right?

  74. #74 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    Tack in this sense is meant as the nautical term.

    3. Nautical
    a. The position of a vessel relative to the trim of its sails.
    b. The act of changing from one position or direction to another.
    c. The distance or leg sailed between changes of position or direction.

    most specifically, “b”

  75. #75 LeeLeeOne
    January 17, 2008

    Ichtyic, my humblest apologies for murdering plain English. Thank you. (No wonder my kids continued to roll their eyes at me when they were in grammar school.)

  76. #76 Alan Kellogg
    January 17, 2008

    Professor,

    No cable and I’m on dial up, so watching the interview is out of the question. (That and the fact the vertical is whacked, so I essentially use my tv as a radio with a screen saver.) That said, I commend you for going on The Colbert Report.

    However, I must protest your statement that I am descended from a fish. I am not descended from just any fish, I am descended from a lobe-finned fish. And I scoff mightily at anyone descended from a paltry ray-finned fish (assuming any such person actually existed).

  77. #77 Seraphiel
    January 17, 2008

    Colbert is adept at derailing a conversation for purely comedic value.

    But his apparent affinity for scientists is easily one of my favorite things about his show. He’s willing to give them a good platform to bring these concepts to a much wider audience than they might have found otherwise.

    (Though I confess that sometimes, his interviews with the pseudo-scientists like Behe are even more entertaining, for his willingness to let them hoist themselves on their own petard.)

  78. #78 MAJeff
    January 17, 2008

    But his apparent affinity for scientists is easily one of my favorite things about his show. He’s willing to give them a good platform to bring these concepts to a much wider audience than they might have found otherwise.

    Agreed. Was it just me, or did anyone else notice he seemed to almost go out of character (listen to his voice and inflection) when he asked, “Is this tiktaalik…” It may just have been me, but I thought I noticed a subtle shift.

  79. #79 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    And I scoff mightily at anyone descended from a paltry ray-finned fish (assuming any such person actually existed).

    bah! your lobefinner ancestors have by and large gone the way of the dodo.

    OTOH, we descendants of rayfinners can point to how successful our ancestors have been:

    30K species and finding more every day!

    i mean, yeah sure, we don’t get around all that well on land, but that’s beside the point.

    (all hail Dagon)

  80. #80 MAJeff
    January 17, 2008

    i mean, yeah sure, we don’t get around all that well on land, but that’s beside the point.

    And some of y’all are pretty tasty.

  81. #81 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    And some of y’all are pretty tasty.

    yeah, I’ve been meaning to mention:

    would you kindly LAY OFF systematically wiping my ancestors off the face of the planet, please?

    I mean, really, just because some of my ancestors used to chow down on some of your ancestors, doesn’t mean you all can go on a mass genocidal spree in revenge.

    bastards.

  82. #82 MAJeff
    January 17, 2008

    would you kindly LAY OFF systematically wiping my ancestors off the face of the planet, please?

    brains and thumbs, man, brains and thumbs. Do try to catch up :)

  83. #83 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    brains and thumbs, man, brains and thumbs. Do try to catch up :)

    oh sure, your kind always brings that shit up whenever you try to defend your attitude of “manifest destiny”.

    you just keep telling yourself how wonderful those opposable digits are after there are none of my ancestors left for you to stuff those simplistic silly jaws of yours with.

    only one set of teeth.

    pathetic.

  84. #84 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    btw, look at the cover of Natural History Shubin’s article is featured in.

    see a lobefinner in that suit, do you? why, no you don’t!

    take that!

  85. #85 thalarctos
    January 17, 2008

    only one set of teeth. pathetic.

    Not even to mention their vanilla sex lives–pffft.

  86. #86 Ichthyic
    January 17, 2008

    Not even to mention their vanilla sex lives–pffft.

    no kidding.
    such limited imaginations.

    just to counter their fictional self identity with being the “dominant” group on the planet, I give you wiki:

    In terms of numbers, actinopterygians are the dominant class of vertebrates

    ha! take that!

  87. #87 LisaJ
    January 17, 2008

    You gave a fantastic interview on the Colbert report! I was very impressed. You were able to get your story across in a really interesting (for the general audience included, I would imagine) and insightful manner. It was the perfect kind of science storytelling to really peak the interest of a ‘non-scientist’ audience. You also did a wonderful job responding to Steven’s humour, you guys seemed to work quite well together. Great job. I’ll be reading your book soon!

  88. #88 RamblinDude
    January 17, 2008

    Agreed. Was it just me, or did anyone else notice he seemed to almost go out of character (listen to his voice and inflection) when he asked, “Is this tiktaalik…” It may just have been me, but I thought I noticed a subtle shift.

    I’ve seen him do that a few times when he gets really interested in the topic. It’s funny, you can tell he’s just dying to throw away the shtik and ask some real questions–but he’s got a show to do. He’s savvy enough to know that he can let his character slip if the interview is really interesting. It’s like a code to his audience that he’s impressed.

    (I guess you can tell I’m a fan)

  89. #89 John P. Baumlin
    January 17, 2008

    There aren’t many people who are willing and able to step up to the plate and communicate the wonder and excitement of science so effectively. Those who know don’t always communicate their knowledge very well; those who are good at communicating don’t always understand the intricacies of science.

    The scientific community is fortunate in having someone like you, Dr. Shubin, in being willing to put yourself on the spot not knowing how it’ll go. I think it was clear that Stephen Colbert was somewhat in awe of you, and his viewers were too, I’m sure.

  90. #90 Ian
    January 17, 2008

    I have to agree with all the above comments. I thought you did great in a very challenging seat-of-your-pants interview. Viewers can tell when Colbert is actually interested in one of his guests, and he obviously wanted you to be able to speak your piece. Your book sounds fantastic, and I’ll be picking up a copy as soon as possible. Good work, and never underestimate the value of five minutes of good science, presented well to a wide audience.

  91. #91 foxfire
    January 17, 2008

    @78 & 88 – I saw the same thing.

    Great interview Mr. Shubin and Amazon shipped my copy of your book today – YAY!

  92. #92 MAJeff
    January 17, 2008

    Returning to Dr. Shubin’s post:

    I was aided, though, by the experience of preparing my answers. It exercised my brain in a way that allowed me to respond to the questions he really asked.

    I think this is vital. When doing media, be prepared. Understand what types of questions tend to get asked (best if you can review the interviewer’s previous work). But, get your answers ready, and practice getting to those points from any number of questions. Know what you want to say, how you want to say it, and figure out ways to get to saying it from any number of angles (questions).

    Again, well done. And, honestly, your reflections are the same sorts of things I talk about when speaking with community or student groups trying to work in the media.

    Now, if USPS would just hurry up.

  93. #93 Bob L
    January 17, 2008

    When out and bought Shubin’s book after seeing him on the Colbert Report. I like the book.

  94. #94 Dave Puskala
    January 17, 2008

    To put it simply, Dr. Shubin, you have a great gift. Thank you for sharing it with us on the Colbert Report. Now I am going to read the Natural History I just got in the mail yesterday.

  95. #95 frankly
    January 18, 2008

    Well, all I can add is, so long, Dr. Shubin, and thanks for all the Tiktaaliks.

  96. #96 Bob O'H
    January 18, 2008

    Like everyone else said, great interview. I love the idea of demonstrating whole of evolution through just the ear.

    Is it just me, or did Colbert look like he was so interested that he wanted to get into a long discussion? It looked like he was about t, and then had to stop himself and get back on track.

    Bob

  97. #97 Janine
    January 18, 2008

    I’ve seen him do that a few times when he gets really interested in the topic. It’s funny, you can tell he’s just dying to throw away the shtik and ask some real questions–but he’s got a show to do. He’s savvy enough to know that he can let his character slip if the interview is really interesting. It’s like a code to his audience that he’s impressed.

    (I guess you can tell I’m a fan)

    Posted by: RamblinDude | January 17, 2008 11:18 PM

    After watching the interview with Shubin for a second time, I went back to watch the interview with Behe. Colbert never slipped from character while “criticising” Darwin. And Behe was easily led off topic.

  98. #98 Colbert University
    January 18, 2008

    You both looked to be having lots of fun – thanks for letting us know the inside scoop!

    The real Stephen is indeed very interested in science. He’s said, “The frustrating thing [about my show] is that I have to be stupider than I want to be, because my character is so willfully ignorant of what my guests are talking about. Sometimes I wish I could just show slightly more knowledge, because I’d ask a better question.”

    So when he’s so interested in what you’re saying that he can’t stop himself from breaking character to ask a smart question – as he did with you on Tiktaalik, as some commenters noted — that’s a high compliment!

    Here’s a collection of links to some of his many interviews with scientists, for anyone interested. You might see a few other character breaks in there.

  99. #99 MAJeff
    January 18, 2008

    Colbert University , thanks for the link….having a very enjoyable time :)

  100. #100 Angus
    January 18, 2008

    I’ll put my hand up and say for the record I am a fan of the Colbert Report. But in case anybody was wandering what he is like in real life he is (and I’m NOT) a believer in God.

    Sorry about the lack of formatting. HTML aint my strong suit

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15446858

  101. #101 Leigh Williams
    January 18, 2008

    Dr. Shubin, congratulations on your graceful and illuminating turn on the Colbert Report. And, thank you, from a layman who appreciates the effort and skill set it takes to communicate with those outside your field.

    Without delay, we should set up a special category of funded professorship for you double-hitters, similar to the chair Dawkins holds. I have the feeling your skills will become ever more critical if we are not to sink into a new dark age.

    Then we will write a new book: How the Science Communicators Saved Western Civilization.

  102. #102 Ian
    January 18, 2008

    “I found my inner monkey, inner lizard, inner fish; (And all of this in just my ear? …”

    Your inner ear?!

  103. #103 Ian
    January 18, 2008

    Commenter #58:
    It doesn’t help either when you confuse “it’s” with “its”.

  104. #104 Leukocyte
    January 18, 2008

    Dr. Shubin, not only did you nail an interview on a show as hip as the Colbert Report, but you then came to Pharyngula to debrief. You seem to be on a mission to destroy the whole “ivory tower” idea. Great work! I hope more scientists are inspired by the latest generation of great communicators, such as yourself and Neil deGrasse Tyson (Dr. Padian comes to mind as well), to get out there and share their work and knowledge directly with the public. With teachers avoiding the teaching of evolution in schools, and the usual treatment of science by the mainstream news (“Thanks Jane. Studies have shown that breathing air may be dangerous. Here’s how to protect your kids“), someone’s got to tell the public how cool and interesting science can be. Who knows how many future scientists may have been inspired by that interview. I’m also going to go buy the book now. I can’t wait to read it after this guest post. Thanks again!

  105. #105 firemancarl
    January 18, 2008

    I am a huge fan of Colberts and I like science. I thought your few minutes on the show was fantastic. All I could think was “Wow, thats the guy that found tiktaalik!” I think the message got across and I think it was easy to follow.

    IMO, Colbert likes scientists, thats why Tyson is on a lot , but he cannot stand idiots like Behe whom he bludgened when he was on.

  106. #106 Science Goddess
    January 18, 2008

    Gives whole new meaning to the phrase “stick it in your ear”

    Loved the show!

    SG

  107. #107 Bearguin
    January 18, 2008

    While I think you did really well on the show, I’m really surprised the scientists haven’t figured out how to deal with Colbert.

    So, Phil, if you ever get on his show, just remember to follow Jane Fonda’s lead.

    http://www.thecomedynetwork.ca/Default.aspx?a=b&u=1&d=1&c=CA&time=1200666601&hash=ab9cce8efe32fbabf365fded68756e0d

  108. #108 Bearguin
    January 18, 2008

    Yeah, not only can I not format html, I got the wrong link

    http://broadband.thecomedynetwork.ca/comedy/?vid=16641

    Hope that works better.

    Man I’ve killed my own joke.

  109. #109 Reginald Selkirk
    January 18, 2008

    OK, I found the drawing of the naked breast on page 79.

    Now for a serious question, during the Colbert interview, you seemed to be free with terminology such as “reptiles,” which according to a strict cladistician like Donald Prothero (plug for Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters) is a paraphyletic, catch-all group. What sort of balance do you draw between strict technical accuracy and keeping the general public involved?

  110. #110 Paul Crowley
    January 18, 2008

    Just went to watch this on YouTube. Great stuff – you have an excellent TV style!

  111. #111 Blake Stacey
    January 18, 2008

    andyo:

    Adapting language is not the same as compromising standards to appease (religious) people.

    To which MAJeff took objection, saying,

    Framing is about choosing the right metaphor (“cupcake recipe”), about using specific exemplars, and about using language in ways that draw upon a preferred way of approaching the topic at hand. It’s been blown out of shape in these conflagrations, but it doesn’t help when you don’t know the literature and spout crap.

    I’ll accept that people in the social sciences use a definition of “framing” which has these implications (although to an uncultured physics boffin like me, these practices wouldn’t deserve a special term, other than “good teaching techniques”). Taking that as our starting point, however, the phrase “blown out of shape” hardly does justice to the distortions of the concept perpetrated in these textual conflagrations.

    If I follow the indicators quoted above, I’d have to call Richard Dawkins one of the best framers in the business.

  112. #112 Galbinus_Caeli
    January 18, 2008

    Dr. Shubin, Thank you both for your appearance on Colbert, and then here. I look forward to more from you in both venues.

  113. #113 Vic
    January 18, 2008

    I hate that I can’t add more to the discussion than just another “Great Job”, but it must be said. Great job.

  114. #114 ABP
    January 18, 2008

    The best answers I saw responded to Colbert’s questions with a sentence that captured the essence of the science in an entertaining way.

    You did a fantastic job of this. Especially in your response to “What is it with evolutionary biologists that they just can’t let people think what they want about themselves?”

    “Well, we’re constrained by the data!”

    Hard to explain why the truth of this statement is so freaking funny but your old Bio Dept at UPenn is really enjoying it. Great job!

  115. #115 Colbert Fan
    January 18, 2008

    I thought the interview was wonderful. I am one of the people who had never heard of this book before I saw the Colbert interview. I will now buy it. One of The Colbert Report’s greatest strengths is the guest interview segment. I have bought many books because of the “Colbert bump.”

    I agree with the comments that Stephen was impressed with what you were saying, Mr. Shubin. Regular viewers can tell when Stephen is out of character, when he is particulary interested in something a guest is saying, or when he respects or likes his guest.

    I hope your experience may serve as an example to other scientists. We need more people like you out there educating the non-scientific community in terms we can understand.

  116. #116 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 18, 2008

    Britany Spears latest foible
    What were you just saying about precise language?

    You are confusing language and orthography :-)

    only one set of teeth.
    pathetic.

    Eh, that’s an innovation. Plain-vanilla lizards, snakes included, have a few extra teeth on the palate to this day. The normal state for lobefinners is to have teeth all over the oral cavity, just like in rayfinners. The lower-jaw toothplate of lungfishes is on the prearticular, a bone that has ended up in the middle ear in mammals…

  117. #117 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 18, 2008

    Britany Spears latest foible
    What were you just saying about precise language?

    You are confusing language and orthography :-)

    only one set of teeth.
    pathetic.

    Eh, that’s an innovation. Plain-vanilla lizards, snakes included, have a few extra teeth on the palate to this day. The normal state for lobefinners is to have teeth all over the oral cavity, just like in rayfinners. The lower-jaw toothplate of lungfishes is on the prearticular, a bone that has ended up in the middle ear in mammals…

  118. #118 Kevin
    January 18, 2008

    Well done,
    You are the type of person that would be great to have speaking to middle schools and high schools. You really seem like someone that could spark interest in science even in the most disinterested teen.

    Great job!

  119. #119 negentropyeater
    January 18, 2008

    Prof. Shubin made this very thoughtful remark :
    “We live in a society where Britany Spears latest foible gets more ink than Mello and Fire’s 2006 Nobel discovery of RNAi– a breakthrough on a little worm that will likely lead to treatments of many diseases. Something is wrong here.”
    I think this would merit an entire thread in itself.

    It raises numerous questions :

    - Has this always been the case or is there evidence that the problem of interest in science and its communication in the general media is worsening ?
    - Is there evidence that the general public is simply not really interested with scientific discoveries, or is it due to the lack of good science communicators, journalists or the choices made by editorial board members ?
    - Is this really a problem, knowing that in the end, the Britney Spears related issues will be largely forgotten within a few years, whereas scientific discoveries do make history ?
    - Will there ever be any chance of reversing these “infantilization trends” in a free-market model where what counts is to keep spectators watching, show them what appeals to their most primitive emotions and enable the sale of avertising spots. In other words is education via TV and other commerical mass media a lost cause ?

  120. #120 Trent1492
    January 18, 2008

    There is only one review of the book on Amazon. I hope that that all of you that have ordered the book will put up a review of it after having read it.

  121. #121 Sven DiMilo
    January 18, 2008

    “reptiles,” which according to a strict cladistician … is a paraphyletic, catch-all group

    a) it’s only paraphyletic if you insist birds aren’t included
    b) even in the usual vernacular meaning of “amniotes other than mammals and birds,” there is nothing wrong with it as long as everybody knows what group you’re talking about (which everyone does in the case of “reptiles”). I’m all for strict monophyly in formal taxonomy, but really, it’s OK to refer to paraphyletic groups of organisms that are widely understood by consensus in informal conversation. IMO.

  122. #122 MAJeff
    January 18, 2008

    If I follow the indicators quoted above, I’d have to call Richard Dawkins one of the best framers in the business.

    As would I.

  123. #123 Lisa
    January 18, 2008

    Dr. Shubin,
    Brava for a job well done! As a loyal fan of The ColberT ReporT, I was impressed at your ability to handle Stephen’s questions and still explain the basis for your book so that it was easy for everyone to understand and appreciate — I too am interested in reading your book as well. Typically, that’s the objective of most authors who appear on the show, and I think you did a great job (and didn’t seem nervous at all!). I hope we get to see you on the show again in the future with another book too!

  124. #124 andyo
    January 18, 2008

    If I follow the indicators quoted above, I’d have to call Richard Dawkins one of the best framers in the business.

    Posted by: Blake Stacey | January 18, 2008 10:20 AM

    Well, do you (follow those indicators)? Again, as explained in my subsequent post, in that first post I was responding to the other commenter who seemed to imply criticism on Mr. Shubin as “framing”. From what I’ve read from critics of framing, their main problem with it is that in the context of religion vs. science, (or whenever science is under -often unfair- attack) it compromises scientific standards at least in some cases. Hence my answer. In other contexts, for example this interview, I don’t see framing as being too detrimental, if not positive. I don’t go either way with the framing thing. I have no direct involvement with science education, and both parties should know better (than me). I apologize to Greg Esres if I misunderstood his meaning.

  125. #125 Lago
    January 18, 2008

    I would like to agree with the above double usage of the term, “Reptile.” There is the way it has come to be defined in the actual study of comparative vertebrate anatomy, and there is the way most people use it as to mean “all cold blooded amniotes.”

    I think that people who know the science will know which usage another scientist is using, so there is little concern of confusion there, but, when discussing the current so-called, “scientific” usage of the word in front of your average Joe, one should probably make sure to distinguish who and what they are actually talking about to prevent the development of a general misunderstanding…

    My personal opinion is that the term should be dropped when it comes to scientific usage, and the word should only be used in the vernacular usage described above.

  126. #126 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    I think that people who know the science will know which usage another scientist is using, so there is little concern of confusion there, but, when discussing the current so-called, “scientific” usage of the word in front of your average Joe,

    then there’s the counter argument that we shouldn’t let the general public’s misusage of terminology dictate the relative merit of the terminology to begin with.

    for example, there is a legitimate usage within paleontology of the term “macroevolution” which should not be affected by the creobots usage of “macroevolution” to imply kind->kind evolution.

    I for one, have grown tired of dispensing with various terminology simply because the lay public misinterprets its usage.

    let em accuse scientists of being “elitist” if they want. at some point, there is little purpose (and actually some problem) in capitulation for the sake of misunderstandings.

  127. #127 Blake Stacey
    January 18, 2008

    andyo:

    I dunno. Most attempts to understand how people respond to messages seem horribly oversimplified to me, anyway, when they’re even well-enough defined that one can talk about them.

    Empirically speaking, the people around these parts who invoke “framing” seem to do so in order to, as PZ put it, “kick Richard Dawkins in the crotch”. (One almost gets the feeling that the people responsible for injecting the “framing meme” into our ongoing discourse would advocate the same conclusion using any other premise, too.) Saying that the man is himself a “good framer” would then be rather paradoxical, wouldn’t it? For his sake, I hope the concept of “framing” has been distorted and misapplied from some, perhaps more scientific, original.

    To be honest, I can’t remember a single genuine contribution made during the entire “framing” kerfuffle, not a single post worth revisiting, not a single insight which hadn’t been expressed already — and that includes what I wrote at the time. It has vanishingly little to do with science, and everything to do with drawing the boundaries for Yet Another In-Group Mentality. It’s all just pissing in the meme pool; fuck it.

  128. #128 Isaac
    January 18, 2008

    Excellent work Mr. Shubin. I think you had a commendable performance, well done. I’m looking forward to cracking open your latest book! :)

  129. #129 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    Empirically speaking, the people around these parts who invoke “framing” seem to do so in order to, as PZ put it, “kick Richard Dawkins in the crotch”.

    hmm, post Nisbet publishing his article in Science, I’ve typically been attacking Nisbet’s specific usage of framing myself. Never even thought about the trolls accusing Dawkins of “framing”.

    there is indeed a difference in utilizing metaphor as an instance of framing (something Dawkins does), vs. modifying the message itself as a form of framing (something I, and others, feel Nisbet is proposing). yes, there are nuances to debate, but that would take many more paragraphs.

    Saying that the man is himself a “good framer” would then be rather paradoxical, wouldn’t it?

    yes!

    I personally have always considered Dawkins to be as near a purist to his own message as is possible to do. an exemplar, in fact.

  130. #130 MAJeff
    January 18, 2008

    there is indeed a difference in utilizing metaphor as an instance of framing (something Dawkins does), vs. modifying the message itself as a form of framing (something I, and others, feel Nisbet is proposing). yes, there are nuances to debate, but that would take many more paragraphs.

    Ding! Ding!

    Nisbet is offering a particular strategy. It’s his strategy that’s the problem, along with the fact that people consider his strategy (possibly because of his own writings on it) to be what framing is.

    Framing is about the use of language, and about how things are cognitively organized. By using certain metaphors to explain processes (and let’s be honest, communication of science makes a lot of use of metaphors) you’re drawing upon certain relationships (purposively). You’re trying to get people to link ideas in a particular way–through the use of language. You’re framing. Pretty simple, actually.

  131. #131 Lago
    January 18, 2008

    Ichthyic

    If you read what I wrote again, I actually said the same thing that you recommended.

  132. #132 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    My personal opinion is that the term should be dropped when it comes to scientific usage,

    nope, that’s 180 from what I was saying:

    I for one, have grown tired of dispensing with various terminology simply because the lay public misinterprets its usage.

    did i miss something?

  133. #133 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    (possibly because of his own writings on it)

    well, that’s it, yes?

    the man has a PhD in communications, and he claims his strategy is just that: framing.

    It’s even the title of his blog:

    Framing Science.

  134. #134 Blake Stacey
    January 18, 2008

    MAJeff:

    By using certain metaphors to explain processes (and let’s be honest, communication of science makes a lot of use of metaphors) you’re drawing upon certain relationships (purposively). You’re trying to get people to link ideas in a particular way–through the use of language.

    For a person not “hep” to the jargon, the temptation is to say, no doubt unfairly, “That’s just communication. Why are you sticking this fancy new word onto something I already knew about?” As Revere (who’s read more Lakoff than I have) put it, it sounds like “all we have done is substitute one word for another”. I’m not saying that’s the case; I just think it’s an easy conclusion to draw. Once one has drawn that conclusion, the next step is to wonder, “Why is this expert in communications making such a big deal about it? ‘Framing’ can’t be as commonplace as it sounds to me. He has to be bringing something new to the table, giving a new meaning to the word.”

    And thus the impression is formed and solidified: “framing” is what Nisbet does and wants other people to do (whether you think that’s a good thing or not).

  135. #135 Blake Stacey
    January 18, 2008

    Ichthyic:

    there is indeed a difference in utilizing metaphor as an instance of framing (something Dawkins does), vs. modifying the message itself as a form of framing (something I, and others, feel Nisbet is proposing). yes, there are nuances to debate, but that would take many more paragraphs.

    Thank you for clarifying this distinction. I would have liked to express it so succinctly, but you’ve just saved me the job! :-)

  136. #136 MAJeff
    January 18, 2008

    I don’t want to go too far afield, but 1) framing flows from social psychology It’s about the socio-cognitive organization of phenomena. 2) it moved into political sociology and social movements (as well as communications) lit as a connector between strategic communication and those cognitive structures.

    Nisbet is “framing,” as is PZ, as is Shubin. However, as I said, it’s the elision between a particular strategy and the entire field of literature that’s a problem. I just got sick of these threads about framing a long time ago because as someone who’s been involved in the field for a long time, I simply didn’t recognize much of what I’d been working with.

  137. #137 Lago
    January 18, 2008

    Ichthyic

    You did not quote that phrase, which was my personal opinion, in your first post. That phrase was a personal opinion not tied to what I recommended.

    You quoted what I recommended, and it replied to it. It was this post, as it was the only possible post at that time that I could have been, referring to.

    Now watch
    This what you said:
    “then there’s the counter argument that we shouldn’t let the general public’s misusage of terminology dictate the relative merit of the terminology to begin with.
    for example, there is a legitimate usage within paleontology of the term “macroevolution” which should not be affected by the creobots usage of “macroevolution” to imply kind->kind evolution.
    I for one, have grown tired of dispensing with various terminology simply because the lay public misinterprets its usage.
    let em accuse scientists of being “elitist” if they want. at some point, there is little purpose (and actually some problem) in capitulation for the sake of misunderstandings.

    And this is what I had said:
    “when discussing the current so-called, “scientific” usage of the word in front of your average Joe, one should probably make sure to distinguish who and what they are actually talking about to prevent the development of a general misunderstanding…”

    Notice…no contradiction.

  138. #138 Blake Stacey
    January 18, 2008

    MAJeff:

    I just got sick of these threads about framing a long time ago because as someone who’s been involved in the field for a long time, I simply didn’t recognize much of what I’d been working with.

    I hear that a lot these days, it seems. Some friends of mine have done work on the evolution of altruism — building theoretical models whose results don’t fit neatly into standard descriptions, stuff like that. Now, to me, the sane response to that would be to test the robustness of the model, see how many real biological systems correspond to that idealization, and so forth (you know, standard science stuff). Instead, they got cited by D. S. Wilson and E. O. Wilson in that whole “revival of group selection” business. The response, upon reading something by D. S. Wilson: “I can’t tell what in blazes he’s talking about!”

    I apologize for introducing “group selection” into the same thread as “framing”. (Hey, if we throw in a critique of Scott Adams, we’ll achieve the Flamewar Trifecta.) It’s a comparable situation in another way as well, however:

    Just as the lay reader of ScienceBlogs callously identifies “framing” with Nisbet’s specific strategy, so too might the Casual Observer conclude that the multi-level selection debate is all about religion. To those of us who are just trying to figure out how both spatial distribution and kin recognition can break mean-field assumptions in population genetics, this can be a royal pain.

    However, as I said, it’s the elision between a particular strategy and the entire field of literature that’s a problem.

    In the interest of moving the discussion forward, what can we do to restore that distinction and resolve the problem?

  139. #139 MAJeff
    January 18, 2008

    In the interest of moving the discussion forward, what can we do to restore that distinction and resolve the problem?

    Honestly, I don’t know. I usually feel like the threads move nowhere and don’t even attempt to engage in them anymore. I’m honestly surprised I even said anything, because usually I’m like, “well, avoiding that thread now.” (which is something I’d never allow myself to do in the classroom.)

    Finally, for myself, I’m already starting to move away from framing research even in my dissertation but particularly afterwards because, well not because I don’t think it’s useful, but because I hate specialization and want to go learn about something else (probably food).

  140. #140 windy
    January 18, 2008

    To those of us who are just trying to figure out how both spatial distribution and kin recognition can break mean-field assumptions in population genetics,

    Umm, as I hinted at Dawkins’ site, the assertion that most population genetics, and the theoretical work on altruism, rest on “mean field assumptions” is very questionable. But apparently some people like to frame it that way. ;)

    Props to your friends for not uncritically hopping on the DS Wilson bandwagon, anyway.

  141. #141 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    Notice…no contradiction.

    except between your opinion and your earlier statement in the same post?

    then why did you bother to use it, and then state your opinion as if it was based on it?

    I’m beginning to agree with TM that you are often less than clear.

  142. #142 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    Now, to me, the sane response to that would be to test the robustness of the model, see how many real biological systems correspond to that idealization, and so forth (you know, standard science stuff)

    LOL exactly. How many times did we have arguments with the mathematical modelers (at both Santa Barbara and Berkeley) that they simply weren’t taking real-world testing and observation into account.

    …and how many times did they respond with something along the lines of: “but if we did, you wouldn’t have new ideas to test!”

    fuck, even Hamilton tested his ideas empirically (South America) before completing his refined model of kin selection.

    *shrug*

    both sides have legitimate points to make; there is little point in the end to postulate without empirical reference, and modeling is obviously indisputably important in formulating theory on many occasions.

  143. #143 Alan Kellogg
    January 18, 2008

    Ichthyic,

    I scoff in your general direction. Scoff! Scoff! Your father was a guppy and your mother smelt of spongiformes! Now go away or I shall scoff at you a second time!

  144. #144 Lago
    January 18, 2008

    I was clear Ichthyic…

    For example,

    I think we should get rid of religion. That is an opinion…

    We are not getting rid of religion is a fact…

    So what does one do? Well, we try and figure out what is reasonable based on the situation we are in and try and work from there. My recommendation on what to do about religion by way of this cannot simply be the same as what my opinion on religion is.

    I think the above is obvious and clear, and is analogous to the situation discussed in my previous post. What I believe one should do, is different from what I think we are capable of in this society. That is why I separated my recommendations from my opinion stated at the end of the above mentioned post.

    Not hard to follow…

  145. #145 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    Your father was a guppy

    hey! how did you find out my pop’s side of the family has Poeciliid in it?

    your mother smelt of spongiformes!

    you got something against nesting in sponges? Ok, I admit the time I made it on top of a patch of Tedania wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did, but you can’t hold that against me; I was a teenager.

    better take that back or I might have to resort to lobbing a holy hand grenade of Dagon in your direction.

  146. #146 Ichthyic
    January 18, 2008

    Not hard to follow…

    at this point, I’ll let some unidentified as yet third party decide.

  147. #147 MAJeff
    January 19, 2008

    better take that back or I might have to resort to lobbing a holy hand grenade of Dagon in your direction.

    No match for the killer rabbit!

  148. #148 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 19, 2008

    a) it’s only paraphyletic if you insist birds aren’t included

    Only if you also insist that even the least mammal-like of the “mammal-like reptiles”, such as the varanopids, aren’t included.

    b) even in the usual vernacular meaning of “amniotes other than mammals and birds,” there is nothing wrong with it as long as everybody knows what group you’re talking about (which everyone does in the case of “reptiles”). I’m all for strict monophyly in formal taxonomy, but really, it’s OK to refer to paraphyletic groups of organisms that are widely understood by consensus in informal conversation. IMO.

    You think?

    Where I come from, laypeople have no idea that salamanders and lizards are not closely related, or that salamanders and frogs are closely related. Incidentally, they are in good company — LinnÚ squished all salamanders into Lacerta salamandra, just like how he squished all crocodiles into Lacerta crocodilus and almost all lizards into other species of Lacerta, where lacerta is the Latin word for “lizard”.

    (Incidentally, that crocodiles are some kind of overgrown lizard is another widespread myth in my experience.)

    IMNSHO the word “reptiles” should be dropped from both scientific and popular conversation. In science, we have had the terms Amniota since 1866, Sauropsida since 1874 or so, and Theropsida since 1916; we might as well use them. Outside of science, cases where we really mean turtles and tuataras and lizards including snakes and crocodiles but neither mammals nor birds are so rare that we can just enumerate that list.

    Dr. Shubin,
    Brava for a job well done!

    Bravo. He’s male after all. :-)

    for example, there is a legitimate usage within paleontology of the term “macroevolution”

    It’s pretty much useless IMNSHO. Indeed, it is very rarely used.

  149. #149 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 19, 2008

    a) it’s only paraphyletic if you insist birds aren’t included

    Only if you also insist that even the least mammal-like of the “mammal-like reptiles”, such as the varanopids, aren’t included.

    b) even in the usual vernacular meaning of “amniotes other than mammals and birds,” there is nothing wrong with it as long as everybody knows what group you’re talking about (which everyone does in the case of “reptiles”). I’m all for strict monophyly in formal taxonomy, but really, it’s OK to refer to paraphyletic groups of organisms that are widely understood by consensus in informal conversation. IMO.

    You think?

    Where I come from, laypeople have no idea that salamanders and lizards are not closely related, or that salamanders and frogs are closely related. Incidentally, they are in good company — LinnÚ squished all salamanders into Lacerta salamandra, just like how he squished all crocodiles into Lacerta crocodilus and almost all lizards into other species of Lacerta, where lacerta is the Latin word for “lizard”.

    (Incidentally, that crocodiles are some kind of overgrown lizard is another widespread myth in my experience.)

    IMNSHO the word “reptiles” should be dropped from both scientific and popular conversation. In science, we have had the terms Amniota since 1866, Sauropsida since 1874 or so, and Theropsida since 1916; we might as well use them. Outside of science, cases where we really mean turtles and tuataras and lizards including snakes and crocodiles but neither mammals nor birds are so rare that we can just enumerate that list.

    Dr. Shubin,
    Brava for a job well done!

    Bravo. He’s male after all. :-)

    for example, there is a legitimate usage within paleontology of the term “macroevolution”

    It’s pretty much useless IMNSHO. Indeed, it is very rarely used.

  150. #150 Blake Stacey
    January 19, 2008

    windy:

    Umm, as I hinted at Dawkins’ site, the assertion that most population genetics, and the theoretical work on altruism, rest on “mean field assumptions” is very questionable.

    Oh, I agree. (Having talked it over with a couple friends who have done population genetics for much longer than I, I’m pleased to report that they agree too.) It’s just that I’d like to have a nice, explicit model showing this. You know, “Equation (2) is known as a mean-field approximation; in the following two sections, we show how this approximation can be violated.”

  151. #151 Blake Stacey
    January 19, 2008

    Oops, I meant to say, “. . . can be violated in common biological situations” (or something to that effect).

  152. #152 Ichthyic
    January 19, 2008

    It’s pretty much useless IMNSHO. Indeed, it is very rarely used.

    hey, I’m an evolutionary biologist, so I of course would tend to agree (it is entirely useless to me personally), but it IS used, nonetheless, and since you dove in to the Punc Eq discussion in the other thread, that is often described as a macroevolutionary hypothesis as one example.

    in the way I have seen it used in the paleo world, it appears to have at least some practical use.

    I admit, in arguing about it for hours with Larry Moran in a thread on this forum last year, he gradually moved me from thinking it had absolutely no use, to admittedly some practical usage, at least in paleontology.

    however, that is not the issue here. The point was that it is an example of a legitimate term within the realm of science that has an entirely different connotation when used by most of the public (as defined by creationists, especially).

    I specifically chose that one because it is so commonly misused in the public realm to begin with, that you will of course find very few actually familiar with its legitimate usage.

    My primary argument being, to reiterate, that the fact that creobots misuse a term which then ends up confusing the public should NOT be the reason we as scientists decide to stop using it.

    creobots should never, EVER, drive the decisions in science.

    I should hope we all agree on that, if we don’t all agree on the efficacy within science of any given terminology.

  153. #153 ro6ot
    January 19, 2008

    Hi, congratulations definitely on the wonderful Colbert interview! I stumbled across this video when looking online for the much longer segment from NPR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” which I heard only part of on the radio. I was hoping to download the Podcast of that interview, but for some reason it is not available. I encourage everyone to go to http://www.onpointradio.org/shows/2008/01/20080117_b_main.asp and listen to that segment! Sadly my network is configured to not allow streaming media connections ):
    If there is any chance this finds its way to Prof. Shubin, I would take this opportunity to prevail upon him to try and release that interview in podcast form- it was so excellent!!! One of the best hours of radio I’ve been uhappy enough to not hear all of. [Also, if anyone recorded -or might yet record- the interview, I would be very happy to store a back-up copy for them at my premises should anything terrible happen to their own. To that end I am reachable at ro6ot{at}hotmail{d0t}com.]
    Again, congratulations, and thank you.
    Rob in Providence RI USA

  154. #154 truth machine
    January 22, 2008

    I’m beginning to agree with TM that you are often less than clear.

    Clarity is not what one gets from someone who claims that “My personal opinion is that the term should be dropped when it comes to scientific usage, and the word should only be used in the vernacular usage described above” is not a statement about “what is reasonable based on the situation we are in”. Clarity could have come from adding something like “in a perfect world” or “if it were feasible”, and eliminating the normative “should”, which isn’t suitable for counterfactuals.

  155. #155 Neil Shubin
    January 23, 2008

    Thank you for your comments and thanks to PZ Myers for the forum to hold this conversation.

    Begging PZ’s indulgence, I’d like to open my comments with one sidebar. I wince when I am described as THE discoverer of Tiktaalik or THE leader of the team that discovered it. This is not how science works. I was A discoverer and A leader. This project has been a collaboration among equals, namely Ted Daeschler who was there at the beginning, Farish Jenkins and, most lately, Jason Downs. Also, the ultimate success of the project is due to many talented people working in the field and lab, not the least of which is the superb fossil preparator, Fred Mullison. Progress in science is often the result of the collaboration many people who bring different talents to bear on a problem. The Ellesmere work is no exception in this regard.

    Onto the comments-replies:

    1,2,3,4: Thanks

    5. Colbert really likes scientists and wants them to get their content across. The show is a curious mix of irreverent humor and content.

    6,7,8,9, 10 Thanks

    11. The ear, like the cupcake example was not prepared in advance, per se. I discuss similar things in the book so that these kinds of things were reasonably fresh in my mind. The mix of adrenaline and preparation enabled me to get them across more succinctly than I’ve done before. My preparation was more about creation-evolution questions because if I flubbed them, the cost of the error would have been high–much higher than me or my book looking bad.

    12-16 Thanks

    17. Maybe someday I’ll write an article on scientific communication. Let me give a go at communicating, learn some more lessons, then let’s see what we have to say.

    18. Thanks

    19. Whoops.

    20-37. Thanks

    38. Wow, the power of blogs never ceases to amaze…one of my high school crew.

    40. a. E. Watsoni has some subtle differences in the dermal skull from Tiktaalik. The two taxa are close though. b. I respect Per a lot and he is a great guy to interact with…though I do not get to see him much. c. The first person to recognize an elpistostegid in the Arctic material was Chicago grad student, Matt Friedman. It was only a chunk of skull that Ted brought back to the lab, though, nothing great. I found a regognizable elpistostegid in the first days field in July 2004 from a crummy patch of scales. These were all run ups to the real moment when we saw the snout of the C specimen (the iconic one in all the press pics) in the field. It was found by Steve Gatesy and we all swirled around it. It was then we realized we had Tiktaalik and likely had a well-preserved partial skeleton. The really important ids were made when all the specimens were returned to the lab and prepared by Fred Mullison (Phila) and Bob Masek (Chicago).

    42, 43 Thanks

    46, 47 Thanks.

    48. Remember, Stephen Colbert let the interview go well.

    49-53 Thanks.

    54. We’ve found about four nice partial skeletons and lots of isolated bones and assemblages of bone. We’re returning to the site this summer to pull out more.

    55-57 Thanks

    58. I’m a teacher and I need to consider my audience. I’ve teach anatomy to Freshmen, graduate students and medical students. Same material, different lecture content, style, etc. In that regard, INNER FISH would have been a different book if I wrote it for my colleagues exclusively.

    60-66 Thanks.

    67. Ted was on the show with Tiktaalik. Tiktaalik is becoming a regular.

    68-101. Thanks

    102. External, Middle and Inner Ear…

    104. The goal of the book is to inspire future scientists, or non-scientists, to delve more deeply into our science and to show them the power and beauty its explanatory structure.

    105-108 Thanks.

    109. “reptiles” is an imprecise term. But how many viewers’ eyes would have glassed over if I said “diapsids” or “non-mammalian and non-avian amniotes??” It is a tough call and I struggle with this kind of thing alot.

    110-117 Thanks,

    118. These are great questions, worthy of a lot of conversation.

    I don’t completely follow the framing discussion, as there seems to be alot of history here, so please excuse if I do not reply to the next batch of comments.

    Thanks, all. And thanks to PZ for the opportunity to have this discussion!

  156. #156 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 23, 2008

    My primary argument being, to reiterate, that the fact that creobots misuse a term which then ends up confusing the public should NOT be the reason we as scientists decide to stop using it.
    creobots should never, EVER, drive the decisions in science.
    I should hope we all agree on that, if we don’t all agree on the efficacy within science of any given terminology.

    Sure.

  157. #157 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 23, 2008

    My primary argument being, to reiterate, that the fact that creobots misuse a term which then ends up confusing the public should NOT be the reason we as scientists decide to stop using it.
    creobots should never, EVER, drive the decisions in science.
    I should hope we all agree on that, if we don’t all agree on the efficacy within science of any given terminology.

    Sure.

  158. #158 Bad
    January 23, 2008

    Bravo for scientists engaging the public and taking care to try and explain what we’re doing.

    Science lives on the highly technical cutting edge, often too hard to convey to laypeople right away. But scientists should never forget that they are tethered to the rest of us, and unless they make some effort to drag the public along, the public is going to end up, one way or another, as a drag on their ability to pursue research. In some ways, educating the public on the nature and state of the research is as least as important as the research itself, even if only because it helps make sure that a new generation of scientists will be inspired and informed enough to continue things.

  159. #159 firemancarl
    January 23, 2008

    The scientists dude just thanked all of us. How totally cool!!!! huh-huh-huh-huh. I think it’s fantastic that he replied to the posts we made on here. I like it a lot.

  160. #160 Tom
    January 24, 2008

    **My preparation was more about creation-evolution questions because if I flubbed them, the cost of the error would have been high–much higher than me or my book looking bad.**

    I had exactly the same impression watching the interview. That’s a very nice thing, Congratulations!

    Is it possible for you as a writer to look at the selling numbers (on amazon for example)? I’m sure you did pretty well in the hours after the show ;)

  161. #161 fm
    January 25, 2008

    About crossing a picket line? Makes me very, very uncomfortable–one should never cross a picket line because we need SOLIDARITY……..or is there something about Colbert Report and writers’ strike that I don’t know.

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