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At the Water's Edge

Cottage Pie's picture

I read At the Water’s Edge Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea by Carl Zimmer. This book focuses on evolution and in addition to providing facts and charts showing how evolution works also tells a story. It tells the stories of other scientists that have long been forgotten by high school biology books (including my AP Biology Text Book by Campbell Reese and Mitchell). This book shows how all of these scientists stories intertwine creating the the next chapter of the story of evolution which is then in turn studied by the next generation of scientists who further evolve the story of evolution.

This book also shows how different branches of science interact and contribute bits and pieces to evolutions story. For example, Chapter 3: How to make a Hand, deals with exactly it sounds like. It starts off with Richard Owen, (anatomy), talking about how the bones in the hand of a bat, mole, and dugong correspond with each other. Next it shows the findings of Shubin and Alberch who studied the formation of the hand bones through observing embryos of different creatures (embryology).

Chapter 3 is only one of several examples of how this book is a wonderful supplement to the Biology 103 course because it drove the concept home that what is being taught in a science class, or any other class for that case, should not be taken as an absolute. A prefect example would be in the first chapter, After a lost balloon, where Richard Owen published a paper saying one thing and another scientist published another paper on the same topic saying something slightly different. Then, years later, upon reexamination of his work it was found that not only did Owen make mistakes anyone would have made, and mistakes due to a faulty specimen, but also blatantly ignored facts to make his theory fit the mold exactly.

In restrospect it also showed me that scientists are only human and not only make mistakes but alter data to make it seem that they are right, which I think is also a human thing to do. Who doesn’t want to be right? Based upon this a constant reevaluation of what is taught is necessary. Biology 103 also taught me this along with the fact that it takes an independent thinker to realize that the direction science has been going in is could be wrong, and that the data could be interpreted differently.

Another thing I learned from this class is that even if the course material has been covered in a previous class, in my case AP Biology, there are always new ways of explaining things and looking at things. The result of which could lead to a new discovery. At the beginning of the semester some of the material covered while not new new to me, completely blew my mind because I had never thought of it that way before. Even witnessing people who were learning different bits of material for the first time helped me to gain a new understanding of things.

While this book only covered a portion of what this bio course did I feel that it kept with the spirit of the course and would recommend it to any Bio 103 student looking for a book to read for the class. This course and book paired together helped me to see evolution as a story has more depth than previously thought because the way it was taught before was more of an open and shut case.

At the Waters Edge. Zimmer, Carl. Touchstone. New York, NY: 1998.


RecycleJack Marine's picture

Interesting Take

Check out this blog about evolution and science.