PBS: “Your Inner Fish” / Spring 2014 Broadcast

(photo: Dr. Neil Shubin with a model of Tiktaalik roseae, a transitional species between ancient fish and the first legged animals. © The Field Museum, Photographer John Weinstein)

(photo: Dr. Neil Shubin with a model of Tiktaalik roseae, a transitional species between ancient fish and the first legged animals. © The Field Museum, Photographer John Weinstein)

– Based on the Best-Selling Book by Dr. Neil Shubin –

ARLINGTON, VA; APRIL 3, 2013 – How did the human body become the complicated, quirky machine it is today? The answers can be traced back hundreds of millions of years. PBS announces an ambitious new three-part series, YOUR INNER FISH, which will air in 2014 on PBS stations and will explore the science of how and why we are the way we are. Produced by Tangled Bank Studios (whose award-winning head of television and film, Michael Rosenfeld, gives the MIPDoc keynote speech, “Reinventing Science Television,” on April 6), the series is based on the best-selling book by leading paleontologist Dr. Neil Shubin. In taking viewers on a cutting-edge, scientific adventure, YOUR INNER FISH reveals a startling truth: hidden within the human body is a history of life on Earth.

The human body carries the legacy of animals that lived millions of years ago, and from whom we inherited our most remarkable features, as well as some of our strangest quirks. Each hour of YOUR INNER FISH assembles evidence from comparative anatomy, fossils, genetics and embryology to solve the mystery of why we’re built the way we are.

“PBS viewers love shows that highlight science and history in novel and intriguing ways, but YOUR INNER FISH takes this idea to a whole new level, by tracing the mind-boggling connections that can be made between the human form we know today and any number of now-extinct but biologically important species,” said Beth Hoppe, chief programming executive and general manager of general audience programming for PBS. “We’re pleased to bring such adventurous programming to our audience through this new and exciting series.”

“With Neil Shubin’s fascinating book as our guide, YOUR INNER FISH brings millions of years of history, great expeditions and cutting-edge science into the living rooms of PBS watchers and science buffs,” said Rosenfeld. “With Neil, we dive head first into a complex subject, to tell an engrossing story about how the human body evolved. PBS is a great partner to bring this type of programming to a curious nationwide audience.”

YOUR INNER FISH is produced by Tangled Bank Studios in collaboration with award-winning producer David Dugan, founder of the U.K.-based production company Windfall Films. Shubin’s book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, was published in 2009. Shubin is an American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, a professor at the University of Chicago and a former provost of the Field Museum of Natural History.

Where did humans get arms, legs, and hands — as well as our tendency to hiccup? In this hour, common traits are traced to an ancient ancestor: a prehistoric fish, with primitive limbs, that crawled onto land around 375 million years ago. The search takes viewers from a Pennsylvania highway to the Arctic Circle to uncover humankind’s “inner fish.”

How did humans wind up with skin and teeth, sweat and mammary glands, the ability to grasp and an acute sense of hearing?  In this episode, Shubin traces these body features to early reptiles and a tiny mammal-like creature. His journey begins in Nova Scotia and winds up in South Africa, as he reveals humanity’s “inner reptile” and “inner shrew.”

Why do humans have color vision, a highly efficient gait and endless back trouble, yet no tail? To find the answers, and to look for the origins of the human brain, viewers join expeditions with legendary fossil hunters in Africa. Shubin travels back in time 50 million years on the trail of humans’ “inner ape.”

Begins Wednesday night on PBS, check local listings.

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CANNABIS: “Alcohol is a Bigger Danger to Health and Society Than Marijuana, Americans Say” / Matt Ferner

Alcohol vs. Cannabis

From heart disease to liver disease to elevated cancer risks, excessive alcohol consumption can indeed be devastating to a person’s overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are roughly 88,000 deaths attributable to alcohol use each year in the United States. In 2006, the CDC reported that there were 1.2 million emergency room visits and 2.7 million physician office visits due to excessive alcohol use.

Studies have also shown cannabis to be far less addictive than alcohol, and even caffeine.


Alcohol has been found to be more lethal than many other commonly abused substances, according to a study from American Scientist. Just 10 times the recommended serving of alcohol can lead to death, while a marijuana user would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint in order to be at risk of a fatal dose, according to a 1988 ruling from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Still, in at least 10,000 years of human consumption, there have been no documented deaths as a result of marijuana overdose.

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SCIENTIFIC LITERACY: “Scientifically Illiterate People” / Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Neil DeGrasse Tysonh/t: Being Liberal

SCIENTIFIC LITERACY: “Cognitive Dissonance” / Bill Nye

Bill Nyeh/t: Being Liberal

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: “Marijuana: The High and the Low” / The New York Review of Books

Jeff Chiu/AP Images:Medical marijuana patient Kevin Brown at the Apothecarium, a medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, December 2011 

But what I found most fascinating was that we have a natural or “endogenous” cannabinoid system. In 1988, researchers identified a specific docking site, or receptor, on the surface of cells in the brain that bound THC. This first receptor was termed cannabinoid receptor 1, or CB1. Five years later, a second receptor for cannabinoids, CB2, was found. This latter docking protein was less plentiful in the central nervous system but richly present on white blood cells. Again, it was Raphael Mechoulam who discovered the first endogenous cannabinoid, a fatty acid in the brain, which he termed “anandamide.” (The name is derived from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.”) When anandamide attached to CB1 it triggered a cascade of biochemical changes within our neurons.6


Ultimately, marijuana may be used in conjunction with opioids like morphine to allow for lower doses and fewer of the side effects of the opioid family of analgesics. While chronic pain seems amenable to amelioration by marijuana, its impact on reducing acute pain, such as after surgery, is minimal.

How do cannabinoids reduce pain? Some of the benefit appears to result from cognitive dissociation: you realize that pain is present, but don’t respond to it emotionally. If you are able to detach yourself from pain in that way, there is less suffering.

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