Video Q and A with Mohamed Noor about genetics and evolution

Yesterday I did a one-on-one interview on Skype with Mohamed Noor, an ex-Ph.D. student of mine who is now a professor at Duke. Mohamed, a great (albeit fast!) lecturer, is teaching an online course in Genetics and Evolution that formally starts October 10.  Enrollment is free and there are no prerequisites, so if you’re interested just sign up at the link. It’s a great way to begin acquainting yourself with the field that is one of the main topics of this website.  As of yesterday, the enrollment was 15,079!!

WEIT is one of the books recommended (not required) in the course, and some of the enrolled students, who had read much of the book, submitted questions for Mohamed to ask me.  In the video I give a brief intro and then answer the questions, some of which are very good.  Mohamed was kind enough to put the interview on YouTube.

I haven’t watched this myself (I can’t bear to see myself in these things), but present it for your delectation.  The second half was done on Mohamed’s backup computer because of technical difficulties, so the video quality suffers a bit.



  1. Posted September 12, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Just a thank you for directing our attention to Mr. Noor’s upcoming class. My son took the Coursera CS101 course last spring. The course was was well done as an intro to computer science. We were planning to study Evolution this year so Mr. Noor’s course will be a perfect addition to my son’s studies. I’ve collected a number of resources to pull from but if you have personal favorites, please share.

  2. kelskye
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    I was wondering when that course began. Glad to have a timeframe in order to reread WEIT before it begins.

  3. Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    Great video. Great shirt.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      The shirt is fab – I hope the boots matched!

  4. Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    A very good interview.

    In terms of style, I notice that Mohamed looks straight at the webcam. Jerry looks aside in various directions and looks embarrassed. I vote for Mohamed’s approach (when I use a webcam to lecture I spend most of the time staring at the little light next to the webcam).

    On the other hand at one point Mohamed asks a long question and is seen reading it. Better to try to read it while seeming not to. Jerry speaks extempore and that is much more effective.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      The problem with my gaze, as I noticed, is that my webcam is an add-on that sits atop of my 30-inch screen, about a foot from the center of my computer screen, so I tend to look at the picture on my screen and not at the camera, which makes it look as if I’m looking down. But yes, I have to work on the “twitchiness”!

      • Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        Aha! You do sometimes watch yourself after all.

        I realized after I wrote that, that the reason that you were always looking upper-left (your upper-right) is that was that that was where the little box with Mohamed’s image was.

        I move that box right under the webcam and then try as hard as I can to look not at it but up at the webcam. It’s hard and after an hour of that I am extra-tired. On one older computer where I had a separate webcam I rigged up a holder made from a bent wire clotheshanger to place the webcam at eye level in front of my screen.

        I think twitchiness is actually OK — meeting the viewer’s eye and/or looking like you are meeting Mohamed’s eye is more relevant.

        • Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

          In the final video of course Mohamed is in a little box to the lower-right. I wonder whether it would work to have him look to his upper-right (at your image) and you look to your lower-left (at his image). You’d seem to be looking at each other. But that would be hard to sustain as you’d each be looking away from your computer screen. When you each look at the webcam there is a distinct illusion of you looking at each other, so that’s probably good enough.

        • Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

          Oops, I see you said you were actually looking down below the webcam. (It also often seemed you were looking to your right).

          Try the wire-coathanger holder to get your webcam right in front of the screen. But it does take a lot of bending and rebending to get it the right shape.

  5. JBlilie
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Nice shirt Dr. C.!!!!!

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Great questions & a great shirt !!

    ### Content ###
    You should do a lot more LIVE public outreach stuff Jerry ~ you are polished, confident & very clear
    0:36 I couldn’t make out the full name of your “intro bio teacher Jack…”

    ### Audio/Visual quality ###
    I’ve watched these videos previously:-
    1] Your ‘Why Evolution is True’ talk @ the Atheist Alliance International 2009 conference
    2] Your debate with Haught [followed by audience Q&A] @ the Bale-Boone Symposium. 12th Oct 2011

    Based on those two videos can I suggest respectfully that you try a headset mic? Your use of lapel mic / hand held mic [to be kind] isn’t so hot 🙂
    I set this video to the highest available 720 HD quality & your voice is compressed, hollow & tinny & just maybe a headset would improve that…
    Though I suspect it’s to do with Skype or the bandwidth in this instance since the Audio/Visual at Mohamed Noor’s end is excellent

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      What do you say at 0:36?
      “…intro bio teacher Jack [inaudible rest of name]…”

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        It’s “Jack Brooks,” the name we called Garnett R. Brooks, who taught evolution and intro bio (the zoology part). He’s long since retired, I think.

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      “You should do a lot more LIVE public outreach stuff Jerry ~ you are polished, confident & very clear”

      I agree! Dr. Coyne, you and Dr. Noor are great together. You are both are warm, accessible, enthusiastic, and professional.

      And I LOVE the shirt! Great color and I like the way the botanical patterns match the live plants behind you. Shows a love of life and attention to detail – fun and very appropriate for a biologist.

  7. Nancy Elliott
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Here is one of those free online courses!

    • Dominic
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Was there supposed to be a link Nancy?

  8. MAUCH
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    After first reading the famous book ‘Why Evolution is True’ I would suggest Noor’s other recommendation:

    ‘Introduction to Genetic Analysis’ Anthony J.F. Griffiths (Author), Susan R. Wessler (Author), Sean B. Carroll (Author), John Doebley (Author)

    This is a very informative book that helps the explain the sometimes mysterious nature of genetics.

  9. gravelinspector
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    If JAC finds watching video of himself uncomfortable, and given the clear affection he expressed for the botfly that he was host to, perhaps wearing a botfly hat (or hijab) would help?
    Which begs the question of where to get a botfly hat?
    Who’re those people who do cuddly toys of ‘flu, HIV, gonohorrea, and such sources of hilarity.

  10. Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I feel like I’m in the rainforest! Purple rainforest.

    Best performance advice I’ve received — Just do it 1000 times. That works.

    As a marketer, it is always remarkable to me that ppl show up on screen in t-shirts and so casually. These vids, pics, etc ARE now your pro image. White button down shirts and ties and suit jackets have researched out to boost credibility — instantly and unconsciously.

    Also the standard, lower, looking up you nose angle of laptop cams is offputting.

    Every video, except for your friends and family, affect your professional image. You want to avoid looking like you’re “phoning it in.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but I think this answer is rude. I don’t need or want your “professional” advice. When I give a talk in public in a more professional setting, I will dress up more. Please restrict your advice about dress to businessmen. And some advice to you: your tone is arrogant, and so I’m more likely to disregard what you say than, say, someone who actually is nicer, like Joe Felsenstein above.

      And I don’t care whether or not you like the plants in my office. I do.

      • Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        I’m nicer than that guy? I think that’s a compliment, but …

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      Shirt / tie /jacket always looks to me like “Junior IT helpdesk staffer” or “vacuum cleaner salesman” or some other sort of corporate businessbot. It does NOT say to me ‘professional academic’.

      I thought Jerry looked relaxed, informal, and at home in his office. Not that he needs my approval…


    • Adam M.
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      It’s what he says that’s important…

      Personally, I think Jerry’s particular mannerisms are what make him Jerry and show his humanity. That’s his genuine self, and I think they’re much preferable to the polished and practiced but artificial behavior and appearance of professional speakers.

  11. Posted September 12, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Signed up!
    I’m so excited to take Dr Noor’s class. I was trying to take something similar in my grad work at NCSU (preservice science teacher) but I had a schedule conflict.

    I think you look great in the video! Very relaxed too.
    I don’t think it should appear that the images are looking at each other on the screen–it would remind me of the Brady Bunch intro.

  12. Posted September 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Nice interview, Dr. Coyne. Your response to the question about testing spiritual claims was perfect, and all the explanations you gave were clear. Now I know why I can wiggle my ears! Thanks for letting us know the start date of the course. I’m looking forward to it.

  13. Veroxitatis
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks Jerry, I found your session an easy to follow but superb exposition of the central truths of evolution. I hope it may enjoy wide circulation throughout schools on both sides of the Pond.
    You suggested we may be 50 or so years from understanding the mechanism of how life originated. Did you also mean it could be a similar length of time before a replicating cell is made from the “bottom up”? 50 years is one of these figures which is so far ahead that it could easily read 150 years. I expect however that you didn’t choose an arbitrary figure but rather one based on a deep knowledge of what still needs to be done to get to that point. It would be of interest if you could say a little about current work in that direction.

  14. Posted September 12, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Very enjoyable interview Jerry, and a perfect prelude for those of us already enrolled, and who have (already) read WEIT.

    I don’t see the need for “Brain for Business”, this isn’t a public seminar we’ve had to pay hundreds of dollars to attend, it’s an online discussion relating to a free online course. Jerry and Mohamed have both given up their time to do this, I appreciate the effort they’ve both gone to. In any case it’s the content of the informaton and the manner that it’s presented that matters, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. Love to see you do more public speaking Jerry (if you’ve got time of course).

    Thanks again for taking the time to do this.


  15. Posted September 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I think I would call religion a business rather than an institution.

  16. marycanada FCD
    Posted October 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Great interview. Thanks for posting

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