The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould

Foreward

When I first entered graduate school four years ago with the intent of studying the evolution of tarsiers, I had a lot of ideas about evolution. During my first week, and even during first month of the program, I was certain about what I wanted to study. I let everyone know I was going to be the tarsier communication guy. I had all sorts of ideas about why these animals communicate in the way they do, and I was certain that out of my stack of four or five ideas, at least one must be correct.

During the next few months, I met a lot of people, including a rodent paleontologist (the fact that he is a paleontologist is important) named Tim, who was going to be my best friend for the next three years. The first day I met Tim, I told him about my dissertation topic. After a few seconds of thinking over a beer, he told me, “I have a paper you need to read.” Tim then introduced me to Gould’s 1979 paper, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm.” It remains one of the most important things I have read in my entire life. Over the next few months, I came to respect Gould’s thoughts about paleontology, natural history, and structural evolution, and I continue to read him until this day.

Skeptic
This piece was originally published in Skeptic Magazine, Issue 24.3. Steven Pinker, who also contributed a piece, is on the front cover!

During the summer of 2019, I saw a lot of commentary about the career of Stephen Jay Gould. These were comments from people who, upset with his (perhaps misguided) book, The Mismeasure of Man, claimed his contribution to evolutionary biology was rather insignificant. Along with the claim that he had nothing to say were some more inflammatory claims which included the charge that he was a charlatan, liar, and scientifically worthless. Based on my own experience in reading Gould and how much he contributed to my own evolutionary reasoning, I knew this wasn’t true. So I emailed Michael Shermer.

For the few who don’t know, Michael Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society and Editor-In-Chief of Skeptic Magazine. He was also a friend of Gould’s. I had originally met Shermer at the Quillette Magazine Social in Toronto in January of 2019. During that time, I spoke to him at length about how perspectives in evolutionary anthropology are beginning to be twisted by a number of ideological perspectives, in response to which Shermer told me I should pitch a piece to Skeptic. I worked on such a piece over several months, but when summer came and the Gould controversy started, I reached out to Shermer and told him I wanted to write about Gould. He agreed the issue was important and accepted my pitch.

While editing the piece, Shermer wanted to make clear that Gould got a number of things about humans and human behavior wrong. His first email to me states, “There’s no rush on this at all. Let’s get it right. Maybe Gould oversold some of his ideas.. but his critics have as well.” The piece originally had a larger section that was purely an empirical critique of the study published by psychometrist Russell Warne in early 2019. Shermer thought that instead of talking about other studies, we should concentrate solely on Gould’s contributions to biology, which was the centerpiece of the essay. Likewise, the original title was, “In Defense of Stephen Jay Gould.” Shermer changed the title to what you see here and in the summary of the piece wrote, “The Account of Gould’s Science and Politics is Complicated.” His editorial contribution on this piece was greatly appreciated.

What you will read below was published in November of 2019 in Skeptic Magazine Issue 24.3 in its finalized form. Any links, images, or tables, and their captions are added by me.

The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould

It has become apparent of late that people are still very polarized in their opinions of the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. On one side there are evolutionary psychologists and I.Q. researchers who hold very strong negative opinions about Gould, particularly his book The Mismeasure of Man,1 on the history of I.Q. testing and the concept of intelligence. There are also those who do not embrace Gould’s extreme position on the role of the environment in shaping human action. On the other side there are evolutionary morphologists and paleontologists who appreciate Gould’s contributions to evolutionary theory, historians of science who recognize his original contributions to the role of culture and society in the development of scientific theories, and those who feel strongly aligned with Gould’s ideas about human nature, particularly as it relates to the role of culture and society in how lives turn out. Seventeen years after Gould’s untimely death from cancer at age 61, we are seeing a resurgence of strong opinions about him and his career.

It is unfortunate that Gould’s legacy will likely forever be entangled with his biases, especially because his important contributions in many technical areas of science that were not so tainted. We all have biases, of course, but Gould’s were particularly strong and unquestionably influenced some of his scientific work. Recently, the philosopher of science Nathan Cofnas collected the harshest assessments of Gould made by other evolutionary biologists to summarize the worst of what his colleagues thought of him—the most quoted being by the renowned evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith:

Gould occupies a rather curious position, particularly on his side of the Atlantic. Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publically criticised because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary biology.2

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The Quillette Weekly email from March 22, 2019 describes Gould as, “an obscure scientist [who] wrote an influential book.”
Selective quoting, of course, is no way to assess a career, and Gould had plenty of supporters among professional scientists as well. Still, some of what Gould’s critics have to say about him is true, particularly about his work on intelligence testing: he was wrong about his claim regarding Samuel Morton’s measurement of racial cranial capacities, he did not fully understand (or possibly even purposefully mischaracterized) the Army Beta exam for I.Q., and he was largely guided in these critiques by his personal politics that led him to see intelligence testing as a tool of oppression. A 2019 essay in the online magazine Quillette, titled “The Mismeasurements of Stephen Jay Gould,” by the psychologist and intelligence researcher Russell Warne, does a decent job of summarizing what earlier critics identified as Gould’s shortcomings in The Mismeasure of Man, and adds his own assessment of the Army Beta test in contrast with Gould’s, calling the latter’s thoughts regarding these topics “Gouldian Deception.” In the piece, Warne even tries to turn the table on Gould’s hubris of being able to mind-read the thoughts of a 19th century scientist as having at least unconcious racist attitudes by mind-reading the thoughts of a scientist who died in 2002.3

Still, even here, the verdict is not so clearcut. The assessment of Gould’s study of Samuel Morton made by Lewis et al. in 2011, in a paper aptly titled “The Mismeasure of Science,”4 claimed that Gould fudged his results. Gould’s critics, along with the popular press, lapped it up, declaring Gould to have been debunked once and for all. Unfortunately we’ll never know how Gould would have responded to these critics, but a 2015 study by Jonathan Kaplan, Massimo Pigliucci, and Joshua Banta, titled “Gould on Morton, Redux,” concluded that while “Gould’s statistical analysis of Morton’s data is in many ways no better than Morton’s own, we believe that Lewis et al.’s work is at least equally problematic.” In reviewing all the data and analysis from Morton, Gould, and Lewis et al., these scientists concluded:

Gould was, in our view, right to recognize that there was something very wrong with Morton’s analysis; but he went wrong himself in trying to find a “better” analysis. Lewis et al. are right that Gould’s analysis isn’t better, but wrong to think that Morton’s is appropriate. Further, both Lewis et al.’s analysis of the role that Gould’s work on Morton plays in the literature, and of the role played by the measurements of the skulls themselves, are, at best, misleading. Finally, the uncritical “exoneration” of Morton by Lewis et al. incorrectly implies that there was nothing very wrong with either Morton’s methods, or with his overall project. We reject both implications.5

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It’s worth noting that a more recent analysis of the Morton data exists inferring Gould may have been wrong. The ANOVA in the study includes a group with a variance of 0 and sample sizes ranging from 2-111. In statistics, we call these data heteroscedastic. Most commonly, Type II errors (false negatives), are the result of these sample sizes. This study found that variances in Morton’s counts did not differ by racial subgroup. I have spent hours with friends who work in craniometry and small sample statistics trying to make sense of these numbers. Look at the data yourself: do the variances appear equal?

Kaplan, Pigliucci, and Banta also note that there are still people today who interpret Lewis et al.’s debunking of Gould to be an endorsement of the idea that racial differences in skull size equates to racial differences in intelligence, which a Google search on the paper and its authors will attest, “and in this literature, Morton’s results are treated not as interesting historical curiosities, but as just another part of the evidence for these hypotheses.” In Morton’s time his data was used to justify slavery. In our own time, the belief that racial differences in I.Q. test scores represent inherent differences among the races in intelligence still lingers online and among those especially who are critical of social programs and other efforts to make society more equitable for all people (why bother if some groups are simply not smart enough to participate in a cognitively challenging society?). “Morton’s work continues to be used to support positions associated with what are (in our view) appalling political positions on the basis of wildly inadequate evidence,” Kaplan, et al. conclude. “This is the context in which a ‘defense’ of Morton’s assumptions, methods, and results must be understood.”6

As an evolutionary behaviorist myself, where I diverge from many of my colleagues’ critical appraisal of Gould’s work is in his more significant contributions to evolutionary theory. In response to his attacks on evolutionary psychology and psychometry, for example, many of them have chosen to disregard the body of his work as entirely “banal” or “unoriginal.” Interestingly enough, in doing so, they’re resorting to the same sort of broad-brushed attacks that Gould received when he critiqued evolutionary psychology. By no means was Gould a charlatan in his matters of expertise and in no way were his primary contributions “insignificant” to grand evolutionary theory. In order to understand what it is Gould contributed to evolutionary biology, one has to look at who and what he was speaking to.

An easily dismissed claim is that Gould was really more of a science popularizer than a real scientist. This is untrue, as Michael Shermer documented in a paper for Social Studies of Science.7 Gould published 479 scientific papers, the majority of which were in evolutionary theory in a career cut short by cancer. In judging the weight of his career, Gould’s most significant contributions to biology were: punctuated equilibrium, or the idea that evolution does not necessarily increase at a constant, slowmoving rate; spandrels, or the idea that a trait may be a byproduct of the evolution of other traits rather than the result of adaptive selection; the importance of historical contingency in evolution, whereby certain traits in an organism arise simply because other organisms before them had those traits; and the creation of the field of evo-devo which seeks to understand the comparative development of organisms in an evolutionary light. What’s common between all of these contributions is that they were the result of careful attention to morphological, rather than behavioral evolution, something which can primarily only be understood by a career in paleontology.

Simpson
George Gaylord Simpson was a father of the Modern Synthesis and had unique evolutionary insight. At a time when history, for the better, required him to link genetics and evolution, Simpson concluded that microevolutionary processes as you observe in genetics are recapitulated in the fossil record through a gradual process we call anagenesis.

The contribution of paleontology to evolutionary theory, in fact, is typically underestimated. As noted in paleontologist Donald Prothero’s review of Gould’s work written seven years after his death,8 although fossils were important for Lyell and Darwin’s understanding of deep time and for ultimately placing humanity somewhere on the family tree, they were never fundamental to grand evolutionary theory in the 20th century until Gould came along. In retrospect, most of the theoretical gains made after the modern synthesis were genetic in nature: with a unification of Mendelian inheritance and evolution. Evolution became a mathematical matter pertaining to the movement of alleles through populations. While these contributions are still important today, Gould recognized a sense of temporal verification which was completely lost by the absence of paleontology.

In 1972, Gould and his colleague Niles Eldridge (at the request of his editor who specifically wanted a contribution to speciation, counter to the claims that Gould “stole” the idea from Ernst Mayr who never published anything on the fossil evidence pertaining to this idea) published their theory of punctuated equilibrium, which shocked the biological world. Although modern critics of Gould will argue that this was no novelty and that we had known this the whole time, this is factually incorrect. In 1944 George Gaylord Simpson wrote Tempo and Mode in Evolution, arguing that evolution acted just as Darwin had predicted: minor and slow incremental changes eventually leading to a diversification of all the lifeforms one sees on Earth.9 This is much of the reason that paleontology had been ignored by evolutionary theorists: what is the point of doing paleontology when genetics shows just the same results? Although a genetic account of evolution provides much in the way of informing us how evolution operates in an immediate sense, it does little to inform us about the tempo of evolutionary events and the historical settings leading to them. Gould makes a powerful case for this viewpoint in his book Wonderful Life which discusses the Cambrian Explosion. At that time he argued, there were far more animal body plans than are present on Earth today, yet each was perfectly adapted to its environment.10 He also suggested that since many of these body plans vanished due to unpredictable capacity, if we could wind back the clock and replay the tape of life, it is possible that the vertebrates would never have surpassed the numerous families of invertebrate life that were still roaming Earth 500 million years ago. Few amounts of modelling or field experience could likely come to a conclusion so evident from the fossil record. In bringing paleontology to evolutionary biology, a series of ecological approaches was formed so that we could finally understand how entire ecosystems respond to environmental change rather than simply modelling it.

Aside from his attacks on evolutionary psychology (which was better known as sociobiology at that time), much of the anger directed at Gould derived from his critique of the adaptationist paradigm made in his now (in)famous paper, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme,” published in 1979 with his colleague Richard Lewontin.11 Arguing that too much emphasis had been placed on the concept of adaptation leading to a theoretical viewpoint that all traits were adaptive, Gould and Lewontin sought to highlight examples whereby traits had arisen without being the direct targets of selection: examples include male nipples, the human chin, and the stubby arms of Tyrannosaurus rex. The spandrels metaphor comes from architecture in which, Gould and Lewontin write, a spandrel is “the tapering triangular spaces formed by the intersection of two rounded arches at right angles.” This leftover space between arches in medieval churches is filled with elaborate, beautiful designs so purposeful looking “that we are tempted to view it as the starting point of any analysis, as the cause in some sense of the surrounding architecture. But this would invert the proper path of analysis.” To ask “what is the purpose of the spandrel” is to ask the wrong question. It would be like asking “why do males have nipples?” The correct question is “why do females have nipples?” The answer is that females need them to nurture their babies, and males and females are built on the same architectural frame. It was simply easier for nature to construct males with worthless nipples rather than reconfigure the underlying genetic architecture.

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Gould’s interaction with Pinker is worth reading (I have discussed it before). The takeaway lies in Gould’s quote from two paragraphs: “[Pinker] argues that when an ancestral spandrel becomes modified for an adaptive purpose in a descendant species, then natural selection is the agent of modification. Sure—and I have said so, prominently, in all my papers on the subject. But so what? The origin of the spandrel remains nonadaptive as an automatic architectural byproduct. The secondary modification for utility is, well, secondary—and therefore not a criticism of the claim for nonadaptive origin of the original feature.”
When it comes to the extension of evolutionary reasoning to the human mind, critics often claim Gould was biased in his public opposition to evolutionary psychology. Yet despite having public disagreements with giants including psychologist Steven Pinker and philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett on the matter, Gould was not an opponent of all forms of evolutionary psychology, just those of the hyper-adaptationist mode.12, 13 As he stated in the New York Review of Books essay, “Humans are animals and the mind evolved; therefore, all curious people must support the quest for an evolutionary psychology.” In his first book, a scholarly treatise titled Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Gould presented a theory of facial neoteny that was widely lambasted by biological anthropologists of the time.14 Yet, his framework still guides many face perception theories in evolutionary psychology today. Although Gould may have been a critic of evolutionary psychology, he was not an opponent of all behavioral sciences, as the final chapter of his book Full House contains one of the most elegant defenses of cultural evolution as an approach ever written, stating his biological principles should not be extended to culture, “lest it’s employed by ‘political corectness’ as a doctrine that celebrates all indigenous practice, and therefore permits no distinctions, judgements, or analyses.”15

To claim that Gould’s modern critics are merely historical revisionists, however, would be unfair, as Gould created enemies out of several of his closest contemporaries. And many of their critiques were not without merit. Most often discussed is the rivalry between him and the recognized founder of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson. During his lifetime Gould was a staunch critic of Wilson’s approach, largely responding to Wilson’s suggestion in his 1975 book Sociobiology to use biology as a replacement for modern philosophy and psychology. This comes only in the final chapter dealing with humans (“Man: From Sociobiology to Sociology”), and only in one short section—barely two pages long—where the reader encounters the implications of evolutionary theory for the study of human thoughts and morals: “Scientists and humanists should consider together the possibility that the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.”16 In response, Gould and Lewontin formed the Sociobiology Study Group, along with the politically charged, left-leaning organization Science for the People. Their attacks on Wilson culminated in a now infamous incident at the 1978 meeting of the AAAS in Washington, D.C. where Wilson was met with demonstrators chanting “Racist Wilson you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” When he moved to the podium to speak someone doused Wilson with a cup of ice water, growling “Wilson, you are all wet!” This was too much even for Gould, who remonstrated the demonstrators, telling them their actions were what Lenin had dismissively called “Infantile Leftism.”

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In Spandrels, Gould states he, “learned his Marxism, literally at his daddy’s knee.” In an obscure paragraph in his magnum opus, Gould clarifies, “I spoke about a fact of my intellectual ontogeny; I said nothing about my political beliefs (very different from my father’s, by the way).. I included this line within a discussion of personal and cultural reasons that might predispose certain scientists towards consideration of punctuational models.”

What’s important to keep in mind here is that Gould and Wilson worked in the same department, so what would have been a simple theoretical disagreement between these Harvard colleagues quickly turned into a personal matter.17 In his autobiographical memoir Naturalist, Wilson wondered why Gould and Lewontin didn’t just come up to his office from their offices the floor below to share their concerns with his work. They attacked him in the public pages of the New York Review of Books instead of in the privacy of his office. Why? The reason is that if you want to get your theories out into the marketplace of ideas you cannot sequester them in your office. This cuts both ways for both parties, as Michael Shermer explains in his 2004 book The Science of Good and Evil:

In the evolution wars and sociobiology debates, Gould and Lewontin had a scientific agenda that they wanted to air publicly—that adaptationist, gene-centered arguments in evolutionary theory can be carried too far, and that much in the history of life can be explained by nonadaptive processes and a multi-leveled analysis of genes, individuals, and groups. What better way to do it than to use Wilson as their foil? But who in the general public knows or cares about adaptations, exaptations, spandrels, contingencies, and other esoterica of evolutionary biology? What the public does understand quite well are Nazis, eugenics, race purification programs, and other abuses of biology of the past century. Thus, sociobiology’s critics reasoned, the best strategy is to begin with its ideological implications— particularly the racist overtones of genetic determinism—to capture an audience, then segue into the scientific arguments about the problems with hyperadaptationism.18

Gould said as much at a 1984 Harvard meeting the historian of science Ullica Segerstråle attended: “We opened up the debate by taking a strong position. We took a definitive stand in order to open up the debate to scientific criticism. Until there is some legitimacy for expressing contrary opinions, scientists will shut up.” From this (and numerous interviews with all parties involved) Segerstråle concludes:

What I take Gould to be saying here is that the controversy around Wilson’s Sociobiology was, in fact a vehicle for the real scientific controversy about adaptation! Far, then, from ‘dragging politics into it,’ or being ‘dishonest’ as [Ernst] Mayr accused Gould and Lewontin of being, their political involvement would have been instead a deliberate maneuver to gain a later hearing for their fundamentally scientific argument about adaptation. What Gould seems to have been saying here is that the scientific controversy about adaptation could not have been started without the political controversy about sociobiology.19

An appreciation for Gould comes largely from an understanding of the role of paleontology in the evolutionary sciences, something most evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, and even theoretical biologists do not normally employ in their work. The philosopher of biology Kim Sterelny, in his book Dawkins vs. Gould, argues that much of the disagreement between Gould and his contemporaries stemmed from scientists from different disciplines speaking past one another, a view with which I think most paleontologists would agree.20 In speaking of Gould’s legacy, the paleontologist Donald Prothero notes, “Judging from the way in which paleontology is presented in biology textbooks, the lack of paleontology papers in [the journal] Evolution, and the harsh response to Gould’s final work, I think this welcome was premature. Now that the most articulate spokesman for paleontology has been gone for seven years, I doubt that this will change any time soon.”21 The claimed failure of Gould’s theoretical program was not necessarily in that he was wrong regarding morphological evolution, or that these ideas were already known, but that he failed to decouple micro and macro evolution from one another, a fault which was partially evident in his attacks on evolutionary psychology, and which may have been the only way to keep paleontology at the high table.

In the same way that Gould is attacked now by behavioral biologists, I think if he were alive he would more than likely be giving as good as he got. That was part of his sometimes disagreeable personality. That said, out of a flawed character, one should not make a caricature. We can recognize the places Gould was very wrong and the places where he provided valuable insight. But at no point do I think we can properly remove what valuable insights he had and pretend they were not a part of grand evolutionary theory.

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Gould with Michael Shermer and paleontologist Don Prothero in 2001

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References

1 Gould, Stephen Jay. 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton.

2 Quoted in: Cofnas, Nathan. 2018. “What Prominent Biologists Biologists Think of Stephen Jay Gould.” https://bit.ly/2PDm1UQ

3 Warne, Russell T. 2019. “The Mismeasurements of Stephen Jay Gould. Quillette, March 19. https://bit.ly/2JzxnJX

4 Lewis, J.E., D. DeGusta, M.R. Meyer, J.M. Monge, A.E. Mann, and R.L. Holloway. 2011. “The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias.” Plos Biology, 9.

5 Kaplan, Jonathan Michael, Massimo Pigliucci, Joshua Alexander Banta. 2015. “Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.01.001

6 Ibid.

7 Shermer, Michael. 2002. “The view of science: Stephen Jay Gould as historian of science and scientific historian, popular scientist and scientific popularizer.” Social Studies of Science, 32(4), 489-524.

8 Prothero, Donald. 2009. “Stephen Jay Gould: Did He Bring Paleontology to the ‘High Table’”? Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology. December. DOI: 10.3998/ptb.6959004.0001.001

9 Simpon, George Gaylord. 1944. Tempo and Mode in Evolution. Columbia University Press.

10 Gould, Stephen Jay. 1990. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and The Nature of History. New York: WW Norton & Company.

11 Gould, Stephen Jay and Richard Lewontin. 1979. “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme.” Proceedings of the Royal Society, V. B205: 581-598.

12 Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. “Evolution: The Pleasures of Pluralism.” New York Review of Books, 44, 47-52.

13 Kalant, H., Pinker, S. and Kalow, W., 1997. “Evolutionary Psychology: An Exchange.” New York Review of Books, 44(15).

14 Gould, Stephen Jay. 1977. Ontogeny and Phylogeny. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
15 Gould, Stephen Jay. 1996. Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. New York: Crown.

16 Wilson. E. O. 1975. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 562.

17 Segerstråle, U. 2000. Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

18 Shermer, Michael. 2004. The Science of Good and Evil. New York: Henry Holt, Appendix I: “The Evolution of Evolutionary Ethics.”

19 Segerstråle, U. 2000.

20 Sterelny, K., 2003. Dawkins vs. Gould. London: Icon Books.

21 Prothero, op cit.

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“For Steve Gould, evolutionary biology’s DiMaggio. With warm regards and thanks, Ed” – 1994

Other Gouldisms

“He had, in fact, been gratuitously hostile – but even at the time, I knew it wasn’t personal.” – Photographer Richard Howard on meeting Gould two months before his death

We can blow ourselves up. We can destroy our cities. We can wreck our culture. I don’t think we can do a lot to our planet. Many people in the environmental movement say we have to save the environment because humans can wreck permanently our planet. I don’t think we can do that.” – Gould on climate change

Paleontologists have been trying to communicate their distinctive perspective for a generation, culminating with Gould’s (2002) magnum opus, published just as he was dying. Yet the harsh reviews of that book by neontologists showed that they were still rehashing issues that had been resolved by paleontologists 30 years ago. The journal Evolution continues to publish almost no contributions by paleontologists, and the meetings of the SSE I have attended just reinforced how large the culture gap has grown. If these bellwethers are representative of the relationship between paleontologists and neontologists, then it seems clear that paleontology has still not claimed its rightful seat at the ‘High Table.'” – Don Prothero in Stephen Jay Gould: Did He Bring Paleontology to the “High Table”?

I hate to think that an intellectual position, hopefully well worked out in the pages of this book, might end up as a shill for one of the great fuzzinesses of our age so-called ‘political correctness’ as a doctrine that celebrates all indigenous practice, and therefore permits no distinctions, judgements, or analyses.” – Gould on the second to last page of Full House, in defense of cultural evolution.

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The wonderful cartoon published with my article in the Skeptic piece, drawn by the magazine’s Art Director and typesetter, Pat Linse.

It is true that scientists have often been dogmatic and elitist. It is true that we have often allowed the white-coated, advertising image to represent us—’Scientists say that Brand X cures bunions ten times faster than…’ We have not fought it adequately because we derive benefits from appearing as a new priesthood. It is also true that faceless and bureaucratic state power intrudes more and more into our lives and removes choices that should belong to individuals and communities. I can understand that school curricula, imposed from above and without local input, might be seen as one more insult on all these grounds. But the culprit is not, and cannot be, evolution or any other fact of the natural world. Identify and fight our legitimate enemies by all means, but we are not among them.” – Gould in Evolution as Fact and Theory (1994), his most diplomatic essay

Experimental biology may reveal what happens to a hundred rats in the course of ten years under fixed and simple conditions, but not what happened to a billion rats in the course of ten million years under the fluctuating conditions of natural history.” – George Gaylord Simpson, Tempo and Mode of Evolution

2 thoughts on “The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould”

  1. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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