The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould


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.

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. Continue reading “The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould”

Packers and Mappers

I’ve been thinking a lot about the human tendency to categorize lately and the ways in which our methods of categorizing the world affect our ability to draw accurate maps of it, especially as it impacts science. I think it has come to the attention of a lot of people that the majority of the most contentious debates in the human sciences (such as psychology, anthropology, and biology) are specifically over the ways we classify things. Continue reading “Packers and Mappers”

Evolutionary Psychology

It has been 27 years since the inception of the field of evolutionary psychology marked by the publication of Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby’s The Adapted Mind. Although some might argue that the foundations of evolutionary psychology go much deeper with the publication of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975 (and yet others like Steven Pinker will go much, much deeper to George Williams’ Adaptation and Natural Selection in 1966), really the theoretical foundations of evolutionary psychology in its modern incarnation were laid out in The Adapted Mind. Since then, evolutionary psychology (or EP, for short) has been through its own series of trials and tribulations as it has fought to advance itself as a legitimate field of inquiry.

Continue reading “Evolutionary Psychology”

Scientific Credit

It looks like black holes are rather unremarkable in appearance (much more remarkable in context), but the hole you see in the center is about the size of our solar system.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the first ever picture taken of a black hole here it is. The image was assembled five days ago using data from a global telescope array that collected around 5 petabytes of data (1 million gigabytes) which was then compiled using this vast amount of data to give you the image you see here, now on my blog.

But I haven’t come here to discuss the implications of the black hole or the methods used to give us this image of a collapsed star located 55 million light years away from the nearest Krispy Kreme. Rather, I want to talk a little more about the process of science and the way things work now. Continue reading “Scientific Credit”