Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist,
and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential
and widely read writers of popular science of his generation, which
led many authors to call him "America's unofficial evolutionist
was a distinguished professor at Harvard for most of his career,
and served as president of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science in 2000, the Paleontological Society in 1985-1986,
and the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1990-1991.
in his career he developed with Niles Eldredge the theory of punctuated
equilibrium, where evolutionary change occurs relatively rapidly
to comparatively longer periods of evolutionary stability. According
to Gould, punctuated equilibrium overthrew a key pillar of neo-Darwinism.
Some evolutionary biologists have argued that the theory was an
important insight, but merely modified neo-Darwinism in a manner
which was fully compatible with what had been known before (Maynard
received many awards and accolades for his popular expositions
of natural history, but was nevertheless criticized by those in
the biological community who felt his presentation was unbalanced.
Some critics even accused Gould of misrepresenting their work;
likewise Gould's critics were accused of misrepresenting his.
The public debates between those that agreed with Gould and those
that have criticized him have been so contentious that they have
been dubbed 'The Darwin Wars' by several commentators (Brown 1999,
Morris 2001, et al.).
Gould began his higher education at Antioch, a liberal arts college
in Ohio, graduating with a degree in geology in 1963. He spent
a brief period of this time studying at the University of Leeds,
in England—an experience which may have influenced the development
of his nascent political awareness. After completing his graduate
work at Columbia in 1967 under the guidance of Norman Newell,
he was immediately hired by Harvard University where he worked
until the end of his life. In 1973 Harvard promoted him to Professor
of Geology and Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the institution's
Museum of Comparative Zoology, and in 1982 was awarded the title
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology. In 1989 Gould was elected
into the body of the National Academy of Sciences.
as a public figure
Gould became widely known through his popular science essays in
Natural History magazine. Many of these essays were reprinted
in collected volumes, such as The Panda's Thumb and The Flamingo's
Smile. In addition to his essay collections were his popular treatises,
such as Wonderful Life and Full House.
was a passionate advocate of evolutionary theory and wrote prolifically
on the subject, trying to communicate his understanding of contemporary
evolutionary theories to a wide audience. A recurring theme in
his writings is the history and development of evolutionary, and
pre-evolutionary, thinking. He was also an enthusiastic baseball
fan and made frequent references to the sport (including an "entire
essay") and a very wide range of other topics.
a proud Darwinist, his emphasis was less gradualist and reductionist
than most neo-Darwinists. He also opposed sociobiology and its
intellectual descendant evolutionary psychology. He spent much
of his time fighting against creationism (and the related constructs
Creation Science and Intelligent Design) and what he regarded
as other forms of pseudoscience. Gould used the term "Non-Overlapping
Magisteria (NOMA)" to describe how, in his view, science
and religion could not comment on each other's realm.
as a scientist
In addition to his work on punctuated equilibrium, Gould had championed
biological constraints and other non-selectionist forces in evolution.
Together with Richard Lewontin, in an influential 1979 paper,
they argued for the use of the architectural word "spandrel"
in an evolutionary context, using it to mean a feature of an organism
that exists as a necessary consequence of other features and not
built piece by piece by natural selection. The relative frequency
of spandrels, so defined, versus adaptive features in nature,
remains a controversial topic in evolutionary biology.
of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. His early work
was on the Bermudian genus Poecilozonites, while his later work
concentrated on the West Indian genus Cerion.
before his death, Gould published a long treatise recapitulating
his version of modern evolutionary theory, written primarily for
the technical audience of evolutionary biologists: The Structure
of Evolutionary Theory.
Gould was considered by many non-biologists to be one of the pre-eminent
theoreticians in his field. However, some influential evolutionary
biologists have disagreed with the way Gould presented his views.
They feel that Gould gave the public, as well as scientists in
other fields, a very distorted picture of evolutionary theory,
and charge that his claims to have overthrown standard views of
neo-Darwinism were exaggerated.
biologist John Maynard Smith, who thought Gould underestimated
the importance of adaptation and overestimated the possible role
of mutations of large effect in phenotypic evolution, wrote that
Gould "is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of
the state of evolutionary theory." But Maynard Smith also
wrote, in a review of Gould's collection of essays The Panda's
Thumb, that, "Often he infuriates me, but I hope he will
go right on writing essays like these" (Maynard Smith 1981),
and was among those who welcomed Gould's reinvigoration of evolutionary
paleontology (Maynard Smith 1984).
reason for such criticism was that Gould presented his ideas as
a revolutionary way of understanding evolution that relegated
adaptationism to a much less important position. As such, many
non-specialists became convinced, due to his early writings, that
Darwinian explanations had been proven to be unscientific (which
Gould never wanted to imply). His works were sometimes used out
of context as a "proof" that scientists no longer understood
how organisms evolved, giving creationists ammunition in their
battle against evolutionary theory. Gould himself corrected some
of these misinterpretations and distortions of his teachings in
had a long-running feud with E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and
other evolutionary biologists over sociobiology and its descendant
evolutionary psychology, which Gould strongly opposed but Dawkins,
Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and others strongly advocated, and
over the importance of gene selection in evolution: Dawkins argued
that all evolution is ultimately caused by gene competition, while
Gould advocated the importance of higher-level competition including,
but certainly not limited to, species selection.
criticism of Gould can be found particularly in Dawkins' The Blind
Watchmaker and Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Dennett's criticism
has tended to be harsher while Dawkins actually praises Gould
in evolutionary topics other than those of contention. Pinker
(2002) accuses Gould, Lewontin and other opponents of evolutionary
psychology of being "radical scientists", whose stance
on human nature is influenced by politics rather than science.
evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides wrote
that "although Gould characterizes his critics as 'anonymous'
and 'a tiny coterie', nearly every major evolutionary biologist
of our era tried to correct the tangle of confusions that the
higher-profile Gould has inundated the intellectual world with.
The point is not that Gould is the object of some criticism—so
properly are we all—it is that his reputation as a credible
and balanced authority about evolutionary biology is non-existent
among those who are in a professional position to know."
In turn, Gould countered that sociobiologists/evolutionary psychologists
are often heavily influenced by their own beliefs, prejudices,
and interests (Gould 1992).
interpretation of the Cambrian Burgess Shale fossils in his book
Wonderful Life was criticized by Simon Conway Morris in his 1998
book The Crucible Of Creation. Gould had emphasized the "weirdness"
of the Burgess Shale fauna, and the role of unpredictable, contingent
phenomena in determining which members of this fauna survived
and flourished, while Conway Morris stressed the phylogenetic
linkages between the Burgess Shale forms and later taxa, and the
importance of convergent evolution in producing more or less predictable
responses to similar environmental circumstances.
Gould was also the author of The Mismeasure of Man, a study of
the history of psychometrics and intelligence testing as a form
of scientific racism. Though with so much contention in the field,
it has generated perhaps the most controversy of all Gould's books,
and has been subject to widespread praise and extensive criticism,
including claims by some prominent scientists that Gould had misrepresented
most recent edition challenges the arguments of Richard Herrnstein
and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. Murray and others have denied
that the book makes the arguments which Gould attributed.
of intentional or unintentional misrepresentations by Gould go
further than Murray however. Hans Eysenck, who at the time of
his death was the most frequently cited living psychologist, and
whose work has itself aroused controversy, wrote:
J. Gould’s Mismeasure of Man is a paleontologist’s
distorted view of what psychologists think, untutored in even
the most elementary facts of the science. Gould is one of a number
of politically motivated scientists who have consistently misled
the public about what psychologists are doing in the field of
intelligence, what they have discovered and what conclusions they
have come to."
of the most prominent educational psychologists (and a leading
proponent of the theory that intelligence is partly dependent
on genetic factors and partly dependent on environment), Arthur
Jensen, makes this observation:
his references to my own work, Gould includes at least nine citations
that involve more than just an expression of Gould's opinion;
in these citations Gould purportedly paraphrases my views. Yet
in eight of the nine cases, Gould's representation of these views
is false, misleading, or grossly caricatured."
D. Davis, a former colleague of Gould's and a former Professor
at the Harvard Medical School, and head of the Center for Human
Genetics, describes The Mismeasure of Man as "a sophisticated
piece of political propaganda, rather than as a balanced scientific
analysis" and indicates that reviews of Gould's work "in
the scientific journals were almost all highly critical."
fact, Gould was a member of a group called Science for the People
and had given a related course titled Biology as a Social Weapon,
which, Gould explained, was intended to foster "a powerful
political and moral vision of how science, properly interpreted
and used to empower all the people, might truly help us to be
free." Gould also served on the advisory boards of the journal
Rethinking Marxism and the Brecht Forum, a sponsor of the New
York Marxist School.
many of Gould's positions in The Mismeasure of Man conflict with
positions taken by the American Psychological Association, whose
Board of Scientific Affairs has published a report finding that
IQ scores do have high predictive validity for certain individual
Gould was born and raised in Queens, New York, NY. His father
Leonard was a court stenographer, and his mother Eleanor an artist.
When Gould was five years old his father took him to the "Hall
of Dinosaurs" in the American Museum of Natural History.
It was there that he first met Tyrannosaurus rex. "I had
no idea there were such things—I was awestruck," Gould
once recalled. It was in that moment that he decided he would
become a paleontologist.
in a Jewish home, Gould did not formally practice any organized
religion, and preferred to be called an agnostic. Politically,
though he "had been brought up by a Marxist father,"
he is quoted as saying that his politics were "very different"
from his. Throughout his career and writings he spoke out against
what he saw as cultural oppression in all its forms, especially
what he saw as pseudoscience in the service of racism and sexism.
was twice married; to Deborah Lee in 1965 which ended in divorce,
and to artist Rhonda Roland Shearer in 1995. Gould had two children,
Jesse and Ethan, by his first marriage.
July 1982 Gould was diagnosed with abdominal mesothelioma. He
later published a column in Discover titled "The Median Isn't
the Message," in which he discusses his discovery that mesothelioma
patients had only a median lifespan of eight months after diagnosis.
He then describes the research he uncovered behind this number,
and his relief upon the realization that statistics are not prophecy.
After his diagnosis and receiving an experimental treatment, Gould
continued to live for nearly twenty years, until his death from
another, unrelated type of cancer in 2002: a metastatic adenocarcinoma
of the lung. The column has been a source of comfort for many
was during his bout with abdominal mesothelioma that Gould became
a user of marijuana to alleviate the nausea associated with his
cancer treatments. According to Gould, his use of the illegal
drug had the "most important effect" on his eventual
cure. His personal success with the substance led him to become
a medical marijuana advocate later in his life. In 1998 Gould
testified in the case of Jim Wakeford, a Canadian medical-marijuana
user and activist.
once voiced a cartoon version of himself on an episode of the
animated television program, The Simpsons.
includes too much chaos, or extremely sensitive dependence on
minute and unmeasurable differences in initial conditions, leading
to massively divergent outcomes based on tiny and unknowable disparities
in starting points. And history includes too much contingency,
or shaping of present results by long chains of unpredictable
antecedent states, rather than immediate determination by timeless
laws of nature.
Homo Sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second
ago, because evolutionary theory predicts such an outcome based
on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. Humans
arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands
of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently
and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have
led to consciousness."
no compelling data to support its anachronistic social Darwinism."
fundamentalists, by knowing the answers before they start [examining
evolution], and then forcing nature into the straitjacket of their
discredited preconceptions, lie outside the domain of science
-- or of any honest intellectual inquiry."
get excited over this latest episode in the long, sad history
of American anti-intellectualism? Let me suggest that, as patriotic
Americans, we should cringe in embarrassment that, at the dawn
of a new, technological millennium, a jurisdiction in our heartland
has opted to suppress one of the greatest triumphs of human discovery."
science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple
and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is
false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is
false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet
most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage --
good teaching -- than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully
their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not
only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general
understanding of science as an enterprise?"
argument that the literal story of Genesis can qualify as science
collapses on three major grounds: the creationists' need to invoke
miracles in order to compress the events of the earth's history
into the biblical span of a few thousand years; their unwillingness
to abandon claims clearly disproved, including the assertion that
all fossils are products of Noah's flood; and their reliance upon
distortion, misquote, half-quote, and citation out of context
to characterize the ideas of their opponents.
In candid moments, leading creationists will admit that the miraculous
character of origin and destruction precludes a scientific understanding.
Morris writes (and Judge Overton quotes): "God was there
when it happened. We were not there.... Therefore, we are completely
limited to what God has seen fit to tell us, and this information
is in His written Word."
evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories
are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty.
Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that
explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists
debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation
replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves
in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like
ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or
by some other yet to be discovered."
board transported its jurisdiction to a never-never land where
a Dorothy of the new millennium might exclaim: "They still
call it Kansas, but I don't think we're in the real world anymore.""
basic formulation, or bare-bones mechanics, of natural selection
is a disarmingly simple argument, based on three undeniable facts
(overproduction of offspring, variation, and heritability) and
one syllogistic inference (natural selection, or the claim that
organisms enjoying differential reproductive success will, on
average, be those variants that are fortuitously better adapted
to changing local environments, and that these variants will then
pass their favored traits to offspring by inheritance)."
we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating
to be quoted again and again by creationists -- whether through
design or stupidity, I do not know -- as admitting that the fossil
record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur
at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase
model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major
is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not
about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures
to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact--which
they are very good at. Some of those rules are: never say anything
positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but
chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent's
position. They are good at that. I don't think I could beat the
creationists at debate. I can tie them. But in courtrooms they
are terrible, because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches.
In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive
status of your belief. We destroyed them in Arkansas. On the second
day of the two-week trial we had our victory party!"
learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the
seeds of political manipulation are sown."