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Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941 – May 20, 2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He also was one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation, leading many commentators to call him "America's unofficial evolutionist laureate." Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Additional recommended knowledge
Gould was born and raised in the Queens borough of New York City, New York. His father Leonard was a court stenographer, and his mother Eleanor was an artist. Raised in a secular Jewish home, Gould did not formally practice organized religion and preferred to be called an agnostic. Politically, though he "had been brought up by a Marxist father," he has stated that his father's politics were "very different" from his own. According to Gould, the most influential political book he read was C. Wright Mills' The Power Elite, as well as the political writings of Noam Chomsky. Gould continued to be exposed to progressive viewpoints on the politicized campus of Antioch College in the early 1960s. In the 1970s Gould joined a left-wing academic organization called "Science for the People." Throughout his career and writings he spoke out against cultural oppression in all its forms, especially what he saw as pseudoscience in the service of racism and sexism.
Gould was married twice. His first marriage was to artist Deborah Lee, whom he met while attending Antioch College. They were married on October 3, 1965, but later divorced. His second marriage was to sculptor Rhonda Roland Shearer in 1995. Gould had two children, Jesse and Ethan, by his first marriage, and two stepchildren, Jade and London, by his second.
In July of 1982 Gould was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a highly terminal form of cancer affecting the abdominal lining. After a difficult two year recovery, Gould published a column for Discover magazine, titled ‘’The Median Isn't the Message’’ discussing his reaction to discovering that mesothelioma patients had a median lifespan of only eight months after diagnosis. He then describes the true significance behind this number, and his relief upon realizing that statistical averages are just useful abstractions, and do not encompass the full range of variation. The median is the halfway point, which means that 50% of patients will die before 8 months, but the other half will live longer, potentially much longer. He then needed to find out where his personal characteristics placed him within this range. Considering the cancer was caught early, the fact he was young, optimistic, and had the best treatments available, Gould figured that he should be in the favorable half of the upper statistical range. After an experimental treatment of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery, Gould made a full recovery, and his column became a source of comfort for many cancer patients.
Gould was also an advocate for medical marijuana. During this bout with cancer, he smoked the illegal drug to alleviate the nausea associated with his medical treatments. According to Gould, his use of marijuana had a "most important effect" on his eventual recovery. In 1998 he testified in the case of Jim Wakeford, a Canadian medical-marijuana user and activist.
Stephen Jay Gould died on May 20, 2002 from a metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung, a form of lung cancer, which had spread to his brain. This cancer was unrelated to his abdominal cancer, from which he had fully recovered twenty years earlier. He died in his home "in a bed set up in the library of his SoHo loft, surrounded by his wife Rhonda, his mother Eleanor, and the many books he loved."
As a scientist
Gould began his higher education at Antioch College, being graduated with a degree in geology in 1963. During this time, he also studied abroad at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. After completing his graduate work at Columbia University in 1967 under the guidance of Norman Newell, he was immediately hired by Harvard University where he worked until the end of his life (1967-2002). 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 he was awarded the title of Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology. In 1983, he was awarded fellowship into the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he later served as president (1999-2001). The AAAS news release cited his "numerous contributions to both scientific progress and the public understanding of science." He also served as president of the Paleontological Society (1985-1986) and the Society for the Study of Evolution (1990-1991). In 1989, Gould was elected into the body of the National Academy of Sciences. Through 1996-2002 Gould was Vincent Astor Visiting Research Professor of Biology at New York University.
Early in his career, Gould 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 revised a key pillar "in the central logic of Darwinian theory." Some evolutionary biologists have argued that while punctuated equilibrium was "of great interest to biology," it merely modified neo-Darwinism in a manner which was fully compatible with what had been known before.  Others however emphasized its theoretical novelty, and argued that evolutionary stasis had been "unexpected by most evolutionary biologists" and "had a major impact on paleontology and evolutionary biology."
In addition to his work on punctuated equilibrium, Gould made contributions to evolutionary developmental biology, and championed biological constraints as well as other non-selectionist forces in evolution. With Richard Lewontin he wrote an influential 1979 paper entitled "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm," which introduced the evolutionary concept of "spandrels," a term which originated from the field of architecture. Gould and Lewontin defined "spandrels" to mean a feature of an organism that arises as a necessary side consequence of other features, which is not built directly, piece by piece, by natural selection. Examples include the "masculinized genitalia in female hyenas, exaptive use of an umbilicus as a brooding chamber by snails, the shoulder hump of the giant Irish deer, and several key features of human mentality." The relative frequency of spandrels, so defined, versus adaptive features in nature, remains a controversial topic in evolutionary biology.
Most 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. According to Gould "Cerion is the land snail of maximal diversity in form throughout the entire world. There's 600 described species of this single genus. In fact, they're not really species, they all interbreed, but the names exist to express a real phenomenon which is this incredible morphological diversity. Some are shaped like golf balls, some are shaped like pencils.…Now my main subject is the evolution of form, and the problem of how it is that you can get this diversity amid so little genetic difference, so far as we can tell, is a very interesting one. And if we could solve this we'd learn something general about the evolution of form."
Gould is also one of the most highly cited scientists in the field of evolutionary theory. His 1979 "spandrels" paper has been cited more than 1,600 times. In Palaeobiology—the flagship journal of his own speciality—only Charles Darwin and G.G. Simpson have been cited more often. Gould was also a considerably respected historian of science. Historian Ronald Numbers has been quoted as saying: "I can't say much about Gould's strengths as a scientist, but for a long time I've regarded him as the second most influential historian of science (next to Thomas Kuhn)."
Shortly before his death, Gould published a long treatise recapitulating his version of modern evolutionary theory: The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002).
As a public figure
Gould became widely known through his popular science essays in Natural History magazine and his best-selling books on evolution. Many of his essays were reprinted in collected volumes, such as Ever Since Darwin and The Panda's Thumb, while his popular treatises included books such as The Mismeasure of Man, Wonderful Life and Full House.
Gould was a passionate advocate of evolutionary theory and wrote prolifically on the subject, trying to communicate his understanding of contemporary evolutionary biology to a wide audience. A recurring theme in his writings is the history and development of evolutionary, and pre-evolutionary, thought. He was also an enthusiastic baseball fan and made frequent references to the sport in his essays.
Although a proud supporter of evolution, his emphasis was less gradualist and reductionist than most neo-Darwinists. He also opposed many aspects of 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). Most notably, Gould provided expert testimony against the equal-time creationism law in McLean v. Arkansas. Gould later developed the term "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" (NOMA) to describe how, in his view, science and religion could not comment on each other's realm.
Gould also became a noted public face of science, and often appeared on television. He once voiced a cartoon version of himself on the The Simpsons. The show paid tribute to Gould after his death, dedicating Papa's Got a Brand New Badge to his memory.
Gould was also featured prominently as a guest in Ken Burns' PBS documentary Baseball, PBS's Evolution series, CNN's Crossfire, NBC's The Today Show, and was a guest in all seven episodes of the Dutch '90s talkshow-series "Een Schitterend Ongeluk", or in English, "A Marvellous Accident." He was also on the Board of Advisers to the influential Children's Television Workshop television show, 3-2-1 Contact, where he made frequent guest appearances.
Gould received many accolades for his scholarly work and popular expositions of natural history, but was not immune from criticism by those in the biological community who felt his public presentations were, for various reasons, out of step with mainstream evolutionary theory. The public debates between Gould's proponents and detractors have been so quarrelsome that they have been dubbed "The Darwin Wars" by several commentators.
John Maynard Smith, an eminent British evolutionary biologist, was among Gould's strongest critics. Maynard Smith thought that Gould misjudged the vital role of adaptation in biology, and was also critical of Gould's acceptance of species selection as a major component of biological evolution. In a review of Daniel Dennett's book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Maynard Smith wrote that Gould "is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory." But Maynard Smith has not been consistently negative, writing in a review of The Panda's Thumb that "Stephen Gould is the best writer of popular science now active. . . . Often he infuriates me, but I hope he will go right on writing essays like these." Maynard Smith was also among those who welcomed Gould's reinvigoration of evolutionary paleontology.
One reason for such criticism was that Gould appeared to be presenting his ideas as a revolutionary way of understanding evolution, which relegated natural selection to a much less important position. As a result, many non-specialists inferred from his early writings that Darwinian explanations had been proven to be unscientific. 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 writings in later works..
Gould also had a long-running public feud with E. O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists over human sociobiology and its descendant evolutionary psychology, which Gould, Lewontin, and Maynard Smith opposed, but which Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker advocated. Gould and Dawkins also disagreed over the importance of gene selection in evolution. Dawkins argued that evolution is best understood as competition among genes (or replicators), while Gould advocated the importance of multi-level competition, including selection amongst genes, cell lineages, organisms, demes, species, and clades. Strong criticism of Gould can be found in chapter 9 of Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker and chapter 10 of Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Dennett's criticism has tended to be harsher, while Dawkins praises Gould in evolutionary topics other than those of contention. Pinker 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. Gould contended that sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists are often heavily influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by their own prejudices and interests. 
Gould's 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 striking morphological disparity (or "weirdness") of the Burgess Shale fauna, and the role of contingency in determining which members of this fauna survived and flourished. Conway Morris stressed the phylogenetic linkages between the Cambrian forms and modern taxa, particularly, the importance of convergent evolution in producing general predictable responses to similar environmental circumstances. Paleontologist Richard Fortey noted that prior to the release of Wonderful Life, Conway Morris shared many of Gould's sentiments and views. It was only after publication of Wonderful Life that Conway Morris revised his interpretation and adopted a more progressive stance towards the history of life.. Paleontologists Derek Briggs and Richard Fortey have also made criticisms of Gould's interpretation of Cambrian disparity, arguing that cladistic analyses have incorporated much of the Cambrian fauna as stem groups of living taxa, though this is still a subject of intense research in palaeontology.
Mismeasure of Man
Stephen Jay Gould was also the author of The Mismeasure of Man (1981), a history and skeptical inquiry of psychometrics and intelligence testing. Gould investigated nineteenth century craniometry, as well as modern-day psychological testing, and claimed that they developed from an unfounded faith in biological determinism. The Mismeasure of Man has generated perhaps the greatest controversy of all of Gould's books, and has received both widespread praise (by skeptics) and extensive criticism (by certain psychologists), including claims of misrepresentation by some scientists.
Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)
In his book Rocks of Ages, Gould put forward what he described as "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion." He defines the term magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution" and the NOMA principle is "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."
In his view, "Science and religion do not glower at each other...[but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity." He suggests, with examples, that "NOMA enjoys strong and fully explicit support, even from the primary cultural stereotypes of hard-line traditionalism" and that it is "a sound position of general consensus, established by long struggle among people of goodwill in both magisteria."
A similar position has been adopted by the National Academy of Sciences. Its publication Science and Creationism states that "Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Indeed, many scientists are deeply religious. But science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each."
Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion argues against the logic of the NOMA principle in shielding religions from scientific scrutiny. According to Dawkins, "the God Hypothesis," that "there exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us," is a scientific hypothesis, and is therefore not exempt from scientific examination. Dawkins suggests both that NOMA is wrong and that Gould did not believe in it, but simply wanted to pay lip service to certain aspects of political correctness. With the exception of identifying Gould's motivation, Sam Harris has suggested the same. Paul Davies, on the other hand, has suggested that NOMA is flawed because "science has its own faith-based belief system."
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Stephen_Jay_Gould". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|