Stephen Jay Gould

I completely missed this, because I was distracted: Jerry Coyne celebrated the life of Stephen Jay Gould this past weekend — Gould’s birthday was 10 September. I did not know that. It’s the same as my wife’s! I knew there was something in the stars that attracted me to her. Of course, it’s going to be awkward now when every year on 10 September I wake up, turn to my wife, give her a kiss, and announce “Happy Stephen Jay Gould’s birthday, dear! Let’s celebrate by reading some of his essays!”

In the spirit of Coyne’s essay, I will say that I greatly appreciated the man. I didn’t know him well — I met him a grand total of twice — but I loved his essays, and they’re one of the things that inspired me to go into biology. I subscribed to Natural History magazine specifically for his column, and I let the subscription lapse after he died (I wonder how much of that magazine’s circulation was built entirely around that one author). I’ve read all of his books, even his turgidly bloated last, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory — I have to say the quality of his work declined over the years as he seemed to become incapable of editing anything, and every stray thought he had just had to go into every sentence (parenthetical asides inside parenthetical asides…yeah, that was his style).

The two great popularizers of my college years were Gould and Dawkins. I know there was some conflict, maybe even rivalry between them, but I didn’t see it. To me, Dawkins was always about clarity and a style that was always lucid; Gould was about the richness and complexity of biology, with a style that reflected that view, for good or ill.

The chief scientific influence Gould had on me was primarily through one book, Ontogeny and Phylogeny. I think it was his first book, and probably his best: he was the evolutionary biologist who really got how important development was to understanding the process. I’m sure this is partly me reading more into him, but frequently when I read his work I got the impression that there was a developmental biologist trying to emerge from the shell of the snail systematist.

I’ve still got his books on a shelf in my office, and I still read them occasionally, for inspiration. I also still use them in my classes. Just last week, I had my freshman students read “Carrie Buck’s Daughter” as part of an assignment in bioethics, which brings to mind another characteristic of Gould: he was a marvelously humane writer.

(Also on Sb)

Comments

  1. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    And he was in a Simpsons episode, which is pretty impressive; there haven’t been too many scientists (sadly) who’ve been well-known enough to do that – Hawking is the only other one I can think of.

  2. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    I love the way Gould’s excitement and enthusiasm, polymathy and generous humanity come through in his writing. Wonderful Life (for all I learned later it apparently contains some very moot points) and several of the books of essays (inherited from my developmental biologist mother) were the first things that turned me on to reading science writing.

  3. peterh says

    Gould’s writing was sometimes “turgidly bloated,” but always well worth the read for all of that.

  4. zb24601 says

    As someone who shares a birthday with Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, General Omar Bradley and Arsinio Hall (to name a few), I call state that none of their talents got conferred to me by that accident of birth. Alas, I have to succeed or fail on my own merits (or lack thereof).

  5. GJames says

    Speaking of needing an editor… Shouldn’t it be: “(parenthetical asides inside parenthetical asides…(yeah, that was his style))”?

  6. ChasCPeterson says

    I loved his essays, and they’re one of the things that inspired me to go into biology. I subscribed to Natural History magazine specifically for his column, and I let the subscription lapse after he died….I have to say the quality of his work declined over the years

    More or less exactly what I posted at Coyne’s.

    The ‘spandrels’ paper with Lewontin was his most lasting contribution to my area of biology; the just-soing stopped pretty abruptly. That and what we used to call ‘preadaptation’ is usually now ‘exaptation’.

  7. Alan Clark says

    As an Englishman, I was stumped by his baseball analogies, which left me feeling that I had been bowled a googly. It’s not cricket!

    And I think he was batting on a sticky wicket with his idea of non-overlapping magisteria, and Dawkins hit him for six.

  8. says

    My girlfriend once wrote a letter to Gould and told him all about how much he had meant to me, and he was kind enough to send back an inscribed copy of one of his books, which she surprised me with for my birthday. We visited the Harvard Natural History Museum once, but unfortunately just missed one of his talks.

    His essays about the creation/evolution “controversy” were what really woke me up to the dangers of theism in America and inspired me to read everything else I could get my hands on about evolution and natural history.

    I think I enjoyed him most when he was discussing art (I was an art student at the time). I had heard that he and his equally brilliant wife, Rhonda Roland Shearer, were working on a book about Marcel Duchamp (my personal pick of greatest artist of the 20th century) before he died, which I’m still severely disappointed I’ll never get to read.

  9. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    iirc Dawkins deliberately used a cricket analogy or two as a sort of tip of the hat to Gould, whom he appreciated for all Gould was wrong about NOMA.

  10. Carlie says

    I really enjoy a lot of his writings. I have to skim past all the baseball and the repetition, but when he had a beautifully-phrased sentence, it was spectacular. I think my favorite book of his is The Mismeasure of Man. The humaneness PZ mentioned is clear throughout the entire thing, and at the same time he hammers away ruthlessly at the people who tried to make others lesser.

  11. says

    The Structure of Evolutionary Theory still awaits my attention, sitting in my bookcase of unread books and causing the shelf on which it sits to sag. Gould’s collection of essays from Nature, on the other hand, are multiply-read (except for the essays on baseball).

    I wish he were still around. (He’s #2 on my wish-they-were-still-around wish-list. Asimov is #1.)

  12. Ms. Daisy Cutter says

    I wish Gould were still with us, in no small part because scientific racism and sexism seem to have gotten worse over the last decade.

  13. Big Boppa says

    I was raised in a very fundamentalist xian family. Whe I was 16 I started questioning the dogma I’d been force fed from before I can remember, largely because of what I was learning in high school biology (thank you public education and especially Miss Murphy, my favorite teacher of all). Stephen Gould’s essays helped to give me the courage – and knowledge – to resist the threats and guilt trips thrown at me when I finally and formally rejected my family religion and left home for good.

    I keep a folder of images on my computer named Heroes that I open from time to time when I need to take a few minutes to reflect and relax my mind. Gould’s photo has been in that folder for many years.

  14. ChasCPeterson says

    I wish Gould were still with us, in no small part because scientific racism and sexism seem to have gotten worse over the last decade.

    And you think that more disingenuous polemics by an ideological paleontologist are what’s needed to counter these (alleged) trend?

  15. David Marjanović, OM says

    when every year on 10 September I wake up, turn to my wife, give her a kiss, and announce “Happy Stephen Jay Gould’s birthday, dear! Let’s celebrate by reading some of his essays!”

    :-}

    I was stumped by his baseball analogies

    After reading Full House, I understood evolution. But I still don’t understand baseball.

    whom he appreciated for all Gould was wrong about NOMA

    Heh. I bet it was a much greater point of contention that Gould, in Wonderful Life, had wondered why so many “high-level” groups – classes, phyla – had arisen in the Cambrian and why so few had appeared since; Gould even concluded that evolution must have worked differently in some way (…and then worded that conclusion, like most of his conclusions, in a much too strong way). Dawkins pointed out that this is like coming across an old oak and wondering why no thick limbs have grown in a hundred years, only small twigs. BLAMMO! At once, I was saved from hero worship.

  16. KG says

    Dawkins pointed out that this is like coming across an old oak and wondering why no thick limbs have grown in a hundred years, only small twigs. BLAMMO! At once, I was saved from hero worship. – David Marjanović, OM

    I’m not convinced by Dawkins’ analogy here:
    1) It’s a contingent matter that an oak tree grows the way it does. You can imagine a tree that put out new, thick branches from low on the trunk.
    2) An oak tree is a single organism, the “tree of [animal] life” isn’t.

    So I don’t think this settles whether Gould had a good point or not. It would surely a matter for empirical investigation whether average or maximum rates of anatomical change have changed over evolutionary time – if we had a way to quantify that change! But we seem able to make some comparative judgements: it’s difficult to deny that, for example, modern lobe-finned fish are anatomically more like modern ray-finned fish than like birds, despite being more closely related to the latter. Or do you think this is a superficial judgement, which a closer examination would show to be false?

  17. Rey Fox says

    Gould was hilarious on the Simpsons. I haven’t watched that show in many years, but I hope they’re continuing that tradition of having intellectuals as guest voices on the show. (Like when they had John Updike on there basically just to say his own name)

    There wasn’t any Gould left on the Borders shelf last time I made it out there (nor Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World which I really wanted). Had to settle for Shermer (with a foreword by Gould).

  18. ChasCPeterson says

    It’s a contingent matter that an oak tree grows the way it does. You can imagine a tree that put out new, thick branches from low on the trunk.

    huh?
    The way a tree grows and the way a lineage evolves are similarly contingent: branching from what’s already there. In this metaphor, the tree (Kingdom) does have thick branches from low on the trunk: the phyla. Dawkins’s point is that those branches themselves began as tiny twigs. The extant phyla all began as allopatric populations of single species. In other words, large branches did not spring from the trunk full-sized; this is, in fact, impossible to imagine happening if you have ever seen a tree.

    An oak tree is a single organism, the “tree of [animal] life” isn’t.

    Right, see, it’s a metaphor. The conventional one for depicting evolutionary relationships and patterns. How do you think it’s inappropriate in this case?

    it’s difficult to deny that, for example, modern lobe-finned fish are anatomically more like modern ray-finned fish than like birds, despite being more closely related to the latter. Or do you think this is a superficial judgement, which a closer examination would show to be false?

    It’s certainly true. However, the similarities among fishes are due entirely to their many shared ancestral characteristics, i.e. evolutionary inertia and sustained stabilizing selection. The reason we think that lungfish and birds are more closely related (=share a more recent common ancestor) than are lungfish and tuna are because lungfish and birds share certain more-recently-evolved derived traits, in this case internal nares, details of the limb skeleton, and pulmonary circulation, among others.
    I’m sure you know that, KG, but I don’t really see how this relates to the tree metaphor, though.

  19. Alan Clark says

    This is how I understand the Oak tree analogy:
    All the big limbs are old, but that is because younger branches simply have not had time to grow big – in time they might grow big – not because the tree is no longer producing big limbs.

    Similarly, a major phylum, eg arthropods, is a major phylum because it has had enough time to diversify into a million species. A new phylum cannot have many species, so all the major phyla MUST have evolved a long time ago, and you do not need to invoke a change in the way evolution proceeds.

  20. linda says

    The first time I learned of Gould was when he was in South Africa during apartheid. He was lecturing at the university–of course only white young people. His talk–that we all are from Africa. We are all descendents of those West Africans who walked out of Africa millions of years ago. Watching these white and privileged students as they are informed that they are the same as the people who are locked out of the university was priceless for me.

    I love Gould for all the other stuff, but for this first.

  21. KG says

    Dawkins’s point is that those branches themselves began as tiny twigs. The extant phyla all began as allopatric populations of single species. In other words, large branches did not spring from the trunk full-sized; this is, in fact, impossible to imagine happening if you have ever seen a tree.

    Nonsense – it’s easy to imagine a tree-like organism that grows new branches that are thick from the very start – beginning as a slight but large-diameter bulge; it’s a contingent fact that large branches start as small-diameter twigs. In the same way, Gould’s claim is that animals as anatomically different from any now living as molluscs are from chordates could have evolved in the last several hundred million years, but they haven’t. IIRC, he suggests that developmental controls were less canalised in early animals, so (presumably) gross anatomical differences between parent and offspring or siblings could more easily occur (and survive, due to lots of unfilled niche space). Now I don’t know enough to say whether this is plausible, but it can’t just be dismissed with a metaphor.

    it’s a metaphor. The conventional one for depicting evolutionary relationships and patterns. How do you think it’s inappropriate in this case?

    Because it tries to use a specific and contingent fact about the way a tree grows to argue for a general property of branching growth processes.

  22. MonkeyBoy says

    I subscribed to Natural History magazine specifically for his column, … I’ve read all of his books, even his turgidly bloated last, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory — I have to say the quality of his work declined over the years as he seemed to become incapable of editing anything, and every stray thought he had just had to go into every sentence (parenthetical asides inside parenthetical asides…yeah, that was his style).

    One thing I noticed during his last few years of column writing was they really didn’t have any point other than pointing out antisemitism. He wasn’t up front about this but buried in each column was an example of Jews done wrong. It eventually became of a game of figuring out trying to guess who had been victimized before you found the mention.

  23. Clausentum says

    His alleged humanity has to be reconciled with the fact that he espoused to the end a creed which was responsible for more murder in the 20th Century than any other cause.

  24. KG says

    MonkeyBoy@30

    [citation fucking well needed]

    I noticed that he became re4sistant to editing, and droned on about baseball, but I never noticed anything of the kind you suggest.

  25. octopod says

    Gould’s essays were my introduction to biology and the reason why I am a paleontologist. I read all his compiled volumes of essays starting at age 10 and was about ready for Structure of Evolutionary Theory when it came out. I seem to have had the same experience of watching two intellectual heroes dispute as PZ and David Marjanovic describe…I can’t help but feel that it was good for me.

    (Oh look, ChasCPeterson/Clausentum is trying to troll us…how precious. Have we seen this one before with other names?)

  26. Mattir says

    Gould’s scolding voice has always irritated me. (Yes, FSM forbid, a “tone” argument.) I’ve gone back and tried to read a him a couple times since I decided tone arguments were stupid, and amazingly enough, he still gets on my nerves. I read Mismeasure of Man in graduate school, and the main thing I remember is that his understanding of clinical neuropsychology was, um, somewhat flawed.

    I really want to appreciate whatever it is people see in Gould, but it’s just hasn’t happened for me. It’s odd, because some of the biggest tone-troll liberal Christian accommodationist types I know are huge fans, but I have trouble getting past the scolding voice part. I’ll continue to work on it, though…

    Maybe next year I’ll have a breakthrough.

  27. Mattir says

    @octopod – I’m highly doubtful that ChasPeterson and Clauswhatever are the same person. One can disagree with Gould on whether evolution works differently in different historical periods without playing the Atheist-Genocide-Fallacy Card™.

    And I have to say that I actually feel sort of guilty for not appreciating Gould. Perhaps DDMFM will decide that visiting me is a very bad idea because I’m obviously an uncultured, illiterate philistine. Should I give Gould another try before Rhinebeck?

  28. Rich Woods says

    Richard Dawkins did something better than that. He appeared in Doctor Who. There. No one beats that.

    Except for his wife.

  29. David Marjanović, OM says

    it’s difficult to deny that, for example, modern lobe-finned fish are anatomically more like modern ray-finned fish than like birds, despite being more closely related to the latter. Or do you think this is a superficial judgement, which a closer examination would show to be false?

    …Yes. Latimeria has undergone more molecular evolution than most limbed vertebrates. :-)

    Nonsense – it’s easy to imagine a tree-like organism that grows new branches that are thick from the very start – beginning as a slight but large-diameter bulge; it’s a contingent fact that large branches start as small-diameter twigs.

    That’s why Darwin’s coral metaphor is better than the tree metaphor. Only the tips of a coral consist of living organisms, so only the tips can branch; all the rest is dead and cannot bud new branches.

    Anyway, Dawkins’ point was that the ranks of classification – phylum, class, order etc. – only exist inside our heads. Like way too many scientists, Gould had unconsciously treated them as real and asked why so few high-ranked taxa have appeared since the Cambrian Explosion. He simply got it backwards – taxonomists have given those ranks to taxa of that age mainly because of their age. His question was wrong.

    IIRC, he suggests that developmental controls were less canalised in early animals, so (presumably) gross anatomical differences between parent and offspring or siblings could more easily occur (and survive, due to lots of unfilled niche space).

    Yep. Evidence-free, not necessary to explain anything – especially if we take into account, and that’s something Gould couldn’t have known, that some of the Burgess Shale critters weren’t quite as weird as was thought when he wrote Wonderful Life. Hallucigenia belongs upside down, its “seven tentacles” are fourteen feet like those of a velvet worm, its “tail” is its mouth; Odontogriphus is a mollusc; Nectocaris is… probably… related to Anomalocaris, which sits just outside the crown-group arthropods…

    (Oh look, ChasCPeterson/Clausentum is trying to troll us…how precious. Have we seen this one before with other names?)

    LOL. ChasCPeterson abandoned the name Sven DiMilo a few months ago. He isn’t Clausentum, and he talks about completely different things: ChasCPeterson talks about science, Clausentum about humanity.

    And BTW, they don’t use the same e-mail address. You can see this from their different gravatars.

    And I have to say that I actually feel sort of guilty for not appreciating Gould. Perhaps DDMFM will decide that visiting me is a very bad idea because I’m obviously an uncultured, illiterate philistine. Should I give Gould another try before Rhinebeck?

    :-D Try Full House. Especially the chapter about horse evolution, perhaps.

    BTW, I’ve only read it in German translation. Maybe that takes some of the tone away.

  30. stubotics says

    I read many of Gould’s essay books (Panda’s Thumb, etc) when I was in early college, as well as Dawkins’s Selfish Gene, Extended Phenotype, and Blind Watchmaker. I would say I got at least a grade higher than I would have otherwise in all my subsequent biology and geology classes (Palaeontology was a breeze and at the time I think I got the highest grade ever in that particular professor’s class). I strongly recommend both authors. And it is interesting to see where they disagree and why.

  31. MonkeyBoy says

    KG says: [citation fucking well needed]

    I would suggest you read through the say last 2 years of SJG’s NH history columns however they weren’t very good and haven’t been published as a collection.

    In The Jew and the Jew Stone (2000) he indicates in the title he is going to be talking about Jews (which for him always includes antisemitism) and low and behold towards the end of the essay we find that Johanne Schroeder who wrote the Pharmacopoeia medieo-chymica, published in Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1641 was an antisemite.

    It appears Gould came across Schroeder’s antisemitism and constructed a whole essay on pre-modern theories of disease and medicine just so he can mention it – but doing so was off topic because the antisemitism appears to have nothing to do with Schroeder’s medical theories.

    I noticed while reading them that many of his other final columns were constructed along similar lines.

  32. Carlie says

    It’s a contingent matter that an oak tree grows the way it does. You can imagine a tree that put out new, thick branches from low on the trunk.

    You can imagine it, but it’s never going to happen in reality. Branches come from axillary meristems. There are no active axillary meristems low down on a large tree trunk. By the time the trunk or even another branch gets large in a lateral direction, the axillary meristems have all been sloughed off by the extra growth from the cambia. (although if you cut the trunk down, it can make more on the cut areas as a response)

    Nonsense – it’s easy to imagine a tree-like organism that grows new branches that are thick from the very start – beginning as a slight but large-diameter bulge; it’s a contingent fact that large branches start as small-diameter twigs.

    But that’s not how branches grow. Thickness comes from secondary growth of lateral cambia, which only activate after primary length growth is completed (in that region, not for the entire branch). I guess if you’re saying thick initial branches are something you can imagine, that’s ok, but it’s not something you’d ever see on a real tree. I guess I’m not sure what you mean by it being a contingent fact, unless you mean contingent on the entire way that plants grow?

  33. Carlie says

    KG – I’m sure you know all of that already, so I’m confused why you think it’s a bad analogy, unless it’s that people generally don’t think that way because they generally don’t know how growth patterns work?

  34. Carbon Based Life Form says

    Alan sez, “As an Englishman, I was stumped by his baseball analogies, which left me feeling that I had been bowled a googly.” Would you have preferred a yorker, you silly mid on?

  35. hotdog says

    In THE MISMEASURE OF MAN I believe Gould says that intelligence is not heritable. As any psychologist know this is nonsense. It is highly heritable. What do people think is so great about this book?

  36. David Marjanović, OM says

    In THE MISMEASURE OF MAN I believe Gould says that intelligence is not heritable.

    Details, please.

    As any psychologist know this is nonsense. It is highly heritable.

    Details, please.

  37. Mattir says

    DDMFM – Do you want a critique of Gould’s opinions about intelligence testing, or references for the heritability of intelligence? For the record, many of the abuses of “intelligence” testing detailed in Mismeasure were absolutely horrid, and he was totally right to detail them. What I remember being puzzled by was his insistence that the individual subtests on a given test (I think he discussed the Wechsler tests the most) were meaningless and that only the aggregate score was clinically significant. This latter is simply wrong, and in fact the more recent revisions of the tests have explicitly focused on making the subtest scores clinically useful.

  38. hotdog says

    Intelligence is the most studied psychological trait and tests of it are the most valid and reliable of any such trait.
    Gould criticized early IQ studies and had no understanding of the science of psychology. Heritability of intell. is pretty much unquestioned AFAIK.
    See this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ
    There has not been a lot of change since my graduate school days 40 yrs. ago.
    e.g. kids raised separately from their parents have IQ scores more like their biological parents than their adoptive parents.
    there are some good comments among the 1 star reviews of the book at amazon.com. I don’t know about the research on racial differences except that the Am. Psychological Assoc. studied THE BELL CURVE and found it in error about genetic difference between blacks and whites.
    you might also look at the wikipedia entry on Mismeasure.

  39. Mattir says

    DDMFM – I second the wikipedia cite – I just read through it and it seems thorough and sound. Basically Gould was criticizing something he didn’t understand, sort of like if I decided to criticize you on lepospondyls for some odd reason. He identified a lot of bad things that have been done with psych tests, but didn’t really understand all that well how they are used in actual practice. Also, the book is quite dated at this point when discussing anything other than historical abuses.

  40. says

    One of the things I really liked about Gould’s essays was the appreciation of historical scientists who are usually sneered at. Lamarck, eh, what a fuckin’ boobie! Well, no. When you look at many of these people’s actual history, they were good scientists proposing ideas that made sense at the time. Even if they were later proven wrong, they were doing their best and are a valid part of the history of science. People get things wrong, follow blind alleys, it’s not monolithic unidirectional progress.

    In a related vein, Mattir, may I suggest to you that the “actual practice” of psych tests has changed rather dramatically in the last 30 years. And the critiques by Gould (among many others) probably had something to do with that.

    Personally, I have older relatives who were given lesser educations because of dodgy IQ tests (UK, “eleven plus”, 1944-1976). At least they weren’t sterilised for being poor and black morons. According to this BBC article, the last cases of that happened in 1979, which would be when Gould was actually working on that book.

  41. AnBheal says

    When I was a freshman and sophomore, Gould had suspended his classes due to his battle with mesothilioma (which killed my mother), ashen, stooped, wearing a navy watch cap to conceal his hairless scalp,literally at death’s door. Mesothilioma is essentially the rabies of cancers, uniformly fatal within two to fifteen months of full expression. By my senior year, he was back to full lectures, as wise and witty as ever, and along with Ed Wilson, one of my very favorite professors. We were told at the time that he was the first person to ever go into full remission with mesothilioma.

    A few years later I had the privilege of attending the Annual Lecture On Immortality at the Harvard Divinity School, where previous luminaries had included the likes of William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, Albert Camus, etc. Gould was the first natural sceintist to ever be invited. His talk was divided into two themes: 1) was belief in immortality adaptive; and 2) was evolution teleological, and if so, would this lend creedence to a broader concept of immortality. While I’m sure many theologians in the audience were disappointed in his answers, the applause and laughter was wild and frequent, and his was considered one of the finest annual lectures ever given in that forum.

    PZ, if they haven’t had a natural scientist since, I nominate you for the next time the invitation trespasses across the disciplinary boundaries.

  42. says

    I especially like Gould’s essay “The Median Isn’t the Message,” where he recounts his reaction to learning that his mesothelioma had a median mortality of only eight months. Gould credits his scientific training with giving him the knowledge he needed in order to correctly interpret the statistics, understand his situation, and avoid despair: “From years of experience with the small-scale evolution of Bahamian land snails treated quantitatively, I have developed this technical knowledge — and I am convinced that it played a major role in saving my life. Knowledge is indeed power…”

    I’ve written more about this here.

  43. ikesolem says

    He tended to completely neglect environmental factors in evolutionary outcomes, however – as if evo-devo alone in isolation explained evolutionary history, while major factors such as the chemical evolution of the oceans and atmosphere, plate tectonics, and climatic changes played no role. Too narrow a view by far.

  44. J_Brisby says

    My own Gould story:

    1996 was the year of the first World Skeptic’s Congress, held in Buffalo NY, and I had crossed the continent to attend. First major trip I’d ever taken by myself. And I’d decided to try to get the conference program signed by every speaker. After Gould’s keynote speech, I approached him and asked for his signature. He refused. He only signs books, he said. Sorry.

    I was disappointed, but continued my efforts and two days later, I had gotten the autograph of every speaker. So at the final dinner, I asked him again. “Well it’ll have to be every speaker but me, I’m afraid.”

    I must have looked incredibly sad, because after a beat, he relented. “Oh, alright. Persistence should be rewarded.”

    In hindsight, I’m kind of glad he made it tough. It’s still one of my most valued possessions, and he gave me a story to go with it. Thank-you, Professor.

  45. Toni says

    The big conflict between the two was the whole heated debate about the “gene-centric” (Dawkins) and the “individual-based” views of evolutionary theory, i.e. which was the unit of selection. However I do think that it was a little hyped up, since there were quite a few straw-men thrown into mix (although whether they were thrown by Gould himself or other proponents of the individual-based model I don’t really know).

  46. Carbon Based Life Form says

    Personally, I have older relatives who were given lesser educations because of dodgy IQ tests (UK, “eleven plus”, 1944-1976).

    What made it worse is that the man who came up with and really pushed the Eleven-plus exam, Sir Cyril Burt, was shown to have faked his data. There are those who claim he did not, but when he has coefficient values in multiple sets of data agree to three decimal points, and when he cites studies from researchers who do not exist anywhere except in his citations, then it is quite clear that he did commit fraud.

  47. kaleberg says

    Gould was an important and influential writer and seriously concerned with the anti-science forces being arrayed, all too successfully in the 80s and 90s. His defense of evolution and his arguments about contingency and development were timely and effective. Mismeasure of Man was a history of “intelligence”, an idea all too often misused. There were a lot of assumptions and presumptions, and his book was a good, powerful take down. Was he right on every point? Of course not, but he did measure some skulls, looked up old records and reanalyzed them, and challenged some serious fraud. Science is often used as a political tool. Gould decided to take a closer look at some of that science.

    I can’t judge Gould as a scientist, only as a science popularizer, and at that he was first rate. If you want to judge the effectiveness of a science popularizer, particular one who is a working scientist, you have to look at the people they bring into the field and those they convince to learn something about it and possibly to learn something more. Sure, they may their axes to grind and they may get some things or even a lot of things wrong, but the point of popularizing science is not the same as scholarship.

    Half of Isaac Asimov’s astronomy stuff was proven wrong by the early 80s, but half the people doing the disproving had been inspired by Asimov in their youth. (I’m still a big fan of Shapley, Haldane, and Eiseley. My parents had their books around the house, and dated as they were, they sure got me interested in science.)

  48. John Scanlon, FCD says

    Got all of Gould’s books (and used to read them regularly) except the last one. I’ll buy and read it when someone else does first and says it’s worthwhile. Or if I actually see it in a bookshop. Still waiting, oddly enough.

    Dawkins: will read anything in print, though The Extended Phenotype seems to have been the last substantial contribution. Quite chuffed to have picked up a first edition of Selfish Gene, and fantasize about about running into RD and getting it signed.

    Burt: sad case, apparently started making stuff up when all his twin-study case notes were burnt in a house fire. Should have backed up, and I know how that feels.