Next Sunday, 25 July, at 11am Central I’ll sit me down in front of a camera and ramble on. You can ask me questions, I might answer them. If you don’t ask me questions, I thought I’d chat about Stephen J. Gould, who seems to have more people whining about him lately. Either way, it’ll be fun!
What did Gould go and do now (even though he passed almost 20 years ago)?
Obviously, it is Zombie Stephen.
Or Stephen Ghould?
John Harshman says
Not sure what hatin’ you refer to, but the punctuated equilibria theory has certainly fallen on hard times. It was never popular with population geneticists or folks who study speciation, and I’m thinking that even the paleontologists have kept only the idea of stasis and jettisoned the rest.
It is perhaps really hard to come up with some theory that stands up to the test of time when you deal with even moderately complex systems.
Maybe the best you can hope for – long term- is to nudge people to do research in the right direction. And when they debunk a cherished theory things get really interesting.
-The other way is to study something that lends itself to incrementally more detailed understanding, but you don’t know that in advance.
What I recall most of SJG is the book It’s a Wonderful Life, and the tiny fossil of Pikaia found in Burgess Shale, beside many much more impressive fossils.
Frederic Bourgault-Christie says
In the circles I run in, 90% of people who don’t like Gould don’t like the fact that he dunked on racists.
From earlier this year, here’s Jerry Coyne’s take on Gould’s punctuated equilibrium:
Punctuated equilibrium is dead; long live the Modern Synthesis
Note Larry Moran in the comments of Coyne’s post and this in Coyne’s followup to Moran:
“ Sorry, but I find your criticism not only rude (telling me what papers I should discuss, for example) but uninformed. And you have a way of writing that exudes hostility; I wish you’d knock that off.”
That’s how Coyne handles dissenting views.
Here’s Moran’s response to Coyne:
And my takes from usenet’s talk.origins on a related thread:
“ Gould was speculating in “Return of the Hopeful Monster” based on “rate
genes” and wasn’t taking systemic mutations sensu Goldschmidt that
seriously. Small genetic changes occurring early in development could have
huge morphological impacts. Such timing vs magnitude of effect was a
component in Wallace Arthur’s early “morphogenetic tree” concept.
Gould actually pointed to pocket gophers (and ilk) as a suggestive example
of discrete morphological jumps. Perhaps the turtle carapace too which I
don’t recall him mentioning.”
“In the Brick, Gould pushes an important contrast in Goldschmidt’s thought
between the developmental cascade and the systemic mutation, the latter
Gould seems to disdain as untenable:
“How then shall the hopeful monster be defined: the product of an illusory
systemic mutation (and therefore a chimaera to be set aside), or as the
result of a small genetic change that, by working early in ontogeny,
produces a substantial final effect (and therefore an acceptable idea to
stretch the Neo-Darwinian envelope)?”
Gould gives Goldschmidt a charitable read unlike most others ever would.
Goldschmidt was a whipping boy as Gould would also become (see Dennett’s
Gould gives kudos to Goldschmidt for his contribution of the “phenocopy”
concept which Waddington would utilize in his own work on developmental
“ In his reply to Coyne, Moran suggested:
Darwinism and the expansion of evolutionary theory
S J Gould. Science. 1982.
“The essence of Darwinism lies in the claim that natural selection is a
creative force, and in the reductionist assertion that selection upon
individual organisms is the locus of evolutionary change. Critiques of
adaptationism and gradualism call into doubt the traditional consequences
of the argument for creativity, while a concept of hierarchy, with
selection acting upon such higher-level “individuals” as demes and species,
challenges the reductionist claim. An expanded hierarchical theory would
not be Darwinism, has strictly defined, but it would capture, in abstract
form, the fundamental feature of Darwin’s vision–direction of evolution by
selection at each level.””
“ After highlighting a contrast between Stebbins/Ayala
vs King/Jukes on whether neutralism fits into a broader framing of the
Synthesis whereby the latter pair assert “non-Darwinian evolution” Gould
says: “The essence of the modern synthesis must be its Darwinian core. If
most evolutionary change is neutral, the synthesis is severely
He also says: “In my partisan view, neither of Darwinism’s two central
themes will survive in their strict formulation; in that sense, “the modern
synthesis, as an exclusive proposition, has broken down on both of its
fundamental claims” (28). However, I believe that a restructured
evolutionary theory will embody the essence of the Darwinian argument in a
more abstract, and hierarchically extended form. The modern synthesis is
incomplete, not incorrect.””
And perhaps not directly related I am currently reading Wallace Arthur’s Understanding Evo-Devo:
And his video plug: https://youtu.be/ofADAgWxkII
Thanks for posting this. It seems clear that the right wingers are trashing Gould because of “The Mismeasure of Man” and other woke attitudes. I can see how “evolutionary psychologists” and those who support them, like Coyne, are the bigots that they show themselves to be. Thanks for being fair minded and, like Larry Moran, paying attention to the science.
Jerry Coyne isn’t a bigot, and does know his subject. FYI: