tephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary
theorist at Harvard University whose research, lectures and
prolific output of essays helped to reinvigorate the field of
paleontology, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Rhonda Roland
One of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the
20th century and perhaps the best known since Charles Darwin,
Dr. Gould touched off numerous debates, forcing scientists to
rethink sometimes entrenched ideas about evolutionary patterns
One of his best known theories, developed with Niles
Eldredge, argued that evolutionary change in the fossil record
came in fits and starts rather than a steady process of slow
This theory, known as punctuated equilibrium, was part of
Dr. Gould's work that brought a forsaken paleontological
perspective to the evolutionary mainstream.
Dr. Gould achieved a fame unprecedented among modern
evolutionary biologists. He was depicted in cartoon form on
"The Simpsons," and renovations of his SoHo loft in Manhattan
were featured in a glowing article in Architectural
Famed for both brilliance and arrogance, Dr. Gould was the
object of admiration and jealousy, both revered and reviled by
Outside of academia, Dr. Gould was almost universally
adored by those familiar with his work. In his column in
Natural History magazine, he wrote in a voice that combined a
learned Harvard professor and a baseball-loving everyman. The
Cal Ripken Jr. of essayists, he produced a meditation for each
of 300 consecutive issues starting in 1974 and ending in 2001.
Many were collected into best-selling books like "Bully for
Other popular books by Dr. Gould include "Wonderful Life,"
which examines the evolution of early life as recorded in the
fossils of the Burgess Shale, and "The Mismeasure of Man," a
rebuttal to what Dr. Gould described as pseudoscientific
theories used to defend racist ideologies.
Dr. Gould was born on Sept. 10, 1941, in Queens, the son of
Leonard Gould, a court stenographer, and Eleanor Gould, an
artist and entrepreneur. Dr. Gould took his first steps toward
a career in paleontology as a 5-year-old when he visited the
American Museum of Natural History with his father.
"I dreamed of becoming a scientist, in general, and a
paleontologist, in particular, ever since the Tyrannosaurus
skeleton awed and scared me," he once wrote. In an upbringing
filled with fossils and the Yankees, he attended P.S. 26 and
Jamaica High School. He then enrolled at Antioch College in
Ohio, where he received a bachelor's degree in geology in
In 1967, he received a doctorate in paleontology from
Columbia University and went on to teach at Harvard, where he
would spend the rest of his career. But it was in graduate
school that Dr. Gould and a fellow graduate student, Dr.
Eldredge, now a paleontologist at the American Museum of
Natural History, began sowing the seeds for the most famous of
the still-roiling debates that he is credited with helping to
Studying the fossil record, the two students could not find
the gradual, continuous change in fossil forms that they were
taught was the stuff of evolution. Instead they found sudden
appearances of new fossil forms (sudden, that is, on the
achingly slow geological time scale) followed by long periods
in which these organisms changed little.
Evolutionary biologists had always ascribed such
difficulties to the famous incompleteness of the fossil
record. But in 1972, the two proposed the theory of punctuated
equilibrium, a revolutionary suggestion that the sudden
appearances and lack of change were, in fact, real. According
to the theory, there are long periods of time, sometimes
millions of years, during which species change little, if at
Intermittently, new species arise and there is rapid
evolutionary change on a geological time scale (still
interminably slow on human time scales) resulting in the
sudden appearance of new forms in the fossil record. This
creates punctuations of rapid change against a backdrop of
steady equilibrium, hence the name.
Thirty years later, scientists are still arguing over how
often the fossil record shows a punctuated pattern and how
such a pattern might arise. Many credit punctuated equilibrium
with promoting the flowering of the field of macroevolution,
in which researchers study large-scale evolutionary changes,
often in a geological time frame.
In 1977, Dr. Gould's book "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" drew
biologists' attention to the long-ignored relationship between
how organisms develop — that is, how an adult gets built from
the starting plans of an egg — and how they evolve.
"Gould has given biologists a new way to see the organisms
they study," wrote Dr. Stan Rachootin, an evolutionary
biologist at Mount Holyoke College. Many credit the book with
helping to inspire the new field of evo-devo, or the study of
evolution and development.
Dr. Gould and Dr. Richard Lewontin, also at Harvard, soon
elaborated on the importance of how organisms are built, or
their architecture, in a famous paper about a feature of
buildings known as a spandrel. Spandrels, the spaces above an
arch, exist as a necessary outcome of building with arches. In
the same way, they argued, some features of organisms exist
simply as the result of how an organism develops or is built.
Thus researchers, they warned, should refrain from assuming
that every feature exists for some adaptive purpose.
In March, Harvard University Press published what Dr. Gould
described as his magnum opus, "The Structure of Evolutionary
Theory." The book, on which he toiled for decades, lays out
his vision for synthesizing Darwin's original ideas and his
own major contributions to macroevolutionary theory.
"It is a heavyweight work," wrote Dr. Mark Ridley, an
evolutionary biologist at University of Oxford in England. And
despite sometimes "almost pathological logorrhea" at 1,433
pages, Dr. Ridley went on, "it is still a magnificent summary
of a quarter-century of influential thinking and a major
publishing event in evolutionary biology."