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Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution Theorist, Dies at 60

(Page 2 of 2)

Dr. Gould was dogged by vociferous, often high-profile critics. Some argued that his theories, like punctuated equilibrium, were so malleable and difficult to pin down that they were essentially untestable.

After once proclaiming that Dr. Gould had brought paleontology back to the high table of evolutionary theory, Dr. John Maynard Smith, an evolutionary biologist at University of Sussex in England, wrote that other evolutionary biologists "tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with." Sometimes these criticisms descended into accusations that were as personal as intellectual. Punctuated equilibrium, for example, has been called "evolution by jerks."

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Some who study smaller-scale evolution within species, called microevolutionists, reject Dr. Gould's arguments that there are unique features to large-scale evolution, or macroevolution. Instead, they say that macroevolution is nothing more than microevolution played out over long periods. Dr. Gould also had heated battles with sociobiologists, researchers using a particular method of studying animal behavior, and there are many there who reject his ideas as well.

Others criticized him for championing theories that challenge parts of the modern Darwinian framework, an act some see as aiding and abetting creationists. Yet Dr. Gould was a visible opponent of efforts to get evolution out of the classroom.

An entertaining writer credited with saving the dying art form of the scientific essay, Dr. Gould often pulled together unrelated ideas or things. (He began one essay by noting that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day.) A champion of the underdog (except in his support of the Yankees), he favored theories and scientists that had been forgotten or whose reputations were in disrepair.

Dr. Gould also popularized evolutionary ideas at Harvard, sometimes finding his lecture halls filled to standing-room only. But while his adventures typically took place in the library, colleagues said that Dr. Gould, whose specialty was Cerion land snails in the Bahamas, was also impressive in the field.

Noting that in graduate school Dr. Gould dodged bullets and drug runners to collect specimens of Cerion and their fossils, Dr. Sally Walker, who studies Cerion at the University of Georgia, once said, "That guy can drive down the left side of the road," which is required in the Bahamas, "then jump out the door and find Cerion when we can't even see it." Then, she recalled, this multilingual student of classical music and astronomy and countless other eclectia might joyously break out into Gilbert and Sullivan song.

Dr. Gould is survived by his wife; his mother; his two sons from a previous marriage, Jesse Gould of Cambridge, Mass., and Ethan Gould of Boston; his stepson, Jade Allen of Gainesville, Fla.; and his stepdaughter, London Allen of Manhattan. His previous marriage, to Deborah Lee of Cambridge, ended in divorce.

Dr. Gould had an earlier battle with cancer in 1982. When abdominal mesothelioma was diagnosed, he reacted by dragging himself to Harvard's medical library as soon as he could walk.

In a well-known essay titled, "The Median is not the Message," he described discovering that the median survival time after diagnosis was a mere eight months. Rather than giving up hope, he wrote that he used his knowledge of statistics to translate an apparent death sentence into the hopeful realization that half those in whom the disease was diagnosed survived longer than eight months, perhaps much longer, giving him the strength to fight on.

"When my skein runs out, I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way," he wrote. However, "death is the ultimate enemy ó and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light." He survived the illness through experimental treatment, but died of an unrelated cancer, in a bed in his library among his beloved books.

Dr. Gould received innumerable awards and honors, including a MacArthur "genius" grant the first year they were awarded. He served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard and the Astor Visiting Research Professor of Biology at New York University.

Whether eloquently and forcefully championing new or forgotten ideas or dismantling what he saw as misconceptions, Dr. Gould spent a career trying to shed light on an impossibly wide variety of subjects.

He once wrote, "I love the wry motto of the Paleontological Society (meant both literally and figuratively, for hammers are the main tool of our trade): Frango ut patefaciam ó I break in order to reveal."





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Terrence McCarthy/The New York Times
Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary theorist who helped reinvigorate the field of paleontology, died at age 60.

Recent Articles

Today Is the Day: An Op-Ed Piece by Stephen Jay Gould (October 23, 1997)

Breaking Tradition With Darwin: A New York Times Magazine profile of Stephen Jay Gould (Nov. 20, 1983)

Review: 'Ever Since Darwin' and 'Ontogeny and Phylogeny' by Stephen Jay Gould (November 20, 1977)


A Time of Gifts (September 26, 2001)


Stephen Jay Gould Wants an Evolution Revolution (March 17, 2002)




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