World's Fair

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Stephen Jay Gould in Simpsons’ form



Just asking. I had a whole explanation about what brought me to wonder about this, but you don’t really care, so I’ll skip it. Between three and eight of you would’ve found the back-story interesting. No matter, the other 27 wouldn’t have.

Cutting to the chase then: the Scienceblogs readers and other bloggers, especially of course the dominant strain of evolution/Darwin folks, must have some opinions. A gifted author, a popularizer, a baseball fan, a Simpsons guest, an evolutionary biologist, a good friend of one of my doctoral committee members, a visible light in the world of biology and public understanding, this S.J. Gould.

What do the other bloggers and readers here think of Gould, his work, his contributions, and his legacy? How does he fare in these parts?

Comments

  1. #1 Waterdog
    November 26, 2007

    I haven’t read a lot of him yet, but he’s on my reading list, and I did read Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle not that long ago. I share his interest in both the history and philosophy of science, and most of the stuff I’ve read on those topics have involved physics, so it’s nice knowing an author I can count on to do a solid job in the history of both biology and the Earth sciences. He really gets to the root of the basic ideas and concepts that influenced scientists at different points in history; basic assumptions they made.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    November 26, 2007

    I have read everything by him and am strongly in the Gouldian camp here. Sure, I do not agree with every word he’s written in his life, but most of it. His best works are his first (Ontogeny and Philogeny) and his last – the Big Doorstop Book. Thought-provoking even when wrong, he helped an entire generation of biologists grow up with almost-reflexive negative reaction to genocentrism, determinism and adaptationism which were rampant since the 1966 George Williams book and he should be hailed for that alone, aside from his other accomplishments.

  3. #3 Mike Jenkins
    November 26, 2007

    I read a couple of his books years ago, and saw him in his capacity as a public intellectual. He came across as an unpleasant person. Plus he had some sort of idealogical, unscientific beef with sociobiology, which reduced his credibility as a science populizer.

  4. #4 John S. Wilkins
    November 26, 2007

    A great writer who was not, I think, a great thinker. Did a lot to uncover some interesting history of biology, though.

  5. #5 writerdd
    November 26, 2007

    I love Gould. He was my favorite author and I was very sad when he died.

    I would have liked to see if he changed his tune on “overlapping magisterium” in the light of 9/11 and the fundamentalist resurgence in the US, but now we’ll never know.

    Plus, now there’s no one to spar so entertainingly with Dawkins.

  6. #6 Jonathan Badger
    November 26, 2007

    Well, he certainly wrote well — particularly in the short essay form. In many ways he was the heir to Lewis Thomas (of “The Lives of the Cell” fame). But at the same time he suffered from “celebrity scientist” syndrome in which the popularity of his books combined with his modest success in paleontology led him present himself in his books and interviews as a general authority on evolutionary biology — which he wasn’t.

    Not that he was alone in this — Dawkins has much the same problem (and with even fewer scientific accomplishments than Gould), but I hope that the future of evolutionary popularization lies in people like Sean B. Carroll — people who not only can write well but who have made major scientific contributions in the field.

  7. #7 speedwell
    November 26, 2007

    I’m an “informed layperson” who enjoyed, and still enjoys, Gould’s books. I might not understand the backstory, but I’m kind of shocked that you bring this question up, as if there was suddenly some doubt cast on Gould’s life or scholarship. I have tremendous respect for him as a scholar, a scientist, and a teacher. While I recognize and agree that he may not have been right all the time, it wasn’t my understanding that a valuable contributor to any scientific field must always be right. And he was and is certainly valuable.

  8. #8 Richard Simons
    November 26, 2007

    I enjoyed most of the books of his that I’ve read, especially those that delve into the history of the ideas and the misconceptions that sometimes develop. However, I found some of his later books to be rather pompous. Still, ‘This Wonderful Life’ is a book I’ve read more than once, even though I know that some of the ideas are disputed and some of the information is now known to be wrong.

  9. #9 Laelaps
    November 26, 2007

    I, too, am a big fan of Gould, and I’ve definitely been influenced by his thoughts about contingency, rates of evolution, the role of development in evolution, etc. What I appreciated most about his style, I think, was his strategy of illuminating larger concepts by looking at very specific events in history and in science, going back to the source material rather than just parroting old stories that have lost their original meanings (i.e. his essay on the “Lying Stones” of Dr. Beringer). I don’t agree with everything he’s ever said or written, but I think Gould has contributed a lot to the way we think about how evolution proceeds through time. The only minor criticism I have (which has been implied by others here) is that in his latter years he seemed to have been so enthralled with the scientific work of researchers of centuries past that he too adopted a long-winded and sometimes pretentious style, especially when his points could have been illustrated more concisely. Still, I think Gould contributed much to science and its popularization and my ideas about evolution fall much more in line with Gould’s notions than those of Richard Dawkins, Simon Conway Morris, etc.

  10. #10 Peter
    November 26, 2007

    Jonathan: this isn’t the first time I’ve heard the general comment that “he presents himself … as a general authority on evolutionary biology — which he wasn’t”

    But what I’ve never heard are any details, ever, of what items he wrote about that are anything but correct.

    My background: interested lay person with no particular background in biology. I’ve bought most of his books, and love most of them, especially when not all read at once (because then it’s more obvious that lots of his essays are really the same essay with different details).

    I also love history; I very much appreciated his constant reminder that people in days gone by are just as smart as us — they just have less data, and therefore came to different but reasonable conclusions. I particularly liked “The Mismeasure of Man” for hjis willingness to confront past and current racism.

  11. #11 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    November 26, 2007

    I think that Stephen Jay Gould is dead.

  12. #12 Oran Kelley
    November 26, 2007

    An interesting topic which I’ve been gathering material on for a while–that is, what people thought of and said about Gould.

    I found Jonathan Badgers’s comment to be a bit provoking (in a good way):

    Not that he was alone in this — Dawkins has much the same problem (and with even fewer scientific accomplishments than Gould), but I hope that the future of evolutionary popularization lies in people like Sean B. Carroll — people who not only can write well but who have made major scientific contributions in the field.

    Why does it make a difference if a popularizer or a theorizer has actually “made major scientific contributions” or not? It seems to me to be fairly self-evident that theorizing, educating and doing research are three different kinds of activity and there is no reason to demand all skills in all three areas in the same package. I mean that’s why we have division of labor, right?

    I would certainly argue that the presumption that success in research equates with a superior level of theoretical savvy and/or communication ability is false. I’d say that the skilled conceptualizers and communicators may well have no interest in or ability in research. And why not?

  13. #13 Jonathan Badger
    November 26, 2007

    Why does it make a difference if a popularizer or a theorizer has actually “made major scientific contributions” or not? It seems to me to be fairly self-evident that theorizing, educating and doing research are three different kinds of activity and there is no reason to demand all skills in all three areas in the same package. I mean that’s why we have division of labor, right?

    I don’t really see it that way. First of all, theorizing is part of research — I don’t see how you can separate the two. Secondly, there are really two sorts of popularizations — the first, which tends to be written by journalists like Carl Zimmer, involves interviewing scientists and/or describing what they do in layman’s terms. This is certainly worthwhile and doable without an interest or ability in research, and people like Zimmer do it very well indeed.

    The second sort of popularization (which people like Gould, Dawkins, Maynard Smith and Carroll write) is different. The fact that the authors have a scientific background is part of the selling point. The buyers of such books are hoping not just for a description of what scientists are doing but are hoping for real insight into the deep problems of science. If they are written by a Carroll or a Maynard Smith they may get just that. These authors are (or were) polymaths, who contributed insight in many branches of evolutionary biology. That’s why their opinions are more interesting than those of a random popularizer, even one with a scientific background too.

  14. #14 Elf Eye
    November 26, 2007

    I’m a non-scientist who likes to read about science. For years Gould’s essays were one of the reasons that I subscribed to Natural History. Often his essays approached science from an historical perspective, and that was something that I, as a layperson, was able to grasp when a more specialized approach would have defeated me.

  15. #15 Jonathan Badger
    November 26, 2007

    Jonathan: this isn’t the first time I’ve heard the general comment that “he presents himself … as a general authority on evolutionary biology — which he wasn’t” But what I’ve never heard are any details, ever, of what items he wrote about that are anything but correct.

    Well, you can certainly find things that aren’t “correct” (much of the descriptions in “Wonderful Life” were considered already out of date by Burgess Shale experts even at the time of publication, for example), but a deeper issue is that Gould, much like Dawkins, writes authoritatively on subjects that they have done no work in and yet have strong opinions on. (and before anyone says I’m being hypocritical for talking about popularization, I’d just like to say I think there’s a difference between writing a book and chatting in pubs or on blogs).

  16. #16 Eric
    November 26, 2007

    Entertaining. Great Writer. Educational. What more could you ask for? I was saddened by his death. SJG writing was a feature of my favorite undergrad class: Evolution in Biology and Literature. Surprised that some comments suggest he was not a great thinker…he at least made me a better thinker than I was, and for that I’m thankful!

  17. #17 The Ridger
    November 26, 2007

    Well, I wish he’d known more about English (he roundly condemned “the passive” with examples that weren’t) and I think he was pretty American (all that baseball), plus NOMA is noble but stupid, but overall he was a fine writer and did yeoman’s work.

  18. #18 Martin R
    November 26, 2007

    As an essayist, he’s one of my favourite writers. I’ve read about ten of his books. As a scientist, I have no idea as I only have 80s high school biology.

    The only stuff of his that I dislike is his late “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” writings where he’s being friendly towards religion.

  19. #19 Anne-Marie
    November 26, 2007

    I first started reading Gould in high school, and I really enjoy his writing. I don’t agree with him on NOMA, but I do think he was an important public figure for evolutionary science, he had a great talent for starting an essay on virtually any topic and bringing it around to evolution.

    Also, Gould’s work is what led me to first pick up one of Dawkin’s books. I heard there was a sort of “intellectual rivalry” between the two of them, and I always like to read both sides of a controversy. I discovered Dawkins’ writing is terrific too and have devoured every book by both of them that I can get my hands on. . .I think their differences have been exaggerated to some degree, if you really read their writings, although the disagreements are definitely there.

  20. #20 Oran Kelley
    November 26, 2007

    I guess you’ll really have to spell out for me why you think Gould was not scientifically accomplished. I mean, have you ever really considered the entirety of his work and the effect it might have had in advancing other people’s thinking on the matters he dealt with?

    What is the standard you are applying here?

    writes authoritatively on subjects that they have done no work in and yet have strong opinions on

    And what is the necessity of having “done work” (definition?) in order to have an opinion? Surely the people who DO the work can write up their findings well enough so that Gould or Dawkins can understand them and apply them? Or can’t they?

  21. #21 Chris
    November 26, 2007

    I read this article the other week and thought I’d add it to the mix here. Having never read any of Gould’s writing, I’d be interested to know others’ thoughts.

  22. #22 Oran Kelley
    November 26, 2007

    I read this article the other week and thought I’d add it to the mix here. Having never read any of Gould’s writing, I’d be interested to know others’ thoughts.

    The commenter who says the “Overcoming Bias” writer is way over his head about has it right. This is the typical sort of screed you see online regarding Gould–written by someone who resents Gould for either a) daring to dispute Dawkins; or b) daring to dispute intelligence research. These screeds usually tell us that Gould is laughed at and done for and never was much anyhow. Without, of course having read much Gould or knowing much about evolution generally.

    Krugman, as is pointed out in the comments there, wrote a similar piece some months back, and he clearly has no understanding whatsoever of the issues in question or the merits of the various arguments made about them. All he knows is that, being from a statistics-driven field, he likes statistics-driven evolution research and that some of the more statistically savvy biologists didn’t much like Gould.

  23. #23 toby
    November 26, 2007

    What I would call “early Gould” was a revelation to me: Hens Teeth and Horses’ Toes, The Panda’s Thumb, The Flamingo’s Smile – these were an astonishing discovery that someone could write clearly and well about biology, and make it entertaining, too.

    However, somewhere along the line either I changed or Gould changed. I bought his books with eager expectation, yet each left me with a greater and greater sense of boredom and disappointment. The great author somewhere along the way became self-indulgent and almost self-parodying. Maybe that is the way of all great authors.

    However, early Gould is well worth the price of his books, and I would include Wonderful Life and Life’s Grandeur (called Full House in the US) among his best, no matter what Richard Dawkins says. But some of the last books of essays are disappointing.

  24. #24 Jonathan Badger
    November 26, 2007

    I guess you’ll really have to spell out for me why you think Gould was not scientifically accomplished. I mean, have you ever really considered the entirety of his work and the effect it might have had in advancing other people’s thinking on the matters he dealt with?

    All things are relative of course. I’m not saying that Gould was less accomplished than myself. But lets face it; he was no John Maynard Smith or even a Sean Carroll. The guy published a handful of paleontology papers on snails which didn’t really revolutionize the field. And yes, the “Spandrels” paper too — but that was with Lewontin — a rather more accomplished (if less famous) scientist.

    And what is the necessity of having “done work” (definition?) in order to have an opinion?

    If you’ve done work (that is, done research and published a peer reviewed paper) in a subject, your opinion is simply more valuable because you understand it to a degree that no outsider can. And I mean “subject” in a quite narrow sense rather than just “biology” or “evolution”. I’ve done work in bacterial genomics and molecular evolution of bacteria. I think it’s fair to say that my opinions on those things are more valuable than my opinion on the evolution of dinosaurs, even though I’m interested in that as a hobby.

    Surely the people who DO the work can write up their findings well enough so that Gould or Dawkins can understand them and apply them? Or can’t they?

    Not exactly. Yes, if they were an attentive and receptive listener or reader a good popularizer of the journalist type could describe the findings well enough — that’s what Carl Zimmer does for a living.

    But when both Gould and Dawkins give their opinions on say, Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution (as they both have in their books), this is rather different. They aren’t trying to neutrally (pun not intended) to present the subject. Gould seems to like it because he likes non-selectionist methods of evolution; Dawkins doesn’t like it for the opposite reason. But neither seem to have done any work on molecular evolution that would make their opinion particularly valuable on the subject,

  25. #25 Heathen Dan
    November 26, 2007

    I like SJ Gould and am definitely leaning towards the pluralism camp. I’m not big on NOMA though. I like both his early essays (more straight-to-the-point) and his later long winded prose.

  26. #26 Abbie
    November 26, 2007

    Layperson. All I know about Gould is from what I’ve read about NOMA, and Dennett’s chapter-long roast of him in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. I haven’t actually *read* anything by him, so I should probably pick up one his earlier books before I form any opinion.

  27. #27 Waterdog
    November 27, 2007

    I haven’t read as much Gould or Dawkins as most people here (again, on my reading list), and I don’t have any university background in biology at all. I find some of the criticisms here interesting, particularly Jonathon Badger’s comments on both scientists’ accomplishments. Dawkins came up with the idea of populations of genes competing against each other, and also popularized the idea, and evolution in general, with a great book about it. In the same book, he developed the idea of memes, which was a big contribution (I think) to cultural/social evolution.

    Gould and a colleague (don’t remember his name) came up with punctuated equilibrium, the possibility of very fast (geologically speaking) species transitions (for all that species, particularly in a natural history context, are somewhat arbitrary). I don’t really know the details of what Dawkins and Gould differed on (I think it was the details of punctuated equilibrium, though Dawkins seemed to support a version of it in The Ancestor’s Tale), but these both seem to me like large contributions to how we think about evolution. Don’t they?

  28. #28 Oran Kelley
    November 27, 2007

    But when both Gould and Dawkins give their opinions on say, Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution (as they both have in their books), this is rather different. They aren’t trying to neutrally (pun not intended) to present the subject. Gould seems to like it because he likes non-selectionist methods of evolution; Dawkins doesn’t like it for the opposite reason. But neither seem to have done any work on molecular evolution that would make their opinion particularly valuable on the subject

    First, I’d point out that there is a bit of slippage here between the idea that work in a field makes you truly qualified to comment on it in a way other cannot, to “neutrality.”

    My notion is that people who don’t do work in a field can still understand it and can still apply and develop those ideas. Kimura’s findings were being used by both of these men within larger, overarching conceptualizations of how evolution works. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    Now if they were wrong about Kimura’s findings, then someone who knows this particular area better corrects them and the discussion moves on.

    And by the way, do you know enough about snail paleontology to pass judgment on Gould’s papers? And what of his first and last books?

  29. #29 Oran Kelley
    November 27, 2007

    BTW: What would you say Einstein’s qualifications were in 1905. How much “work” had he done in the theoretical fields he would write about that year?

  30. #30 Jonathan Badger
    November 27, 2007

    First, I’d point out that there is a bit of slippage here between the idea that work in a field makes you truly qualified to comment on it in a way other cannot, to “neutrality.”

    My point was that one can write in a neutral descriptive sense about fields one hasn’t done work in but it isn’t very justified to pass judgment on the merits of those fields.

    My notion is that people who don’t do work in a field can still understand it and can still apply and develop those ideas. Kimura’s findings were being used by both of these men within larger, overarching conceptualizations of how evolution works. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    It may well be that that’s what they *think* they’re doing, but I rather strongly suspect if any of their “overarching conceptualizations” were really useful they’d submit it to a journal. Publishing books was par for the course in Newton’s (and even Darwin’s) time, but journal articles have become the modern way to publish scientific findings.

    And by the way, do you know enough about snail paleontology to pass judgment on Gould’s papers? And what of his first and last books?

    I don’t claim to know enough paleontology to judge directly, but there are plenty of indirect ways to judge whether a scientist was a major player in a field — major scientific awards won, scientific concepts named after them, etc. His first book? Ontogeny and Phylogeny? Pretty good and well received — but dealing with the history of science, which, as Wilkins has said, was probably his major contribution to the world rather than science. His last book was a disorganized mess, although it is rather unfair to criticize it for that because the guy was dying while writing it after all. But no, it didn’t revolutionize evolutionary biology.

    BTW: What would you say Einstein’s qualifications were in 1905. How much “work” had he done in the theoretical fields he would write about that year?

    Before those papers were published he was indeed unknown. But those papers made his reputation. That’s how it goes; my biochemistry professor in 1990 was a young unknown Sean Carroll before he had published all that evo-devo stuff. Don’t think they burden him these days with teaching undergrad courses only tangentially related to his work.

  31. #31 Jonathan Badger
    November 27, 2007

    Dawkins came up with the idea of populations of genes competing against each other,

    This is exactly the sort of misconception I’m talking about, Dawkins didn’t do any of that, but it wouldn’t be your fault if you think he did because unlike someone like Zimmer, Dawkins never makes it clear when he is popularizing other people’s ideas. Trivers and Williams (among others) were the people who actually did the research on gene-level selection.

    Gould and a colleague (don’t remember his name) came up with punctuated equilibrium

    Eldredge. Yes, they published a paper on the subject in 1972. But nearly every working scientist has published papers introducing theories. The question is how important the theories are.

  32. #32 Steve
    November 27, 2007

    Steve Gould was a professor of mine at Harvard in the early seventies. He was a great teacher, a brilliant person, and a nice guy. His contributions to evolutionary theory were significant and enduring, although difficult to easily or neatly summarize. His theorizing was quite wide-ranging and sometimes a bit messy and opaque, but he blazed important trails for others to follow. That he may have overreacted (along with many others) to the ideological dangers posed by sociobiology should not, I think, be held against him. His heart was always in favor of the Truth.

  33. #33 Concept Delta
    November 27, 2007

    Sadly, it seems that Gould was driven more by his political ideology than scientific goal of the search for truth, which is why he regularly distorted and misrepresented the research in evolutionary psychology.

    It’s ironic that Gould was a “Liberal Creationist” (http://www.slate.com/id/2178122/entry/2178123/)

  34. #34 Sarah B
    November 29, 2007

    I had a professor who warned me to be careful when reading Gould’s work, because he has a tendency to ignore the other sides of the argument in his writing, whereas Dawkins does does take into account opposing arguments, and picks them apart in response.

    I’ve not read much of his work yet, but I do intend to read more.

    I’ve also heard that he’s unpleasant in person, but I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet him.

  35. #35 Oran Kelley
    November 29, 2007

    That’s how it goes

    That is indeed how it goes: people write on theoretical topics, other people read them, offer substantive criticism, expand on the ideas, dismiss them, whatever.

    What they ought not do is come up with trumped up quasi-artisanal standards in order not to consider them at all.

    Publishing books was par for the course in Newton’s (and even Darwin’s) time, but journal articles have become the modern way to publish scientific findings.

    How do you rate the Selfish Gene? Yes, yes. Williams was there first, yes, but the influence of Dawkins’ book doesn’t count?

    And have you even looked at Gould’s last book, or did you just pick up the disorganized mess line from a hostile book review?(David Barash’s perhaps?–now there’s a neutral party)

    But no, it didn’t revolutionize evolutionary biology.

    And now the standard of good scientific work has become revolutionizing the field?

    Yes, they published a paper on the subject in 1972. But nearly every working scientist has published papers introducing theories. The question is how important the theories are.

    Yes, that’s the question. I’ve got a feeling you don’t really know the answer. Or at least that your opinion isn’t really much worth considering, seeing you are some sort of philistine bench-work drone incapable of theorizing properly. But maybe rather than not listening because of who I think you are or what your bona fides are I should just read and complain about what you actually say.

    Einstein is now considered to be authoritative because people read and considered and approved of his ideas. Not because he met this standard of yours, whatever it is. Same goes for Trivers.

    So saying Dawkins or Gould shouldn’t be talking about Kimura is crap. Why shouldn’t they? Saying that what Dawkins or Gould said about Kimura was crap is fine.

  36. #36 BRC
    November 29, 2007

    (wow, the tone, the tone — so is this what it’s like at Pharyngula every day?)

  37. #37 Jonathan Badger
    November 29, 2007

    How do you rate the Selfish Gene? Yes, yes. Williams was there first, yes, but the influence of Dawkins’ book doesn’t count?

    Scientifically? It doesn’t count at all, any more than Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” contributed to the science of navigation. Like Sobel’s book it did sell a lot of copies and presumably lots of people enjoyed reading it, so it counts in that respect.

    And have you even looked at Gould’s last book, or did you just pick up the disorganized mess line from a hostile book review?(David Barash’s perhaps?–now there’s a neutral party)

    I own the book — it’s pretty obvious it’s a mess just by trying to read it. And I’m pretty open to Gould’s idea that selection isn’t everything, as it is pretty clear at least on the molecular level that it’s true. But Gould just rambles and rambles rather than presenting any solid theoretical work. Sometimes that’s enjoyable when he’s talking history. But it’s just annoying when he is supposedly explaining the structure of evolutionary theories.

    and now the standard of good scientific work has become revolutionizing the field?

    No, but that’s the standard of great scientific work. Any competent scientist does good scientific work. But those merely competent scientists are just an unknown faceless group to the public. To be famous one ought to be great. But then, we live in a world where people like Paris Hilton are famous, I suppose.

    Yes, that’s the question. I’ve got a feeling you don’t really know the answer. Or at least that your opinion isn’t really much worth considering, seeing you are some sort of philistine bench-work drone incapable of theorizing properly

    Well, I don’t claim to be great, but I am a theoretician by profession and not a bench worker at all. And you can read my papers if you want by clicking on the “My Publications” link off my blog.

  38. #38 Rebecca Haden
    November 30, 2007

    Gould was a terrific essayist. I often used his essays as example readings back when I taught writing, and I have read and loved everything of his, whether I agreed with it or not. I have heard that he wasn’t that nice a fellow, and I was sorry to hear that, as he was always one of the people I would have chosen for an imaginary dinner party. I guess I could just put him out on the imaginary sunporch with H. L. Mencken.

  39. #39 Kapitano
    November 30, 2007

    When I was 17, a teacher lent me “The Mismeasure of Man”. It changed my life. It got me interested in sciences, it’s misuse and the politics behind that misuse.

    Eighteen years later I’m still not a scientist, but I’ve gained a certain, er, reputation for flustering racists and upsetting christians.

    So thank you, Mr Gould, for making me…me!

  40. #40 Oran Kelley
    November 30, 2007

    Scientifically? It doesn’t count at all

    If you think the Selfish Gene (and related books like Extended Phenotype) has had an effect on the course of science, you are utterly naive. I know scientists whose worldviews were deeply influenced by Dawkins–just because it wasn’t a paper in Nature doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

    But Gould just rambles and rambles rather than presenting any solid theoretical work. Sometimes that’s enjoyable when he’s talking history. But it’s just annoying when he is supposedly explaining the structure of evolutionary theories.

    You own it, but how much of it have you really read?–this sounds like a reaction to the Germanic philosophizing in the beginning of the book.

    Or at least that your opinion isn’t really much worth considering, seeing you are some sort of philistine bench-work drone incapable of theorizing properly

    Sorry, that was an attempt at humor–I have little knowledge of who you are. My point is that Gould ought to be judged by a fair consideration of what he said, not dismissed because he wasn’t properly credentialized to talk about what he talked about or because he can be characterized in a particular way.

    No, but that’s the standard of great scientific work. Any competent scientist does good scientific work. But those merely competent scientists are just an unknown faceless group to the public. To be famous one ought to be great. But then, we live in a world where people like Paris Hilton are famous, I suppose.

    Well, no one said he fomented Kuhnian revolutions–much to his own disappointment, perhaps. But that’s a pretty high bar–and I think it’s a pretty narrow way of looking at things–like smirking at Brahams because he wasn’t Beethoven.

  41. #41 BachFan
    January 6, 2008

    Sarah B, you won’t have the opportunity to meet SJ Gould … he died in 2002 of cancer. He was a great lecturer when I took a class in the mid-80s, and was actually pretty approachable (at least during office hours). But since I’m not a biologist — studied physics but went on to become a corporate lawyer — I can’t really judge his scientific work in the proper context.

  42. #42 phil
    June 18, 2010

    The man was a saint and a poet.

  43. #43 Thony1254
    nyc
    August 7, 2013

    A stupid winze ; someone or something intensely disliked or loathed.