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Gould, Stephen Jay, 1941-2002.
Paleontologist,
Harvard University


Education:
B.A., Antioch College, 1963
PhD, Columbia University, 1967
 
 

Biographies:
 

From AnnOnline.com

"Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny little twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this t wig again."
- Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould grew up in New York City. He graduated from Antioch College and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1967. Since then he has been Professor of Geology and Zoology at Harvard University. He considers himself primarily a palaeont ologist and an evolutionary biologist, though he teaches geology and the history of science as well. A frequent and popular speaker on the sciences, his published work includes Ontogeny and Phylogeny, a scholarly study of the theory of recapitulation; The Mismeasure of Man (Penguin 1983), winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award for 1982; the popular collections of essays Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (Penguin 1980), which received great acclaim: 'Unreservedly, they are brilliant' - New Scientist; The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (Penguin 1983), which won the 1981 American Book Award for Science; Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (Penguin 1984); The Flamingo's Smile (Penguin 1987); Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (Penguin 1988); An Urchin in the Storm (Penguin 1989); Wonderful Life (Penguin 1991), winner of The Science Book Prize for 1990; Bully for Brontosaurus (Penguin 1992); and Eight Little Piggies (Penguin 1994).
 
 
 
 
 

Obituaries:

from The New York Times

Stephen Jay Gould, 60, Is Dead; Enlivened Evolutionary Theory
By CAROL KAESUK YOON
 

Stephen 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 60.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Rhonda Roland Shearer.

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 and processes.

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 change.

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 Digest.

Famed for both brilliance and arrogance, Dr. Gould was the object of admiration and jealousy, both revered and reviled by colleagues.

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 Brontosaurus."

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 1963.

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 start.

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 all.

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."

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."

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 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 I break in order to reveal."
 
 

from Washington Post

Appreciation
The Scientist Who Wrote Rings Around The Earth
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 21, 2002; Page C01

A brilliant scientist who can write beautifully is an unusual creature, almost an evolutionary impossibility. It's like a flying horse, or a talking shark. Nature usually is sparing when it hands out talent and specializations. Stephen Jay Gould -- who died of lung cancer yesterday at the age of 60 -- was a prize example of a very rare breed.

Gould was a professor at Harvard, a longtime columnist for Natural History magazine, the author of numerous bestsellers, and a dependably feisty public intellectual. He did not suffer fools gladly; he pummeled them in print. Like his hero Lou Gehrig, he was a durable figure, filing a monthly column for 27 years before signing off finally at the millennium.

Even when stricken with a usually fatal form of cancer 20 years ago, and devastated by chemotherapy, he insisted on meeting his deadline.

"When I'm writing, it's the only time I don't feel pain," he told his editor.

His interests were seemingly infinite, though Darwin and baseball were probably the top two. Gould had one of those brains that can burrow deeply into an abstruse scientific debate but suddenly pop to the surface in the middle of Fenway Park. He could write perceptively about Italian church architecture, or the prejudicial misuses of IQ tests, or the decline of the .400 hitter, but his scientific specialty was the evolutionary history of land snails in the West Indies.

As they say on the diamond, he could hit to all fields.

"He was a really wonderful explainer of science to the nonscientific public. Most scientists who do that simplify everything almost to the point of telling lies. Steve never did that," his Harvard colleague Richard Lewontin said yesterday.

Gould liked to mix it up, particularly with anyone who dared suggest that evolution was a simple, deterministic, progressive, linear process that started with a primitive microbe at one end and ran through jellyfish and trilobites, reached mammals and monkeys, and finally culminated triumphantly with a square-jawed businessman holding a briefcase. Time and again, Gould attacked that classic image of the "march of evolution."

His version of evolution was messier. It had jerks and spasms. It went backward and forward and sometimes fell over sideways. In 1972, he and his colleague Niles Eldredge offered a modification of traditional Darwinian theory, something they called "punctuated equilibria." The evolution of species wasn't always smooth and steady, they argued, but rather could occur in rapid bursts, shaped by historical chance.

Some people see the world as divinely created, and others perceive it as the result of an orderly, rather logical natural process. But for Gould, this was a planet of accidents, of lucky breaks, of biological lotteries. If you started the whole process over from scratch, he argued, you'd wind up with something totally different. For example, you almost surely wouldn't wind up with Harvard professors.

That gave him a powerful theme for one of his most successful books, "Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History." The title was a play off the Jimmy Stewart movie in which an angel shows bankrupt, suicidal George Bailey how radically altered the world would be without him. Gould deftly argues that all of biological history is like that, that a little accident here or there would have radically changed the course of life on Earth.

Even if you didn't buy Gould's argument (he was rather strict, almost bullying in his no-progress, everything's-a-lottery pronouncements), you had to admire a guy who could connect Jimmy Stewart to some 500-million-year-old fossils.

He could talk on almost any subject but sometimes would graciously decline. A few years ago, a Washington Post reporter asked Gould to speculate on the possibility of intelligent life beyond Earth. Gould said simply, "No data."

Gould's politics were solidly left of center. He forcefully argued against the teaching of creationism in schools, a position that drew a great deal of fire. His book "The Mismeasure of Man" is perhaps the most influential critique of racist theories in the study of human intelligence. Critics sometimes called him a Marxist.

Gould tangled with many of his prominent contemporaries. He detested anything that looked like a tidy evolutionary explanation for something as complex as human behavior. You can't reduce everything to natural selection, Gould argued. It's never that simple. Some things in life, he said, are like the spandrels of an Italian church -- a kind of leftover, accidental architectural feature, utterly purposeless.

But make no mistake: He loved life. He was dazzled by it. From an early age, he wanted to make some small contribution to the understanding of life. In his final column for Natural History, he said the continuity of life on Earth for 3.5 billion years, through planetary cataclysms and ice ages, is "most worthy of pure awe -- a metaphorical miracle, if you will."

He was something of a miracle himself.
 
 
 

from The Globe and Mail

Stephen Jay Gould, 60
Associated Press

Boston Stephen Jay Gould, a famed evolutionary biologist and prolific author who influenced his field for decades, died Monday. He was 60.

Dr. Gould died of cancer at his home in New York City, according to his assistant, Stephanie Schur.

Dr. Gould, a Harvard University professor, joined the faculty in 1967 as a professor of geology. He advanced to associate professor in 1971 and to professor in 1973.

Dr. Gould was a best-selling author who was enamoured of the mysteries of evolution. He was known for his engaging, often witty style evident in his collections of essays, which included Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, and The Mismeasure of Man, a study of intelligence testing and winner of the National Book Critics Award in 1982.

Much of Dr. Gould's work focused on the land snails of the West Indies, which he occasionally used to support a point in his articles for general readers.

One of the world's best-known scientists, Dr. Gould wrote books that sought to make complex debates about geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology accessible to the public.

He analyzed evolutionary theory criticizing elements of it at points with comparisons to a range of disciplines, including popular culture and sports.

One of his most-championed causes was the idea of "punctuated equilibria" in which he emphasized that evolution consisted of relatively rapid spurts of species evolution rather than gradual, continuous transformations.

He also emphasized the importance of statistics in studying evolutionary variation, comparing the demise of the .400 hitter in baseball to the process by which evolutionary "outliers" disappeared.

Dr. Gould received his bachelor's degree from Antioch College in 1963 and enrolled in Columbia University. For his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Gould investigated fossil land snails of Bermuda. Dr. Gould also did work toward his doctorate at the American Museum of Natural History.

In one of his essays about evolution, Darwin's Middle Road, which he wrote for his monthly column in Natural History magazine, Dr. Gould once said, "If genius has any common denominator, I would propose breadth of interest and the ability to construct fruitful analogies between fields."

Dr. Gould was also the recipient of several other awards including the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism for his column in Natural History in 1980 and the American Book Award in science for The Panda's Thumb in 1981.

In 1975, Dr. Gould received the Schuchert Award, given each year by the Paleontological Society for excellence in research to a paleontologist under 40.
 
 

Famed biologist, author Stephen Jay Gould dies at 60

                 May 20, 2002 Posted: 6:09 PM EDT (2209 GMT)

                              BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) --
                              Stephen Jay Gould, a world-renowned scientist who brought evolutionary
                              theory and paleontology to a broad public audience in dozens of wide-ranging
                              books and essays, died Monday of cancer.

                              He was 60, and died at his home in New York City, according to his assistant,
                              Stephanie Schur.

                              "Most of us just appreciated that in Steve we had someone who put this very
                               positive public face on paleontology, who was able to reach an audience that most of
                               us would never reach and not nearly so effectively," said Andrew Knoll, a colleague of
                              Gould's at Harvard University for 20 years. "He really was paleontology's public intellectual."

                    Gould became one of America's most recognizable scientists, not only for his
                    voluminous and accessible writings but for his participation in public debates with
                    creation scientists and even his disagreements with other evolutionary theorists.

                    Gould championed the teaching evolutionary science in school curricula, arguing
                    that it not be challenged by creation science, whose advocates made Gould an
                    enemy.

                    But he also engaged in vigorous disputes with his fellow evolutionary theorists,
                    particularly for his theory of "punctuated equilibria." Gould argued that evolution
                    occurred in relatively rapid spurts of species differentiation rather than via gradual,
                    continuous transformations. He believed short-term contingencies could play as
                    important a role as irresistible evolutionary pressure.

                   Gould also rooted his ideas of evolution by examining patterns of statistical
                   deviation, using it as a lens to view everything from the extinction of the dinosaurs
                   to the demise of the .400 hitter in baseball.

                   A longtime New York Yankees fan, he appeared in Ken Burns' PBS documentary
                   history of the sport and in 1999 wrote an obituary tribute to Joe DiMaggio for The
                   Associated Press.

                   He also was an amateur choir singer, practicing every Monday night for many
                   years at Boston's Cecilia Society, Knoll said.

                   Gould called human evolution "a fortuitous cosmic afterthought." He was known for his
                   engaging, often witty style evident in his columns in Natural History magazine, as well
                  as collections of essays, including "Ever Since Darwin", "The Panda's Thumb." His book "The
                  Mismeasure of Man," a study of intelligence testing, won the National Book Critics Award
                  in 1982.

                  Later books included "Dinosaur in a Haystack" and "Rocks of Ages: Science and
                  Religion in the Fullness of Life."

                   He received his bachelor's degree from Antioch College in 1963 and a doctorate
                   from Columbia University. For his doctoral dissertation, Gould investigated the fossil land
                   snails of Bermuda. Gould also did work toward his doctorate at the American Museum
                   of Natural History.

                   Survivors include his second wife, Rhonda Roland Shearer, with whom he had no children.
                   He had two sons with his previous wife, Schur said.
 

 
 

Sharing the wonders of science: a profile of Stephen Jay Gould

                  April 19, 2000
                  Web posted at: 2:02 p.m. EST (1802 GMT)

                  By Stephanie Bowen

Stephen Jay Gould's latest collection of essays, "The Lying Stones of Marrakech:
Penultimate Reflections in Natural History," is now in bookstores. CNN Interactive
contributor Stephanie Bowen recently spoke with the author about his career and
philosophy.

(CNN) -- After a lifetime of studying the past, Harvard University paleontologist
Stephen Jay Gould knows there is no predicting the future. With his final column
for Natural History Magazine fast approaching, he says he hopes to leave his
readers with "an appreciation of the complexities of the history of life and the
beauty of evolutionary theory."

In the mid 1950s, 5-year-old Gould was lured into science by a dinosaur skeleton
at the Museum of American History in New York City, where he grew up.
Although he says this is typical of paleontologists, his interest in science matured
from a childhood fascination into a groundbreaking career.

Gould is the leading expert on the fossil land snails of the West Indies. He is also well known for his theory that evolution occurs in short growth spurts (thousands of years) connected by long periods of stability, which departs from Darwin's theory that
evolution is a slow process (millions of years) of natural selection.

Accessible science

What distinguishes Gould from most other scientists is that he has taken his
work beyond academia and into everyday life.

In his column "This View of Life," which has appeared every month for almost
30 years, Gould takes certain aspects of biology that appeal to a general audience
and makes them relevant to the here and now.

In biography pieces for instance, Gould's uses his unique style to condense the
key contributions of influential figures into a single essay. He also uses his own
seemingly mundane experiences to make larger points.

In his latest column he explores the search for the meaning of life by telling us
how he celebrated the new year. As he was singing Franz Joseph Haydn's "The
Creation" for a New Year's performance in Boston, Gould's thoughts wandered
from the beginning of time, through the age of Enlightenment, to the scientific
foundations of evolution and then to the ever-present search for meaning through
the creation myth -- all in the context of how Haydn came to write his
masterpiece.

In a brilliant conclusion, Gould acknowledges the complexities of the task before
us. "We need to find tools even beyond the integration of science, morality, and
the other separate patches that construct what I like to designate as the coat of
many colors called wisdom," Gould writes.

Exploring ethical debates

Gould is firm in the belief that science does not have moral implications, but
 rather raises them. "Although science can produce technologies which bring the
world to a place where you have to wrestle with certain moral questions for the
first time, science can't answer those questions," he says.

For instance, science makes cloning and genetic engineering possible, but, he
maintains, "human beings have to play a role in the ethical debates, not as
scientists, but as human beings."

While the cloning debate is intangible to most of us, Gould says issues like
 abortion and euthanasia can be clarified by a firm "understanding of the science
 that raises the ethical issue in the first place."

And fostering that understanding, says Gould, is one of the reasons he has taken
science out of the university classroom and into the glossy pages of a magazine.

"Most Americans are very poorly trained in science, which is our fault. People
 aren't incapable of understanding, most people are pretty interested," says Gould.

He says if you ask most people whether evolution or creation should be taught in
classrooms, they'll say to teach both. Gould believes that many people just don't
understand the science that supports evolutionary theory.

 "They don't understand that it's no threat to religion," says Gould. "It shows their
 good will, if anything," he adds, that so many want both ideas to be given equal
 time. He says the Bible is not a natural history document and was never meant to
 be.

 The beauty of unpredictability
 On a recent book tour for "Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a
 Precisely Arbitrary Countdown," Gould discussed a theme he considers to be the
 cornerstone of his work: the beauty of unpredictability.

 "It is hard to claim there's any grand theme of predictability running through
 life," says Gould. "After all, once you learn that mammals spent two-thirds of
 their existence as tiny little animals being dominated by dinosaurs and that
dinosaurs only disappeared because there was this large extinction triggered by a
 pretty random extraterrestrial impact, it makes it very hard to see mammalian
 triumph and eventual domination of anything foreordained or predictable."

 But Gould doesn't see this as a reason to shirk accountability. "Because we are
 here by the unpredictable good fortunes of history doesn't really mean that
 there's no way in which we can define a meaning for our lives. ... It doesn't
 mean ... we don't have ethical requirements, because ethics are human systems
 anyway."

 Amazingly optimistic about the human spirit, Gould sees science as one part of
 the puzzle. "The best a scientist can ever say is that there is enough contingency
 in randomness, in complex systems that ... it's explicable just not predictable."

 Just like a 5-year-old at a dinosaur museum becoming a famous paleontologist.
 Explicable but not predictable. Thank goodness for the beauty of a random
 universe.
 

 Stephanie Bowen is a graduate student in writing at the University of Southern
 California.
 
 
 
 

Stanford Presidential Lecture

                             Stephen Jay Gould

                       Perhaps more than any other contemporary American scientist
                       Stephen Jay Gould has presented the modes, implications, benefits,
                       and shortcomings of science to a literate public. As an inventive and
                       productive scholar he has shaped and participated in crucial debates
                       of the biological and geological sciences, particularly with regard to
                       the theory of evolution, the interpretation of fossil evidence, and the
                        meaning of diversity and change in biology. As the readership for his nearly twenty books
                        and hundreds of essays, reviews, and articles has grown he has become one of the
                        most popular and well-known writers and lecturers on scientific topics. He has
                        distinguished himself by elaborating his critique of contemporary evolutionary theory via
                        an eclectic range of discourse, deriving inspiration from his personal reflections across
                        an astonishing array of historical and humanistic disciplines, popular culture, and sports.

                        Gould was born in New York City in 1941. When he was five years old he was taken to
                        the American Museum of Natural History by his father, a court stenographer with an
                        interest in natural history. Gould's interest in paleontology grew unabated through his
                        childhood and teenage years, rivaling his intense passion for the New York Yankees. He
                        completed his undergraduate education with a degree in geology from Antioch College in
                        1963 and returned to New York to earn a Ph.D. in paleontology from Columbia University
                        in 1967. He has been Professor of Geology and Zoology at Harvard University, currently
                        as the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard
                        University, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Harvard Museum of Comparative
                        Zoology, and adjunct member of the Department of the History of Science. He has
                        established a reputation as one of Harvard's most visible and engaging instructors,
                        offering courses in paleontology, biology, geology, and the history of science. Since
                        1996, he also has been Vincent Astor Visiting Research Professor of Biology at New
                        York University and now divides his time between New York and Cambridge.

                        Gould's empirical field studies have concentrated on fossil mollusks and snails found in
                        Bermuda. His first major monographic work, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), treated
                        the theory of recapitulation in evolutionary biology. His second, The Mismeasure of Man
                        (1981), examined the history of ideas regarding biological determination of intelligence.
                        These studies demonstrated Gould's ability to link both careful historical research and
                        what he called "baroque excrescences and digressions" (Ontogeny and Phylogeny, p.
                        2) on all manner of subjects to his evolving criticism of the foundations and
                        contemporary understanding of Darwinian evolutionary theory. In Mismeasure of Man he
                        engaged head-on the historical genesis and broader implications of biological
                        determinism by focusing on the question of the numerical ranking of human groups by
                        measures of intelligence. Both books were well received, and The Mismeasure of Man
                        received the National Book Critics' Circle Award for 1982, an indication of the expanding
                        impact of Gould's writings.

                        In 1974, Gould began a monthly series of essays under the rubric "This View of Life" for
                        Natural History, the magazine of the American Museum of Natural History. The series
                        began as a column on topics such as "Size and Shape," "Sizing Up Human Intelligence,"
                        and the "Race Problem." By the completion of his second year as author of this series
                        Gould established the series as a popular and wide-ranging source of insights on current
                        and historical topics in natural history. The immense popularity of "This View of Life"
                        alone justifies the frequent praise Gould has received for reviving the popular scientific
                        essay which he has re-established as a critical, rather than purely didactic, genre of
                        science writing. This form of discourse had reached its high-point in the 19th century,
                        then suffered a continuous decline due to increased specialization and the rapid
                        accumulation of knowledge in the natural sciences, as well as decreased professional
                        reward for non-technical writing. Gould's streak of uninterrupted monthly contributions to
                        Natural History alone has reached 280, spanning nearly 25 years. For many readers he
                        has become the consummate scientific essayist.

                        While it might be tempting to view Gould's career as following a path from specialized
                        technical studies to broader theoretical concerns and finally to popularization, this picture
                        is misleading, if not false. As an undergraduate at Antioch he reaped the benefits of a
                        curriculum that emphasized writing skills. Even in his earliest scientific publications,
                        literary and historical references played a significant role. As early as 1965 he published
                        an essay, "Is Uniformitarianism Necessary?" for the American Journal of Science (no.
                        263, 1965: 223-28) which set the stage for his empirical work, his later theoretical
                        critique of adaptationism and uniformitarianism in neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory and
                        geology, and his historical writings on 19th-century science. Gould's evolving historical
                        critique of evolutionary theory emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in a dozen or
                        so book reviews on historical monographs, a contribution to the 13th International
                        Congress of the History of Science (1971) on Friedrich Engels' ideas about human
                        evolution, and also in articles in the American Journal of Science, Science, the Journal
                        of the History of Biology, and other journals. The confluence of these diverse themes
                        and genres established Gould's unique voice and led to the critical success and large
                        readership for Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989),
                        winner of the Science Book Prize for 1990, and for seven volumes of essays (most
                        originally from his "This View of Life" series) published over a span of twenty years,
                        especially The Panda's Thumb (1980), which won the 1981 American Book Award for
                        Science, Bully for Brontosaurus (1991), and Dinosaur in a Haystack (1995).
 

                        Gould's critique of central concepts of the Darwinian paradigm has
                        been founded on the notion of "punctuated equilibria" and his
                        assertion of the importance of historical contingency and other
                        factors in evolution besides the mechanism of adaptation to the
                        external environment. The theory of punctuated equilibria, which he first formulated with
                        his colleague Niles Eldredge in 1972, states that the history of evolution is concentrated
                        in relatively rapid events of speciation rather than taking place gradually as slow,
                        continuous transformations of established lineages. Most species during most periods
                        do not evolve radically, but rather fluctuate aimlessly and within bounds given by
                        expected spreads of statistical variation. Gould considers the dramatic implications for
                        this interpretation in the context of his historical critique of the gradualist model of
                        evolution. In Gould's view, adherence to a belief in directed evolutionary progress
                        expressed cultural and political biases of the 19th century. Charles Darwin in particular
                        was unable to abandon these ideas despite apparent contradictions with his own theory
                        of evolution and his agonizing intellectual struggle with gaps in the fossil record, gaps
                        that could not be explained if evolution moves forward by the accretion of many small
                        changes.

                        The theory of punctuated equilibria and its implication for Darwinian evolutionary theory
                        have stimulated a series of debates since the mid-1970s. Gould has adopted positions
                        opposed to an orthodoxy of Darwinian evolution based on the mechanisms of long-term
                        adaptation and natural selection over relatively long periods of time. In Wonderful Life and
                        Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (1996) he considered a
                        startling range of topics tied together by his view of "life's history and meaning" (Full
                        House, p. 4). These themes included: his detailed account of the history, interpretation,
                        and significance of the fossils discovered in 1909 by Charles Walcott, then secretary of
                        the Smithsonian Institution, at the Burgess Shale site in British Columbia; his insights
                        into the importance of statistical reasoning and the meaning of variation derived as a
                        long-term survivor of abdominal mesothelioma, a rare, and at the time of his diagnosis in
                        1982, generally fatal form of cancer; and the decline of the .400 hitter in baseball as a
                        lesson in the relationship between excellence and statistical variation. He ties these
                        seemingly disparate subjects together with his passionate criticism of two cardinal
                        notions of Western culture: the "parochial" image of biological evolution as a ladder
                        leading from primitive to complex organisms, the scala naturae; and a confidence in the
                        movement of history toward a present-day "Age of Man" characterized by human
                        dominance and the evolution of intricate cognitive skills and consciousness.
 

                        Burgess Shale Panorama,
                        © 1988, Biota.org

                        Gould's mission as a writer of accessible essays and books aimed at a broad literate
                        public is not overtly pedagogic. In this sense he is not a spokesman for science or a
                        teacher for the masses. Indeed, even his "popular" works are pitched at a relatively high
                        level of reader, both in terms of their content (generally more critical than didactic) and
                        the frequency of his references to an occasionally bewildering assortment of
                        non-scientific sources, including classical literature, the Bible, history, sports, and
                        popular culture. He rarely "dumbs down" topics to make them comprehensible in terms
                        of ready metaphors or comparisons to more familiar material and he has criticized the
                        use of these techniques in science exposition. His commitment to making serious
                        discussions of scientific topics accessible to as large a public audience as possible is
                        nonetheless formidable; in his eulogy of Carl Sagan for Science (Jan. 31, 1997: 599),
                        Gould noted Sagan's "legendary service to science," including his ability to move
                        "comfortably across the entire spectrum [of high and pop culture] while never
                        compromising scientific content." These are clearly goals Gould has set for himself and
                        he has sought to fulfill them in many ways besides publication. He has been a member
                        of the advisory board to the PBS science show, NOVA, since 1980 and for the
                        Children's TV Workshop from 1978 to 1981; he was also the subject of a NOVA profile
                        ("Stephen Jay Gould: This View of Life") in 1984 and a multimedia CD-ROM, First
                        Person: Stephen Jay Gould on Evolution (New York: Voyager, 1994).

                        Gould's high visibility, critical voice, and obvious enthusiasm for spirited debate have
                        drawn him into scientific, cultural and political controversies. Three examples indicate
                        the depth of his passion and the sharpness of his verbal sword. The first is his
                        participation in the debate swirling around "creationist science." He has openly opposed
                        legislation to require its teaching alongside Darwinian evolution and testified in several
                        court cases concerned with this issue. In Gould's view this controversy culminated in the
                        "successful completion of a sixty-year battle against creationism (since the Scopes Trial
                        of 1925) in our resounding Supreme Court victory [Edwards v. Aguillard] of 1987" (Bully
                        for Brontosaurus, p. 14). As America's most prominent evolutionist he continues to stand
                        out as a lightning-rod for advocates of creationism, as evidenced by the many Internet
                        bulletin boards offering discussion threads on this or related topics.

                        His unrelenting critique of Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve:
                        The Reshaping of American Life by Difference in Intelligence (New York: Free Press,
                        1994) offers a second example. In 1996, he issued a new edition of The Mismeasure of
                        Man. In the new introduction prepared for this edition Gould addressed the reception of
                        his book since its original publication in 1981. He explained the issuing of a new edition in
                        part as a response to the Bell Curve, which in his view represented and benefited from a
                        "political swing" to the right in the United States. He added a lengthy epilogue consisting
                        of several essays in direct rebuttal to The Bell Curve. In this rebuttal Gould returned to
                        the theme of a "mismeasure of man" with his unyielding refutation of the validity of any
                        single quantitative measure of intelligence as measuring "a real property in the head"
                        (The Mismeasure of Man, p. 372). In one of these essays, his reprinted New Yorker
                        review of The Bell Curve, Gould insisted that "the book is a manifesto of conservative
                        ideology" and "I have never read anything so feeble, so unlikely, so almost grotesquely
                        inadequate" as the argument in its final chapter.

                        These quotations register Gould's willingness to enter the ring swinging against his
                        opponents. A third example of his enthusiasm for verbal battle is his open opposition to
                        the advocates of strict neo-Darwinian theorists and evolutionary psychology. The melee
                        among these "evolutionary pugilists," as Martin Brookes has labeled them (Brookes,
                        "May the Best Man Win," New Scientist, April 11, 1998: 51), typifies Gould's fervent
                        opposition to what he terms the "strict" adaptationist model for the evolution of human
                        cognitive capacity. The debate itself is about nothing less than the capabilities and limits
                        of the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm. Gould has stridently objected to its unbridled
                        application as an overarching theory capable of completely explicating human nature or
                        even leading to the denial and replacement of religion. His opponents on various fronts in
                        this wide-ranging and ongoing debate include the linguist and evolutionary psychologist
                        Steven Pinker, the philosopher Daniel Dennett and the prominent English evolutionist
                        Richard Dawkins. Their clashes in print have been summarized as a "feud for thought"
                        by Andrew Brown in The Guardian who calls the dispute "a delight for lovers of scientific
                        invective."

                        Gould's involvement in public and at times vituperative public debates has had little
                        negative impact on either his popularity as a writer or his prominence in the American
                        scientific community. He was one of the first winners of the prestigious MacArthur
                        Foundation prize fellowship in 1981 and is a member of the National Academy of
                        Sciences. He has served as president of the American Society of Naturalists, the
                        Paleontological Society, and the Society for the Study of Evolution, and in 1998 became
                        president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the
                        nation's largest scientific organization. The news release issued by the AAAS cites his
                        "numerous contributions to both scientific progress and the public understanding of
                        science." In taking on this role, Gould accepted the challenge of making "people less
                        scared of science so they won't see it as arcane, monolithic, and distant, but as
                        something that is important to their lives."

                        By Henry Lowood

                        (c)1998, Stanford University
 
 
 
 

Prefatory Note by Steve Dunn

Stephen Jay Gould is an influential evolutionary biologist who teaches at Harvard University. He is the author of at least ten popular books on evolution, and science, including, among others, The Flamingo's Smile, The Mismeasure of Man, Wonderful Life, and Full House.

As far as I'm concerned, Gould's The Median Isn't the Message is the wisest, most humane thing ever written about cancer and statistics. It is the antidote both to those who say that, "the statistics don't matter," and to those who have the unfortunate habit of pronouncing death sentences on patients who face a difficult prognosis. Anyone who researches the medical literature will confront the statistics for their disease. Anyone who reads this will be armed with reason and with hope. The Median Isn't the Message is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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The Median Isn't the Message by Stephen Jay Gould

My life has recently intersected, in a most personal way, two of Mark Twain's famous quips. One I shall defer to the end of this essay. The other (sometimes attributed to Disraeli), identifies three species of mendacity, each worse than the one before - lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Consider the standard example of stretching the truth with numbers - a case quite relevant to my story. Statistics recognizes different measures of an "average," or central tendency. The mean is our usual concept of an overall average - add up the items and divide them by the number of sharers (100 candy bars collected for five kids next Halloween will yield 20 for each in a just world). The median, a different measure of central tendency, is the half-way point. If I line up five kids by height, the median child is shorter than two and taller than the other two (who might have trouble getting their mean share of the candy). A politician in power might say with pride, "The mean income of our citizens is $15,000 per year." The leader of the opposition might retort, "But half our citizens make less than $10,000 per year." Both are right, but neither cites a statistic with impassive objectivity. The first invokes a mean, the second a median. (Means are higher than medians in such cases because one millionaire may outweigh hundreds of poor people in setting a mean; but he can balance only one mendicant in calculating a median).

The larger issue that creates a common distrust or contempt for statistics is more troubling. Many people make an unfortunate and invalid separation between heart and mind, or feeling and intellect. In some contemporary traditions, abetted by attitudes stereotypically centered on Southern California, feelings are exalted as more "real" and the only proper basis for action - if it feels good, do it - while intellect gets short shrift as a hang-up of outmoded elitism. Statistics, in this absurd dichotomy, often become the symbol of the enemy. As Hilaire Belloc wrote, "Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death."

This is a personal story of statistics, properly interpreted, as profoundly nurturant and life-giving. It declares holy war on the downgrading of intellect by telling a small story about the utility of dry, academic knowledge about science. Heart and head are focal points of one body, one personality.

In July 1982, I learned that I was suffering from abdominal mesothelioma, a rare and serious cancer usually associated with exposure to asbestos. When I revived after surgery, I asked my first question of my doctor and chemotherapist: "What is the best technical literature about mesothelioma?" She replied, with a touch of diplomacy (the only departure she has ever made from direct frankness), that the medical literature contained nothing really worth reading.

Of course, trying to keep an intellectual away from literature works about as well as recommending chastity to Homo sapiens, the sexiest primate of all. As soon as I could walk, I made a beeline for Harvard's Countway medical library and punched mesothelioma into the computer's bibliographic search program. An hour later, surrounded by the latest literature on abdominal mesothelioma, I realized with a gulp why my doctor had offered that humane advice. The literature couldn't have been more brutally clear: mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery. I sat stunned for about fifteen minutes, then smiled and said to myself: so that's why they didn't give me anything to read. Then my mind started to work again, thank goodness.

If a little learning could ever be a dangerous thing, I had encountered a classic example. Attitude clearly matters in fighting cancer. We don't know why (from my old-style materialistic perspective, I suspect that mental states feed back upon the immune system). But match people with the same cancer for age, class, health, socioeconomic status, and, in general, those with positive attitudes, with a strong will and purpose for living, with commitment to struggle, with an active response to aiding their own treatment and not just a passive acceptance of anything doctors say, tend to live longer. A few months later I asked Sir Peter Medawar, my personal scientific guru and a Nobelist in immunology, what the best prescription for success against cancer might be. "A sanguine personality," he replied. Fortunately (since one can't reconstruct oneself at short notice and for a definite purpose), I am, if anything, even-tempered and confident in just this manner.

Hence the dilemma for humane doctors: since attitude matters so critically, should such a sombre conclusion be advertised, especially since few people have sufficient understanding of statistics to evaluate what the statements really mean? 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, in Bacon's proverb.

The problem may be briefly stated: What does "median mortality of eight months" signify in our vernacular? I suspect that most people, without training in statistics, would read such a statement as "I will probably be dead in eight months" - the very conclusion that must be avoided, since it isn't so, and since attitude matters so much.

I was not, of course, overjoyed, but I didn't read the statement in this vernacular way either. My technical training enjoined a different perspective on "eight months median mortality." The point is a subtle one, but profound - for it embodies the distinctive way of thinking in my own field of evolutionary biology and natural history.

We still carry the historical baggage of a Platonic heritage that seeks sharp essences and definite boundaries. (Thus we hope to find an unambiguous "beginning of life" or "definition of death," although nature often comes to us as irreducible continua.) This Platonic heritage, with its emphasis in clear distinctions and separated immutable entities, leads us to view statistical measures of central tendency wrongly, indeed opposite to the appropriate interpretation in our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua. In short, we view means and medians as the hard "realities," and the variation that permits their calculation as a set of transient and imperfect measurements of this hidden essence. If the median is the reality and variation around the median just a device for its calculation, the "I will probably be dead in eight months" may pass as a reasonable interpretation.

But all evolutionary biologists know that variation itself is nature's only irreducible essence. Variation is the hard reality, not a set of imperfect measures for a central tendency. Means and medians are the abstractions. Therefore, I looked at the mesothelioma statistics quite differently - and not only because I am an optimist who tends to see the doughnut instead of the hole, but primarily because I know that variation itself is the reality. I had to place myself amidst the variation.

When I learned about the eight-month median, my first intellectual reaction was: fine, half the people will live longer; now what are my chances of being in that half. I read for a furious and nervous hour and concluded, with relief: damned good. I possessed every one of the characteristics conferring a probability of longer life: I was young; my disease had been recognized in a relatively early stage; I would receive the nation's best medical treatment; I had the world to live for; I knew how to read the data properly and not despair.

Another technical point then added even more solace. I immediately recognized that the distribution of variation about the eight-month median would almost surely be what statisticians call "right skewed." (In a symmetrical distribution, the profile of variation to the left of the central tendency is a mirror image of variation to the right. In skewed distributions, variation to one side of the central tendency is more stretched out - left skewed if extended to the left, right skewed if stretched out to the right.) The distribution of variation had to be right skewed, I reasoned. After all, the left of the distribution contains an irrevocable lower boundary of zero (since mesothelioma can only be identified at death or before). Thus, there isn't much room for the distribution's lower (or left) half - it must be scrunched up between zero and eight months. But the upper (or right) half can extend out for years and years, even if nobody ultimately survives. The distribution must be right skewed, and I needed to know how long the extended tail ran - for I had already concluded that my favorable profile made me a good candidate for that part of the curve.

The distribution was indeed, strongly right skewed, with a long tail (however small) that extended for several years above the eight month median. I saw no reason why I shouldn't be in that small tail, and I breathed a very long sigh of relief. My technical knowledge had helped. I had read the graph correctly. I had asked the right question and found the answers. I had obtained, in all probability, the most precious of all possible gifts in the circumstances - substantial time. I didn't have to stop and immediately follow Isaiah's injunction to Hezekiah - set thine house in order for thou shalt die, and not live. I would have time to think, to plan, and to fight.

One final point about statistical distributions. They apply only to a prescribed set of circumstances - in this case to survival with mesothelioma under conventional modes of treatment. If circumstances change, the distribution may alter. I was placed on an experimental protocol of treatment and, if fortune holds, will be in the first cohort of a new distribution with high median and a right tail extending to death by natural causes at advanced old age.

It has become, in my view, a bit too trendy to regard the acceptance of death as something tantamount to intrinsic dignity. Of course I agree with the preacher of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to love and a time to die - and when my skein runs out I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way. For most situations, however, I prefer the more martial view that death is the ultimate enemy - and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light.

The swords of battle are numerous, and none more effective than humor. My death was announced at a meeting of my colleagues in Scotland, and I almost experienced the delicious pleasure of reading my obituary penned by one of my best friends (the so-and-so got suspicious and checked; he too is a statistician, and didn't expect to find me so far out on the right tail). Still, the incident provided my first good laugh after the diagnosis. Just think, I almost got to repeat Mark Twain's most famous line of all: the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

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Postscript By Steve Dunn
Many people have written to me asking whether Stephen Jay Gould is still alive and well. While I don't know him personally, he continues to pump out new books at an impressive rate, and I presume he is well. He is continuing to chart unexplored regions of the "right tail" and is closing in on twenty years since his diagnosis!
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This CancerGuide Page By Stephen Jay Gould. Last Updated August 8, 2000
 

                         Articles in Natural History Magazine
 
 
List Of Books By Stephen Jay Gould
Tuesday May 21, 2002 12:10 AM
from The Guardian Unlimited

Among the books written by Stephen Jay Gould:

``I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History'' (2002)

``The Structure of Evolutionary Theory'' (2002)

``Crossing Over: Where Art and Science Meet'' (2000)

``The Lying Stones of Marrakesh: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History'' (2000)

``Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life'' (1999)

``Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History'' (1998)

``La Vie Est Belle: Les Surprises De L'evolution'' (1998)

``Millenium: Histoire Naturelle Et Artificielle De L'an 2000'' (1998)

``L'eventail Du Vivant: Le Mythe Du Progres'' (1997)

``Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown'' (1997)

``Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin'' (1996)

``Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History'' (1995)

``Un Herisson Dans La Tempete: Essai Sur Des Livres Et Des Idees'' (1994)

``Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History'' (1993)

``The Book of Life'' (1993)

``Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History'' (1991)

``The Individual in Darwin's World: Second Edinburgh Medal Address'' (1990)

``Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History'' (1989)

``Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Ecological Time'' (1987)

``An Urchin in the Storm: Essays About Books and Ideas'' (1987)

``The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History'' (1985)

``Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes'' (1983)

``The Mismeasure of Man'' (1981)

``The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History'' (1980)

``The Evolution of Gryphaea'' (1980)

``Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History'' (1979)

``Ontogeny and Phylogeny'' (1977)
 
 

November 20, 1983
Breaking Tradition With Darwin
By JAMES GLEICK

VOLUTION has prepared the Bahamas land snail for a simple life. It hangs upside down from the leaves and grasses, climbs down in the damp nights to nibble at fungi and crawls across the terrain at the sober rate of perhaps a meter per year. Over the ages, merely by struggling to survive and reproduce, it has managed to adapt itself exquisitely to its various Caribbean habitats. On the coasts, where wind and crabs might kill the less fit, natural selection has left snails with thickened shells for protection. In the sun-dappled interiors, shells have grown mottled for camouflage.

But no means of adaptation known to Darwin could have prepared these snails for a predator as ruthless as a certain Harvard professor of geology. When January comes, the scattered islands of the Caribbean find him scrabbling at the ground with his fingernails, a plastic bag dangling from his mouth, barely aware of the clouds of sand flies or the 90-degree heat. He carries away specimens by the hundreds and maps their geographic distribution. It is his way of staying in touch with the stuff of evolution.

To a scientist like Stephen Jay Gould - an evolutionary theorist with a special love for patterns of growth and form - these snails make perfect subjects. For one thing, their life histories are calcified for all to see in the delicate whorls of their shells. For another, they turn up in a wild variety of shapes - so wild that species-happy collectors a century ago gave names to what they thought were more than 600 different kinds (Gould thinks there are fewer than 20).

A traditional Darwinian would ask how these many snails adapted to their local habitats over the course of millenniums. What are all those different shapes for? Gould is asking a different question, and it amounts to a kind of heresy in the already conten- tious world of evolutionary theory. He wants to know whether all those different shapes, all those elegant histories of growth, might have little at all to do with adaptation. Like some other evolutionists in the United States and Britain, he is challenging some of the most basic tenets of how species originate and change. And he is proposing a broadened theory, giving greater roles to the laws of internal development, the necessities of organic architecture and the vagaries of chance.

''There's more diversity of form within this single genus of Bahamian land snail, Cerion, than within any other family of land snails,'' Gould says. ''You get these pencil-thin snails. You get these golfball-like snails. A colleague of mine once gave as an example of an impossible animal a square snail, and I pointed out to him that there's a square Cerion. Everything happens with Cerion.''

Gould used to see the snail hunting as a sideline, to be indulged the way an architect might enjoy an occasional bout of carpentry. ''If you just did theory all the time you'd feel like a whore, trading on ideas and not building up the data of the field.'' But this summer, after interminable hours at Harvard spent staring at his pages of data, he also realized that the fieldwork had something to contribute to his grander theories. More orthodox evolutionists would assume that the many changes of form represent adaptations. Gould denies it and finds explanations in the laws of growth. Snails grow the way they do because there are only so many ways a snail can grow.

There is a paradox here, and Gould and his colleagues are all aware of it. Publicly, Gould is the foremost exponent of Darwinism in our time. His monthly column in Natural History magazine over the last decade, collected in three engaging and successful books, has explained the wonders of evolution to an increasingly devoted corps of readers. His prolific writing and his teaching - barely slowed by a painful struggle during the last year against a deadly form of cancer - have made him a popular focus for honorary degrees and other awards, including a five-year John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation prize fellowship.

One collection of essays, ''The Panda's Thumb,'' won the 1981 American Book Award, and his study of human intelligence and biological determinism, ''The Mismeasure of Man,'' won the National Book Critics Circle Award last year. His undergraduate course, Harvard's basic course on ''The History of the Earth and of Life,'' drew more than twice as many students this fall as could be accommodated. His outspoken campaign against the creationist notion of species placed here by divine and immutable design may not have converted many fundamentalists, but it gave the lay public the most forceful defense of evolution to come from the scientific community.

Yet within the field, this 42- year-old paleontologist is putting himself more and more at odds with orthodox Darwinism - the body of evolutionary thought grandly known as the ''modern synthesis.'' He accuses it of hardening of the arteries. In a major address before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in October, as in several recent scholarly papers, he has taken a stand against some of the basic principles of the modern synthesis - primarily the idea that the great trends of evolution can be explained purely in terms of Darwin's ''war of nature,'' the struggle of individual organisms to survive and reproduce.

The struggle of the evolutionists has already begun to bear heavily on the questions that have always made this such a contentious subject: Where did we come from and where are we headed? Darwin stands with Freud and Marx as one of the modern era's great bearers of bad tidings precisely because his revolution overthrew so many cherished answers to such questions. Those who wished to see humanity as the appointed captain of a divinely arranged parade of life got no comfort from biology after Darwin's time.

Yet the vision he put in its place was in its own way a vision of harmony, of order, of progress. Are we not evolving, slowly but steadily, toward some smarter, healthier, longer-lived race of the future? Of all the images of evolution that have taken hold in Western culture in the century since Darwin, this one is the most basic, and it may simply be wrong. For Homo sapiens, Gould and some of his colleagues believe, biological evolution is already over.

''We're not just evolving slowly,'' Gould says, ''for all practical purposes we're not evolving. There's no reason to think we're going to get bigger brains or smaller toes or whatever - we are what we are.''

His challenge reflects a lively turbulence in the field, and more turbulence is sure to come over the next few years as discoveries from molecular biology flood into evolutionary theory. Gould himself is molding the pieces of the debate into a unified, hierarchical view of evolution that he believes will give scientists a framework for talking about the interplay of great events at the levels of species, populations, individuals and genes.

''We need a different structure of evolutionary theory,'' he declared, ''an expanded kind of Darwinism but one that looks very different from the reductionistic version that has been our orthodox theory for the last 40 years or so.'' It is a new chapter being written by Gould and other biologists in the modern history of evolution - what is, after all, our story of genesis.

''Steve has been the major intellectual input into the debates in evolutionary biology,'' said John Maynard Smith, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, England, and himself one of the great theoreticians of Neo-Darwinism. ''I say that even though I think he's often quite wrong-headed, and I'm sure he thinks the same of me. But his is the intellect that stimulated this whole thing.''

As the debates go on, the heart of Darwin's message will surely remain intact. Individuals within a species vary. Those best fitted to their environment survive to pass their favorable traits on to their descendants. Nature's selection of the fittest acts as the engine of change over the generations.

But if Gould prevails it will no longer be quite as easy to explain every character, every trait, every bit of behavior in terms of how it helps an organism survive or reproduce. That has become a common habit of thinking not just in evolution but also in fields like anthropology. Why do mammals have four legs? Because it's the most efficient number for walking. Why do people have chins? To facilitate speech, or eating. Why do some cultures practice human sacrifice? To compensate for shortages of protein.

Here are the nonadaptationist explanations: We have four limbs because we evolved from fishes with four fins - ''we had to make do with that,'' Gould says, ''and we've done a good job.'' Chins don't even exist, morphologically speaking - they are just an accidental result of the interplay between two growth fields in the receding jaw of Homo sapiens (the tooth part receded more than the lower part). And human sacrifice could have arisen for any number of cultural reasons, but the use occasionally made of the resulting flesh was an afterthought.

Gould and some of his colleagues call the adaptationist habit Panglossian, as in Voltaire's joke: Why do people have noses? To hold up spectacles.

To many practicing evolutionists, this view is a caricature and a straw man. They have a staggering fact of nature on their side: that so many animals and plants do seem superbly adapted to their habitats. That, after all, is what Darwin set out to explain.

Still, Gould's heresies have been productive before. A decade ago, he and Niles Eldredge, a fellow paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, broke with orthodox Darwinism by proposing a new model for the pace of evolutionary change. The traditional view was, and is, that big changes are made gradually, by the accumulation of many tiny changes over eons. Gould and Eldredge, joined now by many other American and British paleontologists, argue for a theory of fits and starts. Most important change, they believe, takes place in the geological instant when a new species is born - a long instant, to be sure, lasting perhaps 5,000 to 50,000 years, but virtually no time at all compared to the millions of years most species survive. After that first burst of change comes a long period of stability.

The fits-and-starts theory - known as punctuated equilibrium, or, familiarly, as ''punk eke'' - addresses one of the great nuisances of evolutionary theory, the fossil record. As creationists love to point out, the evidence preserved in the earth's rocks shows many species virtually unchanged throughout their histories, with precious few transitional stages between them. Darwin and his successors have had to argue that the fossil record is incomplete by its very nature, preserving only a tiny fraction of organisms and preserving them at unreliable intervals. Gould and Eldredge ask whether the rocks might not after all be telling a true story. Perhaps transitional stages rarely appear because their existence really was brief.

This initial break with Neo- Darwinism, now accepted by many in the field, gave the modern debates their shape, but its implications have remained poorly understood except by specialists.

One piece of evolutionary theory that has firmly established itself in the way we think about human origins is the idea that we descended from our primate ancestors by continuously improving features such as brain size. Gould and Eldredge challenge that, suggesting that the important history of human ancestors is not a matter of gradual improvement, but of new humanlike species splitting off from the old. Our evolutionary history is more like a copiously branching bush than a ladder toward perfection. The new species probably formed quickly in small, geographically isolated populations and from then on, Gould and Eldredge argue, they remained more or less static. ''So that at any one time,'' Eldredge suggests, ''you might have two or three species of various brain sizes, and the long-term winners of their competition would be the bigger-brained species. It's an analogue of natural selection at the species level.''

A major area of contention to flow from punctuated equilibrium is just this suggestion - that individuals are not the only players on the evolutionary stage. Perhaps species or local populations or even genes can be targets of natural selection. That is the basis of the hierarchical model of evolution that Gould and others are building - a model meant to explain the great events, the birth and death of species and the reshaping of ecosystems.

Whether natural selection is sorting individuals or species, it is still a process of adaptation - and the traditional view remains that what we are, what we have made ourselves, arises from usefulness in survival and reproduction. Gould challenges that as well.

''I don't doubt for a moment that there was a conventional selective reason for our large brain,'' he said. ''That reason's probably complex - there are a whole host of interrelated advantages of large brains. What I do want to say very strongly is that most of what our brains do - most of what is essential to our considering of ourselves as being human - is not directly selected for, is not a product of natural selection, but arises as a nonadaptive structural consequence of building a computer so powerful as the human brain.

''To give just one example: The most terrible fact that the evolution of the large brain allowed us to learn is the fact of our personal mortality. Think of how much of the architecture of human culture and cultural traditions, how much of human religion, for example, arises and attempts to deal with that terrible fact, which we have come to learn as a result of the complex structure of our brain. You can't argue the brain became large so that we would learn the fact of our coming personal mortality.''

Even Gould's allies sometimes part company with him on the question of adaptation. ''He's trying to redress the balance, as he sees it,'' Eldredge says. ''The modern synthesis has tended to throw out the caveats and just take natural selection and extrapolate the whole thing up the board and explain the whole history of life with it. He's quite right to point that out, but I think he's infatuated with the notion. There is tremendous design in nature, and species are adapted to an amazing extent.''

Gould tends to look instead to organisms that adaptation seems to have left behind, organisms that seem imperfect or jerry-built. Where orthodox Darwinism stresses the movement of evolution toward perfection, toward harmony, his view leaves more to the accidental and the unforeseeable. ''It does emphasize the quirkiness, the unpredictability of evolution,'' he said. ''I've never seen that as a negative or despairing message. I know some people don't like it. To me it only teaches that you won't passively read the answer to moral questions in nature. And that just throws the challenge out to humanists: It's up to us to struggle and find that meaning ourselves.

''That's no threat,'' he added. ''To me that's a promise and a challenge more than a counsel of despair.''

A minor dogma of evolutionary theory, firmly held by geneticists and paleontologists around the country, is that Steven Jay Gould sleeps only three hours a night. ''Look, no normal person doing a normal day's work could possible accomplish what he's accomplished,'' said Sherwood L. Washburn, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, an evolutionist who has often differed from Gould.

Actually, Gould says, with the help of the Winston Churchill catnap technique, he used to manage on four or five hours. But that was before he discovered he had cancer.

He canceled last winter's trip to the Bahamas but kept writing his monthly column and teaching his Harvard classes, wearing a hat, by the end, to cover the baldness that came with intense radiation treatment and chemotherapy. ''It speaks to an inner strength that is intimidating,'' says David S. Woodruff, an ecologist and geneticist at the University of California at San Diego and Gould's longtime partner in the Bahamas fieldwork. ''The man has such incredible self- drive, motivation and control.''

Woodruff gets the snails first, to study 20 to 30 different genes in each, and then he ships the shells east to Harvard. Gould makes a set of complicated measurements and writes the numbers in rows and columns on immense pads. Then he searches for patterns in the measurements. It was one kind of work the cancer made impossible for a while.

But Gould's schedule is already nearly back to its precancer level. His major work in progress, already known to most of his colleagues as his ''macroevolution book,'' will detail his expanded version of evolutionary theory. He is writing a series of five technical papers on the snails and planning a Caribbean trip with Woodruff in January. He sings in the Boston Cecilia Society and often joins the substantial corps of Yankee rooters at Fenway Park. He also spends a great deal of time with his family: his wife, Deborah, an illustrator; his 14-year-old son, Jesse, who suffers from a learning disability, and his 10-year-old son, Ethan.

Gould was born on Sept. 10, 1941, in Manhattan and grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. The legend - and he swears it is true - is that he determined to become a paleontologist at the age of 5, when his father, a court stenographer, took him to see Tyrannosaurus Rex at the American Museum of Natural History. He never wavered, attending Jamaica High School in Queens - just before Sputnik brought a flurry of science courses into the curriculum - Antioch College in Ohio and graduate school at Columbia University. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1967.

Besides his undergraduate lecture course, he teaches a small seminar with his graduate students - often beginning the class with a ritual reading of his hate mail. He gets plenty, because of the active part he took in the creationism debate, writing articles and testifying in a well-publicized trial in Arkansas. ''There was one particularly nasty one from a woman who identified herself as a nurse, a preserver of life, you see. She said I was going to die - which I'm not, damn it, I'm going to be a survivor - and that I was sure to burn in hell.''

Gould discovered his cancer by accident, and the accident saved his life. He went for a physical examination in July 1982 before a trip to Europe. ''It's one of those funny things - I still don't know to this day why I asked him to do it - but I realized as I was about to leave that he hadn't given me a prostate exam, and I remembered that my old doctor used to. So I asked him, 'Well, what about a prostate exam.'

''He said, 'I don't usually give them to men your age because prostatic cancer is essentially unknown in men in their early 40's, but since you ask I'll give it to you.' So he did and he found this little bump - it's not prostatic cancer because indeed that is unknown in men my age.''

It was mesothelioma - the asbestos-related cancer that forms either in the lung or the abdomen. Gould can think of no exposure to asbestos, but it can take extraordinarily little. If the discovery had come a few months later, he might have had no chance. ''The problem is,'' he said, ''the general statistics on mesothelioma - you don't even want to read them.''

He read them. He went straight to the library at Harvard Medical School, punched mesothelioma into the computer and got the latest literature. Then he decided the statistics did not apply to him. Most victims were older. Most lived farther from a major medical center. Most only discovered the cancer after it produced noticeable symptoms. ''That's what's rare, to discover it in its presymptomatic state. It's the only reason I had a chance at all.''

Gould and I sat alone in his office at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. It is a cavernous room in the museum's original wing, built in 1859, the year Darwin published ''The Origin of Species.'' Gould shares it with 20,000 trilobites in glass cases and with an extraordinary personal book collection, including rare tracts on evolution from before Darwin's time. Not long ago, painters uncovered lettering on the old walls - ''Synthesis of the Animal Kingdom,'' ''Sponges and Protozoa'' - and Gould realized that the room had once been a main exhibition area of the museum. He left the lettering exposed.

While I sat at a table covered with snails and microscopes, Gould finished some yogurt and rose from a rattan chair. In his own mind, he sometimes says, he is a fat man. He used to be, but these days, of course, the reality is that he is just small, wearing his new gauntness like a battered overcoat. When he speaks, his energy seems to channel itself in his eyes and in his enormous hands - he flares them, locks them, kneads them as he paces back and forth. But in the afternoons he often gives way to his fatigue, and this was one of those times. He began sorting slides for his lecture that evening. ''It's funny,'' he said. ''You can't really predict how you're going to react to something like that until it happens. I never would have known what my reaction would be to, you know, a threat on one's life of that magnitude and sort. I might have thought that I would get very scared and very angry, but I just didn't. And I gather that's not an uncommon reaction among cancer patients - when you're threatened you just sort of reach back and you say, 'Oh, well, there it is, what am I going to do.' You deal with it.''

Doctors could reach one tumor surgically the month it was detected. Another could not be touched until it had been shrunk by radiation. ''It turned out that it was one of these - you see, the problem with mesothelioma is that it - .'' He held a slide up to the gray light of the window, and dropped it into a box. ''It never forms a single solid tumor, it unfortunately always forms the tumor and then undergoes this local spreading where you get these little dots of disease all over the - .'' Another slide. ''It tends not to metastasize distantly, and that's the one, if you will, somewhat favorable feature, that it does not have this tendency to spread throughout the body. But because it forms all these dotlike spreads, it's essentially uncurable under older techniques. There was not a whole hell of a lot you could do.''

Gould underwent surgery again last December and began an experimental form of chemotherapy. High doses of chemicals were applied directly on the cancer through a tube in his abdomen. It was successful, but infection from the tube caused peritonitis last spring, and the peritonitis nearly killed him.

''I can't complain,'' he said. ''It's true that everything was going along so well, and then to be struck with these two crosses, first one of your kids turns out to have deep problems, and then to come down with this life-threatening condition in your early 40's - .Well. Everything else had gone so well.

''The further difficulty that I live with is the knowledge that the mesothelioma statistics are pretty daunting. But look - I'm an individual. That's the essence of taxonomic biology, after all: the irreducibility of the individual. The general statistics may not mean a lot.

''The important thing is just to keep active. The main way to fight it is to just keep telling yourself you're not going to let it stop you. Then if it gets you eventually, O,K, you lose. But I'm not going to let it stop me.''

Even now, as the day wears on, the pain sometimes gets to be too much, and Gould goes off to give himself an injection of a narcotic painkiller.

When Gould ran his evolutionary challenge up the flagpole of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the chief architects of the modern synthesis, Ernst Mayr, was sitting in the front row, furiously scribbling notes. Mayr, a longtime Harvard professor and author of ''The Growth of Biological Thought,'' rose afterward to offer a quick response and elaborated on it the next day.

''It's a brilliant tour de force that Steve has produced,'' he said. ''Presumably I am to defend the old antiquated ideas of evolution, and let me just say it wouldn't be too difficult for me to do that.'' Like many evolutionists, he rejected the notion that natural selection operates on species or populations or genes. And he doubted that constraints of development or architecture could be as useful as adaptation in studying the Bahamas land snail. ''That's where we are on thin ice,'' Mayr said, ''and there is no thinner ice than Steve's ice.''

Mayr and other traditional Neo-Darwinists often suggest, quite reasonably, that Gould is recycling old ideas. They also argue that he is exaggerating their importance. John Maynard Smith, for example, does not think punctuated equilibrium will prove quite as pervasive as Gould thinks. ''And I don't think we were as na'ively gradualist as you would think to hear Steve talk about it.''

He also notes that as long ago as the 1950's he was talking about some of the issues Gould now stresses - but he agrees that just about any idea in evolutionary theory can be traced back to the literature not just of the last generation but of the last century. It's a question of emphasis. When he claimed priority for one idea at a recent conference, a colleague interrupted and said, ''Yes, John, we all know you invented the bloody bicycle, but you didn't get on and ride it anywhere.''

''We get this in science all the time,'' Mayr said, ''that the first glimmer of a new idea turns up very early in the literature, and gradually it becomes brighter and brighter until finally somebody makes a term for it, or somebody makes a big noise about it, and finally it penetrates people's awareness.'' As sharply as he disagrees with Gould's expanded theory, he expects it to be a force to reckon with, particularly when the macroevolution book is finished. ''It's going to be taken seriously and it's going to have a tremendously stimulating influence on the field.''

When Mayr and other Neo- Darwinists resolved the early struggles of evolutionary theory by blending the discoveries of Mendelian genetics, they settled firmly on one of the many conceivable agents of change: natural selection. Scientists by then had no use for mystical notions of change directed from within, and the new understanding of genetics ruled out the idea, known as Lamarckism, that traits acquired by an individual could be passed on. A weight-lifter's children just don't start life with bigger muscles, as nice as that might be for the progress of evolution.

Natural selection not only seemed to work, it also - just as important - provided a program for doing science.

''For the first time,'' as Gould says, ''what Darwin says is that what you can study are these small-scale changes occurring within populations - artificial selection and breeding of sheep and plants and pigeons, small changes that you can observe in the timescale of a generation. That these are the stuff, through extrapolation, of all evolutionary change.''

This was the happy state of scientific life that Gould and Eldredge began to disrupt a decade ago by suggesting that those tiny, slow changes may not account for the major events of evolution - that gradualism has become a bad habit.

Gould loves to display examples from modern anthropology: drawings of progressively more human-looking creatures walking in line, getting less and less stoop-shouldered as the eons wear on - even though the supposedly intermediate stages walked perfectly upright, according to pelvic reconstructions. He also points to the so-called McGregor busts, which used to be a favorite of college anthropology departments.

''He's given us a supposed gradual transformational sequence of Homo erectus,'' Gould said, ''a Java man on the left, to Neanderthal in the center, to Cro-Magnon on the right. The problem is that it's not an evolutionary sequence.

''Neanderthal is not an intermediate form - it's us. It's a Western European race of Homo sapiens, presumably. But look what McGregor has done to reinforce that impression of intermediacy - he's given Neanderthal a three-day growth.''

Punctuated equilibrium changes everything. Instead of looking at the daily war of individuals to survive, evolutionists have to shift their focus upward to the levels of populations and individuals, just as molecular biology is looking downward to discover important patterns at the level of genes. Gould believes that the next great conceptual gains will come from the study of how these levels interact. There, he argues, lie explanations for long-term trends that have mystified paleontologists and for many other pieces of the evolutionary puzzle.

One such piece - the kind of natural oddity that fills Gould's columns and makes his books so much fun to read - is what biologists call overspecialization. In the animal world, overspecialization leads to features like the peacock's tail or the huge antlers of the Irish elk. ''The organism is doing what it ought to do as a Darwinian agent,'' Gould said, ''trying to win more copulations to pass on more of its genes to future generations. It does that by developing a highly precise specialized organ which limits the flexibility of the species with respect to future evolutionary change, eventually guaranteeing the extinction of the species.'' Good for the individual, bad for the species. In the orthodox view, that is a contradiction in terms, awkward to deal with. In the hierarchical view, it is a kind of negative feedback between levels.

As the picture broadens, as evolution becomes a history of abrupt change when new species are born and when old ones die, it may be that the important trends will owe more to the necessities of architecture, as in Bahamian land snails, or in developmental constraints that will only be understood when embryology explains more of how genes control the timing and direction of growth. Gould's major scholarly work, the 1977 ''Ontogeny and Phylogeny,'' was devoted to the importance of viewing evolution as a change not in final products but in histories of development. ''If there are only a few potential pathways of evolutionary change,'' Gould says, ''if those potential pathways are set by the structure of the organism, then, even if natural selection is doing the pushing, in a sense the organism pushes back. Its inherited structure exerts very strong constraints on the possible pathways of change.''

Even when natural selection is the driving force, it may not be as universally effective as orthodox Darwinists suppose. Some traits may hitchhike on the backs of others. For example, in a cataclysmic event like the great extinction of 60 million years ago, when dinosaurs gave way for good, the explanation for the triumph of mammals may lie not in their bigger brains, but in the good fortune of their small size. It was the big creatures that died, regardless of how smart they were. The little creatures survived, and their brains came along for the ride.

Darwin encouraged the notion of human evolution as a march toward perfection in passages like the famous peroration to ''The Origin of Species,'' from which Gould drew the title of his Natural History column, ''This View of Life.'' It's a picture with a sense of purpose: ''As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress toward perfection. . . . Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life.''

There is indeed. But Gould loves to show a picture of a little fish, complete with eye, fins and tail, that turns out to be the rear end of a clam. The clam has evolved a highly specialized decoy. ''In what sense can you say this is a 'better' clam?'' he asks. ''Is it better than an oyster? Is it better than a scallop?'' It's just one adaptation among millions to particular ways of living.

The history of life is full of creatures that became more and more complex, only to shed their complexity when a changing environment demanded simplicity. Some ecological niches favor organisms that live long lives, producing few offspring but devoting great energy to their protection and development. Others favor organisms that rely on sheer reproductive force, maturing as quickly as possible, breeding by the thousands and then dying. Which approach is ''better''? It depends on the environment.

For one organism alone, the environment has become a thing to shape, rather than a thing to be shaped by. And in some small ways, our interference with our environment has already had the power to affect our own genetic legacy. Medical science, by curing some diseases, can allow unfavorable traits to remain in the gene pool, an effect known as dysgenic. But genes are complicated. They rarely restrict their effects to one particular disease, and they almost never correspond in any neat way to the parts of the finished animal. As for less visible and more interesting traits, if an object as simple as the chin has no clear genetic existence, there is no reason to think qualities like intelligence are directly coded either.

A few diseases seem to have simple genetic triggers, but even the simplest cases can have unexpected consequences. No genetic disease is better understood than sickle-cell anemia, a blood disorder affecting blacks.In its rare, homozygous form, it is deadly. But the mild, heterozygous form, much more common, has a beneficial side effect: It provides protection against malaria. That is why the gene spread in Africa, wherever the malaria was present. Natural selection favored it, as long as it stayed rare enough so that few people would be unlucky enough in the genetic draw to get the deadly form. By tampering with nature and wiping out the malaria, science has not weakened our genetic stock - on the contrary, it has accidently strengthened the selection pressure that is now eliminating sickle-cell anemia.

For humanity, biological evolution is reserved for such oddities. The message of punctuated equilibrium is that only cultural evolution matters now. ''Think of Cro- Magnon people 50,000 years ago,'' Gould said. ''They were us. There's no difference in the brain capacity and intellectual abilities. What's happened is all cultural evolution.''

Cultural evolution is powerful and fast because, unlike the biological kind, it is truly Lamarckian. What is acquired in one generation can be passed on to the next. Its engine of change is learning. Its genetic code is language. In the century since Darwin, many students of social trends have tried to find parallels in natural selection, and some have succeeded. But because it is Lamarckian, cultural evolution does not need to wait for the slow and savage weeding out of the unfit.

In the meantime, where could biological evolution take us? Even given hundreds of millions of years, there is no reason to think nature would craft eyes that could see molecules, legs that could carry us hundreds of feet per second, brains that could sort or calculate as rapidly as computers. Even in matters of sickness and health, the time is long past when our bodies' best hope lay in evolution. Until recently, none of nature's creations could guess the future or change it - yet suddenly there is, as Gould says, one interesting and imperfect exception.

James Gleick is an assistant metropolitan editor of The New York Times.
 



Harvard Magazine
July-August 2002
 

STEPHEN JAY GOULD, Agassiz professor of zoology and professor of geology, died May 20 in Manhattan. A past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of the twentieth century and a prize-winning science writer. A specialist in invertebrate paleontology, he joined the Harvard faculty in 1967. With fellow paleontologist Niles Eldredge he developed the theory that evolutionary change in the fossil record came in fits and starts rather than slowly and steadily; this theory, which they called "punctuated equilibrium," continues to spark debate. He received the National Book Award in 1981 for The Panda's Thumb and the National Book Critics Circle Award the following year for The Mismeasure of Man. His magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, more than two decades in the writing, came out this March; at his death he was preparing to go on tour to promote his latest book, I Have Landed: The End of the Beginning in Natural History, a collection of some of the essays he wrote for 300 consecutive issues of Natural History magazine between 1974 and 2001. He was a major benefactor of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Museum of Comparative Zoology. He was a music lover who sang for 30 years in the Boston Cecilia chorus and a lifelong, rabid Yankees fan. He leaves his wife, Rhonda Shearer, two sons, Jesse and Ethan, a stepdaughter, London Allen, a stepson, Jade Allen, and his mother, Eleanor.