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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Gould, Stephen Jay (1941 – 2002)
"We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a higher answer -- but none exists."

-- Stephen Jay Gould


Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation, which led many authors to call him "America's unofficial evolutionist laureate."

Gould was a distinguished professor at Harvard for most of his career, and served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2000, the Paleontological Society in 1985-1986, and the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1990-1991.

Early in his career he developed with Niles Eldredge the theory of punctuated equilibrium, where evolutionary change occurs relatively rapidly to comparatively longer periods of evolutionary stability. According to Gould, punctuated equilibrium overthrew a key pillar of neo-Darwinism. Some evolutionary biologists have argued that the theory was an important insight, but merely modified neo-Darwinism in a manner which was fully compatible with what had been known before (Maynard Smith 1984).

Gould received many awards and accolades for his popular expositions of natural history, but was nevertheless criticized by those in the biological community who felt his presentation was unbalanced. Some critics even accused Gould of misrepresenting their work; likewise Gould's critics were accused of misrepresenting his. The public debates between those that agreed with Gould and those that have criticized him have been so contentious that they have been dubbed 'The Darwin Wars' by several commentators (Brown 1999, Morris 2001, et al.).

Career overview
Gould began his higher education at Antioch, a liberal arts college in Ohio, graduating with a degree in geology in 1963. He spent a brief period of this time studying at the University of Leeds, in England—an experience which may have influenced the development of his nascent political awareness. After completing his graduate work at Columbia in 1967 under the guidance of Norman Newell, he was immediately hired by Harvard University where he worked until the end of his life. In 1973 Harvard promoted him to Professor of Geology and Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the institution's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and in 1982 was awarded the title Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology. In 1989 Gould was elected into the body of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gould as a public figure
Gould became widely known through his popular science essays in Natural History magazine. Many of these essays were reprinted in collected volumes, such as The Panda's Thumb and The Flamingo's Smile. In addition to his essay collections were his popular treatises, such as Wonderful Life and Full House.

Gould was a passionate advocate of evolutionary theory and wrote prolifically on the subject, trying to communicate his understanding of contemporary evolutionary theories to a wide audience. A recurring theme in his writings is the history and development of evolutionary, and pre-evolutionary, thinking. He was also an enthusiastic baseball fan and made frequent references to the sport (including an "entire essay") and a very wide range of other topics.

Although a proud Darwinist, his emphasis was less gradualist and reductionist than most neo-Darwinists. He also opposed sociobiology and its intellectual descendant evolutionary psychology. He spent much of his time fighting against creationism (and the related constructs Creation Science and Intelligent Design) and what he regarded as other forms of pseudoscience. Gould used the term "Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA)" to describe how, in his view, science and religion could not comment on each other's realm.

Gould as a scientist
In addition to his work on punctuated equilibrium, Gould had championed biological constraints and other non-selectionist forces in evolution. Together with Richard Lewontin, in an influential 1979 paper, they argued for the use of the architectural word "spandrel" in an evolutionary context, using it to mean a feature of an organism that exists as a necessary consequence of other features and not built piece by piece by natural selection. The relative frequency of spandrels, so defined, versus adaptive features in nature, remains a controversial topic in evolutionary biology.

Most of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. His early work was on the Bermudian genus Poecilozonites, while his later work concentrated on the West Indian genus Cerion.

Shortly before his death, Gould published a long treatise recapitulating his version of modern evolutionary theory, written primarily for the technical audience of evolutionary biologists: The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.

Controversies
Gould was considered by many non-biologists to be one of the pre-eminent theoreticians in his field. However, some influential evolutionary biologists have disagreed with the way Gould presented his views. They feel that Gould gave the public, as well as scientists in other fields, a very distorted picture of evolutionary theory, and charge that his claims to have overthrown standard views of neo-Darwinism were exaggerated.

Evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith, who thought Gould underestimated the importance of adaptation and overestimated the possible role of mutations of large effect in phenotypic evolution, wrote that Gould "is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory." But Maynard Smith also wrote, in a review of Gould's collection of essays The Panda's Thumb, that, "Often he infuriates me, but I hope he will go right on writing essays like these" (Maynard Smith 1981), and was among those who welcomed Gould's reinvigoration of evolutionary paleontology (Maynard Smith 1984).

One reason for such criticism was that Gould presented his ideas as a revolutionary way of understanding evolution that relegated adaptationism to a much less important position. As such, many non-specialists became convinced, due to his early writings, that Darwinian explanations had been proven to be unscientific (which Gould never wanted to imply). His works were sometimes used out of context as a "proof" that scientists no longer understood how organisms evolved, giving creationists ammunition in their battle against evolutionary theory. Gould himself corrected some of these misinterpretations and distortions of his teachings in later works.

Gould had a long-running feud with E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and other evolutionary biologists over sociobiology and its descendant evolutionary psychology, which Gould strongly opposed but Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and others strongly advocated, and over the importance of gene selection in evolution: Dawkins argued that all evolution is ultimately caused by gene competition, while Gould advocated the importance of higher-level competition including, but certainly not limited to, species selection.

Strong criticism of Gould can be found particularly in Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker and Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Dennett's criticism has tended to be harsher while Dawkins actually praises Gould in evolutionary topics other than those of contention. Pinker (2002) accuses Gould, Lewontin and other opponents of evolutionary psychology of being "radical scientists", whose stance on human nature is influenced by politics rather than science.

The evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides wrote that "although Gould characterizes his critics as 'anonymous' and 'a tiny coterie', nearly every major evolutionary biologist of our era tried to correct the tangle of confusions that the higher-profile Gould has inundated the intellectual world with. The point is not that Gould is the object of some criticism—so properly are we all—it is that his reputation as a credible and balanced authority about evolutionary biology is non-existent among those who are in a professional position to know." In turn, Gould countered that sociobiologists/evolutionary psychologists are often heavily influenced by their own beliefs, prejudices, and interests (Gould 1992).

Gould's interpretation of the Cambrian Burgess Shale fossils in his book Wonderful Life was criticized by Simon Conway Morris in his 1998 book The Crucible Of Creation. Gould had emphasized the "weirdness" of the Burgess Shale fauna, and the role of unpredictable, contingent phenomena in determining which members of this fauna survived and flourished, while Conway Morris stressed the phylogenetic linkages between the Burgess Shale forms and later taxa, and the importance of convergent evolution in producing more or less predictable responses to similar environmental circumstances.

Mismeasure of Man
Gould was also the author of The Mismeasure of Man, a study of the history of psychometrics and intelligence testing as a form of scientific racism. Though with so much contention in the field, it has generated perhaps the most controversy of all Gould's books, and has been subject to widespread praise and extensive criticism, including claims by some prominent scientists that Gould had misrepresented their work.

The most recent edition challenges the arguments of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve. Murray and others have denied that the book makes the arguments which Gould attributed.

Claims of intentional or unintentional misrepresentations by Gould go further than Murray however. Hans Eysenck, who at the time of his death was the most frequently cited living psychologist, and whose work has itself aroused controversy, wrote:

"S. J. Gould’s Mismeasure of Man is a paleontologist’s distorted view of what psychologists think, untutored in even the most elementary facts of the science. Gould is one of a number of politically motivated scientists who have consistently misled the public about what psychologists are doing in the field of intelligence, what they have discovered and what conclusions they have come to."

One of the most prominent educational psychologists (and a leading proponent of the theory that intelligence is partly dependent on genetic factors and partly dependent on environment), Arthur Jensen, makes this observation:

"In his references to my own work, Gould includes at least nine citations that involve more than just an expression of Gould's opinion; in these citations Gould purportedly paraphrases my views. Yet in eight of the nine cases, Gould's representation of these views is false, misleading, or grossly caricatured."

Bernard D. Davis, a former colleague of Gould's and a former Professor at the Harvard Medical School, and head of the Center for Human Genetics, describes The Mismeasure of Man as "a sophisticated piece of political propaganda, rather than as a balanced scientific analysis" and indicates that reviews of Gould's work "in the scientific journals were almost all highly critical."

In fact, Gould was a member of a group called Science for the People and had given a related course titled Biology as a Social Weapon, which, Gould explained, was intended to foster "a powerful political and moral vision of how science, properly interpreted and used to empower all the people, might truly help us to be free." Gould also served on the advisory boards of the journal Rethinking Marxism and the Brecht Forum, a sponsor of the New York Marxist School.

Finally, many of Gould's positions in The Mismeasure of Man conflict with positions taken by the American Psychological Association, whose Board of Scientific Affairs has published a report finding that IQ scores do have high predictive validity for certain individual differences.

Personal life
Gould was born and raised in Queens, New York, NY. His father Leonard was a court stenographer, and his mother Eleanor an artist. When Gould was five years old his father took him to the "Hall of Dinosaurs" in the American Museum of Natural History. It was there that he first met Tyrannosaurus rex. "I had no idea there were such things—I was awestruck," Gould once recalled. It was in that moment that he decided he would become a paleontologist.

Raised in a Jewish home, Gould did not formally practice any organized religion, and preferred to be called an agnostic. Politically, though he "had been brought up by a Marxist father," he is quoted as saying that his politics were "very different" from his. Throughout his career and writings he spoke out against what he saw as cultural oppression in all its forms, especially what he saw as pseudoscience in the service of racism and sexism.

Gould was twice married; to Deborah Lee in 1965 which ended in divorce, and to artist Rhonda Roland Shearer in 1995. Gould had two children, Jesse and Ethan, by his first marriage.

In July 1982 Gould was diagnosed with abdominal mesothelioma. He later published a column in Discover titled "The Median Isn't the Message," in which he discusses his discovery that mesothelioma patients had only a median lifespan of eight months after diagnosis. He then describes the research he uncovered behind this number, and his relief upon the realization that statistics are not prophecy. After his diagnosis and receiving an experimental treatment, Gould continued to live for nearly twenty years, until his death from another, unrelated type of cancer in 2002: a metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung. The column has been a source of comfort for many cancer patients.

It was during his bout with abdominal mesothelioma that Gould became a user of marijuana to alleviate the nausea associated with his cancer treatments. According to Gould, his use of the illegal drug had the "most important effect" on his eventual cure. His personal success with the substance led him to become a medical marijuana advocate later in his life. In 1998 Gould testified in the case of Jim Wakeford, a Canadian medical-marijuana user and activist.

Gould once voiced a cartoon version of himself on an episode of the animated television program, The Simpsons.

Quotations

"History includes too much chaos, or extremely sensitive dependence on minute and unmeasurable differences in initial conditions, leading to massively divergent outcomes based on tiny and unknowable disparities in starting points. And history includes too much contingency, or shaping of present results by long chains of unpredictable antecedent states, rather than immediate determination by timeless laws of nature.
Homo Sapiens did not appear on the earth, just a geologic second ago, because evolutionary theory predicts such an outcome based on themes of progress and increasing neural complexity. Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness."

"... no compelling data to support its anachronistic social Darwinism."

"The fundamentalists, by knowing the answers before they start [examining evolution], and then forcing nature into the straitjacket of their discredited preconceptions, lie outside the domain of science -- or of any honest intellectual inquiry."

"Why get excited over this latest episode in the long, sad history of American anti-intellectualism? Let me suggest that, as patriotic Americans, we should cringe in embarrassment that, at the dawn of a new, technological millennium, a jurisdiction in our heartland has opted to suppress one of the greatest triumphs of human discovery."

"Creation science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage -- good teaching -- than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?"

"The argument that the literal story of Genesis can qualify as science collapses on three major grounds: the creationists' need to invoke miracles in order to compress the events of the earth's history into the biblical span of a few thousand years; their unwillingness to abandon claims clearly disproved, including the assertion that all fossils are products of Noah's flood; and their reliance upon distortion, misquote, half-quote, and citation out of context to characterize the ideas of their opponents.
In candid moments, leading creationists will admit that the miraculous character of origin and destruction precludes a scientific understanding. Morris writes (and Judge Overton quotes): "God was there when it happened. We were not there.... Therefore, we are completely limited to what God has seen fit to tell us, and this information is in His written Word."

"Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered."

"The board transported its jurisdiction to a never-never land where a Dorothy of the new millennium might exclaim: "They still call it Kansas, but I don't think we're in the real world anymore.""

"The basic formulation, or bare-bones mechanics, of natural selection is a disarmingly simple argument, based on three undeniable facts (overproduction of offspring, variation, and heritability) and one syllogistic inference (natural selection, or the claim that organisms enjoying differential reproductive success will, on average, be those variants that are fortuitously better adapted to changing local environments, and that these variants will then pass their favored traits to offspring by inheritance)."

"Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists -- whether through design or stupidity, I do not know -- as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups."

"Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact--which they are very good at. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent's position. They are good at that. I don't think I could beat the creationists at debate. I can tie them. But in courtrooms they are terrible, because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches. In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive status of your belief. We destroyed them in Arkansas. On the second day of the two-week trial we had our victory party!"

"When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown."

 
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