NYTimes.com Article: Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution Theorist, Dies at 60
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- Date: Tue, 21 May 2002 18:15:50 -0400 (EDT)
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Two Great WTC Volunteers - Steven Jay Gould and his widow, Rhonda Roland Shearer.
Friends and Community Garden Volunteers,
Once again, The New York Times writer only got part of the story. You may recall, if you didn't hit the delete button last October and November that I told you about this amazing WTC volunteer supply group, "The Special WTC Relief Effort" (www.WTCGROUNDZERORELIEF.ORG) that was run by Rhonda Roand Shearer & her husband, the late Steven Jay Gould - whose obituary follows.
In the days following 9/11, Rhonda and Jay took their foundation, the "Art Science Research Laboratory, Inc." and placed it at the service of the relief workers at the World Trade Center and the Staten Island/ Fresh Kills crime evidence effort. They rented warehouses at 302 & 304 Spring Street and filled them with items that the relief workers needed - everything from boots, to ventilators, to gloves...any item that might have gotten bottlenecked in US supply channels and made them available, for free, to the folks digging at the sites. The work continues. During the fall, I helped load trucks during my lunch hours for these folks. You would see, if you walked by there now, fire, police and rescue workers picking up supplies. Trust me - the job will not be over on May 30th when Mayor Bloomberg wants to have his ceremony.
I always saw Rhonda Shearer working her heart out and read Stephen Jay Gould's fund raising letters and notes in front of the warehouse and by the front desk. I thought professor Gould was off teaching - evidently he was gravely ill. There was a sweet note as part of his request letter, asking for "sin items" along with the ventilators, socks and boots, i.e. candy, cigars, cigarettes - "This is no time to be a Puritan or stop smoking."
Bless them both and their selfless volunteerism - a model to us all,
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Stephen Jay Gould, Evolution Theorist, Dies at 60
May 21, 2002
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
Famed for both brilliance and arrogance, Dr. Gould was the
object of admiration and jealousy, both revered and reviled
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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