Remembering Stephen Jay Gould

by AMNH on

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The Museum mourns the death of Stephen Jay Gould, among the most influential paleontologists and evolutionary biologists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Dr. Gould's long-standing association with the Museum began as a doctoral student in the joint American Museum-Columbia University program working under the advisement of the eminent paleontologist and Museum Curator Norman Newell. As a student he also began a lifelong collaboration with Niles Eldredge, Curator Emeritus in the Division of Paleontology, on the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

The theory argues that evolutionary history is a pattern of rapid shifts followed by stasis rather than a slow and steady process of change. His association with the Museum continued with his regular contributions to Natural History magazine between 1974 and 2001, resulting in over 300 essays, many of which were collected in books such as Ever Since Darwin and Bully for Brontosaurus. He was also named the Frederick P. Rose Honorary Curator in the Museum's Division of Paleontology.

Gould began teaching at Harvard University in 1967 where he spent his entire career. At Harvard he held the titles Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and Professor of Geology. He was also Vincent Astor Visiting Research Professor of Biology at New York University. His honors included the prestigious Schuchert Award for excellence in paleontological research by a scientist under 40, the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship, and "Scientist of the Year" by Discover magazine for the theory of punctuated equilibrium that he co-authored with Niles Eldredge. Gould was also a frequent contributor to Discover magazine.

He served as the President of the Paleontological Society and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Gould won the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism in 1980 and in 1981 received both the American Book Award for The Panda's Thumb and the National Book Critic's Circle award for The Mismeasure of Man. His other books include The Flamingo's Smile, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, An Urchin in the Storm, and Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History and his recently published comprehensive volume The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.

Gould regarded himself primarily as an evolutionary biologist, where his queries explored subjects from fossils to growth and development, speciation, extinction, adaptation as well as many more facets of the field. As a writer of science, philosophy, and history his interests embraced a great range of issues pertinent to both science and society. He wrote with passion, facility and clarity about such topics as racial stereotyping, the human genome, health and longevity, evolution and creationism, art, poetry, music, and baseball.

While a highly influential scientist in the areas of his specialty, he also made, through his writing and speaking, an unparalleled connection to the public concerning many aspects of science and its impact on humanity.

In Dr. Gould's memory, we present three essays from Natural History magazine:

This View of Life: Size and Shape
The introductory essay in Stephen Jay Gould's column "This View of Life," from the January 1974 issue of Natural History magazine.

This View of Life: The Creation Myths of Cooperstown
Or, why the Cardiff Giants are an unbeatable and appropriately named team.

This View of Life: I Have Landed
In the final essay of this twenty-seven-year series, the author reflects on continuity—from family history to the branching lineage of terrestrial life.