The Apotheosis of Stephen Jay Gould. (Notebook)

By Gross, Paul R. | New Criterion, October 2002 | Go to article overview

The Apotheosis of Stephen Jay Gould. (Notebook)


Gross, Paul R., New Criterion


When, in May of 2002, Stephen Jay Gould died at age sixty, a torrent of eulogy issued from the presses. Gould was a paleontologist and a writer of popular science. Some readers who were neither consumers of popular science nor adepts of left politics were puzzled. Yes, his death was untimely; and he was a public figure. But so are other professors who are regularly in the public prints. Gould was not a politician, not a film star, not, despite his well-advertised baseball know-how, a sports figure. Biologists don't usually qualify for the industrial-strength obituary product. Somehow, this one, neither an Einstein nor a Ted Williams nor a lawmaker, did.

On the quality, of Gould's thought, opinion among his peers was divided, negative predominant, John Maynard Smith, a principal among leading evolutionists, said famously that "Because of the excellence of his essays, he [Gould] has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with." Although the public, at least in the United States, did see him as the top-gun evolutionist, the revisionist and rectifier of Darwinism, he was nothing of the sort.

An account of Stephen Gould's apotheosis must address two issues. First is the set of scientific ideas with which his name is associated (in no small measure via tireless self-advertising), and their reception among his scientific--not journalistic--peers. The second is Gould's politics, and its intertwining with his flavored scientific themes, especially in popular exposition. Exposition there was! Spectacularly productive of words on paper, Gould's energy and elan as a writer, his historical erudition--always on display--were the envy of competitors, academic and journalistic. He was his own celebrant in the 300 monthly columns he wrote for Natural History. Repeatedly, book-length collections of them became best-sellers. Breathlessly, Phil Gasper, the eulogist in (appropriately) International Socialist Review, reports: "By the 1990s, Gould was a household name. In 1997, he made an animated guest appearance on "The Simpsons," and last year the Library of Congress named him one of America's eighty-three "living legends."

Here then is a synecdoche (a part standing for the whole: Gould loved to name this figure). This one stands for the reception of his science among investigators competent to judge it. It is an essay in Human Nature Review, by the evolutionary psychologist David Barash, on Gould's 2002 swan-song, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (TSET), 1433 pages. Barash explains: "The problem is that although I admired much in Gould's work--especially his persistence and panache--and agreed with his politics, I disputed, consistently, his science [emphasis added]." Himself a skilled science writer, Barash cannot ignore the narcissism of TSET: "Such billowing clouds of verbal flatulence herald a new phenomenon--the literate bioterrorist--or maybe a biologically literate deconstructionist, more interested in generating complex clauses than in communicating anything." And, "It stands as a monument to good, professional editing ... which it didn't receive. Gould--who famously refused to allow any modification of his unique prose--got his way at the end, and his book is the worse for it."

Barash's comments on Gould's scientific claims are not at all idiosyncratic, at least among evolutionary biologists:

 
   But what is TSET about? It is not about the structure of evolutionary 
   theory.... It presents, instead, the structure of Stephen Jay Gould's 
   evolutionary theory, which is a very different creature. Or species. Or 
   more accurately, in the phrase once coined by maverick geneticist Richard 
   Goldschmidt ... a "hopeful monster." [emphasis in the original] 
 
   Gould proclaims his monstrous book to be part of a Hegelian dialectic, in 
   which traditional Darwinism (the Modern Synthesis) has become the thesis, 
   with Gould's own ideas as antithesis, and a future synthesis waiting to be 
   born. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Apotheosis of Stephen Jay Gould. (Notebook)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.