Stephen Jay Gould was born 70 years ago

Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (photo ┬ęKathy Chapman Online) was born on September 10, 1941, in Bayside, New York.

Stephen Jay Gould studied at Antioch College graduating in geology and philosophy also attending the English University of Leeds as a visiting undergraduate and then completed his doctorate work at Columbia University. In 1967, Gould was hired by Harvard University, where he worked as a professor until his death.

In 1972, Stephen Jay Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge published a paper in which they proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium developing and extending some ideas by Ernst Mayr. This theory gave Gould considerable fame but also started a controversy in the field of evolutionary biology. In particular, scientists Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith have always expressed several objections to punctuated equilibrium.

Developments in the field of paleontology are made with lucky findings of fossils and developments in genetics, which are revealing the mechanisms of mutations better and better. However, you can collect DNA only from today’s creatures or not too old remains, certainly not from fossils so it’s still difficult to accurately assess the timing and way of the evolution of species that were born and became extinct millions of years ago.

The debate between Stephen Jay Gould and his colleagues concerned the mechanisms of evolution and although it was intense it was based on rational arguments. Where Gould’s ideas coincided with his colleague / rival Richard Dawkins was in the fight against creationism and its pseudoscientific derivatives such as the so-called “intelligent design”.

During his life, Stephen Jay Gould got married twice: to artist Deborah Lee in 1965 and to sculptor Rhonda Roland Shearer in 1995.

In 1982, Stephen Jay Gould was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, an abdomen cancer that gave an average of eight months of life to those who contracted it. Thanks to early detection and new treatments however Gould was able to heal. Gould wrote of his experience, including the use of cannabis to relieve the sickness derived from his therapies.

Unfortunately, after several years Stephen Jay Gould was hit by a metastatic adenocarcinoma, a tumor completely independent from the first one which attacked his lungs and then spread reaching his brain. Gould died on May 20, 2002.

Throughout his life, Stephen Jay Gould has been a great popularizer of science and has contributed to spreading evolutionism. In the future, we will know whether he was right or Richard Dawkins, or if the mechanisms of evolution are different from those conceived by both scientists. Science works this way, thanks to comparisons between theories, tests, modifications to the theories, and so forth. Whatever the result, Stephen Jay Gould has greatly contributed to the science of evolution.

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