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Punctuated Equilibrium

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In 1972 Stephen Jay Gould took the scientific world by storm with his paper on punctuated equilibrium, written with Niles Eldredge. Challenging a core assumption of Darwin's theory of evolution, it launched the career of one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of our time--perhaps the best known since Darwin.

Now, thirty-five years later, and five years after his untimely death, Punctuated Equilibrium (originally published as the central chapter of Gould's ...

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Overview

In 1972 Stephen Jay Gould took the scientific world by storm with his paper on punctuated equilibrium, written with Niles Eldredge. Challenging a core assumption of Darwin's theory of evolution, it launched the career of one of the most influential evolutionary biologists of our time--perhaps the best known since Darwin.

Now, thirty-five years later, and five years after his untimely death, Punctuated Equilibrium (originally published as the central chapter of Gould's masterwork, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory) offers his only book-length testament on an idea he fiercely promoted, repeatedly refined, and tirelessly defended. Punctuated equilibrium holds that the great majority of species originate in geological moments (punctuations) and persist in stasis. The idea was hotly debated because it forced biologists to rethink entrenched ideas about evolutionary patterns and processes. But as Gould shows here in his typically exhaustive coverage, the idea has become the foundation of a new view of hierarchical selection and macroevolution.

What emerges strikingly from this book is that punctuated equilibrium represents a much broader paradigm about the nature of change--a worldview that may be judged as a distinctive and important movement within recent intellectual history. Indeed we may now be living within a punctuation, and our awareness of what this means may be the enduring legacy of one of America's best-loved scientists.

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Editorial Reviews

New Scientist

In a brilliant move, Belknap Press has posthumously extracted a single chapter—number nine—from The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and published it as a stand-alone book, Punctuated Equilibrium. It's a testimony to the density of the work that a single chapter is sufficient to make a complete and thorough book on its own. The publisher has simply cut away the first 745 pages and the last 318 of the original. What's left is a text that is sharply focused on the theory for which Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge are best known. It works beautifully...Gould documents the evidence for his controversial theory and its implications in impressive detail. The book is rich in data and dense in theory, representing a powerful summary of the arguments...Gould, in his typically immodest way, suggested that the theory of punctuated equilibrium could tell us about much more than the rate of evolution, and that it pointed to a whole new hierarchy of evolutionary phenomena. He proposed that the discipline of evolutionary biology should be expanded to accommodate new ideas that he, in part, had established. Inevitably that raised hackles. Yet critics and proponents must read his ideas. This sharp, detailed extract from his last great work offers an essential summary.
— P. Z. Myers

Atlantic Monthly
The untimely death of Stephen Jay Gould deprived the world of a superb writer and popularizer of important events and processes in biology. But Gould was also a genuinely original thinker, capable of challenging even basic tenets of Darwinian notions of evolution. This latest posthumous volume, which was the central chapter of his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, argues that Darwin's theory of a steady continuum of evolutionary progress was incorrect. Rather, Gould posits, most species have originated during punctuated geologic moments, and persisted through the periods of stasis that followed. Just as, more than a century ago, quantum theory proved that in physics, things sometimes moved forward in spurts, Gould intuited that this was also true for aspects of evolutionary biology.
New Scientist - P. Z. Myers
In a brilliant move, Belknap Press has posthumously extracted a single chapter--number nine--from The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and published it as a stand-alone book, Punctuated Equilibrium. It's a testimony to the density of the work that a single chapter is sufficient to make a complete and thorough book on its own. The publisher has simply cut away the first 745 pages and the last 318 of the original. What's left is a text that is sharply focused on the theory for which Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge are best known. It works beautifully...Gould documents the evidence for his controversial theory and its implications in impressive detail. The book is rich in data and dense in theory, representing a powerful summary of the arguments...Gould, in his typically immodest way, suggested that the theory of punctuated equilibrium could tell us about much more than the rate of evolution, and that it pointed to a whole new hierarchy of evolutionary phenomena. He proposed that the discipline of evolutionary biology should be expanded to accommodate new ideas that he, in part, had established. Inevitably that raised hackles. Yet critics and proponents must read his ideas. This sharp, detailed extract from his last great work offers an essential summary.
New Scientist
In a brilliant move, Belknap Press has posthumously extracted a single chapter--number nine--from The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and published it as a stand-alone book, Punctuated Equilibrium. It's a testimony to the density of the work that a single chapter is sufficient to make a complete and thorough book on its own. The publisher has simply cut away the first 745 pages and the last 318 of the original. What's left is a text that is sharply focused on the theory for which Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge are best known. It works beautifully...Gould documents the evidence for his controversial theory and its implications in impressive detail. The book is rich in data and dense in theory, representing a powerful summary of the arguments...Gould, in his typically immodest way, suggested that the theory of punctuated equilibrium could tell us about much more than the rate of evolution, and that it pointed to a whole new hierarchy of evolutionary phenomena. He proposed that the discipline of evolutionary biology should be expanded to accommodate new ideas that he, in part, had established. Inevitably that raised hackles. Yet critics and proponents must read his ideas. This sharp, detailed extract from his last great work offers an essential summary.
— P. Z. Myers
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674024441
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2007
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 625,654
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Jay Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he received innumerable honors and awards and wrote many books, including Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (both from Harvard).

Biography

Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was arguably the leading science writer for the contemporary literate popular audience. His explications of evolutionary theory and the history of science are peppered with oddball cultural and historical references, from Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak to Catherine the Great's middle name. But Gould insisted that his work wasn't dumbed-down for nonscientists.

"I sort of operate at one end of what's called popular science," he told a Salon interviewer. "Not because I don't appreciate the other end, I just wouldn't do it well, somehow. But the end I operate on really doesn't sacrifice any complexity -- except complexity of language, of course, complexity of jargon. But I like to think that my stuff is as conceptually complex as I would know how to write it for professional audiences."

In 1972, Gould and fellow paleontologist Niles Eldredge shook up the field of evolutionary theory with their idea of "punctuated equilibrium," which suggests that the evolution of a species is not gradual and continual, but marked by long periods of stasis and brief bursts of change. Over the next several decades, Gould would continue to develop his critique of evolutionary theory, questioning assumptions about evolutionary progress and provoking debates with the likes of evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, philosopher Daniel Dennett and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

From early on in his career, Gould was interested in reviving the scientific essay, in the tradition of Galileo and Darwin. Gould began writing a series of monthly essays for Natural History, the magazine of the American Museum of Natural History. Published as "This View of Life," the well-received essays addressed a broad range of topics in the biological and geological sciences. In his essays, Gould not only explained scientific facts for the lay reader, he critiqued the shortcomings of certain scientific viewpoints and the cultural biases of particular scientists.

Armed with a historical view of evolutionary theory, he tackled the problem of human intelligence testing in The Mismeasure of Man (1981). The book won a National Book Critics' Circle Award, while a collection of essays, The Panda's Thumb (1980), won the American Book Award. Together the books established Gould's presence as one of the country's most prominent science writers.

Gould's popularity continued to widen with the publication of such unlikely bestsellers as Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989), which challenged the notion that humans are the necessary endpoint of evolutionary history. "Not only does [Gould] always find something worth saying, he finds some of the most original ways of saying it," The New York Times said in its review of Bully for Brontosaurus (1993), another collection of essays.

In 1998, Gould was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and his description of that office could apply to his whole life's work. He pledged to "make people less scared of science so they won't see it as arcane, monolithic, and distant, but as something that is important to their lives." Stephen Jay Gould died in May of 2002 of cancer.

Good To Know

In a Mother Jones interview, Gould mentioned that he was teased as a child for his fascination with paleontology. The other kids called him "fossil face." Gould added, "The only time I ever got beat up was when I admitted to being a Yankee fan in Brooklyn. That was kind of dumb."

Gould was diagnosed in 1982 with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. In one of his most famous essays, "The Median Isn't the Message," he explained how statistics are often misinterpreted by nonscientists, and why the grim statistics on his own disease -- with a median mortality of eight months, at that time -- didn't deter him from believing he would live for many more years. "[D]eath is the ultimate enemy -- and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light," he wrote. He died in May 2002 -- 20 years after his diagnosis.

Gould made a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons in 1997, participating in a town debate over the authenticity of an "angel skeleton" found in Springfield.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Jay Gould
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 10, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      May 20, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Boston, Massachusetts

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. What Every Paleontologist Knows
    • An Introductory Example
    • Testimonials to Common Knowledge
    • Darwinian Solutions and Paradoxes
    • The Paradox of Insulation from Disproof
    • The Paradox of Stymied Practice


  • 2. The Primary Claims of Punctuated Equilibrium
    • Data and Definitions
    • Microevolutionary Links
    • Macroevolutionary Implications
    • Tempo and the Significance of Stasis
    • Mode and the Speciational Foundation of Macroevolution


  • 3. The Scientific Debate on Punctuated Equilibrium: Critiques and Responses
    • Critiques Based on the Definability of Paleontological Species
    • Empirical Affirmation
    • Reasons for a Potential Systematic Underestimation of Biospecies by Paleospecies
    • Reasons for a Potential Systematic Overestimation of Biospecies by Paleospecies
    • Reasons Why an Observed Punctuational Pattern Might Not Represent Speciation
    • Critiques Based on Denying Events of Speciation as the Primary Locus of Change
    • Critiques Based on Supposed Failures of Empirical Results to Affirm Predictions of Punctuated Equilibrium
    • Claims for Empirical Refutation by Cases
    • Phenotypes
    • Genotypes
    • Empirical Tests of Conformity with Models


  • 4. Sources of Data for Testing Punctuated Equilibrium
    • Preamble
    • The Equilibrium in Punctuated Equilibrium: Quantitatively Documented Patterns of Stasis in Unbranched Segments of Lineages
    • The Punctuations of Punctuated Equilibrium: Tempo and Mode in the Origin of Paleospecies
    • The Inference of Cladogenesis by the Criterion of Ancestral Survival
    • The “Dissection” of Punctuations to Infer Both Existence and Modality
    • Time
    • Geography
    • Morphometric Mode
    • Proper and Adequate Tests of Relative Frequencies: The Strong Empirical Validation of Punctuated Equilibrium
    • The Indispensability of Data on Relative Frequencies
    • Relative Frequencies for Higher Taxa in Entire Biotas
    • Relative Frequencies for Entire Clades
    • Causal Clues from Differential Patterns of Relative Frequencies


  • 5. The Broader Implications of Punctuated Equilibrium for Evolutionary Theory and General Notions of Change
    • What Changes May Punctuated Equilibrium Instigate in Our Views about Evolutionary Mechanisms and the History of Life?
    • The Explanation and Broader Meaning of Stasis
    • Frequency
    • Generality
    • Causality
    • Punctuation, the Origin of New Macroevolutionary Individuals, and Resulting Implications for Evolutionary Theory
    • Trends
    • The Speciational Reformulation of Macroevolution
    • Ecological and Higher-Level Extensions
    • Punctuation All the Way Up and Down? The Generalization and Broader Utility of Punctuated Equilibrium (in More Than a Metaphorical Sense) at Other Levels of Evolution, and for Other Disciplines In and Outside the Natural Sciences
    • General Models for Punctuated Equilibrium
    • Punctuational Change at Other Levels and Scales of Evolution
    • A Preliminary Note on Homology and Analogy in the Conceptual Realm
    • Punctuation Below the Species Level
    • Punctuation Above the Species Level
    • Punctuational Models in Other Disciplines: Towards a General Theory of Change
    • Principles for a Choice of Examples
    • Examples from the History of Human Artifacts and Cultures
    • Examples from Human Institutions and Theories about the Natural World
    • Two Concluding Examples, a General Statement, and a Coda


  • Appendix: A Largely Sociological (and Fully Partisan) History of the Impact and Critique of Punctuated Equilibrium
    • The Entrance of Punctuated Equilibrium into Common Language and General Culture
    • An Episodic History of Punctuated Equilibrium
    • Early Stages and Future Contexts
    • Creationist Misappropriation of Punctuated Equilibrium
    • Punctuated Equilibrium in Journalism and Textbooks
    • The Personal Aspect of Professional Reaction
    • The Case Ad Hominem against Punctuated Equilibrium
    • An Interlude on Sources of Error
    • The Wages of Jealousy
    • The Descent to Nastiness
    • The Most Unkindest Cut of All
    • The Wisdom of Agassiz’s and von Baer’s Threefold History of Scientific Ideas
    • A Coda on the Kindness and Generosity of Most Colleagues


  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

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