Stephen Jay Gould Biography

(Paleontologist and Evolutionary Biologist Known for His 'Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium' & Book ‘The Mismeasure of Man’)

Birthday: September 10, 1941 (Virgo)

Born In: Bayside, New York, United States

Stephen Jay Gould was a famous paleontologist widely recognized for his contributions to evolutionary theory and history of science. A prolific writer, he had authored over 20 best selling books and written 300 essays for his monthly column, ‘This View of Life’ in ‘Natural History’ magazine. He was one of the most widely read writers of popular science of his generation and a professor who had spent many years teaching at the Harvard University; he also taught biology and evolution at the New York University. He worked as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History. His fascination with fossils and prehistoric life started from the time when as a five-year old he saw the skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex at a museum. Awestricken at the sight of the gigantic skeleton, he decided that he wanted to study prehistoric life when he grew up. He is best remembered for the theory of punctuated equilibrium which he developed with Niles Eldredge. This theory proposed that most species go through long periods of evolutionary stability punctuated by rare evolutionary changes. His contributions to the field of evolutionary developmental biology were also very significant. The author of thousands of scientific papers, he is one of the most frequently cited scientists in the field of evolutionary theory.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 60


Spouse/Ex-: Deborah Lee (m. 1965–1995), Rhonda Roland Shearer (m. 1995–2002)

father: Leonard Gould

mother: leanor Gould

children: Ethan, Jade, Jesse, London Allen

Born Country: United States

Quotes By Stephen Jay Gould Historians

Died on: May 20, 2002

place of death: SoHo, New York, United States

Notable Alumni: Antioch College

Diseases & Disabilities: Lung Cancer

Cause of Death: Metastatic Adenocarcinoma

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: Yale University, Columbia University, University Of Leeds, Antioch College

awards: 2008 - Linnean Society of London's Darwin–Wallace Medal
2002 - Paleontological Society Medal
1975 - Charles Schuchert Award

1990 - Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science
- MacArthur Fellowship
- National Book Award
- National Book Critics Circle Award

Childhood & Early Life
He was born to Jewish parents in New York City. His father, Leonard, was a court stenographer and his mother, Eleanor, was an artist.
When he was five years old he saw the skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex in a museum and was awestricken and scared at the same time. It was then that he decided to become a paleontologist.
He attended Antioch College in the early 1960s and graduated with a double major in geology and philosophy in 1963. After that he went to the University of Leeds.
He completed graduate work at Columbia University in 1967 under the guidance of Norman Newell.
As a student, Gould was very active in the civil rights movement and often participated in campaigns for social justice. Throughout his life he spoke and wrote against cultural oppression, racism and sexism.
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He was employed by the Harvard University in 1967 soon after he graduated from Columbia University. He would teach there for several years until his death.
Along with fellow paleontologist, Niles Eldredge, he proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972 which states that evolutionary history goes through long periods of stability and is punctuated by rapid evolutionary changes.
He was promoted as Professor of Geology and Curator of Invertebrate paleontology at the institute’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1973.
Starting from January 1974, his essays were published in a series titled ‘This View of Life’ in the ‘Natural History’ magazine. The series ended in January 2001, after a continuous publication of 300 essays.
His first technical book, ‘Ontogeny and Phylogeny’ was published in 1977. It explored the relationship between embryonic development and biological evolution.
Gould and Richard Lewontin wrote a paper called ‘The Spandrels of San Marco and the panglossian paradigm’ in 1979. The paper introduced the architectural term ‘spandrel’ into evolutionary biology and elaborated on how living organisms are built.
His book ‘The Mismeasure of Man’ was out in 1981. It was both a history and critique of biological determinism. It was a critical analysis of scientific racism and a historical evaluation of the concepts of the intelligence quotient (IQ).
He was made the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in 1982 and the very next year he was awarded fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His numerous contributions to science were often cited by the AAAS news release.
He was made the president of the Paleontological Society for the session 1985-86. He was elected into the body of the National Academy of Sciences in 1989.
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In 1990-91, he served as the president of the Society for the Study of Evolution. He also served as the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 1999 to 2001.
He taught at the New York University from 1996 to 2001 as Vincent Astor Visiting Research Professor of Biology.
Major Works
He is best known for his theory of punctuated equilibrium which he developed with fellow paleontologist, Niles Eldredge. The duo had published a paper called ‘Punctuated Equilibria’ which is considered as the foundational document of the new paleobiological research.
Awards & achievements
He was named the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 2001 for his lifetime of work.
He was posthumously awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal by the Linnean Society of London in 2008 for "major advances in evolutionary biology".
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Deborah Lee, a fellow student at Antioch College in 1965. They had two sons.
He married for the second time in 1995 to artist and sculptor Rhonda Roland Shearer. He became a step father to her two children from a previous marriage.
He was first diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 1982. He recovered after a difficult treatment and continued his scientific work. He became afflicted with a different type of cancer after several years and died in 2002.

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