Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould "If genius has any common denominator, I would propose breadth of interest and the ability to construct fruitful analogies between fields."

Stephen Jay Gould ( 1941–2002)
PhD 1967
Medal 1982 (hon.)

A pioneering scientist, compelling essayist and engaging teacher, Stephen Jay Gould explained the complex field of evolutionary biology to a mass audience while pursuing serious research. He is perhaps best known for his writings including his monthly essays in Natural History and his books, among them Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), The Mismeasurement of Man (1981), Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989) and The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, published two months before his death from cancer in May 2002. Called "paleontology's public intellectual" by a Harvard colleague, Gould was also well-versed in other subjects, particularly baseball, and his writings, abound with references to history, literature and music. Drawing on his research at Columbia, Gould, along with Niles Eldredge, challenged the gradualism of Darwinist evolutionary models with a theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972.

After getting his BA from Antioch College, Gould enrolled at Columbia in 1963 and received his PhD in 1967, writing his dissertation on the fossil land snails of Bermuda. While graduate students, Gould and Eldredge noticed appearances of relatively new fossil forms, followed by long periods in which these organisms changed little. That discovery, which had been attributed to the incompleteness of the fossil record, gave rise to the theory of punctuated equilibrium the pair proposed years later. That theory held that evolutionary change occurs relatively rapidly in comparatively brief periods, separated by longer periods of evolutionary stability. The idea that evolution proceeds in fits and starts, as opposed to a slow, steady process occurring at a nearly constant rate, provoked debate among paleontologists and remains controversial today.

Photo credit: Jon Chase/Harvard News Office. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


His final collection of essays, reviewed by a Columbian


Anthropologist who debunked theories of racial superiority

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