of books by Stephen J. Gould

STEPHEN J. GOULD (1941-2002) was Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Professor of Geology, and Curator in Invertebrate Paleontology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His research includes invertebrate paleontology, growth and form in land snails, and the structure of evolutionary theory and historical explanation. Gould died at the age of 60 having contributed to the modern theory of evolution and as a writer to the public understanding of science.

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
by Stephen Jay Gould
Belknap Harvard; 2002

Gould who contributed much to a modern interpretation of macro evolution, namely the formation of new species during phases of accelerated evolutionary changes - dubbed punctuated equilibrium - has written a detailed and personal summary of the theory of evolution, its history and scientific impact.

December 28, 2002 / © 2002 Lukas K. Buehler go back to Book Review Home

Ontogeny and Phylogeny
by Stephen Jay Gould
Belknap Harvard; 1977

There are two great aspects of biology which appear to be related.  The reason for this relation is unclear and not understood, and as Gould argues, does not exist. Ontogeny and phylogeny are two words for development and evolution. Philosophically, both describe the 'coming into being' of an organism or a population of organisms and a clear chronological path can be described for both. In the Biological Sciences, development refers to the growth of an organism from conception to birth (and beyond, but this later stage is no longer essential for the issue at hand). The 'beginning' of life starts for all living organisms at the level of a single cell, the egg or oocyte, and is followed by a rapid succession of cell divisions  --   multiplication and differentiation. During the course of development, the small, single cell egg changes into a large, multicellular, complex organism. Similarly, Biological Evolution is thought to originate from a single ancestral cell, which by all estimates was an organism comparable to modern bacteria. Evolution, therefore, is visualized by a branching 'tree of life' depicting the changes in form and size of living organisms (speciation) all the way up to the intelligent, multicellular species Homo sapiens. The analogy of developing forms during ontogeny and phylogeny is so striking that the German contemporary of Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, successfully popularized the idea that development recapitulates evolution. In other words, every time a human being is conceived, the embryo develops from a single cell species (bacteria like?) through a series of lower animal forms like fish, bird, primates as outlined in the tree of life, and eventually develops all the characteristics of Homo sapiens. The theory has been scientifically refuted almost 100 years ago. Gould is recapitulating the refutation in this current volume.

May 15, 1999 / © 199 Lukas K. Buehler go back to Book Review Home

The Mismeasure of Man
by Stephen Jay Gould
Norton; 1996, 1981

To appreciate this book is to have true scientific literacy. As often in science, the importance of statistical analysis is not acknowledged, not understood, or put aside because it is too tardy and difficult a subject. When it comes to a definition of the intelligent quotient (IQ), the misunderstandings could not be more disastrous. To use a factor such as the IQ to measure the quality of human life is playing with fire, for the observations, the premises, and the conclusions about intelligence are not understood scientifically. Gould in his usual eloquence of writing and with the general audience in mind, reduces the political, emotional, and moral meat of the IQ debate to the necessary, but difficult to grasp statistical findings of IQ values in a population  -  that the distribution follows a Normal or Gaussian curve (called Bell curve for its shape of a bell). This distribution is characterized by the fact that an IQ of 100 represents the mean and that by definition half of a population is smarter (IQ values above 100) than the other half (IQ values below 100).

The important thing about science in general and debates on intelligence in particular is to understand that the significance of the IQ is based on the design of the IQ test. It is designed to asses a person's ability of abstract reasoning. It provides a quantitative assessment and compares one member with all other members of a group. All these considerations go into Gould's book. Every other scientific topic can easily be appreciated, if the statistical significance behind the debate outlined in 'The Mismeasure of Man' is appreciated.

Note added (August 28, 2011). As reported in the New York Times, a recent publication challenges Gould's reevaluation of some data, namely the skull volume measurements done by the 19th-century physical anthropologist Samuel George Morton. Gould accuses Morton of racial bias, the new study by J.E. Lewis et al. of the University of Pennsylvania (the archives of Morton's skulls) accuse Gould of his own political correctness bias. Gould put is bias accusation as “unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm”. Gould's fame turned Morton's measurement into 'scientific misconduct' and the current remeasurement of the skulls confirms the accuracy of Morton's measurements. No bias after all. What to think about it? Scientific data is always used to support social context, so scientists can never be completely objective. The episode illustrates that explanation of data is the where science is at its best. Only good explanations will stand the test of time. Statistical analysis (Morton's and Gould's) are particularly prone to not just misunderstanding, but overestimation of one's explanations. Any data is meaningless without a theory, conjecture or idea, be these Morton's, Gould's or Lewis' ideas (see also David Deutsch). The tale is a reminder to not rely on authority (e.g. Gould's fame) when it comes to knowledge. So, kudos to Lewis et al., Morton and Gould.

May 15, 1999 / © 1999 Lukas K. Buehler go back to Book Review Home

Other books by Stephen Jay Gould:

This is not a complete listing and the interested reader may find many more titles and essays written by Gould.

The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Ending the False War Between Science and the Humanities

The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth
by Stephen Jay Gould, Peter Andrews, John Barber, Michael Benton, Marianne Collins, Christine Janis, Ely Kish, Akio Morishima, John Jr Sepkoski, Christopher Stringer, Jean-Paul Tibbles

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life

The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History

Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History

Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History

The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

Human Evolution: Selections from Scientific American Magazine

May 5, 2003/ © 2003 Lukas K. Buehler go back to Book Review Home

A web site dedicated to Stephen Jay Gould