|Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary theorist at Harvard University whose lectures, research and prolific output of essays helped to reinvigorate the field of paleontology, died today at his home in Manhattan. He was 60 years old. The cause was adenocarcinoma, his wife, Rhonda Roland Schearer, said.
he must have been in my mothers class. they were born two days apart and went to the same high school.
The Times obit gives more space to Gould's controversies and detractors than I would have expected; maybe some enemies have an editorial conduit? Speaking as a layman, he was an important figure for me, and I guess great popularizers will always arouse mixed feelings among the professionals. As an interpreter, promoter and revisionist of evolution, he bears better comparison with T. H. Huxley than with Darwin himself. I can't judge his science, but at least he was willing to confront problems with the orthodoxy, without jettisoning basic Darwinian principles. Beyond that, he was a genuine man of letters, something that science always needs more of. His wide-ranging mind may have overreached here or there, but even then he at least offered something to argue against, rather than the unassailable aridity of so much science writing. He was at his best when extrapolating from things he loved, like baseball or music. Certainly he loved dinosaurs, often recounting his first exposure to them as a child at the American Museum of Natural History, which inspired his whole career. He represents a generation of paleontologists motivated by this love, rather than by desire for the sheer power of knowledge. A fond heart can lead a sober head to places mere rationality would never think of looking into. When news of his illness came it sounded bad, and I'd have thought a ten-year reprieve was more than could be hoped for, but it seems to have passed quickly. My favorite book of his was Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle, an almost hermetic treatment of the "discovery" and representation of time's vastness. On the geologic time scale a human life is momentary, but not inconsequential, and its achievements may last longer than death.