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Almighty Gould

Roy Porter

23 April 1987
Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time 
by Stephen JayGould.
Harvard, 219 pp., £15.50, May 1987, 0 674 89198 8
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... seriously, and that is why it is especially pleasing that so distinguished a scientist as Stephen JayGould has chosen to take up the cudgels in the cause of demythologising the history of geological time. What makes his book so stimulating – apart from the fact that this volume is every bit as ...

Tinkering

John Maynard Smith

17 September 1981
The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen JayGould.
Norton, 343 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 393 01380 4
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... bears. The apparent ‘thumb’ is a modification and extension of a small bone in the wrist. For Stephen Gould, this is a particular and fascinating fact, but it is also an illustration of a general principle. The principle is that evolution proceeds by tinkering with what is already there, and not by following the canons of optimal design. Had the ...

Oh, the curse!

David Runciman: A home run

19 February 2004
Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball 
by Stephen JayGould.
Cape, 342 pp., £16.99, January 2004, 0 224 05042 7
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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game 
by Michael Lewis.
Norton, 288 pp., $24.95, June 2003, 0 393 05765 8
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... that the Red Sox lost game seven as well. Bill Buckner moved to Idaho. Oh, the curse! Yet, as Stephen JayGould points out in an essay in this posthumous collection of his baseball writings, it was not Buckner’s fault that the Red Sox lost the Series. When Buckner made his mistake, Boston had already blown their ...
18 March 1999
Life’s Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World 
by Ian Stewart.
Penguin, 320 pp., £20, June 1998, 0 7139 9161 5
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... of some important thinkers, including Alan Turing and the biologists John Tyler Bonner and Stephen JayGould, Thompson’s ideas do not figure prominently in the biological curriculum or the mainstream of research. By contrast, that mainstream takes very seriously an unguarded remark of the youthful Francis ...
1 December 1983
Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen JayGould.
Norton, 413 pp., £11.95, September 1983, 0 393 01716 8
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The Great Chain of History: William Buckland and the English School of Geology, 1814-1849 
by Nicolaas Rupke.
Oxford, 322 pp., £22.50, September 1983, 0 19 822907 0
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... In the concluding essay of an adventurous collection, Stephen JayGould observes that most ‘classic stories’ in science are wrong. There are good reasons why he is right. In their reconstruction of the past, practising scientists have been apt to celebrate the insight of those who anticipated their own ideas, tacitly dismissing those who were blind to where the future would lie ...

Lenin Shot at Finland Station

Slavoj Žižek: Counterfactuality and the conservative historian

18 August 2005
What Might Have Been: Imaginary History from 12 Leading Historians 
edited by Andrew Roberts.
Phoenix, 208 pp., £7.99, May 2005, 0 7538 1873 6
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... seem to be haunted by the randomness of life and possible alternative versions of reality: as Stephen JayGould put it, ‘wind back the film of life and play it again. The history of evolution will be totally different.’ This perception of our reality as only one of the possible outcomes of an ...

Coloured Spots v. Iridescence

Steven Rose: Evolutionary Inevitability

22 March 2018
Improbable Destinies: How Predictable Is Evolution? 
by Jonathan Losos.
Allen Lane, 364 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 0 241 20192 3
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... The issue​ of evolutionary inevitability was brought sharply into focus by the late Stephen JayGould in his book Wonderful Life (1989). Gould discussed the bizarre fossils uncovered by the Cambridge palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris in an outcrop of rock in the Canadian Rockies, known as the Burgess Shale ...

Shock Lobsters

Richard Fortey: The Burgess Shale

1 October 1998
The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals 
by Simon Conway Morris.
Oxford, 242 pp., £18.99, March 1998, 0 19 850256 7
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... Shale, and the insight its fossils provided into the early history of life, was made famous by Stephen JayGould in Wonderful Life (1989). Not that Gould himself first described any of these vanished animals: rather, he promulgated their importance to a world outside the hermetic ...
26 January 1995
The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life 
by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.
Free Press, 845 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 02 914673 9
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... denunciations. The New Republic of 31 October ran a piece by Murray followed by 18 criticisms. Stephen JayGould spoke out in the New Yorker of 28 November. I especially recommend Alan Ryan’s analysis in the New York Review of Books of 17 November, followed in the 1 December issue by Charles Lane’s examination ...

Why so cross?

Thomas Nagel: Natural selection

1 April 1999
Unweaving the Rainbow 
by Richard Dawkins.
Penguin, 350 pp., £20, October 1998, 9780713992144
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The Pattern of Evolution 
by Niles Eldredge.
Freeman, 225 pp., £17.95, February 1999, 0 7167 3046 4
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... Dawkins on one side and Eldredge on the other. Eldredge is associated in this controversy with Stephen JayGould, his long-term research collaborator.* The disagreement, and the heat that it generates, are difficult for an outsider to understand, but they appear to have something to do with the way in which ...
30 December 1982
The Mismeasure of Man 
by Stephen JayGould.
Norton, 352 pp., £9.95, May 1982, 0 393 01489 4
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... species, we may suppose, since intercourse between the two has not so far proved fruitful. Stephen Gould’s contribution to this last debate is to open one or two coffins containing the scientific skeletons of the past with the purpose of nailing down the lids even more securely. From the point of view of the modern debate, they were better left ...
28 June 1990
Wonderful Life 
by Stephen JayGould.
Hutchinson Radius, 347 pp., £14.95, February 1990, 0 09 174271 4
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... Columbia. Fossils had first been discovered there by a US geologist, Charles Walcott, in 1909 (as Gould convincingly shows, from Walcott’s diaries). In the next eight years, Walcott collected over eighty thousand specimens and deposited them in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He never found the time to work on them as thoroughly as he wished, but ...
21 January 1988
The Blind Watchmaker 
by Richard Dawkins.
Longman, 332 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 582 44694 5
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... that Dawkins is not much impressed with this sort of caution. Interestingly, he shares with Stephen JayGould, the other leading public representative of Darwinism in the English-speaking world today, the conviction that evolution matters, not just intellectually and philosophically, but personally and even ...

Shifting Sands

Peter Lipton: How nature works

3 September 1998
How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organised Criticality 
by Per Bak.
Oxford, 212 pp., £18.99, June 1997, 0 19 850164 1
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... over the place. It is supposed to characterise earthquakes, the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ that Stephen JayGould and Niles Eldridge claim for biological evolution, stock prices, neural activity, and the movement of cars on the M25. In 1987, along with Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld, Bak published a technical account ...

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