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Stephen Jay Gould: biography of this paleontologist and evolutionary biologist

Stephen Jay Gould: biography of this paleontologist and evolutionary biologist

June 17, 2024

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was a geologist, paleontologist and historian of American science, who has been very influential in the theory of evolution, as well as in the dissemination of scientific knowledge in different areas.

It is recognized to this day as one of the legends of twentieth century science. Next we will make a brief tour through the life and work of this scientist through a short biography of Stephen Jay Gould .

  • Related article: "The theory of biological evolution"

Stephen Jay Gould: biography of this influential scientist

Stephen Jay Gould was born on September 10, 1941 in the borough of Queens in New York City. He was the son of a veteran stenographer of World War II, and an artist daughter of immigrant Jews who lived and worked in Manhattan, New York.


Both Stephen Jay Gould and his younger brother grew up in northeastern Queens, a middle class neighborhood where Jay had the opportunity to attend school. At the age of 19 he studied at the Antioch school, where participated in several student movements for civil rights and social justice , especially against segregationist policies for racialization.

In fact, much of his later work was focused on denouncing different forms of oppression by cultural differences, and strongly criticized the scientific racism that impregnated the production of research at that time. For Gould, scientific theories that had racist biases were nothing but pseudoscience used in the service of racism.


However, Stephen Jay Gould is best known for his work in paleontology, whose interest began at a young age, after visiting the dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

During his stay at Antioch College, Stephen Jay he specialized as a geologist and philosopher , and later he did some courses at the University of Leed in England. He continued his training at Columbia University under the tuition of geologist and paleontologist Norman Newell, and was eventually hired by Harvard University, where he served as professor and curator at the museum of comparative zoology.

Gould has been a very important researcher for evolutionary theory , becoming one of the three authors most cited in the journal Palaeobiology (found only after Darwin and Simpson). But not only that, but he is recognized as an important historian of science and as one of the best scientific disseminators. Especially after having worked for a long time for Natural History magazine.


Stephen Jay Gould died in New York City on May 20, 2002 because of a lung cancer that had spread to other parts of the body.

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Main theories

As we have seen, Stephen Jay Gould he served not only as a paleontologist but as a biologist and historian of science . He is known for having developed theories on evolutionary biology that were in strong opposition to nascent sociobiology, since he considered it a deterministic vision of society. On the other hand, their theories were also in opposition to evolutionary psychology, considering it a deterministic perspective of human individual action.

However, he also acknowledged several of the contributions of both branches, and at the same time remained aloof from Darwinian determinism . He also defended the hierarchical theory of evolution as a way to extend the classical theories of Darwin. In line with the above, Gould was firmly positioned against the thesis of creationism and against the collaboration between science and religion.

Theory of punctuated equilibrium

Perhaps the most recognized theory of Stephen Jay Gould is the Theory of punctuated equilibrium, developed together with another American paleontologist named Niles Eldredge. In this theory, based on fossil records, he proposes that evolution has occurred through a certain rhythm .

This rhythm has the main characteristic of having occurred in a branched way, that is to say that, from a first species, many others gradually emerged. Genetic changes in this process have occurred during periods of stability with minor modifications, interspersed with changes that occur relatively quickly.

Unlike previous theories that proposed that a disappeared species was followed by another more evolved, and so on; the punctuated equilibrium suggests that the same ancient species could give rise to many different species in a branched (or punctuated) manner. This theory it represented a very important neo-Darwinian revolution to understand evolution.

Awards and distinctions

In 1982, Gould received the Alexander Agassiz Prize (professor of zoology), from Harvard University. The following year the membership was granted to the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and six years later, He was named president of it .

He also served as president of the paleontological society and the society of studies on evolution. Finally was named in 1989 member of the National Academy of Sciences , and in 2001, a year before his death, he was named the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

Outstanding works

Its most recognized dissemination texts are The fake measure of man from 1980, The wonderful life, 1999 and From Darwin, from 1977, which was his first published book. Likewise, his last published book, where summarized the theory of modern evolution according to their own investigations . It's about the book The structure of the theory of evolution, of the year 2002.

Other of his works, where he addressed the differences between science and religion, are Once upon a time the hedgehog and the fox, from 2003, and Science versus religion, a false conflict, of 1999.

Bibliographic references:

  • Stephen Jay Gould (2018). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved September 19, 2018. Available at //www.britannica.com/biography/Stephen-Jay-Gould
  • Stephen Jay Gould, Ph D. (2018). Academy of Achievement. Retrieved September 19, 2018. Available at //www.achievement.org/achiever/stephen-jay-gould/

A Glorious Accident (6 of 7) Stephen Jay Gould: The Unanswerable (June 2024).


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