Stephen Jay Gould, Renowned Harvard Scientist and Author, Dies at 60
Gould, who was Agassiz professor of zoology and professor of geology, developed an evolutionary theory known as “punctuated equilibrium” that suggests that the process of evolution—traditionally conceived as slow and steady—is actually broken up by short periods of relatively rapid change.
This semester, Gould, who joined Harvard’s Faculty in 1967, taught Science B-16, “History of Life” and co-taught Religion 1045, “Thinking About Thinking,” with Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz and Thomas Professor of Divinity Harvey G. Cox Jr.
“He had extraordinary breadth of interest and a fantastic capacity to draw lessons from history and from tales of the development of science,” wrote Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 in an e-mail. “I hope he will be remembered as the person who defended and advanced the scientific theory of evolution in a time when it was under challenge.”
Other colleagues of Gould said he was always able to interest people in science.
“He was one of those rare people who combined a fantastic career in science with a wonderful ability to communicate that science to the general public,” said Jeremy Bloxham, chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
History of Life teaching fellow John Mathew informed the students in his section of Gould’s death in an e-mail.
“For everything that may be said about him, good or ill, he was a man of deep convictions, immeasurable breadth of perspective, and profound insight,” Mathew wrote.
After growing up in New York City, Gould earned a degree in geology from Antioch College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in paleontology from Columbia University in 1967.
He wrote many essays and books on subjects relating to natural history.
From 1974 to 2001, he published 300 consecutive monthly columns in Natural History magazine.
Last month, Gould published The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a 1,433-page work which took 20 years to write.
In 1975, Gould won the Paleontological Society’s Charles Schuchert Award for excellence in his field under the age of 40.
In 1982, the same year his book The Mismeasure of Man won the National Book Critics Circle Award, Gould underwent successful treatment for cancer that doctors had said was terminal—an experience he recounted in his renowned essay “The Median Isn’t the Message.”
Gould announced to his History of Life class on April 9 that he had been diagnosed with new tumors and was preparing for surgery later that week. But he remained confident that he would complete the class.
“You’re looking at the first person who’s ever been cured of an abdominal mesothelioma, so far as we know,” he told the class. “I’m going to tell keep telling everyone, ‘I’ve got 20 more years’ work to do, so they’ve got to keep me going.”
“That’s a minimum,” Gould added. “I mean, I’d take 30 if anybody would give it to me. But I need 20.”
Gould has served as president of the Paleontological Society, president of the American Association for Advancement of the Sciences and curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology.
He was also an adjuct member of Harvard’s Department of the History of Science. Since 1996, he has also served as Astor visiting research professor of biology at New York University.
Gould’s colleagues remember him as a man with a great breadth of interests.
Lewis said he discussed baseball much more than science with Gould.
“We used to find each other at Fenway Park and commiserate about the Red Sox,” Lewis wrote. “While I loved many of his Natural History essays, my personal favorite of his writings was about the disappearance of the .400 hitter—a phenomenon he successfully argued had resulted from the general improvement in the quality of the game of baseball.”
According to Director of the Core Program Susan W. Lewis, the final exam for History of Life will take place Wednesday, as planned.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized, but colleagues said a service would be held both in Cambridge and New York.
—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at email@example.com.
For a recent interview by The Crimson with Stephen J. Gould discussing his last book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory please see: A History of Life