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Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941-20 May 2002) was an American paleontologist, geologist, evolutionary biologist, science historian and one of the most influential and most popular science disseminators. of his generation.
Gould spent most of his teaching career at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the last years of his life, he taught biology and evolution at the University of New York, near his home in SoHo.
Gould’s greatest contribution to science was the theory of punctuated equilibrium he developed with Niles Eldredge in 1972. The theory proposes that most evolutionary processes are composed of long periods of stability, interrupted by short episodes and little frequent of evolutionary bifurcation. The theory contrasts with phylogenetic gradualism, the generalized idea that evolutionary change is characterized by a homogenous and continuous pattern.
Most of Gould’s empirical research was based on the terrestrial snail genera Poecilozonites and Cerion and also contributed to the evolutionary biology of development. In his evolutionary theory he opposed strict selectionism, sociobiology applied to human beings and evolutionary psychology. He campaigned against creationism and proposed that science and religion be considered two distinct areas, or “teachers”, whose authorities do not overlap (Non overlapping teaching in the original).
Many of Gould’s essays for the Natural History magazine were reprinted in books including Darwin and The Thumb of the Panda. His most popular treatises include books such as The False Measure of Man, The Wonderful Life and The Greatness of Life. Shortly before his death, Gould published a long treatise recapitulating his version of modern evolutionary theory called The Structure of the Theory of Evolution (2002).
Specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex in the American Museum of Natural History that, according to Gould, was his inspiration to become a paleontologist.
Gould was born and raised in the community of Bayside, a quiet neighborhood in Queens, New York. His father Leonard worked as stenographer in the courts, and his mother Eleanor was an artist. When Gould was five years old, his father took him to the dinosaur room of the American Museum of Natural History, where he first encountered a Tyrannosaurus rex. «I had no idea that there were such things; I was amazed, “Gould recalled, at which point he decided to become a paleontologist.
Raised in a secular Jewish home, Gould did not practice any religion and preferred to be considered an agnostic.Although he “had been raised by a Marxist father,” he claimed that his father’s political ideas were “very different” from his father. With respect to his political views he said that “they tended to be center-left.” According to Gould, the most influential policy books he read were The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills and the political writings of Noam. Chomsky.
While attending Antioch College in the 1960s, Gould participated in the civil rights movement and often campaigned for social justice. At the University of Leeds, as a visiting student, he organized weekly demonstrations against a Bradford ballroom that refused to admit blacks. Gould continued these demonstrations until that policy was revoked, and throughout his career and writings he denounced cultural oppression in all its forms, especially what he saw as pseudoscience used in the service of racism and sexism. / p>
Gould married twice. His first marriage was with the artist Deborah Lee, in 1965, whom he met when both studied at Antioch College, and with whom he had two children, Jesse and Ethan. His second marriage was in 1995 with the artist and sculptor Rhonda Roland Shearer, who is the mother of Jade and London Allen, stepsons of Gould.
In July 1982, Gould was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that affects the abdominal lining and is frequently found in people who have been exposed to asbestos. After two years of difficult recovery, Gould published a column for Discover magazine, entitled “The median is not the message”, which talks about his reaction to discover that patients with mesothelioma they had a median life expectancy of only eight months after diagnosis, and then described the true meaning behind this number and its relief in realizing that statistical averages are useful abstractions and do not cover the full range of variation. / p>
The median is the midpoint in statistics which means that 50% of patients die before 8 months, but the other half will probably live much longer. He needed to determine where his personal characteristics were located within this set of possibilities. Considering that his cancer was detected early, and the fact that he was young, optimistic and had the best treatments available, Gould imagined that he should be in the favorable half of the statistical top rank. After an experimental treatment of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, Gould achieved a complete recovery and his spine became a source of inspiration for many cancer patients.
Gould was also an advocate of medical marijuana. During his fight against cancer, he smoked this drug to relieve the nausea associated with his medical treatments. According to Gould, the use of marijuana had a “very important effect” on his eventual recovery. In 1998 he was a witness in the case of Jim Wakeford, a user and activist of Canadian medical marijuana. < / p>
His scientific essays for Natural History often allude to his hobbies and non-scientific interests. As a child he collected baseball cards and remained a fervent follower of the sport throughout his life. As an adult he liked science fiction movies, but he often lamented his mediocrity (not only in his presentation of science, but because of his arguments). Other hobbies included singing in the Boston Cecilia choir, and it was A big fan of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. He collected rare and old books. He often traveled to Europe and spoke French, German, Russian and Italian and admired Renaissance architecture. When he spoke of the Judeo-Christian tradition, he referred to it simply as “Moses” and used to allude with regret about his tendency to gain weight.
Gould died on 20 May 2002 of a metastasis of lung adenocarcinoma, a form of cancer that had spread to his brain. However, it was not related to his abdominal cancer, which had been Fully recovered twenty years before. He died at home, “in a bed in the library of his loft in SoHo, surrounded by his wife Rhonda, his mother Eleanor and the many books he loved.”
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