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The Chronicle of Higher Education: Information Technology
From the issue dated March 15, 2002


Revising the Book of Life

Only Stephen Jay Gould would dare to rewrite Darwin. But will America's best-known scientist leave much of an imprint?

By RICHARD MONASTERSKY

Cambridge, Mass.

It's the baby-blue walls, peeling after so many decades, that he particularly cherishes.

ALSO SEE:

Stephen Jay Gould: a Punctuated Life

Gould Between the Lines


Throughout much of his career at Harvard University, Stephen Jay Gould has protected the walls of his office, in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, from those who would cover up the aged paint and the large black words stenciled around the room. The patch of plaster overlooking one of his desks proclaims "Vermes," Latin for "worms." The titles "Mammals" and "Fish" adorn another section.

Mr. Gould works beneath the remnants of a 19th-century zoological exhibit, dating to the time when this wing of the building was open to the public. In fact, much of the office seems locked in the Victorian era. Two antique typewriters sit on display, reminding visitors that Mr. Gould does not use a computer. Tall bookcases and fossil drawers line the walls and also the interior of the room, creating a warren of corridors that muffles sounds and casts shadows across the floor. As one former student says, "The office is steeped in history."

Now, Mr. Gould is trying to write himself into the illustrious annals of scientific history. This month, Harvard University Press is publishing his 1,464-page magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a work 20 years in the making that seeks nothing less than to reformulate Darwin's theory of evolution.

In an effusive crescendo unusual even for advertising copy, the publisher trumpets that "the world's most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time -- a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision."

Mr. Gould, a professor of zoology at Harvard and biology at New York University, describes the book with less flourish and even jokes about its girth. But he remains just as ambitious as the publicists when describing his aims. "Mainly I hope that people will -- whatever they think of the argument -- see its seriousness of purpose. It's an attempt to look at the whole history of this major field, since Darwin, and to structure what's central and what's peripheral -- the main arguments and why."

And just as Mr. Gould has preserved the walls of his office, he is attempting to protect the legacy of Darwin and many lesser evolutionary thinkers of the past, keeping alive their ideas and contributions, even those with ultimately unsuccessful theories.

Arguably the most famous living scientist in America today, Mr. Gould has captured the public's ear with his popular books and essays, expounding on matters so broad as to include religion, baseball, Gilbert and Sullivan, the millennium, and Leonardo da Vinci -- as well as many different fields of science. That public podium and his academic credentials have given him a unique status. His new book sailed through the publishing process unreviewed and virtually unedited, because Harvard and all other publishers that have dealt with Mr. Gould know that he rarely allows changes to his manuscripts.

But the public acclaim has not spilled over into university laboratories and the backrooms of museums, where evolutionary scientists give Mr. Gould mixed reviews, including some scathing critiques labeling him muddle-headed, hypocritical, blinded by Marxism, and rhetorically dishonest. "What Gould does often -- this is a bad habit of his -- is he invents pseudocontroversies by setting up a straw man and claiming credit for knocking over that straw man," says Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has had a high-profile intellectual feud with Mr. Gould for many years.

Although he has spent much of the past two decades publishing popular works, Mr. Gould is now aiming at the scientific crowd -- at both his supporters and his detractors. "He's writing this book to demonstrate he still has scholarly credentials," says Michael G. Fisher, Mr. Gould's editor at Harvard. The book marshals a career's worth of evidence to convince current researchers and future ones that Mr. Gould has a unique insight into how evolution works.

"This book he's written now is an attempt to cement the status of Steve Gould as a major scientist, particularly as the major evolutionist of our time," says Michael E. Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University and the only person to whom Harvard sent select portions of the manuscript for informal comment. "That's absolutely, explicitly what he's trying to do. He's saying, 'I have had some major innovative ideas about evolutionary biology which are now being understood to be the seminal, paradigm-making moves that they are.'"

As part of that bid, Mr. Gould is burnishing his image. Renowned for his chilly haughtiness and occasion- al outbursts at reporters and photographers, Mr. Gould displays a relaxed, gregarious manner in an interview at his Harvard office. He even refers to his own arrogance and self-indulgence in producing such a long work. Still slightly suntanned from a recent field trip to the Bahamas, the 60-year-old cancer survivor wears a crisply pressed shirt and wool pants, far nattier than his frumpy-paleontologist style of decades past. Colleagues say the metamorphosis happened in the mid-1990s, after he married a New York-based sculptor named Rhonda Roland Shearer.

But if his attire has evolved of late, Mr. Gould's ideas have grown more calcified. For 20 years, he has advocated an overhaul of evolutionary theory, both its modern incarnation and the one originally proposed by Charles Darwin. Mr. Gould has spent those decades crafting his current book, sorting through the historical debates and also the modern research, and slowly building his case.

"The one long argument of this book holds that a synthesis (still much in progress) has now sufficiently coagulated from this debate to designate our best current understanding of the structure of evolutionary theory as something rich and new, with a firmly retained basis in Darwinian logic," he writes in the beginning, borrowing Darwin's description of the Origin of Species as "one long argument." Mr. Gould adds later that "Nothing of Darwin's central logic has faded or fully capsized, but his theory has been transformed, along his original lines, into something far different, far richer, and far more adequate to guide our understanding of nature."

Mr. Gould opens the book by distilling the logical essence of Darwinism into three central arguments, defined by the terms "agency," "efficacy," and "scope," which echo through the long text as a mantra.

Agency:: Darwin envisioned only one type of player in the game of life -- the individual organism. Evolution happens when individuals struggle with other members of the same species, he said, and the better adapted succeed in passing their traits on to subsequent generations. Teams of organisms, whether populations or entire species, don't figure in Darwin's framework. They don't compete against each other. Larger groups change only over time, as a consequence of the struggle between individuals.

Efficacy: All of Darwin's early critics accepted the concept of natural selection -- that organisms better adapted to a particular environment are more successful in reproducing and passing on their adaptations. But the critics viewed natural selection as a weak and limited force that only culled negative traits. To the contrary, Darwin argued that natural selection was the dominant force of evolution. Moreover, it could build up the fitness of organisms by gradually selecting "positive" traits that better adapted an individual to its environment.

Scope: Darwin held that the force of natural selection acting on individuals could account for the arkful of different species seen on earth. The gradual and seemingly minor changes wrought by selection were magnified by the vastness of geologic time, and no other force was needed to explain the diversity of organisms.

Mr. Gould started to chip away at those core ideas of Darwinism -- although he didn't realize it at the time -- from the start of his career, in an undergraduate report that later developed into his first published paper, in 1965. By the end of that decade, he was gaining a reputation as an enfant terrible of paleontology, says Martin J.S. Rudwick, an emeritus professor of the history of science at the University of California at San Diego, who was himself one of the bad boys in paleontology at the time.

"We were trying to inject some new life and vitality into what was a pretty moribund science," says Mr. Rudwick.

In 1972, Mr. Gould truly shook up the field when he and Niles Eldredge published a famous paper coining the term "punctuated equilibrium." Although the paper bears both of their names, each acknowledges that the genesis of the concept lay with Mr. Eldredge.

Now chairman of the committee on evolutionary processes at the American Museum of Natural History, Mr. Eldredge was a graduate student at Columbia University in the 1960s at the same time as Mr. Gould. In 1971, Mr. Eldredge had published a paper arguing that certain extinct marine organisms called trilobites displayed a distinct pattern in their evolution, as shown in the fossil record. The species remained essentially unchanged for millions of years, and then disappeared abruptly, only to be replaced, in a blink of geologic time, by markedly new species. Later that year, he and Mr. Gould gave a joint presentation on how species developed. Ever the wordsmith, Mr. Gould came up with the term "punctuated equilibrium," to explain this pattern of long static periods separated by bursts of evolution.

The observation was nothing special. Even Darwin himself had noticed it. But he had convincingly argued that the herky-jerky pattern was misleading, an artifact created by gaps in the fossil record that left out the gradual changes. Mr. Gould and Mr. Eldredge broke with tradition by accepting the fossil evidence at face value, regarding it as a true representation of how evolution worked.

Even more revolutionary was the implication the two drew from their findings. They eventually saw punctuated equilibrium as suggesting a different style of evolution, in which species, not just individuals, competed against one another for survival -- a concept dubbed "species selection."

Although some paleontologists strongly criticized the ideas, many found them liberating. For much of the century, studies of fossils had contributed little to the understanding of evolution, and many paleontologists, in fact, were largely ignorant about advances in biology because they had trained in geology departments. Mr. Eldredge and especially the more rebellious Mr. Gould were suddenly telling their colleagues to stand up for themselves and for the message that fossils were sending. "Stasis is data," the two proclaimed.

Carving out academic space for paleontology grew into a major theme in Mr. Gould's work. "One of the things that Steve certainly has done over the years was to push very hard on the idea that paleontologists have a unique contribution to the understanding of evolution, and that we should do so without embarrassment or apology for the kind of data we have," says Scott L. Wing, who studies fossil plants at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and formerly edited the journal Paleobiology, which was born in 1975 as a place for paleontologists to publish theoretical papers.

Evolutionary theorists had broached the idea of species selection well before Mr. Gould and Mr. Eldredge. Even Darwin had agonized over the possibility in an unpublished version of the Origin. But while some scientists conceded the mechanism was plausible, they regarded it as piddling in comparison to all the evolution going on at the level of the individual, says Mr. Gould.

The current conception of evolutionary theory emerged from the 1920s to the 1940s, when geneticists, mathematicians, naturalists, and paleontologists reached a consensus on how evolution works. Called the Modern Synthesis, the theory merged the 19th-century botanist Gregor Johann Mendel's discoveries of inheritance patterns with Darwin's ideas of evolution by natural selection. At its core, the Modern Synthesis holds that microevolution -- the minor changes at the level of each individual -- can explain the broad patterns in the history of life, also known as macroevolution.

But Mr. Gould bridled at that consensus, especially as it developed in the '50s and '60s into a more rigid theory. "It was quite a sacrifice that paleontologists made in the Modern Synthesis," he says, in an accent bred in Queens, N.Y. "They basically said we'll take your theory if you let us in. That's too much of a sacrifice. There's a lot of macroevolutionary theory that you're only gonna get out of the paleontological record. That's, if anything, why this book exists."

The idea of species selection, for instance, implies a more pluralistic concept of natural selection, and Mr. Gould leaves room for many players in evolution. Competition and selection go on at a hierarchy of levels, between genes, individual organisms, populations, species, genera, and broader groupings, he maintains.

Just as the concept of "agency" requires broadening, says Mr. Gould, so does the idea of "efficacy": that natural selection is the overwhelming driving force of evolution. He sees internal constraints within organisms -- the genes that control how a plant or animal develops -- as also playing fundamental roles in shaping how evolution proceeds. While "Darwinian fundamentalists" view all features of an organism as adaptations, says Mr. Gould, many parts are actually just architectural byproducts of how a creature grows. They serve no purpose initially, and only later does natural selection co-opt such features for use. As an example, he cites the open cylindrical space that forms inside land snails as they grow. Some snail species make use of that protected space by brooding their eggs there, but others do not.

To complete the theoretical makeover, Mr. Gould rewrites the concept of "scope." Since 1980, evidence has emerged that life on earth occasionally suffers instantaneous catastrophes that temporarily shatter the rules of gradual Darwinian evolution, he says. Mammals replaced the dinosaurs not because the latter were ill-adapted to their environment but because they were wiped out by a gigantic asteroid impact. Such calamities make it impossible to extrapolate the big changes in evolution from the kind of small-scale, microevolutionary steps visible at any moment in time.

Although he does not work on dinosaurs, Mr. Gould delights in the concept of cataclysmic extinctions, because they can be seen only by paleontologists studying the fossil record. "A renewed appreciation for the shaping power of mass extinction must reinstate paleontology as a source of theory," he writes.

That's important, because it makes room for Mr. Gould, who admits in the book that "I always found the theory of how evolution works more fascinating than the realized pageant of its paleontological results."

If evolutionary theory occupies a primary spot in Mr. Gould's heart, seated right next to it is his other great intellectual love: history. He spends a full half of his book detailing the historical development of evolutionary concepts, both before Darwin and in the generations after him.

In fact, Mr. Gould sees evolution as a historical process, in the sense that future changes are contingent on a complicated interplay of past events, making it impossible to predict how either history or evolution will proceed. In his best-selling book Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (W.W. Norton, 1989), he argues that human intelligence is a matter of luck and would probably not develop if life were restarted from the beginning. That view of contingency stands in contrast to the "deterministic" concept of evolution, the widely held notion that evolutionary change leads progressively to species with greater adaptations.

Mr. Gould carries his love of history well beyond the sphere of pure ideas; he seems to live his life with one foot stuck in the 19th century. Aside from eschewing computers, rhapsodizing about Gilbert and Sullivan, making pilgrimages to London's 134-year-old St. Pancras railway station, and calling himself a Victorian aficionado, Mr. Gould writes as if he were living in the 1860s. In an age when scientists communicate mostly by journal articles, and increasingly through online forums, Mr. Gould has written an old-fashioned tome filled with personal reflections and opinions -- a style that he admits is much more consistent with Darwin's age. Mr. Fischer, the Harvard editor, says Gould "is writing for that universe, not the universe of readers that exists today."

As part of his historical view of life, Mr. Gould feels a moral obligation to his intellectual predecessors, one that he fulfills by describing their work and thereby keeping it alive. "From an almost ethical sense of fealty (I don't mean to sound smug, but I don't know how else to express the point), I believe that the history of evolutionary thought, and probably of any other subject imbued with such importance to our lives and to our understanding of nature, constitutes an epic tale of fascinating, and mostly honorable, people engaged in a great struggle to comprehend something very deep and very difficult," he writes. With regard to two 19th-century thinkers, he continues, "We must not write these men off -- and we will learn much by studying the reasons for their distinctive attitudes."

Chief among those forebears, of course, is Darwin. Mr. Gould often seems to play the part of the conflicted son, straining against the strictures of Darwin's ideas, while striving to honor him and protect his legacy. In the book, Mr. Gould testifies to a "love of Darwin and the power of his genius." In conversation, he says that no other field of science has a book so foundational and still so relevant as the Origin. "You've got to engage the Origin," he says. "It's a living document. It's still setting a lot of the research agenda, which would not be true of [Isaac Newton's] Principia" or a seminal work by Lavoisier.

As Mr. Gould lavishes attention on Darwin and other figures, he makes clear his own bid for scientific immortality. When asked about his long-term wishes for the book, he replies that "the biggest hope that any author would have if he put so much of a lifetime into something of this size is that it would be seen as a way station in the development of evolutionary theory that was useful and helped to focus things. Directed some energy. Got some things right, formulated something in a comprehensive and a useful way."

It remains impossible to judge the impact of his book, because virtually no one has digested the whole thing yet. Even Mr. Fisher calls the book "a cinderblock," in part because "it's Steve Gould proving that he knows more about evolutionary theory than anyone on earth." The book is significant, he adds, even though Mr. Gould has discussed many of the ideas before. "It's just the way he's put it together in one place and the sheer complexity of his argument that will be astonishing to people."

Whether others concur depends on which subset of scientists weighs in. Many paleontologists regard Mr. Gould favorably, even when they disagree with him. "There's no question he's been one of the most influential and visible paleontologists, and indeed evolutionary biologists, in the last 50 years," says David Jablonski, a professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago and a young leader in the field. "Gould has provided an overarching vision and this astonishing ability to move among disciplines and integrate these ideas into producing a coherent picture."

Evolutionary biologists who study living organisms -- known as neontologists -- are far less admiring. Jerry A. Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at Chicago, praises Mr. Gould for his popular writing but says that his scientific work has been more flash than substance in challenging conventional ideas. "The whole problem with Gould is that the vast majority of mechanisms that he's proposed -- that have given panache to his theories -- he's quietly shelved them and gone to [standard] neo-Darwinian theories" when challenged. Mr. Coyne adds that "I am severely critical of a lot of his work."

In a famous put-down, John Maynard Smith, the elderly British dean of evolutionary studies and a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, wrote in The New York Review of Books in 1995 that "evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed [Gould's] work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with."

Many evolutionary biologists accept punctuated equilibrium as a real pattern but discount the idea that it violates standard Darwinian theory. "I don't think it's a major theoretical issue in the way it's cracked up to be," says Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford, one of Mr. Gould's staunchest opponents. Similarly, many researchers grant that species selection is theoretically possible but consider the mechanism of negligible importance in creating evolutionary change. Even Mr. Eldredge, who co-authored their papers on species selection, says he is now "far less enamored with it."

The criticism of Mr. Gould often overflows the world of ideas and swells into an assault on his character. MIT's Mr. Pinker, who criticized Mr. Gould in The New York Review of Books as seriously mischaracterizing evolutionary psychology, says he has a habit of such questionable debating tactics. On the issue of natural selection's co-opting features for other uses, Mr. Pinker says everyone accepts that concept. "It's a pseudo-debate that Gould has invented to put himself on the side of the angels."

Getting even more personal, several scientists have charged that political beliefs and ideology have blinded Mr. Gould, who once famously remarked that he had learned Marxism at his "daddy's knee."

"Despite some shifts in emphasis, the underlying ideological agenda of Gould has always been fairly clear," writes Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist at the University of Cambridge who made pioneering discoveries about the Burgess Shale creatures and disagrees sharply with Mr. Gould's successful book on those animals. According to Mr. Conway Morris, Mr. Gould's work reflects "a particular worldview that at the least was sympathetic to the greatest of 20th-century pseudo-religions, Marxism." Others have claimed that Mr. Gould advocates the idea of punctuated equilibrium because Marxism requires revolutionary change -- a charge that he calls absurd. His beliefs differ from his father's (although he declines to specify how), and his exposure to Marxism only helped him consider a pattern that had previously escaped attention. It didn't force him to accept the idea blindly, he says.

Even his supporters sometimes have difficulty rising to his defense. "He pisses people off because he is pompous and arrogant at times," says the Smithsonian's Mr. Wing, who as editor of Paleobiology accepted writing from Mr. Gould that he wouldn't tolerate from others. "People don't edit him anymore the way that they would edit other people. Because you know the sentences are going to be Russian dolls, with parenthetical remarks within parenthetical remarks within parenthetical remarks. Anyone else, you would tell them to cut out the purple prose and make the sentences short and declarative. ... To some degree, he's kind of transcended the boundaries of behavior we expect from people." But Mr. Wing adds, "I still find him mostly pretty charming."

Indeed, Mr. Gould is known among colleagues for his personal generosity. Rather than supporting graduate students by applying for grants -- the typical method in science -- he saves time by giving them money that he earns from speaking engagements. "Every one of his students is incredibly grateful to him for what he's done," says Linda C. Ivany, a former graduate student of his who is now an assistant professor of earth sciences at Syracuse University.

In his new book, Mr. Gould writes off the abundant criticism as professional jealousy coupled with a misreading of his work. Mr. Eldredge agrees that jealousy stirs much of the vitriol. But he maintains that the denunciations are often skin-deep. "I think the respect is there," he says, "and all you have to do is scratch the surface and find it, although it's very easy to document all sorts of outrageous and impolite and unkind things that seem to indicate he's held in low reputation in certain niches."

Some significant praise, in fact, does emerge from the evolutionary biologists who study adaptations -- the very camp most often critical of Mr. Gould. George C. Williams, a professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, whose book Adaptation and Natural Selection (Princeton University Press, 1966) made him a leader in the field, says Mr. Gould has "interested a lot of people, and I think that includes a lot of people with opinions contrary to his. But they still owe a lot to him, because it may have been from him that they got their original ideas and interests."

H. Allen Orr, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester who studies molecular adaptations, says that Mr. Gould has helped steer biology away from some wrong turns. "I think the Modern Synthetic dogma is wrong. Gould did play some role in making us question the dogma."

But when they talk about his contributions, neither paleontologists nor neontologists rank Mr. Gould nearly as high as the public does. In a study of scientific citations, Florida State's Mr. Ruse found that few evolutionary biologists, aside from paleontologists, refer to Mr. Gould's key papers on punctuated equilibrium. The Chronicle's own examination of citations -- performed by ISI, a database-publishing company in Philadelphia -- yields more-favorable results, showing that three of the papers studied by Mr. Ruse have garnered 500 citations, with one topping 1,000. Only 0.03 percent of papers ever top 500 citations, says David Pendlebury, a researcher at ISI.

That makes Mr. Gould special but far from unique. Some 6,000 papers in the ISI database have gained more than 500 citations. To most scientists in his field, he is simply one of dozens of evolutionary thinkers who have made important contributions in the past 100 years.

For a man who has made a living speaking on behalf of dead animals and people, the prospects for the future must give Mr. Gould pause. As all paleontologists know, only a lucky few animals get immortalized after death and petrify to form fossils. The rest just decay into so much worm fodder. As in life, so goes academic work, and few scholars have a lasting impact, especially outside their narrow subspecialties.

That won't stop Mr. Gould from trying. Even as his massive book and a separate collection of essays roll off the presses this spring, he is already looking forward to his next project -- a history of paleontology in the 16th century. Mr. Gould, who is proud of his ability to translate many languages, says that "there are so few people who know the paleontology and can read the Latin."

History is calling.


GOULD BETWEEN THE LINES

For Stephen Jay Gould, the author of more than 20 books, 300 essays, and dozens of journal articles, writing is a way of life. The Chronicle recently asked him about his unusual authorial habits, including his aversion to computers and to standard editing.

Q. Was your new book written on a typewriter?

A. Sure.

Q. You've yet to make the switch?

A. "What would it do for me?" is the question I always ask. I'm not technophobic in the sense that the minute I can figure out a way in which something will save me time -- I mean, obviously, my secretary did it on a word processor, because that's the only way you get your bibliography in order and your footnotes straight. But you see I don't rewrite. I mean nobody writes perfect prose. I mean I don't write drafts, is what I'm saying. I do extensive revisions, but they're interlineations. So there's nothing I would gain by doing it on a word processor, except that I would turn out pretty copy instead of messy copy. But it wouldn't save me any time. And I have this fabulous secretary.

I never write a second draft. I almost never shift a paragraph. I add something if something new comes up. But I'm a believer in the old-fashioned technique of outlining -- that is, you don't sit down and write until you pretty much know how it goes, what the logical structure is.

Q. People at Harvard University Press say that some chapters were sent out, but the whole book wasn't.

A.They trust me. I've written a lot. It's not like most of their authors. [Laughs.] It was not line-edited in the way a traditional book would be. It was certainly read, and I certainly had queries of things that an intelligent reader didn't grasp.

Q. So it was edited in the sense of questions' being asked?

A. They trust me. If I'm competent in anything, it's writing. [Laughs.]

Q. You quote so extensively from so many different works of literature. Do you honestly recall those passages?

A. I grew up on baseball statistics. Everybody's got funny little skills. I know where to find things. It may not be in my head, but anything I've ever read, I could find. [Pause.] Well, that's ridiculous, of course. That's not literally true, but I think I pretty much can access things that I've come across. I don't have photographic memory, but I do have a good sense of where I've found something and where I can get it.

Q. You even quote from works in many languages that you translate yourself.

A. Oh, yeah. I read all those languages. That's a point of pride at a time when so few Americans can deal in anything but English. [Laughs.] That's a true point of pride, I think. I can read the languages in which the main documents of evolutionary theory are written. It's mainly French and German, occasionally Italian. The early stuff is in Latin. I can read Spanish if I had to ... and very little of that, proportionally, was ever translated, contrary to popular belief. A few of the major documents are.


STEPHEN JAY GOULD: A PUNCTUATED LIFE


1941
Born September 10.

1963
Graduates from Antioch College with major in geology and philosophy.

1965
Publishes first scientific paper.

1967
Receives Ph.D. in paleontology from Columbia University, with dissertation on fossil mollusks in Bermuda. Joins Harvard University faculty.

1972
Publishes paper on idea of punctuated equilibrium with Niles Eldredge.

1974
Starts writing monthly column for Natural History magazine.

1975
Wins the Paleontological Society's Charles Schuchert Award, which recognizes a person under 40 whose work reflects excellence and promise in the field.

1977
Publishes first scholarly book, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, and first popular book, Ever Since Darwin, a collection of essays.

1979
In paper with Richard Lewontin, introduces concept of "spandrels," a term borrowed from architecture, which challenges the idea that all features of organisms are adaptations shaped by natural selection.

1980
In controversial paper, declares the death of the notion that natural selection within species explains all evolution.

1981
Testifies at Arkansas trial against a law giving time to creationism in public schools.

Wins MacArthur Fellowship, often called a "genius" grant.

1982
The Mismeasure of Man wins the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Found to have abdominal mesothelioma, a form of cancer with a median mortality within eight months.

Undergoes successful treatment.

1987
Serves as president of the Paleontological Society.

1989
Publishes Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, which argues that evolution is a string of contingent events and that the appearance of an intelligent ape was a matter of luck. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

1992-97
Involved in acrimonious debate in The New York Review of Books, where he criticizes the views of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, John Maynard Smith, and Steven Pinker.

1999
Wins the Geological Society of America's Public Service Award and the National Science Board's Public Service Award.

2000
Served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

2002
Publishes magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, as well as his last collection of Natural History essays.


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