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No writer I know can so seamlessly combine the cultural sophistication of belles-lettres with the rigors of scientific explanation. Gould is singularly able to frame scientific controversies and hypotheses within a larger historical context, showing the human side of the scientific endeavor while in no way minimizing its brilliance and legitimacy.

Science emerges as both deeply humancolored by a thousand irrational biases and prejudicesand yet remarkably Stephen Jay Gould is a pleasure to read. Science emerges as both deeply human—colored by a thousand irrational biases and prejudices—and yet remarkably effective at getting beyond these human failings. I would even go so far to say that Gould is worth reading simply for the writing alone.

His prose is excellent—full of personality, and yet never self-indulgent. If you are looking to write non-fiction, you could scarcely find a better model of clarity, wit, and intellectual seriousness. Or perhaps I should say to his thinking. Gould insists that everyone has cultural biases, and he is surely right. But Gould was no intellectual historian—even if he often dipped into the field—and the way that he wields these supposed biases can be frustrating and superficial.

Surely there is a continuum between slow and steady and fast and jerky. To be fair to Gould, he was a serious scientist and quite capable of making his points on purely empirical grounds. And it is surely legitimate and useful to examine how culture influences science.

I mainly object to the way Gould uses this historic truism—that scientists have been guided by biases—to support his own conclusions. Gould was, of course, a man with his own preoccupations. Aside from the gradualist-catastrophist controversy, he is drawn to stories of scientific racism and sexism, the imperfections of evolution as in the title essay , the science of allometry the study of size , and the relationship of phylogeny to ontogeny. This may seem like quite a wide field—and Gould was a man of eclectic interests—but his essays have a family resemblance: they examine how biases have distorted the truth of evolution.

Of course, what constitutes the "truth of evolution" is open to debate, and Gould has quite particular notions in this field. But considering how much this field has evolved in the last forty years, it is remarkable that these essays have aged so well.

They can still be profitably read by the curious amateur. And, as I said at the beginning, even if the information in these essays were entirely obsolete, the essays would still be worth reading for the quality of writing alone. Few science writers have gained this distinction.


Stephen Jay Gould


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El pulgar del panda



El pulgar del panda


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