Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 45 (2014) 133–138
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Paleontology at the ‘‘high table’’? Popularization and disciplinary status in recent paleontology David Sepkoski Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Boltzmannstrasse 22, 14195 Berlin, Germany
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Article history: Available online 15 December 2013 Keywords: Paleobiology Evolutionary Biology Stephen Jay Gould Modern Synthesis Popularization
a b s t r a c t This paper examines the way in which paleontologists used ‘‘popular books’’ to call for a broader ‘‘expanded synthesis’’ of evolutionary biology. Beginning in the 1970s, a group of inﬂuential paleontologists, including Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, David Raup, Steven Stanley, and others, aggressively promoted a new theoretical, evolutionary approach to the fossil record as an important revision of the existing synthetic view of Darwinism. This work had a transformative effect within the discipline of paleontology. However, by the 1980s, paleontologists began making their case to a wider audience, both within evolutionary biology, and to the general public. Many of their books— for example, Eldredge’s provocatively-titled Unﬁnished Synthesis—explicitly argued that the received synthetic view of Darwinian evolution was incomplete, and that paleontological contributions such as punctuated equilibria, the hierarchical model of macroevolution, and the study of mass extinction dynamics offered a substantial corrective to evolutionary theory. This paper argues that books—far from being ‘‘mere popularizations’’ of scientiﬁc ideas—played an important role in disciplinary debates surrounding evolutionary theory during the 1980s, and in particular that paleontologists like Gould and Eldredge self-consciously adopted the book format because of the importance of that genre in the history of evolutionary biology. Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Scientists write popular accounts of their subjects for many reasons. Sometimes they do so to appeal to the public on behalf of particular projects or initiatives—as for example physicist Stephen Weinberg’s Dreams of a Final Theory, which endorsed the building of the Superconducting Supercollider (Weinberg, 1992), or Carl Sagan’s many books championing the SETI program and space exploration (Sagan, 1978, 1980, 1994). In other cases, the aim has been to weigh in on a particular social issue—such as creationism or global warming or the biodiversity crisis—as scientists such as Ken Miller, E. O. Wilson, and others have done (Miller, 1999; Wilson, 1992). Then there are what might be called ‘‘semi-popular’’ accounts, which, although published by trade publishers or marketed broadly by university presses, are really targeted at an educated lay audience who want a more in-depth exposure to a particular topic, or towards other scientists looking for a non-specialist introduction to a related ﬁeld. Books such as
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Stephen Jay Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory or Richard Dawkins’ The Selﬁsh Gene might be classiﬁed in this group (Dawkins, 1976; Gould, 2002). But although many scientists may claim that they write books as a kind of public service, I think we can recognize that every popular book has an agenda behind it. And one of the most common agendas scientists have for writing books is to advance some kind of theoretical or disciplinary program that cannot be easily formulated on the pages of technical, specialist journals. In this sense, the term ‘‘popular’’ is perhaps a red herring: many books that are ostensibly written for the ‘‘public’’ are, in fact, written for an audience of peers, especially for younger scientists or scientists in related disciplines who might be receptive to new concepts or disciplinary conﬁgurations. In addition, there is often a very fuzzy line between truly ‘‘popular’’ writing and writing that falls into the semi-popular category. Nonetheless, books are an important and
D. Sepkoski / Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 45 (2014) 133–138
sometimes underappreciated genre of scientiﬁc communication: not only do they permit longer, more sustained discussion of topics than journal articles, but they also allow scientists to creatively mix narrative modes—alternating, say, between reporting empirical results and engaging in historical or autobiographical reﬂection—in a way that is not possible in the technical literature. Books are thus both ideal vehicles for reﬂective, synthetic conversations, and also (falling usually outside of the normal peer-review process) venues for greater risk-taking and narrative creativity. This was, as I will argue, very much the case during the 1980s in the context of evolutionary biology, when a large number of books appeared that offered meditations on, or revisions to, the existing program of the modern evolutionary synthesis. A large number of these books were written by paleontologists seeking to promote a place for the ﬂedgling discipline of paleobiology at the ‘‘high table’’ of evolutionary theory, and they reﬂected many of the empirical and theoretical currents that were being discussed in the pages of professional journals, such as Paleobiology, Evolution, Science, and Nature. Books by paleobiologists like Gould, Niles Eldredge, Steven Stanley, David Raup, and others were part of a very public debate with representatives of the ‘‘establishment’’ in evolutionary biology: Ernst Mayr, Richard Dawkins, John Maynard Smith, and other supporters of the more traditional, synthetic viewpoint. The public nature of this debate was vital in establishing paleobiology within evolutionary biology, and those paleobiologists who contributed to it were very self-conscious about their use of the genre—the ‘‘popular’’ book—to accomplish their goals. Books were seized upon by paleobiologists for two important reasons. In the ﬁrst place, they permitted longer, more sustained and synthetic arguments drawing on a wider variety of empirical examples and theoretical concepts. Secondly, as many paleobiologists were well aware, books were part of an important historical tradition in evolutionary biology, and paleobiologists selfconsciously saw their own books as ﬁtting into this tradition. This historical awareness of the synthesis was an important component in paleontologists’ campaign for a seat at the high table, both as a framing device and as source of arguments about conceptual and disciplinary issues. While books by paleobiologists make up only a small percentage of popular science literature published during the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to the prominence of particular authors (Gould) and topics (dinosaur extinction), they achieved disproportionate public and professional visibility. Because these books were closely and explicitly aligned with a fairly clear and circumscribed disciplinary agenda (the promotion of paleobiology) they also offer a focused case study for exploring how books contribute to the resolution of disciplinary debates. In the remainder of this paper, I will examine a few prominent examples of ‘‘popular’’ paleobiological literature from the 1980s, with an eye to both considering its signiﬁcance in debates in evolutionary at the time, and also toward reﬂecting on the role of popular or semi-popular books in the history of evolutionary biology more broadly. 1. Paleobiology and the high table Perhaps no event signaled paleobiology’s entry to the mainstream of evolutionary biology more than the short essay, published by population geneticist John Maynard Smith in Nature in May of 1984, titled ‘‘Palaeontology at the High Table’’ (Maynard Smith, 1984). The occasion for Maynard Smith’s piece was Stephen Jay Gould’s presentation of the 1984 Tanner Lectures at Claire Hall, Cambridge, on the subject ‘‘Challenges to Neo-Darwinism and Their Meaning for a Revised View of Human Consciousness’’ (Gould, 1985). In his lecture, Gould offered a summary of
paleobiological challenges to ‘‘the hegemony of Neo-Darwinism,’’ which included critiques of evolutionary determinism, reductionism, and adaptationism. Surprisingly, Maynard Smith—one of the staunchest defenders of the Modern Synthesis—responded was quite positively to Gould. Beginning his essay by lamenting the relative lack of evolutionary contribution from paleontologists from the 1940s onward, he characterized the typical response of his colleagues in evolutionary biology archly and succinctly: ‘‘the attitude of population geneticists to any palaeontologist rash enough to offer a contribution to evolutionary theory has been to tell him to go away and ﬁnd another fossil, and not to bother the grownups’’ (Maynard Smith, 1984, p. 401). However, Maynard Smith reported that over the last ten years that attitude had changed, thanks in large part to the work being done by paleobiologists like Gould. He concluded the essay with a statement that has become legendary among paleobiologists, observing ‘‘the palaeontologists have too long been missing from the high table. Welcome back.’’ To many paleontologists Maynard Smith’s acknowledgement felt like a vindication for more than a decade’s worth of campaigning for the evolutionary signiﬁcance of paleontology. Indeed, since the early 1970s (and even as far back as the 1940s, depending on how one reckons) paleontologists like Gould, Eldredge, Stanley, Raup, Thomas J. M. Schopf, and others had aggressively promoted a new, theoretical and quantitative approach to analyzing and interpreted the fossil record that they labeled ‘‘paleobiology.’’1 Over the previous decade, this movement had made a number of important new empirical and conceptual contributions to evolutionary biology—such as the theory of Punctuated Equilibria, species selection/sorting and the hierarchical account of macroevolution, the study of global historical diversity patterns, and awareness of the evolutionary signiﬁcance of mass extinctions. It also found disciplinary and institutional traction, establishing centers of paleobiological research at Harvard, the University of Chicago, the American Museum of Natural History, and elsewhere, and even launching its own journal, titled simply Paleobiology, in 1975 (Sepkoski, 2009). By the early 1980s, Gould and other paleobiologists were well-known ﬁgures on the evolutionary biology scene, and their ideas were being hotly—and sometimes heatedly—debated in journal articles, scientiﬁc meetings, and even in the popular press (Adler & Carey, 1980; Futuyma, Lewontin, Mayer, Seger, & Stubbleﬁeld, 1981; Lewin, 1980; Stebbins & Ayala, 1981). But for all the success this movement had achieved, there was lingering concern among some paleobiologists that their movement had failed to genuinely establish paleontology on equal footing with genetics in the evolutionary community. Even statements such as Maynard Smith’s, though welcome, were viewed with some suspicion as being perhaps only partially sincere, or even worse, patronizing. The early 1980s, then, saw an aggressive campaign by Gould and others to interpret the innovations of paleobiology as more than just a contribution to the existing theoretical framework of the modern synthesis, but as a substantive revision or expansion—and even a ‘‘new synthesis.’’ One tactic in this campaign was to make the case for an expanded synthesis in journals read by other paleontologists and by evolutionary biologists. In articles with titles like ‘‘The Promise of Paleobiology as a Nomothetic, Evolutionary Discipline,’’ ‘‘Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?,’’ ‘‘Individuals, Hierarchies, and Processes: Towards a More Complete Evolutionary Theory,’’ and ‘‘Darwinism and the Expansion of Evolutionary Theory,’’ Gould and his colleagues presented arguments in favor of an ‘‘expanded’’ Darwinism which took account of different kinds of selection operating on a hierarchy from the gene to the higher
For a history of the paleobiology movement, see Sepkoski & Ruse (2009) and Sepkoski (2012).
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taxonomic categories (Gould, 1980a, 1980b, 1982a; Vrba & Eldredge, 1984). One of the central strategies employed, particularly by Gould, was the use of history—and in particular the history of the evolutionary synthesis—to make the case for an expanded synthesis. The argument that Gould made, for example in ‘‘Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?,’’ was not only that contemporary evolutionary biology was too narrowly focused on individual selection, but that this narrowness explicitly contradicted the pluralistic intent of the original ‘‘framers’’ of the modern synthesis, Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and George Gaylord Simpson. This historical argument thus invoked a kind of revisionist, synthetic ‘‘originalism,’’ which Gould presented as a healthy corrective to a tradition which had unfortunately, since the 1950s, ‘‘hardened.’’ This strategy was only partially successful: papers by Gould, Stanley, and others drew heated replies in articles and letters in journals like Science and Nature which challenged both the originality of ideas like Punctuated Equilibrium and the revisionist history used to support Gould’s ‘‘hardening’’ thesis. But, clearly, the paleobiologists were attracting notice. Not only were they successfully reaching a wider scientiﬁc readership with their message, but that message was extending to a popular audience as well. One of the main reasons for this was the public interest in paleontology generated by Walter and Louis Alvarez’s 1980 announcement of evidence that conﬁrmed the great K-T dinosaur extinction was most likely caused by a massive asteroid or comet impact 65 million years ago (Alvarez, Alvarez, Asaro, & Michel, 1980). While this work was not directly connected with the paleobiology movement initially (Alvarez ﬁls is a geologist and pere was a physicist), it drew public and media interest to paleontology, and the dinosaur extinction hypothesis quickly became absorbed into work investigating the dynamics of mass extinctions that was genuinely paleobiological. Although entirely unconnected with any of this research, Gould quickly became a champion of a ‘‘new catastrophism’’ in his monthly column for Natural History magazine, and he folded mass extinctions into his hierarchical model of macroevolution presented in his professional writing (Gould, 1982b, 1984, 1986). So while, to advocates like Gould and Eldredge, the most signiﬁcant impact of paleobiology was in its theoretical expansion of neo-Darwinism, paleobiology was, by the mid-1980s, riding a broader scientiﬁc and popular wave that included dinosaur extinctions, periodic global catastrophes, and mysterious companion stars named after Greek goddesses. 2. Popularizing paleobiology This public interest partially explains the large number of ‘‘popular’’ books written by paleontologists during the 1980s and 1990s—to say nothing of the equal number written by journalists and other laypeople. As might be expected, many of these dealt directly with dinosaur extinctions, such as Walter Alvarez’s T Rex and the Crater of Doom, and Raup’s The Nemesis Affair and Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (Alvarez, 1997; Raup, 1986, 1991). But a number of other books appeared that, while perhaps capitalizing on burgeoning public interest in paleontology, did not directly discuss dinosaurs or mass extinctions. These include Stanley’s The New Evolutionary Timetable (Steven M. Stanley, 1981), Gould’s Wonderful Life (Gould, 1989), Antoni Hoffman’s Arguments on Evolution (Hoffman, 1989), and a slew of books by Eldredge, including Time Frames and Unﬁnished Synthesis (Eldredge, 1985a, 1985b), and Reinventing Darwin (Eldredge, 1995). Indeed, while popular or semi-popular paleontology books peaked in the decade or so after the announcement of the Alvarez extinction hypothesis, paleobiologists had been publishing a steady stream of books since the late 1970s (for example Gould’s 1977 Ontogeny
and Phylogeny and Stanley’s 1979 Macroevolution: Pattern and Process (Gould, 1977; Stanley, 1979). Moreover, while most of these books were marketed towards a non-professional readership, they nonetheless focused centrally on the historical and disciplinary arguments that were simultaneously being made by Gould and others in peer-reviewed journals. In fact, as I will argue, these books were directed primarily at paleobiologists’ scientiﬁc peers, and should be considered ‘‘popular’’ only by virtue of the fact that they had colorful dust jackets featuring author photos and eyecatching marketing blurbs. Appearances aside, these were serious books with a serious mission: to demonstrate that paleobiology was part of a new, evolutionary synthesis. While Gould is late 20th century paleontology’s most wellknown and proliﬁc popularizer, it is really his partner in crime from punctuated equilibria days, Niles Eldredge, who was most passionately committed in this period to publicly advancing the hierarchical model of macroevolution as an expansion of the modern synthesis. At least until the publication in 2002 of Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Eldredge had written far more on the subject, publishing more than a half-dozen books with subtitles like ‘‘The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria’’ and ‘‘The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory.’’ Eldredge was also deeply committed to the historical argument, which presented paleobiology not as an upstart or usurper, but rather as a route back to the more pluralistic original intent of the ‘‘original framers’’ of the synthesis. It is worth noting here that Eldredge remains adamant that socalled popular books play an important role in scientiﬁc discussions. In terms of his own motivations, he recalls that The target—and I speak not just for myself but for the many others through the eras who have written books short on technical data and jargon in an effort to communicate theoretical results and perspectives—is in reality almost invariably other scientists, and especially the hearts and minds of the next generation coming up through undergraduate and graduate courses, or young professionals. Sometimes this ‘‘target’’ consists of one’s immediate colleagues within the narrow conﬁnes of one’s ﬁeld—but especially across ‘‘disciplines’’—such as paleontologists trying, often with limited success, to convey the nature of the fossil record and their interpretations of it vis a vis, again in my case, evolution—to neonatologists. Often it turns out that if one makes inroads communicating with people in other ﬁelds, that will rebound back and help establish/‘‘legitimize’’ a thesis within the original discipline. (Eldredge, personal communication, 2012) Eldredge recalls that he was inﬂuenced in this approach by Gould, ‘‘who always insisted that the difference between ‘scientiﬁc’ and ‘public’ writing is (or should be) only a matter of detail and jargon.’’ Furthermore, he points out that there is a venerable tradition in evolutionary biology of presenting important, substantive theoretical interventions in book form—going all the way back, of course, to Darwin himself. As Eldredge puts it, evolutionary biology/paleontology began as argumentation in books—and I am maintaining here that that tradition has carried on down. Though Dobzhansky got the ball rolling . . . with a short paper in 1935, it was of course his three editions of Genetics and the Origin of Species that really did the trick—followed by Mayr and Simpson’s earlier book efforts. (Eldredge, personal communication, 2012) And as Eldredge points out, by the 1970s and 80s this tradition was still being carried along in books which fall into the ‘‘middle ground’’ between broadly popular and narrowly specialized, ‘‘like
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Dawkins’ books for the most part,’’ which, as Eldredge concludes ‘‘do real scientiﬁc work as well—every bit as much so as in the 19th century’’. The important points that Eldredge makes are that (a) books are often unfairly labeled and dismissed as ‘‘popular’’ despite having genuine scientiﬁc impact, and (b) books have been central to the tradition of theorizing in evolutionary biology since the time of Darwin. In 1985, Eldredge published two books—Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria, and Unﬁnished Synthesis: Biological Hierarchies Modern Evolutionary Thought. Both advanced substantially similar arguments: that a hierarchical theory of macroevolution, drawing on paleontological theories such as punctuated equilibrium and species sorting, pointed towards an important reﬁnement of the modern synthesis. The former was published by Simon & Schuster and was somewhat less technical than the latter; Time Frames also took a more narrative approach to the ‘‘discovery’’ of punctuated equilibria, featuring extended excursions into the geologic past to illustrate many of the points being made. Unﬁnished Synthesis, in contrast, was published by Oxford University Press, and has a more scholarly tone and appearance: more references, greater use of academic terminology like ‘‘ontology’’ and ‘‘epistemology,’’ very few illustrations, and even a denser page layout. However, in argumentative structure the two books are very similar. Time Frames argues that the synthesis has been so narrowly deﬁned as ‘‘a theory of gradual, progressive, adaptive change . . . that we have somehow, collectively, turned away from some of the most basic patterns permeating the history of life’’ (Eldredge, 1985a, p. 143). As an antidote to this narrow construction of the synthesis, Eldredge offers a hierarchical view of the history of life that treats species as ‘‘individuals’’—i.e., as units of selection, following David Hull and Michael Ghiselin’s deﬁnitions (Ghiselin, 1974; Hull, 1976)—and which focuses on detection and interpretation of broad evolutionary trends or processes. Eldredge located the source of the narrow formulation of the synthesis around the time of the 1959 Darwin centennial, but took pains to argue that the original voices of the synthesis—Dobzhansky, Mayr, and Simpson—had initially presented a more pluralistic outlook which highlighted genetic, biogeographical, and evolutionary ‘‘discontinuity’’ much more than later works by the same authors and their students. In this way, Eldredge suggested, theories like punctuated equilibria called for a return to the original intent of the synthesis. Eldredge took much the same approach in Unﬁnished Synthesis, although he explored the theoretical basis of the modern synthesis in much greater depth. Two chapters are devoted to examining, often point by point, Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species (both the 1937 and 1951 editions), Mayr’s Systematics and the Origin of Species, and Simpson’s Tempo and Mode in Evolution (Dobzhansky, 1937, 1951; Mayr, 1942; Simpson, 1944). He defends his decision to examine these authors’ books rather than their scientiﬁc articles because, as he puts it, ‘‘it is in the books that we ﬁnd the coherent, integrated statements’’ (Eldredge, 1985b, p. 13). Again, as in Time Frames, Eldredge argues that in the earliest expression of their views—for Dobzhansky, the 1937 rather than the 1951 edition of Genetics; for Mayr, the 1942 Systematics rather than the 1963 Animal Species and Evolution; for Simpson the 1944 Tempo and Mode rather than the 1953 Major Features of Evolution—each of the authors adopted a more pluralistic view towards evolutionary processes and interpretations than he would take later. These early works, he maintains, exhibit little of ‘‘the bland, across-the-board reductionism’’ (Eldredge, 1985b, p. 81) or the narrow notion that ‘‘the neo-Darwinian paradigm of selection plus drift, are both necessary and sufﬁcient to explain all other know evolutionary phenomena’’ (Eldredge, 1985b, p. 119) that began to take hold in the 1950s.
The ﬁnal three chapters of Unﬁnished Synthesis, then, present Eldredge’s own view of how a hierarchical theory of macroevolution offers an expanded synthesis. He is clear, though, that he regards his contribution as following ‘‘the very same spirit that motivated the synthesis in general and the works of Dobzhansky, Mayr, and Simpson,’’ since ‘‘it is they who have inspired the present inquiry’’ (Eldredge, 1985b, p. vi). Ultimately, Eldredge was careful to stress—as Gould also would be in Structure of Evolutionary Theory—that his position is that ‘‘the synthesis is not so much incorrect as incomplete’’ (Eldredge, 1985b, p. 6). This is a claim to which Eldredge would often return in later works, such as his 1995 Reinventing Darwin: that far from challenging the legacy of Darwin and the synthesis, he, Gould, and others were upholding it. As he put it in this later book, ‘‘Most of the discussants peopling my version of the High Table [e.g., Dobzhansky, Mayr, and Simpson, but also Dawkins, Maynard Smith, E. O. Wilson, and others] have developed their views in books’’ that have become ‘‘fulcra in evolutionary history’’ (Eldredge, 1995, p. xi). The upshot of this position is the rather counterintuitive argument that, in order to be really taken seriously, evolutionary ideas should be published in books rather than in specialized journal articles. While Eldredge may have a historical case to make here, this has not generally been the view of the scientiﬁc community which, by and large, has regarded book-writing as mere ‘‘popularizing.’’ 3. Rewriting the past It is fair to say, then, scientists like Eldredge and Gould regarded their more serious books as successors to the great works of the synthesis. But one ﬁnal, fascinating part of this story is that, having worked hard to situate their own work in the legacy of the synthetic book-writing tradition, Eldredge and Gould were not content simply to write their own books, but in fact attempted in a fashion to re-write those earlier books to suit their interpretations. In the early 1980s, Eldredge and Gould hit upon the idea of re-releasing the works of the great Columbia Biological Series that produced so many of the classics of modern evolutionary theory—Dobzhansky, Mayr, Simpson, and also Stebbins, Rensch, and Huxley—as a ‘‘Columbia Classics in Evolution Series.’’ Given their close association with Columbia University (both Eldredge and Gould took PhDs there under Norman Newell, and Eldredge remained afﬁliated as a curator at the AMNH) they were ideally situated to do so. However, in the way this project was carried out—only Genetics and the Origin of Species, Systematics and the Origin of Species, and Tempo and Mode in Evolution were reissued—some questions were inevitably raised. The plan called for facsimile reprints of the original editions of these works—in Dobzhansky’s case, of the 1937 ﬁrst edition, which had long since been eclipsed by the substantially revised 1951 third—accompanied by introductions written by Eldredge or Gould. The ostensible reason was to introduce readers to works which had been long out of print, but which continued to have substantial inﬂuence over the ﬁeld. But as is evident from the general introduction to the series printed in each book, there were other motivations as well. Gould and Eldredge noted that a ‘‘current renaissance of interest in evolutionary theory’’ was now occurring (in 1982, when the reprints were published), stemming from the fact that ‘‘the modern synthesis is now being scrutinized at a level of intensity unmatched since its birth’’ (Dobzhansky, 1982, p. ix). Of course, this statement applied speciﬁcally to the paleobiological movement that Eldredge and Gould were central participants in. Adopting the rationale that ‘‘if a paradigm is to be discussed critically, it must be characterized accurately, fairly, and completely,’’ they proposed to ‘‘provide introductions, critical evaluations of the text that attempt to place each book in its appropriate historical context,’’ in which ‘‘our critical biases are apparent, and we
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do not try to hide them’’ (Dobzhansky, 1982, p. x). In short, these books were being published, primarily, for the purposes of advancing a particular disciplinary agenda shared by Gould and Eldredge. This helps explain why, for example, the early editions were selected, despite the fact that their authors themselves were widely known to consider them as having been eclipsed by later versions of their ideas. In the critical introductions themselves, Eldredge and Gould interpreted each work in the light of the revisionist history of the synthesis they had been developing. Gould’s introduction to Genetics and the Origin of Species, for example, touted the ﬁrst edition as pluralistic, but argued that subsequent editions ‘‘represent a major change in emphasis’’ towards individual selection ‘‘that set the research program for most of evolutionary biology throughout the 1960s and 1970s’’ (Dobzhansky, 1982, p. xxxv). Thus, the genuine pluralism of the original synthesis came to be ‘‘hardened,’’ and inaccurately ‘‘portrayed as a unilinear transfer of truth, an irresistible genetic proclamation of Darwinism’’ (Dobzhansky, 1982, p. xix). Eldredge’s introduction to Systematics and the Origin of Species made much of what Eldredge saw as inconsistencies in Mayr’s treatment of species, sometimes describing them as discontinuous, sometimes as continuous, entities—an argument he would frequently make in his own books. But, he argued, subjecting the book to ‘‘a critical reading today’’ shows that ‘‘the synthesis was somewhat less completely ‘synthesized’ than claimed, and the equivocal nature of Mayr’s argument . . . sowed some of the seeds for the difﬁculties the synthesis is experiencing at the present time’’ (Mayr, 1982, p. xvii). And what of Simpson’s Tempo and Mode in Evolution? In 1980, Gould contacted Simpson to request permission to reprint Tempo and Mode, and explained the plan for Eldredge to write a short introduction. Simpson responded, with typical acerbity, that the matter of whether a reprint would be published was properly a matter for himself and the publisher. As for the matter of Eldredge’s introduction, he was even more blunt: Involved in your request for my permission is the proposal (you take it as settled) that Eldredge will write a new introduction to this volume. Here I feel that I should have been more frank with you earlier or should be less so than I am going to be now. I do have strong objections to what you have written about me for Ernst Mayr [in the Mayr and Provine Modern Synthesis volume] and to what you have now published in Paleobiology. Who would not object to the statement that in the end his work has done more harm that good, especially when what you and Eldredge are egotistically promoting as your brilliantly original idea is a development from and not a logical contradiction of some much earlier studies by others? I do not want either you or Eldredge to write an introduction to my book, and I will so inform the press. (Simpson to Gould, 26 July, 1980) It is interesting to note here that, despite his objection to Gould’s interpretation of his own work (in another letter he chided Gould for being ‘‘imperceptive’’ of the signiﬁcance of Tempo and Mode and Major Features of Evolution), Simpson essentially conceded part of the point that Gould and Eldredge were trying to make about the consistency of their efforts with the previous synthetic tradition. However, it is clear that Simpson also thought that the paleobiological revision hardly amounted to an ‘‘expanded’’ synthesis, since he essentially regarded theories like punctuated equilibria as derivative of the work of himself, Mayr, and others. In the end, Tempo and Mode was republished without the introduction by Eldredge, and Gould penned Simpson a handwritten note expressing his regret ‘‘that I could ever have so misstated something (what I do not know) and lead you to in for even a moment (and even for a moment in anger) that I regard your work as, in the end, doing more harm than good,’’ concluding ‘‘we are all
building upon you, not contracting with a wrecking ﬁrm’’ (Gould to Simpson, 18 August, 1980). This sentiment seems to have had little effect, in any event (at the top of this letter is the comment, apparently in Simpson’s hand, ‘‘no answer’’). In a letter the following year, Simpson wrote Mayr to complain about the relative absence of paleontology in Mayr’s Modern Synthesis volume, and particularly to complain about Gould’s contribution, which ‘‘misrepresents or misunderstands’’ his own work. Simpson questioned Mayr’s decision to involve Gould at all, since ‘‘He is one of the most vociferous opponents of the theory you were discussing,’’ and since ‘‘Moreover, judging by his books and his recent articles Gould has ceased to be a working or investigative paleontologist even to the extent that he ever was one’’ (Simpson to Mayr, 2 March, 1981). This letter prompted and exchange with Mayr that lasted several months, and the topic of the Columbia reprint series inevitably came up. Simpson indignantly reported on the proposed forward and introduction to Tempo and Mode, written by Gould and Eldredge, respectively, which had apparently been shown to him. ‘‘They were attacks not only on the book they were to reintroduce,’’ he wrote, ‘‘but also on me and my work in general,’’ and Simpson expressed the hope that ‘‘they haven’t turned Gould, Eldredge, or both loose on a reprint of your book in that series’’ (Simpson to Mayr, 2 January, 1983). Alas, Mayr reported, he had allowed publication of Eldredge’s introduction to Systematics, although ‘‘Eldredge of course was about as unqualiﬁed a person as they could have picked’’ (Mayr to Simpson, 21 March, 1983). Simpson commiserated, calling Eldredge ‘‘unspeakably worthless and harmful,’’ and ‘‘the ‘Capo of the AMNH Maﬁa,’’’ but consoled Mayr that ‘‘Eldredge’s introduction to your reprint is ﬂattering when compared to the one he wrote for mine’’ (Simpson to Mayr, 25 March, 1983). Besides being entertaining, this episode shows just how sensitive a matter the reinterpretation of the history of the modern synthesis was for everyone involved. The irony, of course, is that Mayr himself was no stranger to using history to advance a particular theoretical and disciplinary agenda for science, and to marshaling evidence selectively in order to promote his own version of the evolutionary synthesis. But Mayr does seem to have had some awareness of the problems involved when mixing history with science: He expressed being ‘‘rather proud of being able to revise my views whenever new evidence or repeated thinking shows me that my ideas were wrong,’’ and complained that ‘‘invariably I am quoted for what I have said in 1942 or at best in 1963, and very emphatic revisions published in 1970, 1976, 1982, etc., are quietly ignored.’’ Still, he conceded, ‘‘Most likely I do the same to other authors. This is just human fallibility’’ (Mayr to Simpson, 5 April, 1983). What I conclude from this brief examination of public argument in 1980s paleobiology is that books—whether popular, semi-popular, or otherwise—have been an important genre for introducing and articulating sustained, synthetic arguments about evolutionary theory since at least the time of the synthesis. Efforts such as Gould and Eldredge’s should not be considered ‘‘mere popularizing,’’ despite the negative connotations that have often been attached to them by their own colleagues. When we speak of important ideas in the history of evolutionary thought, we often ﬁrst mention the books they are associated with—whether written by Darwin, Dobzhansky, Mayr, Simpson, Williams, Maynard Smith, Wilson, Dawkins, or Gould. But books are also contested and problematic objects in this history. They convey a sense of monolithic permanence that is belied by later revisions and editions that often substantially alter their messages. There is a tendency to attach exaggerated signiﬁcance to the ‘‘ﬁrst’’ expression of an idea—why do we always have our students read the 1859 Origin of Species, for example?—for both intellectual and rhetorical purposes. History itself, then, becomes part of the arsenal used by scientists to
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ﬁght their disciplinary and conceptual battles, and we as historians contribute to them as well, intentionally or not. But from the historian’s perspective, paying closer attention to the different genres in which scientists express their work—not merely as a study of the ‘‘rhetoric’’ of science, but as an important insight into how disciplinary and conceptual battles are fought, and consensus is formed—is probably a good idea. At the very least, the notion that when scientists write in a general or ‘‘popular’’ vein they are somehow not doing science is a prejudice inherited from scientists themselves that is belied by their own actions. After all, most of the biologists who criticized Gould for writing books wrote books themselves—the crucial difference (and perhaps grounds for resentment) seems not to have been in the seriousness of their content, but rather in the number of copies they sold. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Myrna Perez and Mark Ulett for both organizing the special issue in which this appears, and for their helpful comments and suggestions along the way. I would also like to thank Betty Smocovitis for helpful feedback on an earlier draft of this paper. References Adler, J., & Carey, J. (1980). Is man a subtle accident? Newsweek, 95 (November 3). Alvarez, W. (1997). T. rex and the crater of doom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Alvarez, L. W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F., & Michel, H. V. (1980). Extraterrestrial cause for the cretaceous–tertiary extinction. Science, 208(4448), 1095–1108. Dawkins, R. (1976). The selﬁsh gene. New York: Oxford University Press. Dobzhansky, T. (1937). Genetics and the origin of species. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. Dobzhansky, T. (1951). Genetics and the origin of species (3rd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. Dobzhansky, T. (1982). Genetics and the origin of species. New York: Columbia University Press. Eldredge, N. (1985a). Time frames: The rethinking of Darwinian evolution and the theory of punctuated equilibria. New York: Simon and Schuster. Eldredge, N. (1985b). Unﬁnished synthesis: Biological hierarchies and modern evolutionary thought. New York: Oxford University Press. Eldredge, N. (1995). Reinventing Darwin: The great debate at the high table of evolutionary theory. New York: Wiley. Futuyma, D. J., Lewontin, R., Mayer, G. C., Seger, J., & Stubbleﬁeld, J. W. (1981). Macroevolution conference (Letters). Science, 211(4484), 770. Ghiselin, M. T. (1974). Radical solution to species problem. Systematic Zoology, 23(4), 536–544. Gould, S. J. (1977). Ontogeny and phylogeny. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
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