Today, September 10th, would have been the sixty-sixth birthday of the American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Stephen; died of lung cancer on May 20th, 2002 but in his life he did as much as anyone to popularise palaeontology and evolutionary biology.
A prolific writer and gifted teacher, Stephen inspired many students to further develop their careers in science. He taught at Harvard University and was a key member of the American Museum of Natural History, producing numerous research papers and putting forward some far-reaching theories. He became widely known from his science articles written for the American Natural History journal.
Such was his popularity and statue that he was called “America’s unofficial evolutionist laureate” and he certainly captured the public’s imagination with books such as “Bully for Brontosaurus”, published in 1991, a wonderful title for a book that explored the reasons for the extinction of the dinosaurs. He also studied the diversification of the fossil record in the Burgess Shale deposits and wrote many papers on the explosion of life forms that occurred at this time.
Along with fellow scientist, Niles Eldredge, Gould put theory the idea of “Punctuated Equilibria”, building on the theory of Darwinism to propose that evolution did not happen in a smooth process but occurred in rapid bursts followed by periods where organisms changed little. He was a strong opponent of Creationism and Intelligent Design and argued vociferously against these concepts. His engaging writing style and sense of fun made him a firm favourite amongst readers of popular science.
He appeared in a number of science documentaries and related programmes. He even appeared in an episode of the Simpsons, providing the voice for his own caricature. The makers of this television cartoon series were big fans and after his death a tribute was paid to him by dedicating an episode to his memory.