Mon May 20, 7:07 PM ET
By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON (Reuters) - Paleontologist
Stephen Jay Gould, who unlocked the mysteries of evolution for millions of readers with
essays on the panda's extra thumb and helped bring natural history
museums to popular audiences, died on Monday at his home in New York after
a long battle with cancer.
Gould, a Harvard professor best known for modifying Charles Darwin's
theories, died at 10:35 a.m. EDT, a spokeswoman at his Harvard office
said. He was 60.
Some of Gould's best-known works are "Ever Since Darwin,"
"The Panda's Thumb," which won an American Book Award in
1981, and "The Mismeasure of Man," which won the National Book
Critics Circle Award for 1982.
"He connected science with other areas of pursuit such as baseball...
Most people aren't scientists. They need those connections,"
said Michael Novacek, provost of science at New York's American Museum
of Natural History.
"Probably more than anyone else, he provided a contextual sense of
science that was incredibly effective. His writings influenced so many
people, scientists and nonscientists."
A Harvard professor since age 26, Gould wrote chatty, educational essays
using unusual details such as the flamingo's smile or the panda's
extra thumb to introduce readers to more general themes in an exciting way.
In "The Panda's Thumb," discussing a type of mite, he wrote:
"Fifteen eggs, including but a single male, develop within the mother's
body. The male emerges within his mother's shell, copulates with all
his sisters and dies before birth.
"It may not sound like much of a life, but the male Acarophenax does
as much for its evolutionary continuity as Abraham did in fathering children
into his 10th decade."
CHOCOLATE BARS TO LAND SNAILS
Technically his field was fossils but Gould taught geology, biology, zoology
and the history of science, and wrote about everything from chocolate
bars to baseball to Bahamian land snails -- on which he was probably the
world's foremost expert.
"Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information,"
Gould wrote in his 1977 book "Ever Since Darwin." "It is
a creative human activity, its geniuses acting more as artists than as
In July 1981, when he was 40, Gould learned he had abdominal mesothelioma,
a rare and deadly form of cancer that is usually associated with exposure
Gould researched the disease and wrote in an article in Discover magazine
in June 1985: "The literature couldn't have been more brutally
clear. Mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight
months after discovery."
He went on to say that "most people, without training in statistics,
would read such a statement as, 'I will probably be dead in eight
But he added, "all evolutionary biologists know that variation itself
is nature's only irreducible essence. ... I had to place myself amidst
During his illness, Gould continued to write and teach while undergoing
experimental treatment for the disease.
Born on Sept. 10, 1941, in New York, Gould decided to be a paleontologist
after his first sight, at age 5, of a 20-foot high reconstructed dinosaur
in the American Museum of Natural History.
*** POSTED ON MAY 28, 2002 ***