May 2002


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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Val Dusek <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 22 May 2002 07:21:05 EDT
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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My spouse called me from Wyoming on Monday to tell me that she had received
the Science for the People post that Steve Gould had died.  I've thought
about him a lot these last two days, and hadn't realized how much his ideas
and writings had become a part of my life.  I personally interacted with him
less than a dozen times, most recently a few weeks ago when he came to speak
at my school, but mostly back in the late seventies and early eighties when
he collaborated with Science for the People and had not yet become the
popular culture superstar that he became in the nineties.  One thing that I
noticed with annoyance in obituaries and recent profiles of Steve is that in
the midst of the tributes to his brilliance and style he is referred to
ritually by recent reporters as "arrogant."  My own impression was that he
was generous (both monetarily and intellectually) to a fault and suffered
fools sometimes too gladly.  He gave away speaker fees to graduate students
and political causes. He also went out of his way to credit or praise others
for even the most trivial idea, unlike many other academics, who often
neglect to reference the very works from which they borrow.

In a way it was a lucky coincidence that Ian Pitchford triggered a lengthly
exchange about sociobiology and evolutionary psychology on this sometimes
dormant list just before Gould's untimely demise. Perhaps this will trigger
updated criticisms of evolutionary psych by listmembers now that Gould is not
around to do so.

Pitchford, who, though a devotee of evolutionary psychology, is anti-racist
and social democratic in his views.  I certainly strongly disagree with him
about mainstream EP (Chagnon, Dennett, Pinker, Barash et al) but has found
him to be an open-minded and patient listmeister.  (I was the one who was
referred to in one post here as the "Stalinist" mentioned in an article in
Slate on Pitchford's list that claimed the members ranged politically from
David Duke supporters to me --which I'll take as a very undeserved
compliment.)  Pitchford's patience and attempt at dialogue is shown by his
relatively polite responses to some of our flames on the list.

The best tribute to the memory of Steve Gould that we can give is to carry on
his intellectual battles, against scientific racism and against the
hypocritical pretenders to the neutrality of science.  We must do so in his
absence as best we can, even if without his literary style and eloquence, his
erudition in human and natural history or even his buoyant optimism of the
intellect as well as of the will.

Val Dusek