Counterpunch, May 24, 2002

Stephen Jay Gould, 1942-2002
Farewell to a Great Fighter

by Jeffrey St. Clair

Look back at the life of the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and
we confront an astonishing fact: he was only 60 when he died at the start
of this week. It hardly seems possible that Gould could have done so much
work in so complex a field in so little time. His revolutionary theory of
punctuated equilibrium, nothing less than a wholesale rewrite of Darwin,
alone seems worthy of a career. That achievement came very early in his
life (he was 30), but he kept on refining and enhancing it right up to the
end. In March of this year, Gould, battling the cancer that would finally
end his life, published The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a 1,500-page
treatise that will surely stand as one of the most important volumes in the
history of the biological sciences.

Yet, there was so much more to the man and his work.

Gould was an engaged academic in the best sense. He used his formidable
intellect and sharp prose to lay waste to charlatans who sought to use
pseudo-science for malign political purposes. At the top of the list was
Charles Murray, the right-wing sociologist, whose racist tract the Bell
Curve sought prove that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and
genetically incapable of leading productive lives. It became a manifesto
for the Gingrich right in the early 90s, on the rampage to destroy what
remained of the federal government's social welfare system and justify its
own racist policies.

Gould's review in the New Yorker demolished Murray's tract as a pastiche of
fabricated statistics, perverted science and fraudulent conclusions. Here's
a taste of Gould at work: "The Bell Curve, with its claims and supposed
documentation that race and class differences are largely caused by genetic
factors and are therefore essentially immutable, contains no new arguments
and presents no compelling data to support its anachronistic social
Darwinism, so I can only conclude that its success in winning attention
must reflect the depressing temper of our time -- a historical moment of
unprecedented ungenerosity, when a mood for slashing social programs can be
power-fully abetted by an argument that beneficiaries cannot be helped,
owing to inborn cognitive limits expressed as low I.Q. scores."


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: