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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
Acclaimed science writer dies
Stephen Jay Gould, AP
Gould had been a Harvard professor since the age of 26
Stephen Jay Gould, one of the world's best-known palaeontologists and science writers, has died at the age of 60.

He died of cancer at his home in New York, according to his assistant Stephanie Schur.

A Harvard professor since the age of 26, Gould was also a best-selling author known for his engaging and often witty style of science writing.


Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information. It is a creative human activity, its geniuses acting more as artists than as information processors

Stephen Jay Gould
He sought to make complex debates about geology, palaeontology and evolutionary biology accessible to the general public.

Some of his best-known works are Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb and The Mismeasure Of Man.

He also championed the teaching of evolutionary science in American schools, despite opposition from creationist lobby groups.

Diverse talents

Professor Gould is perhaps best known for his views on evolution.

He put forward the theory of "punctuated equilibria" - the idea that evolution happens in relatively rapid spurts of species differentiation rather than gradual, continuous transformations.

Technically his field was fossils but he also taught geology, biology, zoology and the history of science.

And he was probably the world's foremost expert on land snails in the West Indies.

Professor Gould frequently explained evolutionary theory by using comparisons with a range of other disciplines, including popular culture.

"Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information," he wrote in his book Ever Since Darwin. "It is a creative human activity, its geniuses acting more as artists than as information processors."

He used unusual details such as the flamingo's smile or the panda's extra thumb to engage his readers.

When describing a type of mite in his book The Panda's Thumb, 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."

Rare cancer

In July 1981, when he was only 40, Professor Gould learned he had abdominal mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer usually associated with exposure to asbestos.

He researched the disease and wrote in an article for Discover magazine in June 1985. He said: "The literature couldn't have been more brutally clear. Mesothelioma is incurable."

During his illness, he continued to write and teach while undergoing experimental treatment for the disease.

See also:

11 Mar 02 | Americas
10 May 02 | UK Education
27 Mar 02 | UK Education
18 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
09 Sep 99 | Science/Nature
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