Biologist and author Stephen Jay Gould dead at 60

Scientist spoke against Kansas State Board of Education's vote to de-emphasize evolution curriculum

? Stephen Jay Gould, a world-renowned scientist who brought evolutionary theory and paleontology to a broad public audience in dozens of wide-ranging books and essays, died Monday of cancer.

He was 60, and died at his home in New York City, according to his assistant, Stephanie Schur.

Stephen Jay Gould visits Lawrence in October 1999 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education's vote to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution. The world-renowned scientist and author died Monday of cancer.

“Most of us just appreciated that in Steve we had someone who put this very positive public face on paleontology, who was able to reach an audience that most of us would never reach and not nearly so effectively,” said Andrew Knoll, a colleague of Gould’s at Harvard University for 20 years. “He really was paleontology’s public intellectual.”

Gould became one of America’s most recognizable scientists, not only for his voluminous and accessible writings but for his participation in public debates with creation scientists and even his disagreements with other evolutionary theorists.

Gould championed the teaching of evolutionary science in school curricula, arguing that it not be challenged by creation science, whose advocates made Gould an enemy.

When the Kansas State Board of Education voted to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution in 1999, Gould was prominent among the critics. He gave a speech, sponsored by Kansas University’s Hall Center for the Humanities, at the Lied Center in October of that year, in which he called for voters to “throw out the school board in the next election.”

The 2000 election produced the results Gould was hoping for, and the new board of education restored the teaching of evolution.

Gould also engaged in vigorous disputes with his fellow evolutionary theorists, particularly for his theory of “punctuated equilibria.” Gould argued that evolution occurred in relatively rapid spurts of species differentiation rather than via gradual, continuous transformations. He believed short-term contingencies could play as important a role as irresistible evolutionary pressure.

Gould also rooted his ideas of evolution by examining patterns of statistical deviation, using it as a lens to view everything from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the demise of the .400 hitter in baseball.

A longtime New York Yankees fan, he appeared in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary history of the sport and in 1999 wrote an obituary tribute to Joe DiMaggio for The Associated Press.

Gould called human evolution “a fortuitous cosmic afterthought.” Known was known for his engaging, often witty style evident in his columns in Natural History magazine, as well as collections of essays, including “Ever Since Darwin”, “The Panda’s Thumb.” His book “The Mismeasure of Man,” a study of intelligence testing, won the National Book Critics Award in 1982.

Later books included “Dinosaur in a Haystack” and “Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.”

He received his bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in 1963 and a doctorate from Columbia University. For his doctoral dissertation, Gould investigated the fossil land snails of Bermuda. Gould also did work toward his doctorate at the American Museum of Natural History.

Survivors include his second wife, Rhonda Roland Shearer, with whom he had no children. He had two sons with his previous wife, Schur said.