Re: disparaging Gould
Wed, 27 Jan 1999 09:33:48 -0800

Damien Broderick, <>, writes:
> Steve Pinker is good, with vast and useful biblio. Dan Dennett on DARWIN'S
> DANGEROUS IDEA, biblio ditto. Cosmides and Tooby, of course.

Dennett's book has a section criticizing Gould in much the same spirit as the URL that was posted.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that these are professional feuds. These people have long-standing intellectual disagreements, which may spill over into the personal realm from time to time. Each side complains that the other is misrepresenting its position, presenting straw men, ignoring nuances, all the standard rhetorical devices.

Gould downplays the role of natural selection in evolution. He emphasizes the presence of nonadaptive features, limitations on the structures which evolution can produce, the role of chance and randomness in evolution. He also promotes the theory of punctuated equilibrium, in which most evolutionary change occurs in a relatively short period (and is largely random to boot). He has criticized other writers for trying too hard to explain biological features in terms of adaptive advantage and reproductive success, the "adaptationist" school.

However, he has made a lot of enemies in the process. He writes in a supercilious and condescending tone, and has not hesitated to identify his targets by name. He has a "bully pulpit" in the form of a widely read column in Natural History magazine, which causes the traditional resentment which researchers feel towards someone who has the public's ear.

Furthermore, politics plays a part as well. Gould is an avowed Marxist, and many of his targets have had views on the conservative side of the spectrum. He led attacks against Edward O. Wilson of Sociobiology fame, casting Wilson as a right-wing, racist, reactionary. He has been one of the main opponents of the view that IQ is largely hereditary, which he also sees as leading to racism.

There is a collection of critiques of Gould at, some of which are uncomfortably racist in tone, emphasizing his Jewish background and linking his views with those of other Jewish Marxists.

Like many feuds, this one is remarkably vicious and ugly. It sounds like Gould may have gotten down in the mud first, but many of his opponents have not hesitated to join him.