May 20, 2002
12:22 PM   Subscribe

The famous biologist and anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould died in his home today of cancer at the age of 60.
posted by steve.wdc (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was just about to post a link to the same article.

MY first thought is WOW! This man knew so much, spoke so clearly and enunciated his thoughts in a manner that really made science comprehendable and entertaining. I've read about five of his books and they were just fantastic. He was truly a rare genius. Although my personal encounter with him was not pleasant, I still hold the highest regard for his intelligence and achievements and he will be dearly missed.
posted by wsfinkel at 12:26 PM on May 20, 2002

A great man. This is so sad.
This is one of my favorite interviews with him, science and baseball and wit, classic Gould.
posted by matteo at 12:35 PM on May 20, 2002

An example:
The most outstanding feature of life's history is that through 3.5 billion years this has remained, really, a bacterial planet. Most creatures are what they've always been: They're bacteria and they rule the world. And we need to be nice to them.
He will be dearly missed indeed
posted by matteo at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2002

2 nights ago I was responding to a weblog that asked, among other things, what scientist I'd take to a desert island. I had a brainfart and said Feynman, the first name that came to mind.
I realize now that I was thinking of Gould, who I've dug since I was a kid. Who could resist a baseball loving scientific genius?

Goodbye, Mr. Gould, you will be missed.
posted by jonmc at 12:50 PM on May 20, 2002

For years I've been using Gould as an example of how, if you want to be influential beyond your accomplishments in your chosen field, learn to write well. This is not a cut-down of Gould's contirbutions to research, which were certainly respectable, but an acknowledgment of what he accomplished by being able to write better than 99.999% of the scientists out there. He took complex ideas and made them accessible (both to lay people and other scientists) without dumbing them down. We need more like him.

Speaking of which, what other scientific writers do the rest of you really like? I like Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond, myself.
posted by tdismukes at 12:58 PM on May 20, 2002

I like Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond, myself.

Diamond's book's cool. But you can't like Gould _and_ Dawkins. It's almost like the Yankees and the Mets, you've got to choose your side...
posted by matteo at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2002

Not to take away from the point of this thread, but in response to tdismukes' question, Oliver Sacks is a scientist/scientific writer I admire very much. Like Gould (and Feynmann, and etc), he knows a lot about his core subject but can also discourse clearly on a variety of things, and - somehow - tie them altogether in the end.
posted by risenc at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2002

Well, that's one less person for Dawkins to argue with...
posted by mrbula at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2002

What a loss. I really enjoyed his writing - he was great at explaining and humanizing scientific topics. Unlike many popular science writers, he showed his readers a bit of respect by not dumbing it down.
posted by groundhog at 1:10 PM on May 20, 2002

He had just released, this May, a new book, 'I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History' of which I had hoped to meet him during a scheduled reading from the book. The reading was canceled and I had wondered why.

Gould will be missed.
posted by ericrolph at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2002

tdismukes, I see we were on the same train of thought - you said it first, and better.

Like risenc, I'm also a big fan of Oliver Sacks - neurology is an interest of mine. I'm currently reading "Uncle Tungsten", which is about his childhood interest in chemistry and science, and is mainly autobiographical.

I went to one of his lectures a few years ago. He's very engaging, and quite funny. Robin Williams' portrayal of him in the film "Awakenings" captured his appearance and mannerisms quite well.
posted by groundhog at 1:22 PM on May 20, 2002

His Simpsons episode is one of my favorites. Farewell, Mister Gould.
posted by gleemax at 1:25 PM on May 20, 2002

Of course I agree with the preacher of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to love and a time to die - and when my skein runs out I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way.

The swords of battle are numerous, and none more effective than humor.

(...Stephen Jay Gould, discussing his illness.)

Farewell, and well done.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:31 PM on May 20, 2002 [1 favorite]

Ever since I first read his article on his diagnosis and the seemingly horrible prognosis ("The Median isn't the Message") I've been cheered up by every new book or article or appearance made by Gould. (In short: half the people with abdominal mesothelioma, his initial diagnosis, die within *8 months*. Gould was diagnosed in July 1982.) Gould wrote some of the best popular material on science ever; I wish he had been given the time to write even more.
posted by maudlin at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2002

Martin Gardner is my favorite science writer, though he mainly talks about math and pseudoscience.

Steven Pinker is also a fun read.
posted by meep at 3:03 PM on May 20, 2002

In short: half the people with abdominal mesothelioma, his initial diagnosis, die within *8 months*. Gould was diagnosed in July 1982.)

..and he wrote a whole book on how dumb those prognosis stats are.

He changed the way I look at a lot of things.
posted by srboisvert at 3:23 PM on May 20, 2002

I had the pleasure of attending one of Gould's lectures back in February. I wasn't aware of his condition, and his death is both saddening and surprising.
posted by Stuart_R at 4:45 PM on May 20, 2002

My two encounters with Gould:

1) I arrived late for a class of his. He stopped the class and proceeded to interrogate me as to why I thought my time was more valuable than his.

2) Struck up a conversation with him at a gallery opening in soho. As I was talking to him, he interrupted me with a 'Yep.' and then just walked away.

The man had a distinctive personal style. I must give him that. He drew the kind of fire from critics that made it clear that it was often personal.

I loved his natural history books, though. He will be missed.
posted by vacapinta at 4:54 PM on May 20, 2002

He stopped the class and proceeded to interrogate me as to why I thought my time was more valuable than his.

Stock response: "To believe that because I arrive late means that I am making value judgements of the relative worth of our time is simply faulty logic."

I had a lot of his writing appear as reserve reading for an Antropology class I took in college. I looked forward to it for his writing.
posted by plinth at 5:44 PM on May 20, 2002

Since someone brought up the issue of other science writers, the writer who really got me turned on to science in middle school was Isaac Asimov, not his science fiction but his series of nonfiction essays published in The Tragedy of the Moon (unfortunately out of print). The title essay explores the question of whether we would've been stuck with a Ptolemaic universe if the moon orbited Venus rather than the earth. Such an object would have been visible to naked eye astronomers and would have presented a serious challenge to the geocentric universe. Another essay in the book he managed to explain to a kid with no formal education in chemistry exactly why life depends on carbon rather than on silicon.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:26 PM on May 20, 2002

Apart from his scientific achievments, he was one of the great essayists in the English language. Ever since I first read "The Mismeasure of Man", I was hooked. He will be missed.
posted by talos at 12:53 AM on May 21, 2002

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