Leftovers: PE and Darwin

From about 1992 to around 2002, I was a frequent commenter on the Usenet talk.origins newsgroup, contributing several thousand posts there. I’m going to do some recycling of content from time to time, and pull posts from the archives to bring into this blog. Here are a couple of posts from 1998 related to “puncuated equilibria”.

From: welsb…@orca.tamu.edu (Wesley R. Elsberry)
Subject: Re: What happened?
Date: 1998/03/31
Message-ID: <6fsh2a$t0t$1@news.tamu.edu>#1/1
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NNTP-Posting-Date: 1 Apr 1998 04:50:18 GMT
Newsgroups: talk.origins

In article <6fsf8h$sj…@gte2.gte.net>, Tony McGraw wrote:

TMG>Is it just me or have the arguments in t.o. stopped? I mean you
TMG>have a lame creationist making a claim but never sticking around to
TMG>back it up. During this absence of creationist activity maybe we
TMG>can discuss the punctuated equilibrium vs. phyletic gradualism. An
TMG>important question is: Was Darwin a phyletic gradualist or was that
TMG>a construct made by a couple of young turks to make there own ideas
TMG>seem more impressive?

Let’s split this up into two questions:

1. Was Darwin a phyletic gradualist?

2. Was the representation of Darwin as a phyletic gradualist
done to make other ideas more impressive?

We can answer (1) with a definitive “No”. Of the four tenets of
Phyletic Gradualism as defined by Eldredge and Gould, Darwin
only endorsed one, and that one is common to any view of

(2) is more arguable. It is definite that Gould has
misrepresented a specific quote from Darwin as showing that
Darwin was “wedded to gradualism”, when the full context shows
that Darwin had advanced key components of punctuated
equilibria in that passage. It seems certain that PE did not
need to be contrasted with PG to be considered a significant
contribution to evolutionary theory. It also, IMO, was not
necessary to cast Darwin as the villain of the plot.

Wesley R. Elsberry, 6070 Sea Isle, Galveston TX 77554. Information sent to any
of my email addresses is my personal property, to be published as I see fit.
Student in Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences. http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/elsberry
“Awful things are happening, we’ve let this drama fold” – BOC

From: welsb…@orca.tamu.edu (Wesley R. Elsberry)
Subject: PE and Darwin (was Re: What happened?)
Date: 1998/04/01
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NNTP-Posting-Date: 1 Apr 1998 20:06:10 GMT
Organization: Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University
Newsgroups: talk.origins

In article <6ftcid$c7…@gte2.gte.net>, Tony McGraw wrote:
>Wesley R. Elsberry wrote:
>> In article <6fsf8h$sj…@gte2.gte.net>, Tony McGraw

TMG>Is it just me or have the arguments in t.o. stopped? I mean you
TMG>have a lame creationist making a claim but never sticking around to
TMG>back it up. During this absence of creationist activity maybe we
TMG>can discuss the punctuated equilibrium vs. phyletic gradualism. An
TMG>important question is: Was Darwin a phyletic gradualist or was that
TMG>a construct made by a couple of young turks to make there own ideas
TMG>seem more impressive?

WRE> Let’s split this up into two questions:

WRE> 1. Was Darwin a phyletic gradualist?

WRE> 2. Was the representation of Darwin as a phyletic gradualist
WRE> done to make other ideas more impressive?

WRE> We can answer (1) with a definitive “No”. Of the four tenets of
WRE> Phyletic Gradualism as defined by Eldredge and Gould, Darwin
WRE> only endorsed one, and that one is common to any view of
WRE> speciation.

WRE> (2) is more arguable. It is definite that Gould has
WRE> misrepresented a specific quote from Darwin as showing that
WRE> Darwin was “wedded to gradualism”, when the full context shows
WRE> that Darwin had advanced key components of punctuated
WRE> equilibria in that passage. It seems certain that PE did not
WRE> need to be contrasted with PG to be considered a significant
WRE> contribution to evolutionary theory. It also, IMO, was not
WRE> necessary to cast Darwin as the villain of the plot.

TMG>Was PE a significant new idea or was it just the introduction of an
TMG>old idea to paleontologist? I’m not going to say much because I
TMG>consider myself a student with questions and few answers.

I’ve been over the map with personal opinion on this, and my
current opinion (and I think it is fairly stable at this point)
is that while I disagree with the way the idea of PE has been
presented and hyped, that it is indeed a significant
theoretical advance. That doesn’t mean that I think it is
*entirely* novel, nor that others had not presaged various
parts of it before Eldredge and Gould published in 1972.
However, Eldredge and Gould *deserve* credit for developing the
theoretical part fully and for clearly presenting the coherent
framework with all its pertinence to paleontology, which had
not been done before. They took the various pieces of the
puzzle and put them together in a way that proved fruitful for
research, and that is an entirely laudable thing, fully worthy
of our admiration. The application of work from neontology to
paleontology is not something that has happened with great
regularity, nor is it some simple straightforward mapping that
can be or is achieved by just anyone. At least, the simplicity
and straightforwardness only becomes apparent *after* the work
has been completed. At least one early reviewer of my FAQ
seemed to be let down by the manner in which PE can be stated
and derived logically with just a handful of premises leading
to the conclusions. I think that is one of the strengths of
how Eldredge and Gould formulated PE, though.

Now, it has also been my continuing contention that they
unnecessarily excluded Charles Darwin as one of the
intellectual forebears whose work held components of PE. This
is, I’ve come to appreciate, a separable concern. It does not
really detract from their achievement in framing PE as a theory
in paleobiology. However, it does mean that I take somewhat
more skeptically various pronouncements that they make
concerning who may or may not have had earlier glimpses of the
modern theory of PE. Darwin did not have a complete theory for
PE in the way that Eldredge and Gould do. Darwin did, however,
identify species arising in geographically local variants as a
major reason why transitional sequences would be rare. Darwin
did not stress stasis, but I have found no evidence to support
the contention that he advocated constant change in *each*
lineage, either. Those passages that are quoted in that regard
all refer to natural selection’s actions across all species,
not the action of natural selection within a single lineage.
It is my opinion that the work of Charles Darwin, when
considered in context and in totality, is far closer to
expressing a view or picture of fossil history in line with PE
than it is to PG. This is not to say that others have not
concluded otherwise, merely that I disagree with their
analysis. I’ll point out that one of the quote-bytes floating
around on SciCre bulletin boards comes from Leon Trotsky, who
writes notes concerning Darwin’s origin of species that eerily
express a view consonant with PE, but which Trotsky simply
reports as being Darwin’s view. (The SciCre’ists use this, of
course, as guilt-by-association.)


“The Darwinian theory of the origin of species encompasses the
entire span of development of the plant and animal kingdoms.
The struggle for survival and the processes of natural and
sexual selection proceed continuously and uninterruptedly. But
if one could observe these processes with ample time at one’s
disposal a millennium, say, as the smallest unit of measure one
would undoubtedly discover with one’s own eyes that there are
long ages of relative equilibrium in the world of living
things, when the laws of selection operate almost
imperceptibly, and the different species remain relatively
stable, seeming the very embodiment of Plato’s ideal types. But
there are also ages when the equilibrium between plants,
animals, and their geophysical environment is disrupted, epochs
of geobiological crisis, when the laws of natural selection
come to the fore in all their ferocity, and evolution passes
over the corpses of entire plant and animal species. On this
gigantic scale Darwinian theory stands out above all as the
theory of critical epochs in plant and animal development.” –
“Portraits, Personal and Political”, by Leon Trotsky. George
Breitman and George Saunders, eds. New York : Pathfinder Press,

[End quote – http://www.nettrade.com.au/kyurhee/00061.htm]

Wesley R. Elsberry, 6070 Sea Isle, Galveston TX 77554. Information sent to any
of my email addresses is my personal property, to be published as I see fit.
Student in Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences. http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/elsberry
“Mr. Charles Darwin had the gall to ask” – REM

From: welsb…@inia.tamug.tamu.edu (Wesley R. Elsberry)
Subject: Re: Am I missing something about P.E.?
Date: 1998/02/05
Message-ID: <6bd0li$m30@inia.tamug.tamu.edu>
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In article <6aqaof$…@bgtnsc01.worldnet.att.net>,
Cal King wrote:
>In article <6apsja$…@inia.tamug.tamu.edu>, welsb…@inia.tamug.tamu.edu
>(Wesley R. Elsberry) wrote…
>>In article <6ap38u$…@bgtnsc01.worldnet.att.net>,
>>Cal King

CK>Also this comment from Gould (The Panda’s Thumb, Ch. 18)
CK>”…the two most characteristic assertions of Darwin himself: first, that
CK>evolution is a two stage process (random variation as raw material,
CK>selection as a directing force); secondly, that evolutionary change is
CK>generally slow, steady, gradual, and *continuous*.” (emphasis mine)

The above is a statement that purports to summarize *Darwin’s*
stance. It is important to keep sight of the issue in question,
which is not whether someone can say something about Darwin,
but rather what Darwin actually advanced as his own outlook.
In my experience, this is best accomplished by reference to
what Darwin wrote.


WRE>Since Charles R. Darwin said that natural selection would act
WRE>intermittently and often only at great intervals, I fail to see
WRE>how anyone can maintain that Darwin felt evolutionary change
WRE>would be continuous in the sense of a constant rate of change.
WRE>At least, to maintain such and not expect to be laughed at.

WRE>I note that Cal fails to provide much verbiage from Darwin,
WRE>though the issue was what Darwin thought.

CK>I quoted both Carroll, a gradualist, and Gould, both well
CK>known and reputable scientists. You seem to imply that Gould
CK>somehow misinterpreted Darwin.

I see that I failed to communicate clearly. Gould has
misrepresented Darwin’s views. No implication, just a
straightforward accusation, for which I have given some
supporting documentation.

CK>I see no reason why both Gould
CK>and Carroll (who is anti-PE) would do so deliberately.

Then perhaps it’s unintentional. What I’m pointing out is that
it has, indeed, happened.


CRD>Nothing can be effected, unless favourable variations occur, and
CRD>variation itself is apparently always a very slow process. The
CRD>process will often be greatly retarded by free intercrossing. Many
CRD>will exclaim that these several causes are amply sufficient wholly to
CRD>stop the action of natural selection. I do not believe so. On the
CRD>other hand, I do believe that natural selection will always act very
CRD>slowly, often only at long intervals of time, and generally on only a
CRD>very few of the inhabitants of the same region at the same time. I
CRD>further believe, that this very slow, intermittent action of natural
CRD>selection accords perfectly well with what geology tells us of the
CRD>rate and manner at which the inhabitants of this world have changed.

WRE>[End quote — Charles Darwin, OoS 1st Edition 1859, p.153]

CK>No one is claiming that a species evolves continuously
CK>around the clock, 24 hours a day,

This is not what Gould and Eldredge say. Hie yourself to a
copy of Gould and Eldredge 1977. What G&E are looking for, and
claiming that others are trying to establish, is exactly that.
On page 127, G&E critique Kellogg’s radiolarian sequences on
the basis that the available data is consistent with a
punctuated interpretation of rate of change.

CK>because that would mean a
CK>fairly fast rate of evolution.

Non sequitur. A slow rate is still a rate.

CK>By continuous Darwin is arguing
CK>that the differences between an ancestral and a daughter
CK>species evolved at a fairly steady rate within the lifetime of
CK>a species, akin to the gradual buildup of sedimentary rock by
CK>continuous layering.

I’m afraid I must ask for the reference to Darwin’s own
words on this matter before I give it much credence,
especially since what I have read from Darwin takes
a different approach. I have quoted before the section
where Darwin advises us that natural selection operates
intermittently, often only at long intervals, which
is not compatible with the precis Cal gives us.

WRE>There is no way to equate “intermittent” and “continuous”.
WRE>Case closed.

CK>You wrote earlier that “continuous in the sense of a
CK>constant rate of change.” Hence you define continuous as a
CK>constant rate of change. Let me give you an example that links
CK>intermittent and constant rate of change (your definition of
CK>”continuous”). The atomic clock is known for its accuracy and
CK>is based on the decay of radioactive elements (I have an
CK>internet applet that allows me to synchronize my computer clock
CK>to one of many atomic clocks around the country). Such
CK>radioactive decay is not continuous, but an intermittent
CK>process. At fairly regular intervals, a particular atom in a
CK>sample would decay into a different element by emitting a
CK>radioactive particle. It is intermittent, not unlike what
CK>Darwin postulates about mutations in natural populations, yet
CK>the rate of decay is highly constant (though different among
CK>different elements), so constant that it can be used as the
CK>most accurate clock we can find. Hence intermittent and
CK>continous are not mutually exclusive as you may think.

Cal should review his physics textbook and his dictionary.
Radioactive decay is a discrete process which can be
well-characterized by a rate. That individual decay events are
discrete does not mean that the description of “intermittent”
applies. Cal’s rapprochement of “continuous” and
“intermittent” is founded upon a basic misunderstanding of the
physics (a particular atom regularly decays?) and
misapplication of the terminology.

WRE>Cal might also want to consider the reliability of Gould when
WRE>it comes to representing what Darwin said or thought.

CK>But how do you explain what R.L. Carroll said concerning
CK>Darwin, since Carroll is demonstrably anti-PE as judged from
CK>the following quote?

[quote deleted]

Another non sequitur. Nothing that Carroll says, said, or can
say will save Gould from having misrepresented Darwin in the
cited instance. Nor do I have to explain Carroll’s motives in
order to document that instance.

CK>[Gould’s quotes deleted]

CK>I am familiar with the quotes of Gould so I have taken
CK>liberty to delete them so as not to create an unwieldly long

LA> “Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of
LA> most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record
LA> that seems to show so little of evolution [DIRECTLY]. In exposing
LA> its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to
LA> impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all
LA> general views have similar roots). I wish only to point
LA> out that it was never “seen” in the rocks.”

WRE>Naughty Laurie omitted one word from Gould, which I have
WRE>restored in square brackets.

CK>Yes, she did omit the word “directly,” but it may have been
CK>inadvertent and since I am not a mind reader, I can’t say
CK>whether she was “naughty” or whether she did it deliberately.

Laurie is a he. Laurie is an inveterate misquoter of evolutionists’

WRE>So what passage, precisely, did Gould identify as indicating
WRE>Darwin’s intimate stance with gradualism? Here it is…

CK>Quote showing Darwin recognizing PE deleted.

WRE>Within the above quote are key components of *punctuated

CK>Sure, no one is denying that Charles Darwin recognized PE,

Then why did Gould say that the passage quoted established
that Darwin was “wedded to gradualism”? Gould was making a
point about what Darwin’s views were, but the full passage
shows that representation to be at least inconsistent if
not contradictory of Gould’s apparent intent.

CK>but according to Carroll, he soon abandoned it in favor of

I don’t see any indication that Darwin backed away from his
statements that resonate to the underpinnings of PE. You’ll
have to do better than second-hand hearsay; point to
*Darwin* saying these things.

CK>Carroll (1997 ch. 7, Patterns and Processes of
CK>Vertebrate Evolution) writes:

CK>”Darwin’s only illustration in the first edition of On the
CK>Origin of Species (see Fig. l.1) was an attempt to diagram the
CK>patterns of evolution…. He recognized that evolutionary rates
CK>might differ significantly from one trait to another within a
CK>species, and within a single trait over time, but *greatly
CK>underestimated* the scope of those differences. Darwin did
CK>illustrate *stasis* with many vertical lines in his diagram,
CK>but he felt that lineages exhibiting very little variability
CK>were not likely to persist for long periods of time.” (emphases

CK>Carroll said that Darwin recognized stasis but dismissed
CK>this process as being confined to lineages that do not persist,
CK>or evolutionary dead ends, and thus unimportant footnotes in
CK>evolutionary history. Carroll also said that although Darwin
CK>recognized that evolutionary rates are NOT uniform, he greatly
CK>underestimated how the fast it may proceed. Hence Carroll is
CK>suggesting that Darwin is very much a gradualist.

I don’t happen to concur with Carroll’s analysis. It is
unfortunate that Darwin’s words don’t seem to be fitting
so neatly into the pigeonhole that Cal has cut out for him.
As others have noted, virtually all modern biologists are
“gradualists” in the sense that Darwin was a gradualist,
which is just the same thing as saying that very few
modern biologists are saltationalists in the sense of
claiming that most evolutionary change occurs via saltation.

CK>Carroll continues:

CK>”As was emphasized in Chapter 1, the patterns of evolution
CK>>over longer periods depart to an even greater degree from those
CK>postulated by Darwin. Most major groups appear to originate
CK>and diversify over geologically very short durations, and to
CK>persist for much longer periods without major morphological or
CK>trophic change.”

CK>Hence slow, intermittent evolution as postulated by Darwin
CK>cannot explain the origin of major groups of animals as Carroll
CK>points out.

Did Darwin really exclude the origin of major groups in
his stances? Let’s have a look at what Darwin has to say
on evolutionary innovation and the rates of species


I may here recall a remark formerly made, namely that it might
require a long succession of ages to adapt an organism to some
new and peculiar line of life, for instance to fly through the
air; but that when this had been effected, and a few species
had thus acquired a great advantage over other organisms, a
comparatively short time would be necessary to produce many
divergent forms, which would be able to spread rapidly and
widely throughout the world.

[End quote – CR Darwin, OoS, 1st ed., pp. 309-310]

Looks like Carroll is summarizing some *other* Darwin.

CK>Carroll continues:

CK>”Conspicuous gaps in morphology and ways of life separate
CK>major groups, in contrast with the spectrum of intermediate
CK>forms that fill Darwin’s diagram of both short- and long-term

CK>In other words, more contradictions of Darwin’s postulations
CK>of interminable varieities from empirical data.

Non sequitur. That is *not* even what Carroll said. It is
other words, but the words you supplied do not connect with
the ones that preceded them. The snippet from Carroll does
not make sense, so I assume that significant context is missing.

WRE>here is Eldredge and Gould’s statement of the tenets of
WRE>phyletic gradualism:

WRE> (1) New species arise by the transformation of an ancestral
WRE>population into its modified descendants.

WRE> (2) The transformation is even and slow.

CK>Carroll would agree with this characterization of Darwin’s
CK>theory. See above.

*Everybody* who is an evolutionist agrees with (1) in one
form or another. Where Darwin parts company with Strawman
Darwin is at (2), since Darwin has told us not to expect
“even” in the transition.

Note especially what
Charles Darwin is on record saying about natural selection
acting intermittently and often only at long intervals.

WRE> (3) The transformation involves large numbers, usually the
WRE>entire ancestral population.

WRE> (4) The transformation occurs over all or a large part of the
WRE>ancestral species’ geographic range.

WRE>[End quote]

WRE>Note that the passage that Gould extracts his quote from
WRE>explicitly violates (3) and (4). (1) and (2) are neither
WRE>asserted nor denied by the passage from Darwin. Darwin’s
WRE>”wedding” to phyletic gradualism appears to have been

CK>There is an important difference between Darwin’s ideas and
CK>the theory of phyletic gradualism.

Like, duh. That’s what I’ve been saying. Gould, though,
in saying that Darwin was wedded to gradualism is actually
meaning that Darwin is wedded to phyletic gradualism, since
Gould uses “gradualism” as being synonymous with “phyletic
gradualism”. This can be confirmed by reading the 1972 and
1977 articles on PE by Eldredge and Gould.

CK>Many of the ideas attributed to Darwin do not come from
CK>Darwin but from Darwin’s followers, as Gould points out. In
CK>fact Gould calls them “Darwinian fundamentalists” or “ultra
CK>Darwinians,” because they reject neutral genetic changes, even
CK>though Darwin did not.

True enough. However, the issue at hand is that when Gould
said Darwin was “wedded to gradualism” and cited as support
a quote from Darwin, the context of that quote showed that
Darwin’s stance given there could not be summarized in that

WRE>At least, the quote which Gould identifies
WRE>as showing that relationship clearly instead shows glimpses
WRE>of Darwin flirting around with PE.

CK>Darwin did flirt with PE, as Carroll demonstrates, but he
CK>soon abandoned it for his favorite child-gradualsim.

This bit about abandonment is an unsupported and, AFAIK,
unsupportable assertion. At least, I don’t recognize as
support personal opinion on the issue of what Darwin believed
without Darwin’s own words backing it up.

I don’t personally know any non-gradualist biologists.
Biologists who think that saltation is the primary mode of
evolutionary change seem to be pretty damn rare. If you mean
“phyletic gradualism”, then say so. I know of nothing that
indicates that Darwin backed away from the statements that I
have quoted, by which I mean nothing in what I have read of
Darwin’s that would so indicate. Please provide the reference
to Darwin that contradicts that stance, or consider your claim

WRE>Rejection of Darwin’s argument amounts to rejection of both PE
WRE>and PG.

CK>Not so, since Darwin’s theory is based mostly on gradualism
CK>and not PE.

Darwin gave several reasons for why the fossil record is
incomplete. Included in those reasons are several *key*
components of PE. How is it that Cal thinks that PE could
explain much of anything without the pieces that Darwin
referenced in his argument?

WRE>What Eldredge and Gould have done with PE is assert
WRE>that certain aspects of Darwin’s argument are more important
WRE>than other aspects of Darwin’s argument. Well, duh. What
WRE>takes chutzpah is to then claim that the good bits weren’t part
WRE>of Darwin’s argument all along.

CK>Gould has often defended Darwin and takes great pains to
CK>distinguish him from the “Darwinian fundamentalists” and


Being a Darwin booster at times does not immunize against
misrepresenting him at other times.

CK>Besides, many of Darwin’s ideas are not actually his own.


I’m talking about misrepresentation of Darwin’s stances, which
makes no statement about whether such stances *originated*
with Darwin. If Gould had claimed that Darwin was not an
atomist, would it help him any that Darwin was not the
originator of the atomic theory?

CK>Since Carroll (who is no supporter of PE) also says much the
CK>same thing concerning Darwin and gradualism, I would not be so
CK>quick to ascribe motive to Eldredge and Gould.

Again irrelevant, and I ask Cal to provide documentation of
where I ascribe any motive to Eldredge and Gould in this

I’ve quoted Gould quoting Darwin, and then the full passage
from Darwin. What Gould said Darwin said is NOT what Darwin
said. Can I make it any simpler?

WRE>why, if phyletic
WRE>gradualism was never seen in the rocks, Gould and Eldredge 1977
WRE>specifically validates Ozawa’s 1975 paper on forams as showing
WRE>a clear example of phyletic gradualism?

CK>I don’t think anyone (not even Eldredge and Gould) is
CK>claiming that PE is the only way species originate, although
CK>Gould would say that it is probably >90% of the time. And if
CK>there are examples of phyletic gradualism in the rocks, why
CK>aren’t they seen far more often if phyletic gradualism is
CK>indeed the norm, the most common way species originate? Since
CK>you are arguing that Darwin recognized PE and peripatric
CK>speciation, do you not agree then that PE and peripatric
CK>speciation are more common than phyletic gradualism? And since
CK>Darwin abandoned PE even though he flirted with it, can anyone
CK>still claim that it is his idea? After all, Darwin thinks that
CK>stasis leads to evolutionary dead ends instead of being a
CK>normal part of the existence of most species as Eldredge and
CK>Gould argue. Hence the idea that PE is the norm in
CK>evolutionary history can only belong to Eldredge and Gould but
CK>not Darwin.

I think that the most that I have argued is that Eldredge and
Gould erred in not giving Darwin due credit for presaging PE,
not that PE was fully realized by Darwin. The various claims
about what Darwin’s stance was are at issue. Cal’s claim
that Darwin abandoned his PE-like stances is an assertion
thus far lacking in substantiation.

So far, nothing that Cal has said has in the least provided
any exculpatory relief for Gould’s misrepresentation of
Darwin’s stance.

Wesley R. Elsberry, 6070 Sea Isle, Galveston TX 77554.
Student in Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences. http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/elsberry
Too wild to care\You’ve got animal stare\You’ve got stay-anywhere in your eyes

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Wesley R. Elsberry

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2 thoughts on “Leftovers: PE and Darwin

  • 2010/01/12 at 9:08 pm

    Good stuff, as usual Wesley, and I am gratified to find that your take on P.E. is very similar to my own.

    I was already going to link to your T.O. article on it in a response to a creationist I am currently working on for my blog. The guy has made hash of some history of science surrounding PE and which I am working to set straight.

    Interestingly while doing my research to on this I ran across a place where I feel that Gould did a similar hatchet job (as you discuss above) with something George Gaylord Simpson wrote. I am thinking of writing up a separate post on this.

    It’s bad enough to have to deal with creationists misrepresenting and twisting things to fit their agenda, but for a scientist to do it really, really, really, irritates me. And to put this into personal context I pretty much cut my teeth, evolutionary theory wise, on Gould’s essay collections.

  • 2010/01/12 at 9:47 pm

    Our experience is similar. I started buying the collected “Natural History” essays in the early 1980s and simply took Gould’s descriptions in those of concerns in “punctuated equilibria” at face value. It was only several years later that I did detailed reading of Darwin with an eye out to find those spots Gould had assured all of us put it beyond any question that Darwin was the original and archetypal phyletic gradualist. I was surprised to find that reading the original sources did not confirm the impression Gould had given. Somewhere along in there I also started getting the technical papers on PE. I think one of my early experiences with InterLibrary Loan was getting the original 1972 essay, which was published as a book chapter. And that pretty much turned things upside down.

    Where Gould’s popular essays on PE emphasized time, Eldredge and Gould (1972) explicitly stated that for PE the geographic component is of greater importance than the stratigraphic component. But I had come away from the popular essays with not a glimmer of the importance of peripatric speciation to the original formulation of PE. While the popular essays almost always contrasted PE with “gradualism”, the 1972 chapter revealed that “gradualism” referenced not the common biological usage of populational descent and speciation, but rather the far more strictly qualified concept with the label of “phyletic gradualism” with its restriction to anagenetic speciation and constant rates of morphological change.

    Antievolutionists just can’t seem to accurately relate anything to do with PE. This goes way beyond the technical wrangles that may have been intentionally engineered by Gould over the “gradualism” shorthand he used.

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