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Stephen Jay Gould, one of the leaders of the opposition, was at least as ambitious as Wilson. Like Wilson, he has ended up working at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. But he was in most other ways his opposite: a New York Jew, the urban child of Marxist parents, and always eager to sign up for the awkward squad, where Wilson reminisces fondly about his time as an Eagle Scout and education in a military academy. Wilson grew up a lover of live insects; Gould of extinct dinosaurs. Both men like to show off their erudition; as well as his technical work on land snails, and his general work in evolutionary theory, Gould has written on a huge range of subjects, from baseball to seventeenth century puritan theology. Yet the astonishing thing about Gould as a show-off is that he gets his facts right; and he combines this accuracy with a voracious sympathy for his subjects. This wide-ranging mix of fluency and accuracy has given him a huge public. He has as an essayist a happy, Mozartian knack of making you think without realising you’ve done so. That is one reason for colleagues to loathe him.

Another is his controversial skill. His sympathies are extended to opponents only after their deaths. While they are alive, he can make them wish him dead, as so many of them appear to do. What especially maddens them is that he spends as much time writing about scientists as science. As his friend Lewontin put it recently: "Gould is primarily concerned with what the nature of organisms. living and dead, can reveal about the social construction of scientific knowledge. His repeated demonstrations that organisms can only be understood as historically contingent, underdetermined Rube Goldberg devices are meant to tell us more about the evolution of human knowledge than of human anatomy. From his early Mismeasure of Man, which examined how the political and social prejudices of prominent scientists have moulded what those scientists claimed to be the facts of human anatomy and intelligence. to his recent collection of essays, Eight Little Piggies, which despite its subtitle. Reflections on Natural History, is a set of reflections on the intellectual history of Natural History, Gould's deep preoccupation is with how knowledge, rather than the organism, is constructed."

His opponents put a similar point rather differently. "Gould occupies a rather curious position, particularly on his side of the Atlantic. Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticised because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory," wrote John Maynard Smith in a passage since gleefully requoted by Dawkins himself.



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