University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

History of Science and Technology/Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Friday, January 30th 2009
Speaker: David Sepkoski, Department of History, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
Subject: Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, and the 'True' History of Punctuated Equilibria
Refreshments served in Room 216 Physics at 3:15 p.m.

Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould's theory of punctuated equilibria is one of those rare scientific theories that has become a part of our broader culture. The theory has been invoked, attacked, explained, and dismissed so often and in so many contexts that it requires almost no introduction. However, despite the attention it has received over the years, a number of questions and misconceptions have persisted about the significance, originality, radicalism, and even authorship of the theory itself. This talk will attempt to peel back some of the layers of mystique, misunderstanding, and mythology that surround punctuated equilibria and will reconstruct-in part using recently-uncovered letters and drafts by Gould and Eldredge-an account of the inception and early development of the original 1972 paper. The talk will also explore the significance of punctuated equilibria for the broader movement of evolutionary paleobiology during the 1970s, and will examine and critique some of the themes in previous historical accounts of the theory.

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