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Stephen Jay Gould


Mr. President, I have the honor and pleasure to present Stephen Jay Gould: paleontologist, biologist, and historian of evolutionary thought.

Stephen Jay Gould, your work has brought new discipline and intrigue to the study of evolution, increased the awareness among scientists of the potential abuse of their authoritative position in society, and enhanced society’s understanding and appreciation of how science works, despite the human flaws of scientists.

As a scholar, you have demonstrated the immense value of multiple perspectives, which has resulted in the revolutionary idea of punctuated equilibrium: that change in the structure of organisms proceeds by occasional leaps, rather than by the prior notion of gradual evolution. You have instilled a new clarity of thought in evolutionary science by seeking the simplest explanations rather than those taught by tradition. In the process, you have taught us the value of crossing freely among disciplines, especially in the removal of unnecessary complexity by the presentation of clear and incisive analogies drawn from music, art, literature, history, and popular culture. We never know what new test you will pose for our liberal education, but we always expect to be challenged in new and delightful ways. You have clarified important ideas of development and evolution with reference to the changing morphology of Mickey Mouse, and demonstrated the weaknesses of unbridled adaptationist thinking by analogies involving the architecture of cathedrals and Voltaire’s Professor Pangloss. Through your careful analysis of the history of scientists’ errors and their social context, you have shown the vulnerabilities of science and society to mutual abuse, particularly by quantifying human potential, and the abuse of evolutionary theory to justify intolerance.

Perhaps your greatest gift lies in your use of the obscure to construct the profound. You have described this approach best:

“We must tackle and grasp the larger, encompassing themes of our universe, but we make our best approach though small curiosities that rivet our attention — all those pretty pebbles on the shores of knowledge. For the ocean of truth washes over the pebbles with every wave, and they rattle and clink with the most wondrous din.”

Mr. President, on behalf of the trustees, faculty, students, and staff of Clark University, I request that the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, be conferred upon Stephen Jay Gould.