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The Pandaʼs Thumb PDF Ü The Pandaʼs Epub /

With sales of well over one million copies in North America alone the commercial success of Gould's books now matches their critical acclaim The Panda's Thumb will introduce a new generation of readers to this unique writer who has taken the art of the scientific essay to new heightsWere dinosaurs really dumber than lizards? Why after all are roughly the same number of men and women born into the world? What led the famous Dr Down to his theory of mongolism and its racist residue? What do the panda's magical thumb and the sea turtle's perilous migration tell us about imperfections that prove the evolutionary rule? The wonders and mysteries of evolutionary biology are elegantly explored in these and other essays by the celebrated natural history writer Stephen Jay Gould


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    Stephen Jay Gould is a pleasure to read No writer I know can so seamlessly combine the cultural sophistication of belles lettres with the rigors of scientific explanation Gould is singularly able to frame scientific controversies and hypotheses within a larger historical context showing the human side of the scientific endeavor while in no way minimizing its brilliance and legitimacy Science emerges as both deeply human—colored by a thousand irrational biases and prejudices—and yet remarkably effective at getting beyond these human failingsI would even go so far to say that Gould is worth reading simply for the writing alone His prose is excellent—full of personality and yet never self indulgent If you are looking to write non fiction you could scarcely find a better model of clarity wit and intellectual seriousnessAll this being said I must admit that there are some irritating aspects to Gould’s writing Or perhaps I should say to his thinking Arguably Gould’s favorite topics is how culture and personality can warp the scientific enterprise He gives excellent examples of this such as Paul Broca’s controversy over brain size or the racist theories of John Langdon Down Gould insists that everyone has cultural biases and he is surely right But Gould was no intellectual historian—even if he often dipped into the field—and the way that he wields these supposed biases can be frustrating and superficialPerhaps the most irksome example of this is Gould’s preoccupation with gradualism vs catastrophism—whether things happen bit by bit or in rapid bursts Gould styles himself a catastrophist and is quick to invoke the “Western bias” for gradualism in characterizing his opponents Yet I think it is inaccurate to call gradualism a “Western bias” throughout European history invoking catastrophic events such as Noah’s flood as explanations has been extremely common It is not even quite fair to call gradualism a “bias” since there are some good arguments for preferring it In any case I think that Gould’s labels set up a false dichotomy Surely there is a continuum between slow and steady and fast and jerky Besides all this Gould’s description of some processes as “sudden” or “fast” can be very misleading for the non scientist since he is still talking about many thousands of yearsThis is just one example of Gould’s penchant for moving scientific questions into the realm of cultural clashes and I think it is not a fair way to argue To be fair to Gould he was a serious scientist and quite capable of making his points on purely empirical grounds And it is surely legitimate and useful to examine how culture influences science I mainly object to the way Gould uses this historic truism—that scientists have been guided by biases—to support his own conclusionsGould was of course a man with his own preoccupations Aside from the gradualist catastrophist controversy he is drawn to stories of scientific racism and sexism the imperfections of evolution as in the title essay the science of allometry the study of size and the relationship of phylogeny to ontogeny This may seem like quite a wide field—and Gould was a man of eclectic interests—but his essays have a family resemblance they examine how biases have distorted the truth of evolution Of course what constitutes the truth of evolution is open to debate and Gould has quite particular notions in this fieldSome of Gould’s pet theories have not gained general acceptance in the intervening time But considering how much this field has evolved in the last forty years it is remarkable that these essays have aged so well They can still be profitably read by the curious amateur And as I said at the beginning even if the information in these essays were entirely obsolete the essays would still be worth reading for the quality of writing alone Few science writers have gained this distinction