The fossil record is paleontology’s great resource, telling us virtually everything we know about the past history of life. This record, which has been accumulating since the beginning of paleontology as a professional discipline in the early nineteenth century, is a collection of objects. The fossil record exists literally, in the specimen drawers where fossils are kept, and figuratively, in the illustrations and records of fossils compiled in paleontological atlases and compendia. However, as has become increasingly clear since the later (...) twentieth century, the fossil record is also a record of data. Paleontologists now routinely abstract information from the physical fossil record to construct databases that serve as the basis for quantitative analysis of patterns in the history of life. What is the significance of this distinction? While it is often assumed that the orientation towards treating the fossil record as a record of data is an innovation of the computer age, it turns out that nineteenth century paleontology was substantially “data driven.” This paper traces the evolution of data practices and analyses in paleontology, primarily through examination of the compendia in which the fossil record has been recorded over the past 200 years. I argue that the transition towards conceptualizing the fossil record as a record of data began long before the emergence of the technologies associated with modern databases (such as digital computers and modern statistical methods). I will also argue that this history reveals how new forms of visual representation were associated with the transition from seeing the fossil record as a record of objects to one of data or information, which allowed paleontologists to make new visual arguments about their data. While these practices and techniques have become increasingly sophisticated in recent decades, I will show that their basic methodology was in place over a century ago, and that, in a sense, paleontology has always been a “data driven” science. (shrink)
During the 1970s, a "revolution" in American paleobiology took place. It came about in part because a group of mostly young, ambitious paleontologists adapted many of the quantitative methodologies and techniques developed in fields including biology and ecology over the previous several decades to their own discipline. Stephen Jay Gould, who was then just beginning his career, joined others in articulating a singular vision for transforming paleontology from an isolated and often ignored science to a "nomothetic discipline" that could sit (...) at evolution's "high table." Over the course of a single decade, between 1970 and 1980, this transformation had in large part been accomplished. Among those most centrally involved in this process were Gould, Thomas Schopf, David Raup, and Gould's graduate student Jack Sepkoski, all of whom made major contributions in theoretical and quantitative analysis of the fossil record and evolutionary history. Recognizing that an ideological agenda was not enough, Gould and others developed and promoted new outlets, technologies, and pedagogical strategies to nurture their new discipline. This paper describes this process of transformation, and presents Sepkoski's education and participation as exemplary of the "new model paleontologist", which Gould hoped to produce. (shrink)
Introduction: mathematization and the language of nature -- Realists and nominalists : language and mathematics before the scientific revolution -- Ontology recapitulates epistemology : Gassendi, epicurean atomism, and nominalism -- British empiricism, nominalism, and constructivism -- Three mathematicians : constructivist epistemology and the new mathematical methods -- Conclusion: mathematization and the nature of language.
In the received view of the history of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, paleontology was given a prominent role in evolutionary biology thanks to the significant influence of paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson on both the institutional and conceptual development of the Synthesis. Simpson's 1944 Tempo and Mode in Evolution is considered a classic of Synthesis-era biology, and Simpson often remarked on the influence of other major Synthesis figures – such as Ernst Mayr and Theodosius Dobzhansky – on his developing thought. Why, (...) then, did paleontologists of the 1970s and 1980s – Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, David M. Raup, Steven Stanley, and others – so frequently complain that paleontology remained marginalized within evolutionary biology? This essay considers three linked questions: first, were paleontologists genuinely welcomed into the Synthetic project during its initial stages? Second, was the initial promise of the role for paleontology realized during the decades between 1950 and 1980, when the Synthesis supposedly "hardened" to an "orthodoxy"? And third, did the period of organized dissent and opposition to this orthodoxy by paleontologists during the 1970s and 1980s bring about a long-delayed completion to the Modern Synthesis, or rather does it highlight the wider failure of any such unified Darwinian evolutionary consensus? (shrink)
What was the basis for the adoption of mathematics as the primary mode of discourse for describing natural events by a large segment of the philosophical community in the seventeenth century? In answering this question, this book demonstrates that a significant group of philosophers shared the belief that there is no necessary correspondence between external reality and objects of human understanding, which they held to include the objects of mathematical and linguistic discourse. The result is a scholarly reliable, but accessible, (...) account of the role of mathematics in the works of Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, and Berkeley. This impressive volume will benefit scholars interested in the history of philosophy, mathematical philosophy and the history of mathematics. (shrink)
This paper examines the way in which paleontologists used “popular books” to call for a broader “expanded synthesis” of evolutionary biology. Beginning in the 1970s, a group of influential paleontologists, including Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, David Raup, Steven Stanley, and others, aggressively promoted a new theoretical, evolutionary approach to the fossil record as an important revision of the existing synthetic view of Darwinism. This work had a transformative effect within the discipline of paleontology. However, by the 1980s, paleontologists began (...) making their case to a wider audience, both within evolutionary biology, and to the general public. Many of their books—for example, Eldredge’s provocatively-titled Unfinished Synthesis—explicitly argued that the received synthetic view of Darwinian evolution was incomplete, and that paleontological contributions such as punctuated equilibria, the hierarchical model of macroevolution, and the study of mass extinction dynamics offered a substantial corrective to evolutionary theory. This paper argues that books—far from being “mere popularizations” of scientific ideas—played an important role in disciplinary debates surrounding evolutionary theory during the 1980s, and in particular that paleontologists like Gould and Eldredge self-consciously adopted the book format because of the importance of that genre in the history of evolutionary biology. (shrink)