How to Change Your Life Using Punctuated Equilibria — Extinct

Rudwick made a number of similar studies before leaving paleontology for a full-time gig as a historian of science. But his scientific interests were not limited to the demonstration of adaptation in fossils. He was also interested in the evolution of brachiopods as a whole, including the repeated evolution of structures like zigzag deflections across the brachiopod tree. Rudwick described his “long-term research plan” (retrospectively) as an attempt “to interpret the morphological features of fossil brachiopods of any and every geological period in terms of their likely functions and adaptations, and hence ultimately to reinterpret the large-scale phylogeny of brachiopods in terms of the evolutionary history of the animals’ modes of life” (Rudwick 2017, 148). The results are summarized in his 1970 book, Living and Fossil Brachiopods, based partly on research performed with his student Richard Cowen.

This exercise is basically what Gould had in mind when he spoke about the need for evolutionary paleontologists to “specify biological tasks, define the structures that fit them best and monitor the evolutionary changes that lead, usually in independent lineages, to new grades or functional… zones” (Gould 1970, 111). I was unaware of the extent to which Rudwick had anticipated (and probably inspired) Gould’s vision for “longitudinal paradigm analysis” when I first wrote on this topic back in 2017. As a result I probably overstated Gould’s originality. What Gould brought to the table was not the idea of applying paradigm analysis longitudinally, but rather his emphasis on mechanical improvement as the main vector of history in major taxa. This reflected his Huxleyan inheritance as well as his ambition to find a unifying theme for evolutionary paleontology. Anyway, it was an addition to what he found in Rudwick.


Dresow, M. 2017. Before hierarchy: the rise and fall of Stephen Jay Gould’s first macroevolutionary synthesis. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 39:1–30. [This was my first paper, and boy does it show. I am grateful for the opportunity to basically rewrite it here]

Dresow, M. 2019. Gould’s laws: a second perspective. Biology & Philosophy,

Eldredge, N. and Gould, S.J. 1972. Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism. In T.J.M. Schopf (Ed.), Models in Paleobiology, pp. 82–115. San Francisco: Cooper & Co.

Gould, S.J. 1966. Allometry and size in ontogeny and phylogeny. Biological Reviews 41:587–640.

Gould, S.J. 1967. Evolutionary patterns in Pelycosaurian reptiles: a factor-analytic study. Evolution 21:385–401.

Gould, S.J. 1968. Ontogeny and the explanation of form: an allometric analysis. Memoir (The Paleontological Society), Vol. 2, Supplement to Volume 42 of the Journal of Paleontology, pp. 81–91.

Gould, S.J. 1970. Evolutionary paleontology and the science of form. Earth-Science Reviews 6:77–119.

Gould, S.J. 1976. Grades and clades revisited. In R.B. Masterton, W. Hodos and H. Jerison (Eds.), Evolution, Brain, and Behaviour, pp. 115–122. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gould, S.J. 2002. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Huxley, J. 1932. Problems of Relative Growth. New York: The Dial Press.

Rudwick, M.J.S. 1964. The inference of function from structure in fossils. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 7:27–40.

Rudwick, M.J.S. 2017. Functional morphology in paleobiology: origins of the method of “paradigms.” Journal of the History of Biology 50:1–44.

Rudwick, M.J.S. 2018. The fate of the method of “paradigms” in paleobiology. Journal of the History of Biology 51:479–533.

Sepkoski, D. 2012. Rereading the Fossil Record: The Growth of Paleobiology as an Evolutionary Discipline. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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