The Paleobiological Revolution
Essays on the Growth of Modern Paleontology
Paleontology has long had a troubled relationship with evolutionary biology. Suffering from a reputation as a second-tier science and conjuring images of fossil collectors and amateurs who dig up bones, paleontology was marginalized even by Darwin himself, who worried that incompleteness in the fossil record would be used against his theory of evolution. But with the establishment of the modern synthesis in the 1940s and the pioneering work of George Gaylord Simpson, Ernst Mayr, and Theodosius Dobzhansky, as well as the subsequent efforts of Stephen Jay Gould, David Raup, and James Valentine, paleontology became embedded in biology and emerged as paleobiology, a first-rate discipline central to evolutionary studies.
This incredible ascendance of this once-maligned science to the vanguard of a field is chronicled in The Paleobiological Revolution. Pairing contributions from some of the leading actors of the transformation with overviews from historians and philosophers of science, the essays here capture the excitement of the seismic changes in the discipline. In so doing, David Sepkoski and Michael Ruse harness the energy of the past to call for further study of the conceptual development of modern paleobiology.
“The utter transformation of paleontology over the past forty years is too often viewed as either obvious and inevitable (by its enthusiasts), or misguided and unimportant (by its critics). Both of these extreme views could be avoided by a greater familiarity with the history of this revolution, which is unfortunately viewed by most professionals as of merely antiquarian interest, and this sense has been passed on to our students. The varied chapters in this fine volume provide an excellent antidote to this situation. Every paleontologist, and especially every graduate student, should read this book!"
“Sepkoski and Ruse have assembled a wonderfully rich collection of essays that looks at diverse aspects of current science and provides sophisticated reflection on leading actors, probing historical and philosophical analyses, and important interpretations by the contributors. This is an important contribution to our understanding of scientific change generally as well as paleobiology and evolution specifically.”
“Paleontologists are indeed back at the high table of evolutionary theorists, as this splendid book vividly demonstrates. With its mix of retrospective reviews and analyses of recent developments, the book gives us rich materials for evaluating what surely deserves to be called a scientific revolution. As a paleontologist, back in the 1960s I was excited by the first stirrings of the new paleobiology; now, as a historian, I'm delighted to see such a fine volume on what it has since become, and how it got there.”
“Tom Schopf elevated the term paleobiology to new heights when he assembled his 1972 book Models in Paleobiology and spearheaded the founding of the journal Paleobiology—a journal, I am happy to say, that is read by many who do not work directly with fossils. If there is still some distance to go before paleobiology is fully integrated with evolutionary theory, the importance of the fossil record in understanding—not only the course of evolution, but also its pulse and pace, and even some of its mechanics—is nonetheless undeniable. The twenty-six papers in this volume probe the early days of this resurgence, and capture some of the excitement rippling through the field as paleontologists rediscovered the powerful evolutionary implications of their data.”
“Sepkoski and Ruse’s volume opens up the door to a long-neglected area in the history of evolutionary biology, one that began with Darwin and after a long period of eclipse has come back to illuminate a wide variety of macro- and microevolutionary processes.”