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The Paleobiological Revolution

Essays on the Growth of Modern Paleontology

The Paleobiological Revolution chronicles the incredible ascendance of the once-maligned science of paleontology to the vanguard of a field. 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. 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.

568 pages | 29 halftones, 13 line drawings, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Biological Sciences: Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology

Earth Sciences: Geology, History of Earth Sciences, Paleontology

History of Science


“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!"

Warren Allmon, Cornell University

“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.”

Jane Maienschein, Arizona State University

“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.”

Martin Rudwick, Research Associate, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, San Diego

“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.”

Niles Eldredge, Division of Paleontology, The American Museum of Natural History

“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.”

Garland E. Allen, Washington University

“The twenty-six scholarly essays in The Paleobiological Revolution document and celebrate the rise of paleobiology—paleontology as a biological science—which established the study of the fossil record as a unique contributor to evolutionary biology. Fossils became considered as once-living organisms with real physiologies and ecologies, populating ancient environments and forming ecosystems that may have no close modern analogs. . . . In this volume we find the scientific bones of the paleobiology revolution carefully examined both by historians of science and as personal accounts from many of those who played a part in shaping the transformation. Together they tell the tale, heralded by John Maynard Smith, of the return of paleontologists to the ‘high table’ of evolutionary biology.”


Rachel Wood | Science

"This invaluable volume – a must read for anyone interested in evolutionary theory or twentieth century biology and paleontology – may be the first word on the history of the paleobiological revolution, but it is certainly not the last."

Paul D. Brinkman | Journal of the History of Biology

“A stimulating and eminently readable, historical account of the revolution in paleontology and the emergence of the field that became known as paleobiology.”

J. Thompson | Evolution

“This insightful volume should serve as a foundation for future work in the largely unexplored realm of history and philosophy of paleontology.”

Keynyn Brysse | Isis

Table of Contents


Introduction: Paleontology at the High Table
            Michael Ruse and David Sepkoski

Part I: Major Innovations in Paleobiology

1.  The Emergence of Paleobiology
            David Sepkoski

2. The Fossil Record: Biological or Geological Signal?
            Michael J. Benton

3. Biogeography and Evolution in the Early Paleozoic
            Richard A. Fortey

4. The Discovery of Conodont Anatomy and Its Importance for Understanding the Early History of Vertebrates
            Richard J. Aldridge and Derek E. J. Briggs

5. Emergence of Precambrian Paleobiology: A New Field of Science
            J. William Schopf

6. Dinosaurs at the Table
            John R. Horner

7. Ladders, Bushes, Punctuations, and Clades: Hominid Paleobiology in the Late Twentieth Century
            Tim White

8.  Punctuated Equilibria and Speciation: What Does It Mean to Be a Darwinian?
            Patricia Princehouse

9.  Molecular Evolution vis-à-vis Paleontology
            Francisco J. Ayala

Part II: The Historical and Conceptual Significance of Recent Paleontology

10.  Beyond Detective Work: Empirical Testing in Paleontology
            Derek Turner

11. Taxic Paleobiology and the Pursuit of a Unified Evolutionary Theory
     Todd A. Grantham

12. Ideas in Dinosaur Paleontology:  Resonating to Social, Political, and Popular Context
            David E. Fastovsky

13. Reg Sprigg and the Discovery of the Ediacara Fauna in South Australia: Its Approach to the High Table
            Susan Turner and David Oldroyd


14. The Morphological Tradition in German Paleontology: Otto Schindewolf, Walter Zimmermann, and Adolf Seilacher
            Manfred D. Laubichler and Karl J. Niklas

15.  “Radical” or “Conservative”? The Origin and Early Reception of Punctuated Equilibrium
            David Sepkoski

16.  The Shape of Evolution: The MBL Model and Clade Shape
            John Huss

17.  Ritual Patricide: Why Stephen Jay Gould assassinated George Gaylord Simpson
            Joe Cain

18.  The Consensus That Changed the Paleobiological World
            Arnold I. Miller

Part III: Reflections on Recent Paleobiology

19.  The Infusion of Biology into Paleontological Research
            James W. Valentine

20. From Empirical Paleoecology to Evolutionary Paleobiology: A Personal Journey
            Richard Bambach

21.  Intellectual Evolution Across an Academic Landscape
            Rebecca Z. German

22. The Problem of Punctuational Speciation and Trends in the Fossil Record
            Anthony Hallam

23. Punctuated Equilibrium versus Community Evolution
            Arthur J. Boucot

24. An Interview with David M. Raup
            Edited by David Sepkoski and David M. Raup

25.  Paleontology in the Twenty-First Century
            David Jablonski

26. Punctuations and Paradigms: Has Paleobiology Been through a Paradigm Shift?
           Michael Ruse

List of Contributors

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