Stephen Jay Gould, Jack Sepkoski, and the 'quantitative revolution' in American paleobiology

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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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-237
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of the History of Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • J. John Sepkoski, Jr.
  • Paleobiology
  • Paleontology
  • Statistics
  • Stephen Jay Gould

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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