Palaeontology at the High Table

  • John Maynard Smith


The Tanner lectures, recently delivered by Stephen J. Gould of Harvard University, and followed by a panel discussion, provide an opportunity to assess the current contribution of palaeontology to evolutionary theory. It might be supposed that this contribution would be crucial, but, at least until recently, that has not been so. The palaeontologist G. G. Simpson was one of the main architects of the ‘modern synthesis’ that emerged in the 1940s, but his role was to show that the facts of palaeontology were consistent with the mechanisms of natural selection and geographical speciation proposed by the neontologists (a term used by palaeontologists to describe the rest of us), rather than to propose novel mechanisms of his own. Since that time, the attitude of population geneticists to any palaeontologist rash enough to offer a contribution to evolutionary theory has been to tell him to go away and find another fossil, and not to bother the grownups.


Natural Selection Evolutionary Theory Species Selection Continental Drift Modern Synthesis 
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© John Maynard Smith 1988

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  • John Maynard Smith

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