The Greatest Impediment to Scientific Innovation
One of the most valuable aspects of Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life is his analysis of how ideological commitments prevent scientific progress. Charles Walcott was a mainstream evolutionary scientist and ran the Smithsonian Institution from 1907 to 1927. Gould describes him as a premier paleontologist and the most powerful scientific administrator in the US for two decades. He discusses at length Wolcott's "shoehorn" error: the theoretical constraints that led to his inability to see the uniqueness and diversity of the Cambrian animals of the Burgess Shale:
I have labored through the details of Walcott's interpretation and its sources because I know no finer illustration of the most important message taught by the history of science: the subtle and inevitable hold that theory exerts upon data and observation. Reality does not speak to us objectively, and no scientist can be free from constraints of psyche and society. The greatest impediment to scientific innovation is usually a conceptual lock, not a factual lack. (p. 276)
I will develop this theme in future posts: the most important aspects of the efforts to teach the evidence for and against macroevolutionary theory can be presented to students by means of Gould's book. All that is needed is to add one or two questions that Gould generally avoids: what impact do the facts and arguments in the book have on the plausibility of macroevolutionary theory generally? Does Gould suffer from any "shoehorn" errors of his own?
More quotes and commentary on this topic will follow.
My previous post on Gould's book is here. On whether this book may be unconstitutional, see here.