Robert Trivers: Vignettes of Famous Evolutionary Biologists

Robert Trivers in The Unz Review:

GouldmismeasureI first met S. J. Gould when he was a freshly minted Assistant Professor in Invertebrate Paleontology at Harvard and I a graduate student in evolutionary biology. Invertebrate Paleontology was well known then as a backwater in evolutionary biology, 80% devoted to the study of fossil foraminifera whose utility was that they predicted the presence of oil. In this environment, it was obvious that Gould would go far. New York City Jewish bright, verbiage pouring from his mouth at the slightest provocation, he would surely make a mark here.

This was not why I was visiting him. I had heard he was an expert in ‘allometry’—indeed had done his PhD thesis on the subject. Back then I wanted to know everything in biology, so I sought him out. Allometry refers to the way in which two variables are associated. It can be 1:1—the longer the fore-arm, the longer the total arm, or it can show deviations. For examples, the larger a mammal is, the more of its body consists of bone. Why? Because the strength of bone only goes up as the square of bone length whereas body weight goes up as the cube—thus larger bodies, weighing more, require relatively more bone. But what about antler size, I wanted to know, why is it that the larger the body size of the deer, the relatively larger his antlers? Why would natural selection favor that?

Gould leaned back in his chair. No, you have this all wrong, he said. This is an alternative to natural selection, not a cause of natural selection. My head spun. Natural selection was unable to change a simple allometric relationship regarding antler size that it had presumably created in the first place? Had it not already done so in adjusting bone size to body size? As I left his office, I said to myself, this fool thinks he is bigger than natural selection. Perhaps I should have said, bigger than Darwin, but I felt it as bigger than natural selection itself—surely Stephen was going for the gold!!

More here. [Thanks to Omar Ali.]