Punk eek’s three-fold history.

As a follow up to the discussion of Gould (1980), and perhaps as a prelude to a similar post on Gould (1982) (if I get time and feel inclined), here is a convenient excerpt from Gould (2002) on this subject:

Punctuated equilibrium’s threefold history

The “Urban Legend” of Punctuated Equilibrium’s Threefold History: The opponents of punctuated equilibrium have constructed a fictional history of the theory, primarily (I suppose) as a largely unconscious expression of their hope for its minor importance […] This supposed threefold history of punctuated equilibrium also ranks about as close to pure fiction as any recent commentary by scientists has ever generated. In stage one, the story goes, we were properly modest, obedient to the theoretical hegemony of the Modern Synthesis, and merely trying to bring paleontology into the fold. But the prospect of worldly fame beguiled us, so we broke our ties of fealty and tried, in stage two, to usurp power by painting punctuated equilibrium as a revolutionary doctrine that would dethrone the Synthesis, resurrect the memory of the exiled martyr (Richard Goldschmidt), and reign over a reconstructed realm of theory. But we were too big for our breeches, and the old guard still retained some life. They fought back mightily and effectively, exposing our bombast and emptiness. We began to hedge, retreat, and apologize, and have been doing so ever since in an effort to regain grace and, chastened in stage three, to sit again, in heaven or Valhalla, with the evolutionary elite.

In particular, and most offensive to me, the urban legend rests on the false belief that radical, “middle-period” punctuated equilibrium became a saltational theory wedded to Goldschmidt’s hopeful monsters as a mechanism. I have labored to refute this nonsensical charge from the day I first heard it. But my efforts are doomed within the self-affirming structure of the urban legend. We all know, for so the legend proclaims, that I once took the Goldschmidtian plunge. So if I ever deny the link, I can only be retreating from an embarrassing error. And if I, continue to deny the link with force and gusto, well, then I am only backtracking even harder (into stage 3) and apologizing (or obfuscating) all the more. How about the obvious (and accurate) alternative: that we never made the Goldschmidtian link; that this common error embodies a false construction; and that our efforts at correction have always represented an honorable attempt to relieve the confusion of others.

[Read the rest here].

2 thoughts on “Punk eek’s three-fold history.

  1. I’ve read this before, and I of course view it on the one hand as completely accurate, and on the other hand as complete revisionism.

    First, let’s be clear about what I’m claiming. (And what others are claiming when they say that Gould had a ‘saltationist’ period for punk eek.) What I’m saying is:

    There was a time when Gould posited a form of rapid non-adaptive genetic change as a means of speciation underlying punctuated equilibrium. Gould himself chose to call this ‘saltationism’, although it’s not traditionally what we think when we hear the term. Gould should therefore not be surprised to hear people say that PE has a ‘saltationist period’, and he should not equivocate about the meaning of ‘saltationism’ in his rebuttal (as he does in the article posted). ‘Goldschmidtian saltationism’ conveniently explains both punctuation (“rapid reorganization of the genome, perhaps non-adaptive”) and stasis (“diversifed blind alleys”), which is likely why Gould posited it at a time when he was trying to ascertain the mechanisms underlying punk eek. ‘Saltationism’ is almost certainly wrong as a general mode of speciation, but this in no way affects the truth value of PE; the two are not wed, nor could they be.

    Now, I don’t want to spend any real time on this article, as I don’t feel it refutes this claim–Gould seems to be adopting the traditional stance that “saltationism” = “macromutation”, having forgotten that he somewhat redefined the term. But Gould’s strongest case is in his intended usage of “not always an extension of gradual…” While he’s correct that Dennett misinterpreted him when he said “establishment of any new species”, it is NOT true that Gould was merely trying to carve out “a small theoretical space” (his emphasis) for such a theory. As he says on pg. 122 of 1980:

    I have no doubt that many species
    originate in this way, but many, perhaps most, do not…some of the new models call upon genetic variation of a different kind, and they regard reproductive isolation as potentially primary and non-adaptive rather than secondary and adaptive.
    (my emphasis)

    He then goes on to explicitly cite those new models; the ones that he claims are “most exciting”. Which ones are they? Well, the ‘saltationist’ ones he cited in the abstract, of course.

  2. I understand what you are saying, but let me also try to clarify my response. I am saying:

    A. Yes, Gould discussed saltationism. Specifically, in two contexts: 1) new mechanisms of speciation that cytogeneticists like White had proposed in during the 1970s (i.e., in between the original formulation of punk eek and the 1980 review). These were not Goldschmidt’s systemic mutations, they were chromosomal mutations. Gould explicitly rejected Goldschmidtian macromutations in 1980. 2) origin of the basic components of novel innovations, such as the evolution of jaws from gill arches. This was based on developmental mutations, and is supported by some current work. At the least, this kind of mechanism is well discussed in current literature.

    B. Gould surely felt that truly saltational speciation would be compatible with his views on non-adaptive processes, species sorting, etc., and would not conflict with punk eek.

    C. In the 1980 paper, he discussed both saltationism (in the ways listed above) and punk eek. However, these were part of two different sections. 1) Saltationism was brought up as a challenge to the synthesis because it would represent a break between the usual population processes and the event of speciation. 2) Punk eek was mentioned in a discussion of higher-level selection, i.e., above the level of individual speciation events. This challenges the modern synthesis because it means not all higher trends are the result of extrapolated population-level adaptation.

    D. Discussing two ideas in two different areas within the same paper does not constitute linking them causally, such that Gould made no claim for saltational speciation as a common mechanism for punk eek in 1980.

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