Blair Hedges recently sent me the image on the left with the following explanation:
“I was preparing a lecture for my evolution class and came across this reply from Steve Gould to me many years ago (Oct 1986), on a post-it note!
I can’t find my original letter to him but I recall it well. As a grad student, I heard him give a lecture about the Cambrian Explosion where he claimed that evolution operated differently –contingency instead of adaptation or predictability– at the higher level of animal designs. I told him I disagreed because I was seeing too much predictability in the adaptive radiations on Caribbean islands to believe that it was not happening throughout life at all levels.
Translation of his reply: “Dear Blair, of course you are right, but the scale is all wrong. Predictability of course within a constrained design and clade of close relatives as in your example. My contingency is at the much higher level of designs themselves.”
Not sure how you feel about it, but I still don’t agree with his explanation! 500 mya the Cambrian explosion was just an adaptive radiation like anoles.”
Interestingly, this story jibes very closely with a story of my own. In 1998, a number of colleagues and I published a paper in Science reporting a phylogenetic analysis of Caribbean anoles demonstrating convergent evolution of the anole ecomorphs. A reporter for Science contacted me and in the ensuing discussion, I suggested that an interesting person to contact to get an opinion of the paper would be Stephen Jay Gould. I was quite disappointed when her piece appeared and had no quote from Gould. When I subsequently talked to her, I was astounded to learn that she had, indeed, talked to Gould and he had given a reply pretty much exactly the same as on the post-it above. And…she had decided no one would be interested in what S.J. Gould had to say about replicated, convergent adaptive radiation, and so she didn’t include the quote in her article.