The New Paleobiological Synthesis

I have been thoroughly enjoying my copy of The Paleobiological Revolution (edited by David Sepkoski and Michael Ruse), so much so that it has inspired me to get to work on some new academic papers. I will post a review of the book sometime this weekend, but here is a quote that is going to be very important to my discussion from G.G. Simpson’s 1944 masterpiece Tempo and Mode in Evolution:

The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name “science.” The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Now paleontologists and geneticists are learning tolerance for each other, if not understanding. As a paleontologist, I confess to inadequate knowledge of genetics, and I have not met a geneticist who has demonstrated much grasp of my subject; but at least we have come to realize that we do have problems in common and to hope that difficulties encountered in each separate type of research may be resolved or alleviated by the discoveries of the other.

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