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Analysis of Style and Response to Stephen Jay Gould Essay

Stephen Jay Gould was an American evolutionary biologist, paleontologist, and a historian of science. Gould has gained recognition as one of the most influential and vastly read writer in the area of the popular sciences, throughout his generation. The larger part of Gould’s career was spent working at the Museum of Natural History, and as a lecturer at the Harvard University.

Gould’s highly recognized contribution to the field of science was the founding of the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which he cooperatively developed with Eldgeredge in the year 1972. The theoretical model proposes that major evolutionary phases, are characterized by extended periods of evolutionary constancy, which are briefly broken by the instances of branching evolutionary trends (Lowood).

Gould is, perhaps, best recognized for the contributions he made to the evolutionary theories, history, and the philosophy of science. Gould is also recognized as the author of 300 successive essays for his monthly column, under the title, This View in Life, published in the Natural History Periodical. This author has also written 20 best-selling book titles, and scientific papers in the range of one thousand.

From his work and publications, he received titles like the Medal of Edinburgh among others. This paper is an evaluative account of his writing endowment in the areas of his unique writing voice, his distinctive writing style, and the characteristic traits that identify his writing from all others.

The paper will also analyze his style, in the area of argument structure, how he builds ideas to the reader through reason and citing support for his claims, as well how he clearly addresses his target audience through his writings (Natural History 48-57).

It may not be much work to identify the writings of Gould, considering the fact that through his writings, he clearly depicts uniqueness in writing and a unique writing voice. In the area of his distinctive writing style and voice, it is highly explicit from his writings, that he uses a unique writing voice as a mode of creating plainness of content, and increasing the comprehension.

Citing special reference to his work, The Median Isn’t The Message; the following writing voice and style are evidently explicit. First, it is clear that one of the strengths he shows through his writings is the usage of an active voice, as opposed to the usage of a passive voice (Dunn). One example of how he uses this voice in The Median Isn’t The Message is the quote, “many people make an unfortunate and invalid separation between heart and the mind.”

Gould’s writings are dominant with the usage of the active voice, as he seeks to avoid the negative effects of using the passive voice in scientific or logic-based writings. Some of the disadvantages of using a passive voice include the portrayal of ideas in an awkward manner, and the presentation of the expressed ideas in a mode that depicts them as vague and complex.

Also, the usage of the passive voice makes the ideas being conveyed, to seem flat and not critical enough to engage the writer. Therefore, one of the identifying traits is the voice used in Gould’s writings (Gould 57). Yoon, in the May 20, 2002 New York Times, had this to say, “He employed a voice that was a successful combination of learned Harvard professor and baseball everyman,” clearly depicting the nature of Gould’s writing voice.

In the area of diction, Gould uniquely uses a writing style that seeks to portray clarity and the distinctiveness of each word or the idea contained in a sentence. This is evident from the quote: “Consider the standard example of stretching the truth with numbers, a case quite relevant to my story.” Here, he uses words which can substantially be considered as carefully chosen, to portray the idea that he seeks to express through the given sentence.

Considering this strength of Gould’s writings, it is clear from his writings, that he carefully selects the words to use, as a way of putting the idea in question as clearly as he can. In this line of argument, Gould’s work is in agreement with (Fahnestock & Secor 372), in that; he fully uses sources and references to support his claims, citing the thinking of intellectuals like Mark Twain.

Gould is also a highly effective author, and his style is quite unique, considering that as, (Fahnestock & Secor 327) argue, he takes reason into consideration, before making choices on the sources to use as support for his ideas. In the area of syntax, it’s clear from Gould’s writings, that he chooses the word order he employs carefully, as a way of ensuring that the ideas he is conveying are drawn-out in a clearly comprehensible manner.

In the area of punctuation, Gould’s punctuation style is characteristically useful in the breaking of his sentences down, as he does this to improve the comprehensibility of the ideas he is conveying. This is evident from the quote, “the median, a different measure of central tendency, is the half-way point.”

From the sentence, it is evident that Gould uses punctuation, mainly as a tool to enhance the comprehensibility of his works. From the quote, it is clear that he breaks down the different clauses, to show that one or two of the clauses are in support of, or explaining the previous ones (Natural History 48-57).

In analyzing the writing style of Gould, it is clearly evident from his writings, which Gould tries to catch the attention of the readers, and also engage them in the matter of discussion, which enhances his writing style. This is evident in The Median Isn’t The Message, where he seems to ask the reader questions during the course of the discussion.

This, according to him, may have been a tactic he uses to capture the attention of the audience, as well as an attempt to get the reader to think about the subject of discussion. An example here is shown in the quote, “what does meridian mortality of eight months signify in our vernacular?” Then, he goes ahead to answer, “I suspect that most people without training in statistics would read such a statement as…” This clearly shows that he seeks to involve the views, and to engage the thinking of the reader, as this can be of importance in arriving at a better understanding of the works (Natural History 48-57).

Gould unique writing style can also be attested to, by the dialogue in his literature. An example here is his questioning of his doctor, where he says, “what does he bet technical literature about mesothelioma?”, to which she replied that there was no literature worth reading in that field (Dunn).

From reading The Median Isn’t The Message, it is clear that Gould’s presentation of ideas and arguments is fully unique, as he uses the available understanding and knowledge as the basis, upon which he builds newer ideas of understanding. In this case, his presentation of ideas is highly technical; as it clearly shows that he builds non-existent ideas, as well as ideas in opposition to the available ones.

This, he does through the ingenious mode of building upon the available knowledge, towards creating a shift from the old ways of thinking and knowledge. In support of this line of thinking, Gould first explains on the area of mean and median, as a standard basis on which interpretations and judgments are done, fully agreeing with its reality and significance.

However, he later challenges the standards of mean and median, as evaluative tools that do not vary, and tools that are full determinants of truth and meaning. Here, he goes further to argue that individuals have been nurtured into understanding mean and median, as functional tools that cannot be challenged, or as irreducible standards.

However, he clearly demonstrates using his example, to show that if the median was the standard for the reality of measurements, then he would have been dead, as the medical figures regarding his health indicated. Further, he argues that despite the standard nature of the realities that humans are used to, these standards are also dependent on other premises, other than the ones documented already (Gould 2).

Therefore, he is simply trying to point out that the constructions of standards and realities are also in one way or the other, affected by other conditions and circumstances, and not just by the documented or standardized facts. From an evaluative perspective of the works of Gould, it is evident that he is building onto the already established realities and standards.

However, he takes the perspective of supporting such standards as significant, though not accommodative of the other factors that come into play. Therefore, he bases new understanding and intended mind change on the audience, on the already established understanding and values, but in a pursuit to refute or modify the original ideals (Fahnestock 58).

Being one highly esteemed and widely read author, Gould addresses the general public, though he targets specific groups in some of his works. It is clearly comprehensible that he targets the general public, from the diversity of the subjects addressed, especially, through the authorship of his essay papers.

Through his writings, he communicates a range of subjects, including: communicating his enthusiasm and wonder, an account of his fight with cancer, and the problems encountered in statistics, citing examples from baseball. Through his works, he also addresses evolutionary perspectives and the misunderstanding and blunders resulting from the cross-consideration of religion, psychology, culture and sociology. He also authored provocative essays on areas like racism, creationism, and misogyny.

Considering the varied nature of the literature works authored by Gould, it is only evident that his target audience is the general public. On the subject of whether he reaches the target audience, it is clear from the sensitivity of the subjects under discussion, that he clearly reached his audience, which can also be traced from the wide readership he received before and after his death.

Gould’s literature worked for the audience he intended very well, which can be proved from the accomplishment he made, when he was appointed an assistant professor in 1967, which was due to his writing success (Gould 1). The accomplishment was fully realized, mainly because those years comprised an exciting time for evolutionary biology.

His success in reaching the target group can be supported by the quote, “I intend my essays for professional and lay readers, alike an old tradition, by a way of scientific writing…and the passing of knowledge.” (Gould 58).

Works Cited

Dunn, Steve. “Prefatory Note by Steve Dunn.” Cancer Guide, 31 May 2002. Web.

Fahnestock, Jeanne, & Secor Marie. A Rhetoric of Argument. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 2003. 58, 327,372 Print.

Gould, Stephen. “The Median Isn’t the Message.” In Kelly, Joseph. The Seagull Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008: 57-58. Print.

Gould, Stephen. “The Economist.”The Economist Newspaper, 23 May 2002. Web.: 2

Gould, Stephen. “The Median Isn’t the Message.” Cancer Guide, 2002. Web.: 1

Lowood, Henry. “Presidential Lectures: Stephen Jay Gould: Introduction.” Welcome! Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia. Stanford University, 1998. Web..

Natural History. “Natural History “This View of Stephen Jay Gould” 1999.” The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive, 1999. Web..

Yoon, Carol. “Stephen Jay Gould, Biologist and Theorist on Evolution, Dies at 60.” The New York Times, 20 May 2002.

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Jed1d1ah. "Analysis of Style and Response to Stephen Jay Gould." IvyPanda, 1 Apr. 2019,

1. Jed1d1ah. "Analysis of Style and Response to Stephen Jay Gould." IvyPanda (blog), April 1, 2019.


Jed1d1ah. "Analysis of Style and Response to Stephen Jay Gould." IvyPanda (blog), April 1, 2019.


Jed1d1ah. 2019. "Analysis of Style and Response to Stephen Jay Gould." IvyPanda (blog), April 1, 2019.


Jed1d1ah. (2019) 'Analysis of Style and Response to Stephen Jay Gould'. IvyPanda, 1 April.

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