George Gaylord Simpson

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George Gaylord Simpson (16 June 1902 – 6 October 1984) was an American paleontologist. Simpson was perhaps the most influential paleontologist of the twentieth century, and a major participant in the modern evolutionary synthesis.[1][2]

He was an expert on extinct mammals and their migrations, especially the Great American Interchange between the Americas.[3] Simpson opposed Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift, so his work on animal migration lacked this idea.[4]

Simpson dispelled the myth that the evolution of the horse was a linear process culminating in the modern Equus caballus. He coined the word hypodigm in 1940,[5] and published extensively on the taxonomy of fossil and living mammals.[6]

Biography[change | edit source]

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Simpson was raised mostly in Denver, Colorado. He got his degrees from Yale University in 1923 and 1926. His dissertation, American Mesozoic Mammalia (1929), was the first step in his lifelong interest in the evolution of mammals. After a post-doctoral year at the British Natural History Museum, Simpson returned in 1927 to take up a post in the American Museum of Natural History.[7]

In 1942, Simpson enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served as a Captain, then Major, in Army intelligence, Simpson served with American forces in North Africa and western Europe until 1944. Then he resigned, suffering from a severe bout of hepatitis. He returned home, with two Bronze Stars. He was promoted to Curator (head) of the Department of Geology and Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. He also held a post as Professor of Zoology at Columbia University (1945–1959). He took up his work on early mammals, and worked on the Palaeocene and Eocene faunas of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico.[7]

He was Curator of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University from 1959 to 1970, and a Professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona until his retirement in 1982.

Major works and awards[change | edit source]

In the 1940s Simpson produced three major works. Tempo and mode in evolution (1944), Principles of classification and a classification of mammals (1945) and The meaning of evolution (1949). Simpson provided a popular account of modern evolutionary theory with emphasis on evidence from the fossil record.

Simpson was awarded the Linnean Society's Darwin-Wallace Medal in 1958. He also received the Royal Society's Darwin Medal "In recognition of his distinguished contributions to general evolutionary theory, based on a profound study of palaeontology, particularly of vertebrates" in 1962. He was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1965.

Quotes[change | edit source]

These quotations from Simpson give a good idea of the man:

"Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind".[8]
"I don't think that evolution is supremely important because it is my specialty; it is my specialty because I think it is supremely important".[9]

Books[change | edit source]

  • Attending marvels (1931)
  • Tempo and mode in evolution (1944)
  • The meaning of evolution (1949)
  • Horses (1951)
  • Evolution and geography (1953)
  • The major features of evolution (1953)
  • Life: an introduction to biology (1957)
  • Principles of animal taxonomy (1961)
  • This view of life (1964)
  • The geography of evolution (1965)
  • Penguins (1976)
  • Concession to the improbable (1978) (an autobiography)
  • Splendid isolation (1980)
  • The Dechronization of Sam Magruder (posthumously published novella, 1996)

References[change | edit source]

  1. Simpson G.G. 1944. Tempo and mode in evolution. Columbia, N.Y.
  2. Simpson G.G. 1953. The major features of evolution. Columbia, N.Y.
  3. Simpson G.G. 1940. Mammals and land bridges. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 30: 137–163. See Charles H. Smith's website for full text. [1]
  4. Simpson G.G. 1953. Evolution and geography: an essay on historical biogeography with special reference to mammals. Oregon State System of Higher Education, Eugene, Oregon.
  5. A sample from which the characters of a population are to be inferred.
  6. Simpson G.G. 1940. Types in modern taxonomy. American Journal of Science 238, p418
  7. 7.0 7.1 George Gaylord Simpson Papers, American Philosophical Society. Background.
  8. Simpson G.G. 1967. The meaning of evolution, revised ed. New Haven: Yale University Press. p345 [2]
  9. Larson, Edward J. (2004), Evolution, Modern Library, ISBN 0-679-64288-9
  • Laporte L.F. 1994. Simpson on species, Journal of the history of biology 27 (1): 141–59, doi:10.1007/BF01058629, PMID 11639257
  • Olson E.C. 1991. George Gaylord Simpson: June 16, 1902–October 6, 1984, Biographical memoirs. National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) 60: 331–53, PMID 11616139
  • Whittington H.B. 1986. George Gaylord Simpson: 16 June 1902–6 October 1984, Biographical memoirs of fellows of the Royal Society 32: 525–39, PMID 11621258
  • Laporte L.F. 1983. Simpson's Tempo and mode in evolution revisited, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 127 (6): 365–417, PMID 11611330

Other websites[change | edit source]