Niles Eldredge, Father Of "Punctuated Equilibria", Honored By NCSE

Friend of Darwin award recognizes Eldredge's major contributions to the public understanding of evolution

Niles Eldredge has been making the case for evolution—explaining, defending, and expanding the scientific account of the history of life—for over 40 years.

A breakthrough researcher who formulated the idea of punctuated equilibria with Stephen Jay Gould, Eldredge has been an evolution advocate and communicator without peer. Eldredge has lectured extensively and written over 200 articles and 22 books, including The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism, and Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life. And he is the founding co-editor-in-chief of Evolution: Education & Outreach, a journal that promotes accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience.

As curator and research paleontologist of Department of Invertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History since 1969, Eldredge has led the way in expanding the public's knowledge of evolution, organizing the museum's acclaimed exhibit celebrating the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

But it was Eldredge and Gould's breakthrough theory of punctuated equilibria that turned evolution on its ear. And it was all inspired by Eldredge's passion for trilobites.

"As a PhD candidate, I set out to collect trilobite fossils from all over the Midwest. And I started to realize that the fossils I was collecting—whatever point in time I was in—all looked the same. I found no evidence of change. At first I put that down to my inexperience...'I'm not good enough to see the obvious changes that are here.'"

Eventually, Eldredge and Gould realized that the earlier, simplistic notion of gradual change over time wasn't always reflected in the fossil record. In fact, claimed the duo, stasis for eons is the norm, "punctuated" by brief periods of rapid evolutionary change. While Darwin had recognized this pattern, Eldredge and Gould put the flesh on the bones.

"I've spent most of my life arguing with Darwin...some of the larger scale patterns [in evolution] were being swept under the rug" says Eldredge. "Punctuated equilibrium was our attempt to get some of these empirical things back into the mix."

What makes Eldredge a fitting candidate for the Friend of Darwin award? NCSE Executive Director Genie Scott sums it up: "Niles was there before there was an NCSE and he has never flagged in his support for NCSE over the many decades. Just as important: Niles has been a devoted advocate for evolution education and for keeping the creationists out of the science class, via his work at the AMNH, his writings, his years of service at the New York Committee for Science Education, and his leadership inestablishing and editing Evolution: Education and Outreach."

Evolutionist par excellence, scourge of creationists, lover of trilobites, and longtime ally of NCSE, Dr. Eldredge is indeed a mighty Friend of Darwin.

MEDIA NOTE: For images of the Friend of Darwin award and Dr. Eldredge, go here.

Videos of Dr. Eldredge:

"How scientists know about punctuated equilibria"

"What Drives Evolution? (Parts 1-5)

Past Friend of Darwin winners

CONTACT: Robert Luhn, Director of Communications, NCSE, 510-601-7203,

Web site:

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization that defends and promotes the teaching of evolution in the public schools. The NCSE provides information and resources to schools, parents, and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4000 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious affiliations.