George Gaylord Simpson

George Gaylord Simpson-en.jpg
Simpson in 1965
Born(1902-06-16)June 16, 1902
DiedOctober 6, 1984(1984-10-06) (aged 82)
Alma mater
Known forModern synthesis; quantum evolution
Scientific career
InstitutionsColumbia University
Doctoral advisorRichard Swann Lull[1]

George Gaylord Simpson (June 16, 1902 – October 6, 1984) was an American paleontologist. Simpson was perhaps the most influential paleontologist of the twentieth century, and a major participant in the modern synthesis, contributing Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), The Meaning of Evolution (1949) and The Major Features of Evolution (1953). He was an expert on extinct mammals and their intercontinental migrations.[2] Simpson was extraordinarily knowledgeable about Mesozoic fossil mammals and fossil mammals of North and South America. He anticipated such concepts as punctuated equilibrium (in Tempo and Mode) and 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, and published extensively on the taxonomy of fossil and extant mammals.[3] Simpson was influentially, and incorrectly, opposed to Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift,[4] but accepted the theory of plate tectonics (and continental drift) when the evidence became conclusive.

He was Professor of Zoology at Columbia University, and Curator of the Department of Geology and Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History from 1945 to 1959. 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 from 1968 until his retirement in 1982.


In 1943 Simpson was awarded the Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[5] For his work, Tempo and mode in evolution, he was awarded the Academy's Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal in 1944.[6] He was awarded the Linnean Society of London's prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal in 1958. Simpson 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. In 1966, Simpson received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[7]

At the University of Arizona, Tucson, the Gould-Simpson Building was named in honor of Simpson and Minnesota geologist and polar explorer Lawrence M. Gould, who, like Simpson, also accepted an appointment as Professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona after his formal retirement.[8] Simpson was noted for his work in the fields of paleobiogeography and animal evolution.


In the 1960s, Simpson "rubbished the then-nascent science of exobiology, which concerned itself with life on places other than Earth, as a science without a subject".[9]

He was raised as a Christian but in his early teens became an agnostic, nontheist, and philosophical naturalist.[10]


See also


  1. ^ a b c Whittington, H. B. (1986). "George Gaylord Simpson. 16 June 1902-6 October 1984". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 32: 525–39. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1986.0017. JSTOR 770122. PMID 11621258. S2CID 31570609.
  2. ^ 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]
  3. ^ Simpson, G. G. (1940). "Types in modern taxonomy". American Journal of Science. 238 (6): 413–426. Bibcode:1940AmJS..238..413S. doi:10.2475/ajs.238.6.413. p. 418.
  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. ^ "Mary Clark Thompson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  6. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on August 1, 2012. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  7. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  8. ^ Gould-Simpson Building, Univ. of Arizona Archived June 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Anon (2006). "Astrobiology at ten". Nature. 440 (7084): 582. Bibcode:2006Natur.440Q.582.. doi:10.1038/440582a. PMID 16572129.
  10. ^ Léo F. Laporte, ed. (1987). Simple Curiosity: Letters from George Gaylord Simpson to His Family, 1921-1970. University of California Press. p. 16. ISBN 9780520057920. By his early teens, Simpson had given up being a Christian, although he had not formally declared himself an atheist. At college he began the gradual development of what might best be called positivistic agnosticism: a belief that the world could be known and explained by ordinary empirical observation without recourse to supernatural forces. Ultimate causation, he considered unknowable.

Further reading