The Fate of the Method of ‘Paradigms’ in Paleobiology

Journal of the History of Biology 51 (3):479-533 (2018)
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An earlier article described the mid-twentieth century origins of the method of “paradigms” in paleobiology, as a way of making testable hypotheses about the functional morphology of extinct organisms. The present article describes the use of “paradigms” through the 1970s and, briefly, to the end of the century. After I had proposed the paradigm method to help interpret the ecological history of brachiopods, my students developed it in relation to that and other invertebrate phyla, notably in Euan Clarkson’s analysis of vision in trilobites. David Raup’s computer-aided “theoretical morphology” was then combined with my functional or adaptive emphasis, in Adolf Seilacher’s tripartite “constructional morphology.” Stephen Jay Gould, who had strongly endorsed the method, later switched to criticizing the “adaptationist program” he claimed it embodied. Although the explicit use of paradigms in paleobiology had declined by the end of the century, the method was tacitly subsumed into functional morphology as “biomechanics.”



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