Monday, November 12, 2012

J. William Schopf Wins Paleontological Society Medal

I read this on the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) blog [Congratulations to J. William Schopf].
NCSE is delighted to congratulate J. William Schopf on receiving the Paleontological Society Medal, the most prestigious honor bestowed by the Paleontological Society, on November 4, 2012, at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting. A life member of NCSE, Schopf is Professor of Paleobiology in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils (Princeton University Press, 1999). Previous recipients of the medal include NCSE Supporters Niles Eldredge, Stephen Jay Gould, and Malcolm C. McKenna.
I'm quite surprised by this award since Schopf's main claim to fame is the discovery of fossil cyanobacteria in Australian deposits that date back 3.45 billion years. These "fossils" are definitely not cyanobacteria and they most likely aren't even fossils [Did Life Arise 3.5 Billion Years Ago?.

Does anyone know more about this award? Does the paleontological society still believe that these "fossils" are actually ancient bacteria or was the medal awarded for some other contribution to paleontology?


  1. As far as I know, Schopf's interpretation of the putative fossils is far from beying generaly accepted. It is still an open question. Andrew Knoll in Life in a Young Planet, published in 2004, provides good arguments against that interpretation and there has been quite a lot of studies more recently that also cast doubt. Regardless, Schopf has contributed a huge amount of knowledge to the field of Pre-Cambrian paleobiology and the award is certainly well deserved. He was the man behind two massive studies funded by NASA back in the 70's and 80's were he surrounded himself with a top notch multidisciplinary team of paleontologists, geologists, organic geochemists, biogeochemists, etc, at a time such a thing was never done. The result of those studies had a huge impact in the paleobiology field. His contributions are very significant, even if his position regarding the 3.5 myo cyanobacteria "fossils" is far from accepted.

  2. The Saga of American Salesmanship: From Itinerant Amateur to Tenured Professor

  3. Sorry with the multiple posting. It seems that posts are not automatically updated at the blog now and tried to make the same post a few times.

  4. The guy's had a distinguished 45-year career. Just because you only know one thing about him doesn't mean that his colleagues in paleaontology are equally ignorant.