Both molecular clocks and the first appearances of major groups in the fossil record suggest that most of the range of diatom morphologies observed today had evolved by the end of the Cretaceous Period. Despite this, a canonical reading of the Cenozoic fossil record suggests a dramatic rise in taxonomic diversity that can be interpreted as an explosion of morphological variety. We investigated this apparent discrepancy by using a discrete-character-based, empirical diatom morphospace, resolved by molecular phylogeny and by fossil occurrences through time. The morphospace shows little correspondence to phylogeny and little Cenozoic change in disparity as measured by mean pairwise distance. There is, however, an increase in the total volume of morphospace occupied. Although the increase in occupied volume through time ostensibly supports a conclusion of increasing morphological variety, sampling biases and other data suggest an underlying stationary pattern more consistent with molecular clock data.