Gould’s Mismeasurement

[edit: Apparently Gould wasn’t the only scientific Marxist who fudged the data. See: Sparks, Corey S and Richard L. Jantz. “A reassessment of human cranial plasticity: Boas revisited.” Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences 99, no. 23 (2002).]

[edit: I altered some of my comments below; I initially misread the data]

re: …But not the same size

Kiwiguy pointed me to the following recent study:

Lewis, et al., 2011. The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias

Stephen Jay Gould, the prominent evolutionary biologist and science historian, argued that “unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm” because “scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth” [1], a view now popular in social studies of science [2]–[4]. In support of his argument Gould presented the case of Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century physician and physical anthropologist famous for his measurements of human skulls. Morton was considered the objectivist of his era, but Gould reanalyzed Morton’s data and in his prize-winning book The Mismeasure of Man [5] argued that Morton skewed his data to fit his preconceptions about human variation. Morton is now viewed as a canonical example of scientific misconduct. But did Morton really fudge his data? Are studies of human variation inevitably biased, as per Gould, or are objective accounts attainable, as Morton attempted? We investigated these questions by remeasuring Morton’s skulls and reexamining both Morton’s and Gould’s analyses. Our results resolve this historical controversy, demonstrating that Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould. In fact, the Morton case provides an example of how the scientific method can shield results from cultural biases.

Based on the data (data setS2, Current cm^3), there’s an approximately 90 cm^3 difference between Europeans and Black Africans. That’s about what Beals et al found.

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14 Responses to Gould’s Mismeasurement

  1. Kiwiguy says:

    I should have linked to discover gnxp where I first came across the paper. Mangan’s now links to gnxp & Dienekes’ discussions of the paper.


  2. Chuck says:

    I like to go through the numbers myself.

  3. Kuularuisku says:

    Amusing bit from the verdict section of the article (in addition to a few other obligatory lamentations re racism etc):

    “While we differ with Gould in regards to his analysis of Morton, we find other things to admire in Gould’s body of work [19]–[20], particularly his staunch opposition to racism [5].”


  4. Kiwiguy says:

    Interestingly the authors get a hard time from this science blogger for not making their article clear enough on the subjective nature of races. Apparently one of the commentators ‘careless reader’ is one of the authors & responds. He then gets accused of astroturfing 🙂


  5. nikcrit says:

    “I just wish they, and every other author, would define “racism,” given the misuse of the term.”

    I do too. And I think if that was the norm among HBD scientists and its pundits and other verbal proponents, that would do wonders toward explicating your motives and causes in a way in which you perhaps wouldn’t hvae to expend all or as much of your time in the trenches countering misclaims, misinterpretations (in the cases where the outrage is the result of misinterpretation, etc.).
    As is, there is a stalemate. Hereditarians wish it would end. But at least part of the reason that stalemate exists is beacause there are real concerns, which you hinted it in your comment the other day, that could come to life if the stalemate ends and some new, as-yet-unforseeable HBD orthodoxy prevails. In any case, it seems clear to me that the hereditarians carry along a lot of social baggage within their camp —– and that baggage’s bad-rap ain’t ust caused by the tar-and-feathering of the anti-racist machine.

    • Chuck says:

      In any case, it seems clear to me that the hereditarians carry along a lot of social baggage within their camp —– and that baggage’s bad-rap ain’t ust caused by the tar-and-feathering of the anti-racist machine.”

      More baggage then the Lysenkoists? The left surely has been good at making it seem that way. One often missed consideration is that to the extent the hereditarias are correct, much of the hereditarian “baggage” isn’t baggage at all. Refer to my most recent post.

  6. nikcrit says:

    “More baggage then the Lysenkoists?”

    No, it’s conceded that the “lysenkoists,” (upon looking up their definition) prevail among the anti-hereditarians; I think I’ve acknowledged that imbalance often in recent months.
    But would you admit that plenty of rank-and-file hereditarians are driven by quite ‘essentialist’ racial views? what about the dangerous ideas and concerns you recently mentioned?
    (As tirming as it might be, I’m driven by the concern over how to let empiricism in while minimizing the collateral damage, if that”s not putting it too bluntly. History does seem to prove that is a valid concern.)

    • Chuck says:

      “But would you admit that plenty of rank-and-file hereditarians are driven by quite ‘essentialist’ racial views? what about the dangerous ideas and concerns you recently mentioned?”

      I see our conversation on this as a dialectic. We’re trying to arrive at a balanced perspective. Consider my point about Lysenkoists to be a qualification of my dangerous ideas point which was meant as a qualification of your Salter/Jensen point.

  7. JL says:

    I love the pummeling Gould is currently getting from many quarters because of this new study. He richly deserves it.

  8. Kiwiguy says:

    Jonathan Marks is not a fan of the new Gould paper!

  9. Kiwiguy says:

    Another one.

    “If the authors are sincere that they “find other things to admire in Gould’s body of work, particularly his staunch opposition to racism,” then they need awareness of what is going on with regard to race resurgence and to help us with more contemporary references combatting that resurgence. A good place to start could be the articles in “Race Reconciled” in the 2009 American Journal of Physical Anthropology (for a summary, see “Race Reconciled” re-debunks race – Anthropology 1.5).”


  10. Kiwiguy says:

    Missing the proximate cause here.

    “I should clarify that by race resurgence I do not mean a resurgence in racism. That is a different matter. I actually am beginning to believe the term “racism” is not very helpful anymore, as everyone thinks of it as personal attitudes and individual meanness. We should be much more concerned with political-economic inequality that is racially structured.”


  11. nikcrit says:

    I’ve slowly been trying to up my bio comprehension in terms of informing my comments; I came across this comment by someone at unamusement park; my quick take is that this guy’s view is quite mindful and deferential of the science tip, but he also offers some good points about how to keep the extremes in each camp at bay (the essentialists vs. the blank slaters, etc.). In particular, I thought his summation was interesting (tho I disagree that a certain amount of ‘special-care’ is not needed when scientists study and make pronouncements re. humans versus other animals, etc.); I also noted his last graph seemed to echo some stuff you’ve occasionally hinted at when venturing about the future social and political issues facing humans in the face of bio-tech advances.
    just curious if you agree or have any particular comments on his post:


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