June 14, 2011

Ideology and irony: Stephen Jay Gould mismeasured "The Mismeasure of Man."

A new study shows that Gould — who purported to show that ideology influenced the 19th-century physical anthropologist Samuel George Morton — was himself the one who got the data wrong.
In a 1981 book, “The Mismeasure of Man,” the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould asserted that Morton, believing that brain size was a measure of intelligence, had subconsciously manipulated the brain volumes of European, Asian and African skulls to favor his bias that Europeans had larger brains and Africans smaller ones.

But now physical anthropologists at the University of Pennsylvania, which owns Morton’s collection, have remeasured the skulls... “demonstrating that Morton did not manipulate his data to support his preconceptions”...

Dr. Gould, who died in 2002, based his attack on the premise that Morton believed that brain size was correlated with intelligence. But there is no evidence that Morton believed this or was trying to prove it.... Rather, Morton was measuring his skulls to study human variation, as part of his inquiry into whether God had created the human races separately....

But the Penn team... identified and remeasured half of the skulls used in his reports, finding that in only 2 percent of cases did Morton’s measurements differ significantly from their own. These errors either were random or gave a larger than accurate volume to African skulls, the reverse of the bias that Dr. Gould imputed to Morton.

“These results falsify the claim that Morton physically mismeasured crania based on his a priori biases”....
Does that mean Gould was the ideologue? Did Gould consciously or unconsciously slime Morton? Gould isn't around anymore to explain. He died in 2002, presumably a rich man, having sold many books that said many things readers enjoyed hearing, including the defamation of a man who'd died a century before he was born. But all the skulls remain, to be measured and evaluated by the living.

Ah, but what does John Hawks — our local (UW) blogging paleoanthropologist — have to say
Some of Gould's mistakes are outrageous, with others it is hard for me to believe that the misstatements were not deliberate misrepresentations.

For example, let's take the story about pushing seed into the skulls. Here is a paragraph from Lewis and colleagues, with direct quotes from Gould:
Gould famously suggested that Morton's measurements may have been subject to bias: “Plausible scenarios are easy to construct. Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives it a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action”... While Gould offers this as only a “plausible scenario,” and did not remeasure any crania, subsequent authors have generally (and incorrectly) cited Gould as demonstrating that Morton physically mismeasured crania...
In other words, Gould made up the whole thing. It was an utter fabulation. It is disgraceful that later authors have cited this idea as fact.
Truly shocking.

52 comments:

Sixty Grit said...

Gould was a racist - how is this news?

WV: baripses - little know structures in the brain that manifest themselves as retardation and other forms of socialism.

Fred4Pres said...

Brains schmains. What really matters is penis size!

Skyler said...

Shocking but hardly surprising. We've seen lynx hairs misused, global warming fraud, and "northern" spotted owls that are no different than any other geographical spotted owl. Science in the last few decades has a lot of people to be ashamed of.

MikeR said...

Certain parts of sciences have so much politics in them that you really can't do any science.

Shouting Thomas said...

Shocking!

A little like the feminist BS that women in the U.S. are/were just like blacks in the Jim Crow south.

Or that gays are/were just like blacks in the Jim Crow south.

The institution in which you work, Althouse, which is academia, is a fabrication factory. And the fabrication factory has a system of enforcement and punishment.

See the Duke lacrosse episode.

Moose said...

Jeez, and here I thought the holy church of science was only violated by nasty right wing ideologues.
Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Fred4Pres said...

Jay Gould did not like religion messing with the scientific magisterium and his own personal biases. They need to be kept seperate and neat. And if he had to tweek the facts to support his theories...well it was for a good reason.

traditionalguy said...

Did Gould also do Hockey Stick graphs for money? And to think that people say lawyers lie a lot. The scholarly Phd's faking the facts don't even have an opposing counsel to scare them straight...and is "peer review" possible when the World Government openly rewards and publishes lying peer reviewers and refuses to publish and destroys truthful peer reviewers?

Joe said...

(The Crypto Jew)



ANYTHING that touches upon Gender/Sex or Race is going to be fraught with politics. That’s the pity, “Science” is going to subject to the whims of the Ideologues. It’s one of the reasons that real scientists avoid those issues, there are just too many ways to sink your career. The result is a bunch of charlatans, “proving” their pet theories-IMO.

SMGalbraith said...

This is stunning. More than just a little. Very.

Gould was pretty open about his politics - he admitted to being a Marxist for much of youth and later just claimed to be on the left - and it was clear to me that his political views influenced his scientific intepretations.

But not in this way.

Man, this is really big.

gerry said...

And to think that Margaret Mead's Samoan sexcapades were largely bad science as well...a result, likely, to rationalize her homosexuality? Or were her Samoan studies merely lazy science with profound errors?

She certainly did not do our culture any favors.

Robert said...

C'mon, Gould was an ideologue par excellence. About as shocking as gambling at Rick's.

Scott M said...

SMGalbraith already pointed out Gould's apparently political leanings. No big surprise there, but telling, possibly, in the mosaic of his thinking. Why is it the left ends up on the wrong side of history so often?

Dr. Gould did not measure any of the skulls himself but merely did a paper reanalysis of Morton’s results. He accused Morton of various subterfuges, like leaving out subgroups to manipulate a group’s overall score. When these errors were corrected, Dr. Gould said, “there are no differences to speak of among Morton’s races.”

So...Gould uses completely second-hand knowledge of the measurements to refute Morton and not only are his conclusions accepted, but he's held up as a champion of science for how many decades? On the other hand, Lord Monckton uses the AGW crowds own raw data, where available, and has people quipping that he should be tattooed and shipped off to a gulag. Interesting.

“It is not entirely evident that one should prefer the measurements of an undergraduate to those of professional paleontologist,” he wrote in 2004. “Pending further measurement of the skulls and further analysis of the data, it seems best to let this grubby affair rest in a footnote.”

Academic elitism of the darkest color. When a scientist, even a "philosopher of science" (whatever the !@#$ that actually means), stops asking "why" they are no longer engaging in science.

Hagar said...

Gould had a "developmentally challenged" child and reacted very emotionally to the biases he ran up against in raising that child.

He was wrong about this, as he was wrong about many other things he wrote about, but he was right, or partially right, about even more things, so let us not throw out the babies with the bath water.

Matt said...

So Gould ranks up there with geniuses like Paul Ehrlich. Color me shocked.

Scott M said...

so let us not throw out the babies with the bath water.

That depends very much on what he's most known for/received the most acclaim for, doesn't it?

Sydney said...

It would be interesting to listen to an afterlife [hypothesis: there is one]conversation between Morton and Gould on the subject of the effect and permanency of destroying an other's reputation.

SMGalbraith said...

"Mismeasure" was probably Gould's most famous or popular general audience book. It's a terrific read ("Yeah for fiction!" says a guy in the back).

So the question now - or one of them - is whether he used his own deliberate mismeasure in other technical and scientific/peer-reviewed works.

If he did, the dominoes start to fall.

This really is huge.

EDH said...

Gould was always a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Zach said...

I've often thought Gould is an unreliable essayist. Everything supports his position a little bit too well.

It's not even a political thing for the most part. He's just a man with very definite opinions who likes to be right. Much smarter than Malcolm Gladwell, but the same tendency for all good people and all good evidence to support the One True Theory.

LarsPorsena said...

"He was wrong about this, as he was wrong about many other things he wrote about, but he was right, or partially right, about even more things,..."

How's the layman to know?

Original Mike said...

"Truly shocking."

Dispressing, but not shocking. I liked Gould because he was a good story teller in a field I have an interest but no formal training. But he used that ability to push his beliefs. All you had to do was listen to the man to see he was an ideologue

gerry said...

Why is it the left ends up on the wrong side of history so often?

Because they usually have the facts wrong. It's a necessity required by the agenda.

Marshal said...

Liberals believe everything is political. Everything.

How can anyone be surprised?

The Crack Emcee said...

Morton was measuring his skulls to study human variation, as part of his inquiry into whether God had created the human races separately....

But let's not waste our lives, shall we?

David Smith said...

IMHO the truly shocking aspect of this is that it has been added to the Wikipedia articles on Gould and "Mismeasure" and the resident ideocrats haven't struck it out yet.

Zach said...

The thing that really sticks in my craw is that Gould constructs such a vivid image of misconduct

Gould famously suggested that Morton's measurements may have been subject to bias: “Plausible scenarios are easy to construct. Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives it a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action” [5]. While Gould offers this as only a “plausible scenario,” and did not remeasure any crania, subsequent authors have generally (and incorrectly) cited Gould as demonstrating that Morton physically mismeasured crania (e.g., [15]).

I remembered that paragraph from my own reading of Mismeasure of Man, and have run across it in secondary sources like historical novels. When you get right down to it, Gould is saying that Morton is so biased that he can't do bread and butter science correctly -- he's so caught up in racist hypotheses that he's cramming mustard seeds into some skulls and loosely packing them into others. This in a book entitled Crania Americana. You might as well say that an accountant is so racist he can't make columns of numbers line up.
If you accused a living person of being that incompetent, you would have an enemy for life -- and deserve it!

So how can you write that vivid paragraph and skip the following facts?

1) The measurements in question were made by an assistant, not Morton

2) Morton let the assistant go because he wasn't getting accurate measurements.

3) Morton switched from mustard seeds to lead shot precisely so that the errors of the mustard seed measurement.

ic said...

Gould: a pc racist, anything to make a big buck.

SMGalbraith said...

Gould: a pc racist, anything to make a big buck.

I think you need to re-read the piece again. The charge is that he falsified science in order to disprove the view that the races have different innate levels of intelligence.

There's not a shred of evidence that he was a racist.

Or that he wrote his books for money.

Clearly, his politics - consciously or not - affected his science.

Ken said...

That the book is a fraud has been long known and often demonstrated.

Gould BOASTED that he used science to serve politics.

Anthony said...

I find it rather ironic that one of Gould's oft-cited bugaboos -- authors endlessly and uncritically repeating stuff that was once written down -- comes back to haunt even him.

A lot of us went through a Gould worship phase -- and I will admit that I still find a lot of value in his writing -- but eventually realized he was anything but an unbiased observer, even in scientific areas without much political intrusion. IIRC, he was one of the big voices demonizing The Bell Curve. Matter of fact, on a few occasions I had people "argue" various things with me by simply saying "Haven't you ever read The Mismeasure of Man?"

JohnJ said...

Gould was more contemptuous of his colleagues than even his mischaracterization of Morton's work suggests. He knew that the skulls Morton sampled were still available to researchers. Therefore, any accusations of scientific misconduct on Morton's part potentially could be investigated for their validity. But even knowing this, Gould was confident that no one would dare tread into this politically charged area to refute his libel of Morton's work.

He was wrong.

Hagar said...

He was wrong about this, as he was wrong about many other things he wrote about, but he was right, or partially right, about even more things,..."

How's the layman to know?


Gould is the Thomas Friedman of paleontology; it is could for you to work at figuring out which half is which.

Hagar said...

Jeez!
"It is good for you ..."

klwong43 said...

Stephen Jay Gould is the dude that famously came up with the idea of "punctuated equilibrium". Briefly put, greatly simplified (albeit somewhat facetiously), since the fossil record does not contain interim species, the only way to explain the evolution from one species to the next is kind of like an amphibian lays an egg and the egg hatches as a chicken. This idea was manufactured as surely as his measurements of the skulls.

Geoff Matthews said...

I remember being told this in High School, with my biology instructor pantomiming using a pestle in a skull.
So both men were 'exposed' after they died, but only will be redeemed?

Revenant said...

Does that mean Gould was the ideologue?

Gould absolutely WAS an ideologue, regardless of whether or not Morton was one as well.

One thing's for sure -- Richard Dawkins has a big smile on his face today.

Revenant said...

Briefly put, greatly simplified (albeit somewhat facetiously), since the fossil record does not contain interim species, the only way to explain the evolution from one species to the next is kind of like an amphibian lays an egg and the egg hatches as a chicken.

That's not "greatly simplified". It is just plain wrong.

First of all the fossil record contains numerous examples of interim species. The idea that there are unexplained gaps was invented by creationists.

Secondly, Gould's theory doesn't call for amphibians to give birth to chickens or anything of the sort. If he had suggested that everybody would quite rightly have laughed at him. His theory was that species are mostly genetically stable with periodic episodes of rapid evolution -- not single-generation changes in clade!

Thirdly, as others have pointed out, Gould's theory was in large part a response to something nobody actually believed -- i.e., that there was incremental movement in each and every generation of a species. The disagreement was over how long the periods of stability were, not over whether they existed. Gould was criticized for playing up the disagreement to make a name for himself.

Hagar said...

"Punctuated equilibrium" just states that in stable environments, evolution proceeds in the slow and stately manner assumed by Darwinian theory, but when the environment is under stress, such as during rapid climate change, f. ex., evolution speeds up accordingly as old opportunities for existence close, and new ones open up. It is not all that radical a proposition.

Valentine Smith said...

Why do people automatically equate honesty with high IQ, brilliance, or even genius? Minimum security prisons are overflowing with white-collar criminals.

I'm sure Gould got just as much of a thrill knowing his deception could be discovered at any time as the second storey man does knowing someone may be home or arriving while he burgles.

An awful lot more goes into stupidity than a small brainpan.

pduggie said...

so does this mean black folks do have smaller brains?

Does it matter?

ken in sc said...

I have several Gould books in my library, and I used to read his column in Natural History magazine every month. In fact, I met my wife through an ad in that magazine. As time went by, I came to realize that he was a fraud, an admitted Marxist, and of the most dangerous kind. He was very intelligent and persuasive. A tasty poison.

kerry said...

Excellent comment filched from Steve Sailor's site: "Marxist science is not science in the capitalist sense, but revolutionary - political - action designed to change reality. If you doubt it, ask Lysenko."

john said...

But wasn't Gould at least correct about the disappearance of the .400 hitter in baseball?

Maybe he fudged some data there too.

Oh, oh, there is no joy in Mudville today.

dbp said...

It is ironic that Morton was a better scientist than Gould.

Crack-pot hypotheses don't hurt science, they may even help it since they have the ability to create breakthroughs.

What is crucial is good data. Data that is fudged will never lead anywhere and delays progress. Once a hypothesis fails to explain the data, it is dumped. Bad data wastes time in three ways: Time spent analyzing it, time to discover that it is faulty and finally time spent re-doing the experiment.

Revenant said...

It is ironic that Morton was a better scientist than Gould.

You should probably read a little more about Morton's "scientific" theories on race before making that claim.

Jose_K said...

Does that mean Gould was the ideologue?
Yes, he said that neanderthal and cromagno must be said to be descendant one from the other , false.And not , true, that cromagnon extinguished neanderthal. Why? because the true can be used by nazis.I stopped reading him after that moronic assertion

Jose_K said...

One thing's for sure -- Richard Dawkins
He is no better, read Brian Leith´s Darwin´s legacy for a exposure of his many mistakes,including his preposterous image of evolution

dbp said...

In the long run, crackpot theories do far less damage (and sometimes help push science forward) than bad/fake data.

It is like the difference between an honest mistake and fraud.

Revenant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

He is no better, read Brian Leith´s Darwin´s legacy

I would consider doing so if such a book had ever been written. Do you mean "Descent of Darwin"? It is long out of print. Maybe you should explain what the perceived problems were, instead?

Fernandinande said...

Gould was quite dishonest; here's more, from 1997:
The Mismeasures of Gould