Another Good Story Ruined! Stephen Jay Gould

Photo: Janet Monge and Alan Mann Credit: Penn Museum, Philadelphia
Mismeasure of Man

Skulls It’s always interesting to see research debunked – and even more interesting when a debunker is debunked, as in the case of Stephen Jay Gould’s 1981 “The Mismeasure of Man.”

In “Mismeasure,” Gould (d. 2002) charged that anthropologist Samuel George Morton unintentionally manipulated his data on human skulls to support his contention that brain volume was an indication of intellect and that therefore Europeans were superior to Africans.

[You may recall a Sherlock Holmes story in which the famous detective infers that an individual is smart based on his hat size.  You may also recall that French author Anatole France had a teeny head. Conclusion: Anatole France was not the man they wanted. Watson: “Holmes, why are you never wrong!?”]

But as Nicholas Wade reports in the New York Times, anthropologists at the University of Pennsylvania (which has Morton’s skull collection) have reexamined the data. According to the University of Pennsylvania researchers, Morton was making no such claim.
Wade writes: “In an article that does little to burnish Dr. Gould’s reputation as a scholar, they conclude that almost every detail of his analysis is wrong.”

The research team’s rather technical report is here. | The much more readable NYT article is here.

Photo: A murderer’s skull from the Morton collection Credit: University of Pennsylvania

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1981, Another Good Story Ruined, Books and Authors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Another Good Story Ruined! Stephen Jay Gould

  1. Not unlike Darwin’s observation that those species that can adapt to change best are the ones that survive longest, being turned into ‘Social Darwinism’ meant to justify capitalism’s idea of crushing the weakest. It was also used to justify Hitler’s wrong-headed ideas.


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