Advertisement
Historical and Philosophical Perspectives

Historical and Philosophical Perspectives The Historical and Philosophical Perspectives series provides professional historians and philosophers of science with a forum to reflect on topical issues in contemporary biology.

See all article types »

The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias

  • Jason E. Lewis mail,

    lewisjas@stanford.edu

    Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America

    X
  • David DeGusta,

    Affiliation: Paleoanthropology Institute, Oakland, California, United States of America

    X
  • Marc R. Meyer,

    Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Chaffey College, Rancho Cucamonga, California, United States of America

    X
  • Janet M. Monge,

    Affiliation: Department of Anthropology and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    X
  • Alan E. Mann,

    Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America

    X
  • Ralph L. Holloway

    Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York, New York, United States of America

    X
  • Published: June 07, 2011
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001071

Reader Comments (6)

Post a new comment on this article

Interesting, but...

Posted by EbruKilic on 06 Sep 2012 at 16:59 GMT

As I am now translating Gould's Mismeasure of Man into Turkish, I found this article very interesting. However, there are some points which I found underemphasized. I can summarize them as follows:

1. Gould, in Mismeasure of Man, say in the calculation of the Indian mean in Crania Americana, the subsamples' means are not broken down. In other words he says the Indian mean was not calculated by taking into account a simple rule: subsamples should have equal number of skulls, and then the average of subsamples' means should be taken to calculate the mean. I could not understand how do you refute this simple logic. Because it does not seem to be a statistical trick. Instead what Morton does seems to be a statistical trick. Gould does not say anywhere, that Morton never ever calculated the Indian subsamples' means, so I think emphasizing that Morton did indeed calculated these numbers could not refute Gould. He says that he does not take them into account properly, meaning each subsample should have equal number of skulls. And could you please explain why this is a statistical trick, and what Morton does, is not. Because it is not clear in the article.

2. Gould rightly mentions about the relationship and body size. And determines a bias of including or excluding on Morton's part and tries to correct his measurement taking into account this. Not arbitrarily. He gives all the reasons why he excluded for example 3 Hotentots and included Hindu subsample. For the Indian mean in Morton's final summary he did not use the seed measurement, but takes into account the same principle of calculating the mean by breaking into equal subsamples. He does not say that he takes into account the seed measurement.

3. It is true that he did not himself measure the skulls, so also emphasizing this also creates an impression that Gould talked as if he measured. However he does not. He also tells what he does and what he sees in very clear terms. But, I get the impression that he gave a shot for both methods of measuring. I found this article interesting because it claims, ironically Gould's own bias blinded him to favorable results for Indians and other groups. And I really wished to see that you put it more convincingly.

No competing interests declared.

RE: Interesting, but...

EbruKilic replied to EbruKilic on 06 Sep 2012 at 17:51 GMT

In the second item, I wanted to say "the relationship between the brain and body size", however typed incorrectly.

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: Interesting, but...

EbruKilic replied to EbruKilic on 06 Sep 2012 at 19:08 GMT

There is one last thing I want to mention: Now I have the 1996 edition of The Mismeasure of Man. In that book, Gould treats Morton between pages 82 and 100. Since this was the last version of his claims, I think the writers should have taken into account also this 1996 edition, though he mentions that this account omit many statistical details of his analysis. In that account of Morton, Gould just says on page 99 "...though Morton amalgamated all North American Indians and never reported averages by subgroup." Not numerous times. And from this sentence, I just understand Morton never put these averages into tabulation. And from what you said in your article, I understand Morton's way of reporting does indeed confirm Gould.

One very last thing: Even though Stephen Jay Gould was one of the scientists who opened the way for a criticism of humanity's scientific endeavour, especially in social science circles, he was a scientist, who truly loved his areas of professional study, and who made a lot of contributions to those areas. I don't think that the writers of this article underestimate these or had any intention of attacking his reputation. However I strongly had the impression that this article is written to refute social scientists' overcritical attempts to question scientific endeavour, by attacking one of their footholds in Gould.
In order to prove that science is a valuable endeavour, looking into Gould's life could also provide a lot of insights. By academical formation I am social scientist, however, Gould was one of my inspirations whom I learned to upheld science's powerful reasoning. I expected to read something really got close to his standards in upholding powerful reasoning, but must admit that I am disappointed by the weakness of argument.
There are many scientifically proven facts to point out that even though scientists are embedded in their social environment, they could trascend their embeddedness. But I could not count this article as one of them.

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: RE: Interesting, but...

EbruKilic replied to EbruKilic on 06 Sep 2012 at 20:42 GMT

One very very last thing to mention. Authors of the article emphasizes Gould's error on calculating the Caucasian mean as 85 cubic inches, and corrected it as 87 cubic inches, as an evidence of his bias. However if they ever had a look into 1996 edition of The Mismeasure of Man, on page 98, they would see Gould's own correction of his data in the second footnote. I'd like to write it down here, as it is very instructive

"If we follow our procedure of computing averages among subsamples, the six modern Caucasian "families" yield a mean of 87 cubic inches." In the footnote of this information he says:

"My original report (Gould, 1978) incorrectly listed the modern Caucasian mean as 85.3. The reason for this error is embarrassing, but instructive, for it illustrates, at my expense, the cardinal principal of this book: the social embeddedness of science and the frequent grafting of expectation upon supposed objectivity. Line 7 in Table 2.3 lists the range of Semitic skulls as 84 to 98 cubic inches for Morton's sample of 3. However my original paper cited a mean of 80 - an obvious impossibility if the smallest skull measures 84. I was working from a Xerox of Morton's original chart, and his correct value of 89 is smudged to look like an 80 on my copy. Nonetheless, the range of 84 to 98 is clearly indicated right alongside, and I never saw the inconsistency - presumably because a low value of 80 fit my hopes for a depressed Caucasian mean. The 80 therefore "felt" right and I never checked it. I am grateful to Dr. Irving Klotz of Northwestern University for pointing out this error to me."

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: RE: RE: Interesting, but...

EbruKilic replied to EbruKilic on 07 Sep 2012 at 10:34 GMT

I want to correct a misunderstanding on my part on my first comment. The simple rule I referred as "subsamples should contain equal number of skulls and..." is not what Gould said. He says the sumsamples should be weighted equally, as mentioned in the article, namely taking into account their average when calculating the final mean. However, this misunderstanding does not change my criticism. I still cannot see this as a statistical trick.

No competing interests declared.