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The Mismeasure of Man (Revised and Expanded) Kindle Edition
The definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve.
When published in 1981, The Mismeasure of Man was immediately hailed as a masterwork, the ringing answer to those who would classify people, rank them according to their supposed genetic gifts and limits.
And yet the idea of innate limits—of biology as destiny—dies hard, as witness the attention devoted to The Bell Curve, whose arguments are here so effectively anticipated and thoroughly undermined by Stephen Jay Gould. In this edition Dr. Gould has written a substantial new introduction telling how and why he wrote the book and tracing the subsequent history of the controversy on innateness right through The Bell Curve. Further, he has added five essays on questions of The Bell Curve in particular and on race, racism, and biological determinism in general. These additions strengthen the book's claim to be, as Leo J. Kamin of Princeton University has said, "a major contribution toward deflating pseudo-biological 'explanations' of our present social woes."
About the Author
- ASIN : B007Q6XN2S
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Revised and Expanded edition (June 17, 2006)
- Publication date : June 17, 2006
- Language : English
- File size : 8678 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 452 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #367,332 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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In The Mismeasure of Man, Gould critically examines what he perceives as erroneous myths: the idea that the process of science is an objective enterprise; and that intelligence in humans is racially dependent and is primarily a heritable trait. By examining the historical development of craniometry and intelligence testing, Gould shows how prevalent social and cultural biases in the Victorian era regarding the perceived inferiority of non-European races conspired to pervert the process of science and bias the minds of leading contemporary scientists, the consequences of which had major implications for social policy in twentieth century America. In his analysis, he seeks to banish the commonly held fallacy that intelligence can be reified such that this socially contextual and complex psychological human construction can be abstracted and represented by a single number on a linear scale.
In this review of The Mismeasure of Man (hereon Mismeasure), I present a short summary of the main ideas of the book followed by a detailed exposition of the key findings on the process of science that are relevant to scholars in both the natural and social sciences. I then conclude with a short critical analysis of Gould's arguments. For the purposes of this discussion, the reader should note that I focus almost exclusively on the philosophical and methodological issues of science and their implications for practice; with the exception of the Conclusions section, I do not enter into discussion on the scientific content of biological determinism, evolution, or racially heritable traits.
Gould begins by setting out his personal philosophy and criticising two pervasive myths of science: one, "...that science is an objective enterprise, done properly only when scientists can shuck the constraints of their culture and view the world as it really is." (p. 53); and two, that science, as an "...inexorable march towards truth" (p.55) produces an ever-increasing cumulative body of knowledge. The subject of critique is that of biological determinism, the theory that in its strong form claims "society...is an accurate reflection of biology" (p. 52). Gould is clear that he intends to demonstrate the scientific weaknesses of determinism in the area of intelligence and its racial dependence, and the political contexts of these arguments. The scientific weaknesses stem from two "deep fallacies" of reification and ranking present in "the argument that intelligence can be meaningfully abstracted as a single number capable of ranking all people on a linear scale of intrinsic and unalterable mental worth" (p. 20). The political weaknesses are illustrated both through the various racially derogatory consequences in criminology, education and immigration that resulted from biased and questionable science, and the broader social narrative that led to these original prejudices.
The preliminary chapters recount the unfortunate histories of the early `sciences' of polygeny and craniometry and their insalubrious applications to rankings of superiority and inferiority between different races and criminals. Through a meticulous review of historical papers, and by redoing calculations and measurements, Gould shows that many of the conclusions of these inchoate sciences were based on unintentional shoddy work or intentional fraud, and were severely affected by the prevailing contemporary notion of the superiority of the white European race. Furthermore, certain aspects of the then wildly popular theory of Darwinian evolution lent themselves (falsely) to support racial stratification through progressively superior evolutionary developments. In essence, using empirical data from cranial measurements and subjective physical observations of human characteristics, early scientists were able to claim that whites were superior to other races as they represent later evolutionary stages in which features such as intelligence, morals, and altruism had been positively selected as genetically advantageous traits.
The later chapters describe how physical measurements of intelligence such as brain size, skull thickness and presence of `apish' characteristics, gave way to measurement of intelligence by way of written test. Originally developed by Binet for the purposes of identifying children with learning difficulties, Gould recounts the rise of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test from Binet's original noble intent to a standard mechanism to rank school children or employees into more mentally appropriate roles. The more sinister issue behind IQ testing is that it fits within an overall calculus that supports genetic heritability of intelligence. The hypothesis is as follows: studies reveal that IQ is correlated with racial characteristics and is not randomly distributed within a mixed racial group population; IQ records intelligence of a human; therefore, intelligence is racially dependent, and must be an inherited trait. Whilst this may be an empirical claim that is subject to refutation, the more nefarious and insidiously applied logical step is the flawed social policy that resulted from these claims, namely the Immigration Act of 1924, support for racial segregation and forced sterilisation.
Whilst pointing out some basic methodological issues in certain cases of IQ tests, notably Robert Yerkes' Army mental testing, Gould focuses on the specific criticism of `intelligence' as conceived by the IQ test. The tests may indeed measure something that is useful under certain circumstances, yet that this `something' actually represents intelligence as socially conceived in a Western context is arguable. A lengthy exposition of factor analysis and `Spearman's g' is given, to demonstrate further the errors involved in abstracting a complex socially constructed phenomena into a single number or set of linked parameters in factor analysis.
Gould concludes with a short chapter that summarises his main themes: the value of critical scepticism, and comments on the limits of socio-biology and the over application of Darwinian natural selection. He stresses the importance of positive debunking, as in the cumulative model of science, debunking focuses on the negative by removing `bad' theories from the "barrel of accumulating knowledge" (p. 351). In the non-cumulative model "...science advances primarily by replacement, not by addition" (p. 352), such that scientists "...refute older ideas in the light of a different view about the nature of things" (p.352). Although Gould never mentions Kuhn, the concept of science advancing by paradigmatic shifts is the same.
Key Themes and Conclusions
One of the most basic lessons we draw from Mismeasure is that the practical conduct of science is far from the controlled, sterile, `scientist-in-white-coat' ideal. Gould reveals the multitude of variables that must be controlled in the seemingly simple task of measuring the weight and volume of a brain: whether or not to include the menigeal membrane, at what point to remove the brain stem, the overall desiccation of the brain matter, the time after death at which the brain is measured etc. In the example of the Army Mental test, Gould shows the many practical difficulties that were encountered in setting up the tests, equally administering the treatments, controlling for treatment groups and test conditions. Most importantly, the greatest error in the IQ tests was that they were biased towards modern Western culture.
Gould presents many real examples of how cultural biases were reaffirmed and reinforced and detrimental social policy was made based on science that was flawed with significant internal, external, construct and statistical validity issues. While these issues are relatively benign in natural science, when human subjects are involved and the science is at the intersection of naturalistic and social phenomena, Gould makes it clear that great caution is necessary.
Gould agrees with the general scientific community that taxonomic classification is a core component of science and that without it, theoretical testing would be difficult, however, "(t)axonomists often confuse the invention of a name with the solution of problem" (p. 188). In the area of racial classification, several common logical fallacies sought to perpetuate a false understanding of reality. Gould speculates that the reality is that race is socially constructed and that actual genetic variation between `races' is extremely small; recent genetic advances have confirmed this hypothesis.
The first logical fallacy illustrated in Mismeasure is that of reductionism: "...the desire to explain partly random, large scale, and irreducibly complex phenomena by deterministic behaviour of smallest constituent parts" (p. 27). Whilst the early monogenists and polygenists debate the origins of mankind, they did so by assuming a conceptually obvious, but totally false fact about the potential sources of variation in different species. They believed that the particular features that led to a `degeneration' of race could be isolated. Later, in the field of IQ testing, scholars implicitly assumed that intelligence was something that could be experimentally isolated from the rest of the brain. Whilst deterministic reductionism provides physicists and chemists with a convenient theoretical tool, social scientists must be extremely cautious when reducing complex systems to constituent parts, especially when those constituent parts may be subject to social influence rather than deterministic laws.
The second fallacy is that of reification: "...the propensity to convert an abstract concept (like intelligence) into a hard entity (like an amount of quantifiable brain stuff)" (p.27). A natural consequence of reductionism, reification is the core critique levelled by Gould against the hereditarianism theory of IQ. Regardless of how complex mental functions may or may not be genetically determined, Gould argues that the quest to measure `intelligence' by a series of averaged scores from diverse tests is flawed. The IQ tests may measure something real that relates to mental function or cognitive ability, but to equate this with the concept of intelligence, which is a socially constructed culturally based phenomenon is misleading and dangerous.
The third logical fallacy is that of dichotomisation: "...our desire to parse complex and continuous reality into divisions by two (smart and stupid, black and white)" (p. 27). Whilst scientific evidence and basic observation of the full spectrum of mankind now reveals that race operates on a smooth continuum caused by genetic mutations and environmental conditions, this fallacy led to early scholars such as Broca and Morton to simply assume that categories existed thus significantly biasing their subsequent work.
The fallacy of hierarchy, "...our inclination of ordering items by ranking them in a linear series of increasing worth" (p. 27), has been the most insidious consequence of the other fallacies described. Once it was possible to reduce and reify intelligence into a single measurable quantity, it was possible to identify both false dichotomies and false hierarchies in various racial groups. By using IQ testing, Goddard was able to classify people based on their IQ scores into categories of idiot, imbecile and moron. Based on a flawed understanding of simplistic Medelian inheritance theory, Goddard made the conceptual leap to intelligence by "...naively assum(ing) that all human traits would behave like the colour, size, or wrinkling of Medel's peas" (p. 192). The consequences for Eugenics were profound and purification by selective breeding seemed possible.
Finally, the fallacy of correlation versus cause is perhaps the most obvious and pervasive. Yerke's testing of 1.25 million Army recruits, even when controlling for poor methodology, reasonably showed that blacks performed worse in comparison to whites on the IQ tests. Furthermore, Gould notes that other studies such as his prime object of criticism, The Bell Curve, find similar results. Putting aside the issue of whether or not IQ actually measures anything meaningful, Gould points out that these relationships can only be taken as a face-value correlation, and do not say anything about the specific cause of such relationships. It is a non-sequitur argument to assume that racial factors or innate heritability of intelligence is the causal agent behind such correlations. A sad conclusion is drawn: "The army mental tests could have provided an impetus for social reform, since they documented that environmental disadvantages were robbing from millions of people an opportunity to develop their intellectual skills" (p. 251). Whatever genetic variation may account for differing cognitive abilities between groups, this variation is overwhelmed and hidden from empirical reach by the variation caused by historical, social, cultural and environmental factors.
Cultural Bias and Individual and Objectivity in Science
A key message throughout the book is the effect of a scientist's pre-conceived and hidden cultural biases on whatever they do. Gould surmises that "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" (p. 96). Similarly, he notes how Broca, although exceedingly meticulous in his data collection of cranial size, was unconsciously biased by preconceived racial stereotypes: "His facts were reliable...,but they were gathered selectively and then manipulated unconsciously in the service of prior conclusions...Broca...used facts as illustrations, not as constraining documents" (p. 117). The unfortunate recourse to racial stratification and ranking was pervasive amongst scientists in the Victorian era. This was not because they were necessarily bad individuals; in fact, Gould notes that many of them had sympathetic and paternalistic attitudes towards the `lower class' of races and morons and furthermore, did seek to be objective as a professional obligation. However, the primary effect of unconscious cultural bias was in the restrictive formulation of questions such that "any legitimate answer can only validate a social preference. Much of the debate on racial differences in mental worth, for example, proceeded upon the assumption that intelligence is a thing in the head" (p. 55).
Mismeasure is primarily a narrative on how preconceived bias affects scientific conclusions. It is also a warning about claiming objectivity in science. Gould notes that a commonly held belief is that objectivity means not divulge one's biases or personal opinions in analysis and arguments. He levels criticism at this approach, stating instead that "(o)bjectivity must be operationally defined as fair treatment of data, not absence of preference" (p. 36). He concludes:
"Facts are not pure and unsullied bits of information; culture also influences what we see and how we see it. Theories, moreover, are not inexorable inductions from facts. The most creative theories are often imaginative visions imposed upon facts; the source of imagination is also strongly cultural (p. 54)."
The Mismeasure of Man is a work of undoubtedly iconic stature and a posthumous credit to the intellect and skill of Gould in his ability to explain this dramatic interplay of scientific development and social consequence in terms easily accessible to the nonspecialist reader. Regardless of whether or not we agree with Gould's scientific conclusions, Mismeasure encourages critical thinking and a healthy dose of scepticism. The image of the neutral scientist in white coat, working in clean laboratory surroundings, producing a pure result that contributes to an ever-increasing growth of knowledge is shattered and replaced by prejudiced human beings operating in messy social contexts producing results that fit with whatever Kuhnian paradigm in which they operate.
A poignant reminder of the dangers of wielding the power of objective neutral science, we understand the terrible social consequences that result. Gould, in this senses, is asking future scientists and policy makers to act responsibly in stating purportedly objective scientific conclusions and to consider the social consequences, positive or negative, that such conclusions may yield.
Notwithstanding the importance of the lessons regarding the use of science and the claim of objectivity, Gould should apply his own standards of criticism. Although this book is primarily written for nonspecialists, it is based on a `meta-analysis' of historical sources and journal articles. It is not based on empirical research, for example, a comprehensive set of studies examining the variation of various cognitive abilities with geographical region, culture or genetic differences. Whilst Gould would not have been in either a financial nor academic position to accomplish such a feat, his assertions about biological determinism and predisposition, genetic explanations of intelligence, and evolutionary psychology, essentially amount to an opinion of a well-educated nonspecialist in these areas.
It is unfortunate; therefore, that the second edition of Mismeasure did not include a review of evidence from more recent sources that may have been contradictory to his original messages regarding evolutionary psychology. In this sense, however important its message of social justice and racism may be, Gould's narrative can be interpreted as somewhat hypocritical and equivocal. Furthermore, Gould can be accused of ad hominem fallacies himself and overuse of rhetorical writing. Although these does not detract from Mismeasure's primary warnings of the claimed objectivity of science and the consequences that science's warrant of neutrality may bring, there is a danger of spreading potentially misleading information to the wide array of high school to graduate students for whom this book is required reading.
It is easy for the reader of Mismeasure to mix and confuse several interrelated but distinct issues with regard to evolutionary psychology, genetic variation, and biological determinism versus predisposition. The latest genetic evidence is that being white is a result of a single genetic mutation that may or may not have resulted from natural selection due to environmental conditions. Although at the time of writing, Gould had not seen the entire human genome sequenced, he was right in his prediction that the genetic variation between races is tiny. The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences actually debated removing the concept of `race' from scientific discourse after the extent of the actual genetic similarity between races was revealed. However, the recent field of epigentics shows a possible effect of transgenerational stresses and environmental conditions that could explain current health disparities between whites and blacks in America, hence the cultural and social relevance of historical racial injustice are demonstrated in physical terms that persist still today. Furthermore, there are contradicting theories in evolutionary psychology over the extent to which human psychology is naturally selected as a result of environmental pressures.
Perhaps a in a third edition of the book, the publishers should ensure that these ongoing debates between different paradigms of science are detangled from the important and valuable lesson warning us against the misapplication of uncertain science and the invisible grasp of bias. Nevertheless, the astute reader is left with a dramatic and thought provoking story about the power of misapplied science and the limitations of inquiry.
 All quotes are from Gould (1996). The Mismeasure of Man: Revised and Expanded. New York, NY: Norton.
 A `weak' form of biological determinism states that individuals' physical and mental characteristics are primarily genetically determined, but does not have anything to say about how this reflects on society.
In “The Mismeasure of Man,” Gould did not set out to directly refute Murray, because Murray’s book had not been written yet. But the measuring of human worth and intelligence has a long history, and it is that history that Gould’s book examines. After Murray’s book appeared, Gould attacked that too and publicly debated Murray. Then in 1996, Gould published a revised and expanded edition of “Mismeasure” that did include his rebuttals of “The Bell Curve.” It is his 1996 revised edition of “The Mismeasure of Man” that I am reviewing here.
I had started to read the original “Mismeasure” in the 1980s, but only made it about halfway through. The re-emergence of the issue of intelligence measurement with the congressman’s very public citation of Murray motivated me to buy the expanded edition of “Mismeasure,” and this time I read Gould’s book all the way through.
I can see why I did not finish reading “Mismeasure” in the 1980s. The discussion of statistical methods can be challenging for the nonspecialist. But it doesn’t get really difficult until Chapter 6 with the explanation of factor analysis. Gould does his best to simplify this arcane subject because his book is aimed at the lay person. He knows that he has to somehow show the general public that these people (Charles Murray and his ilk, the biological determinists and scientific racists) are presenting a pseudoscience, the measurement of human intelligence. I think Gould succeeded because, with a little bit of work on my part, it finally made sense to me.
Gould’s book, having been written well before the publication of “The Bell Curve,” is not specifically aimed at that book, but Gould’s revisions are. “The Mismeasure of Man” traces the history of attempts to compare the races of man back to the 18th century. But most of these early attempts were nonscientific assessments that clearly reflected the prejudices of the writers. Things only got worse though when scientists began to get involved in these assessments in the 19th century. How could science make the study of human differences worse? Because the scientists assumed that their studies were completely objective. They made the gross (for a scientist) error of believing that they were free of bias. Their vaunted objectivity only gave their findings greater weight than that of their unscientific forebears.
How did the “science” of measuring intelligence begin? By measuring heads. It is easy to laugh at these early attempts to assess human intelligence, but they were no more wrong than their 20th century peers. Since the brain was thought to be the seat of reason, we could, it was assumed, compare the intelligence of various human races by measuring heads---lots of heads. Scientists measured the heads of the living and the dead. When these efforts proved unsatisfactory, they measured the interior volume of human skulls---first using tiny seeds and then lead pellets---filling the empty skulls and producing a consistent measure of the volume of that cavity which was once occupied by a living brain. From there, the intrepid researchers advanced to measuring the brains themselves. That is, they acquired the brains of recently deceased persons, most often those of the poor or criminals, who had no say in what happened to their remains after death. But sometimes, these scientists persuaded their peers in academia to will their brains to research. Thus, we have for our edification the exact brain weights for greats like Cuvier, Swift, Turgenev, Anatole France, and Walt Whitman. What we do not have is any sensible conclusions about this data.
During the 20th century, attempts to measure and compare human intelligence took off in a new direction. Measuring the physical head and brain was abandoned when researchers came up with the idea of measuring the contents or thought capacity of human brains. They called this measure IQ, for intelligence quotient. Today, we are so familiar with the idea of IQ, that we rarely think to question whether it is even real. Gould’s “Mismeasure” is a thorough takedown of the notion of IQ. Gould shows us that IQ is a fictional creation of statisticians. If you have ever received an assessment of your IQ, you should understand that this number is an average of an average of an average, and it represents absolutely nothing that actually exists in your brain! It is no more an indication of your intelligence than is your hat size or the weight of your brain (should your survivors somehow get that information). Like zero or infinity, IQ is a handy thing for statisticians doing their computations, but it does not represent anything that exists in the real world.
In fact, we do not even know what intelligence is. So how can we measure such an abstract quality? To understand just how absurd this pseudoscience is, just imagine statisticians coming up with a courage quotient (CQ). The CQ might be obtained by having subjects play video games that required them to make decisions in certain dangerous situations (purely imaginary, of course!) and then, after recording their responses in a wide variety of situations, coming up with an average of an average of an average of their bravery: their CQ. This number, the courage quotient, might be very enticing to military organizations, police departments, and other emergency response organizations. If it were accurate, it would help them to screen out likely cowards. Of course, CQ is ridiculous, but no more so than IQ. I can think of some other potentially helpful statistical measures: love quotient (LQ), loyalty quotient (LoyQ). These might prove to be handy numbers for those seeking a mate. Would you bother dating someone with a low love quotient? If fact, just about any human virtue (or vice) is conceivably as measurable as IQ.
But Gould does not go off on the tangent of other virtue quotients as I did above. He sticks firmly to his attack on the fallacious notion of IQ and its use as a tool to compare human races and ethnic groups, especially to the detriment of brown races. Throughout this wonderful takedown of IQ, Gould hits at the error in thinking upon which it is founded, that is, the “reification” of an abstract quality: intelligence. He quotes John Stuart Mill (p. 350) on this logical error:
“The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having an independent existence of its own. And if no real entity answering to the name could be found, men did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it was something peculiarly abstruse and mysterious.”
We have all too willingly swallowed this thingamication of intelligence for so long! Who was more intelligent, Mozart or Bach or Thelonius Monk? Or was it the person who invented the wheel? Was Jefferson a genius? What about Lincoln? What does it even mean to be intelligent? Would we select a future president by IQ level? Sure, if you are hiring someone to maintain your computer network, test him or her for computer skills. But do not allow yourself to assume that you have in any way measured that applicant’s intelligence. For what reason, do we set ourselves the task of ranking our citizens by IQ level and do so by race and ethnicity? And are we blind to the political mischief that is made possible by such numerical chicanery?
In most books this wouldn't be a huge deal. But here it is a moderate nuisance because he quotes extensively from a wide range of sources, often in close succession one after the other.
So as the reader you're repeatedly having to get your bearings woth each new paragraph as to whether it's the author's voice or that of his sources (who often have the exact opposite views & conclusions as Gould). And because Gould and his sources write in a similarly objective, scientific tone, you can't readily use authorial voice to help understand which is which.
In the end it's not a deal-breaker. The book is still excellent and absolutely worth reading. But the lack of formatting combined with the heavy use of quotes can slow down your reading pace on the Kindle version.