HBD: Human Biodiversity

Mismeasuring Man


Never underestimate man's willingness to lie for a good cause. 

Stephen Jay Gould mismeasured skulls in racial records dispute
By Dan Vergano
9 June 2011

The late scientific icon, Stephen Jay Gould, botched and perhaps faked his critique of a racist 19th-Century scientist's skull collection, suggests a second look at his efforts.


In a 1978 Science paper, Gould (1941 - 2002) , reported that the Samuel George Morton (1799-1851), "a prominent Philadelphia physician," had mis-measured the cranial capacities of his 1,000-skull "American Golgotha" collection gathered from around the world, to suit his racist beliefs. The finding led to one of Gould's best-known books, The Mismeasure of Man, a critique of scientific racism.

"Morton is now viewed as a canonical example of scientific misconduct. But did Morton really fudge his data?," asks a PLoS Biology study led by anthropologist Jason Lewis of Stanford University. "Are studies of human variation inevitably biased, as per Gould, or are objective accounts attainable, as Morton attempted?"

So, the study team remeasured the skulls collected by Morton, now owned largely by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.

Overall, they find, Morton did make mistakes in measuring skull capacity (he first stuffed them with seeds, and later lead shot to measure their brain size). But the mistakes were random. The random mistakes didn't favor any racial theory of larger brain sizes for white people over others.

"Given how long Gould's work has been criticized in this arena, I'm a little surprised that it took this long for the work to be done to write this article," says the University of Texas's David Prindle, author of Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution. "People who dislike Gould's work will likely go on disliking him even more after this article. People who are fans of his writing will likely go on supporting his views."

Today, researchers know that larger average skull size is largely a function of cold weather:

In reevaluating Morton and Gould, we do not dispute that racist views were unfortunately common in 19th-century science or that bias has inappropriately influenced research in some cases. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that modern human variation is generally continuous, rather than discrete or ''racial,'' and that most variation in modern humans is within, rather than between, populations. In particular, cranial capacity variation in human populations appears to be largely a function of climate, so, for example, the full range of average capacities is seen in Native American groups, as they historically occupied the full range of latitudes, say the study authors.

Yes! Head size is correlated with cold weather...but then so is IQ.

IQ Climate

From Lynn, Race Differences in Behavior

The article continues:

Morton neither manipulated his skull samples, unfairly selected which data to report, skewed results by gender, or ignored his mistakes to favor racist interpretations of his skulls, the PLoS Biology study authors conclude -- all charges made by Gould against the long-dead physician.

What's more, the researchers found Gould made some mistakes in his re-analysis of Morton. "Our analysis of Gould's claims reveals that most of Gould's criticisms are poorly supported or falsified," they conclude:

Samuel George Morton, in the hands of Stephen Jay Gould, has served for 30 years as a textbook example of scientific misconduct. The Morton case was used by Gould as the main support for his contention that ''unconscious or dimly perceived finagling is probably endemic in science, since scientists are human beings rooted in cultural contexts, not automatons directed toward external truth''. This view has since achieved substantial popularity in ''science studies''. But our results falsify Gould's hypothesis that Morton manipulated his data to conform with his a priori views. The data on cranial capacity gathered by Morton are generally reliable, and he reported them fully. Overall, we find that Morton's initial reputation as the objectivist of his era was well-deserved.

This is hardly the first time an anthropologist has lied in the name of equality: 

Franz Boas – Liberal Icon, Scientific Fraud
By Sam Francis
14 October 2002

Two of the major superstitions of our time are the notion that man is merely a blank slate whose behavior is merely the product of the social environment and its sister, that race doesn't exist. Yet one by one, the pseudo-scientific sources of these myths are being discredited by serious scientists, and last week, one of the biggest sources of all took a nose dive.

Franz Boas, often called the grandfather of modern anthropology and a pioneer pusher of the idea that race is not a very meaningful concept, merely a "social construct" not found in nature, probably ranks with Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud as one of the most influential thinkers of the modern age. As a Columbia professor from 1899 to 1942, he virtually created modern anthropology, and the students he trained—among them, Margaret Mead and some of the most famous names in the field—dominated the discipline until only a few years ago.

One of Boas' favorite targets was so-called "scientific racism," and much of his own writing was intended to combat what he saw—sometimes rightly—as unscientific or simply false thinking about race.

But it now turns out that Boas himself was guilty of no small degree of unscientific blunder—and maybe even fraud.

In 1912, Boas published what became a classic study that claimed to show that the skull shapes ("cranial forms") of the descendants of European immigrants to the United States altered from those of the original immigrants. Boas offered no explanation for why the changes took place, but if they were real, his finding pretty much wiped out the idea that different racial and ethnic types differ in fixed physical characteristics.

Boas's study, write Abram Kardiner and Edward Preble in their popular history of anthropology, They Studied Man, [pay archive]

"did much to establish the notion in human genetics that what are transmitted in the germ plasm are not fixed characters but potentialities ... dependent upon the environment for the particular form they will assume. The 'nature-nurture' controversy was largely obviated by this alternative."

In political terms, if human beings have few or no "fixed characters" and are shaped by the social environment, then what we know as modern liberalism is in business. So is communism, which also assumes that human beings can be transformed by manipulating the social environment.

It's no accident that Boas was a lifelong sympathizer of Marxism.

Unfortunately, for the social and human engineers, the study has now been shown to be invalid. Last week in the New York Times Science section, science reporter Nicholas Wade reported on an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by anthropologists Corey Sparks and Richard L. Jantz that took another look at Boas's study and methods. The effects of the new environment on the skulls of the immigrants' descendants, they found, are "insignificant," and the difference between the European and American born children were "negligible in comparison to the differentiation betweenethnic groups." [“A New Look at Old Data May Discredit a Theory on Race” By Nicholas Wade, NYT.Oct 8, 2002]

Moreover, as Dr. Jantz told the Times, Boas

"was intent on showing that the scientific racism of the day had no basis, but he did have to shade his data some to make it come out that way."

In other words, Boas decided what his conclusions would be before he finished the research and then "shaded"—i.e., cheated on—the data to make them support the conclusion he wanted.

This is not science; it's fraud -- and modern liberalism is founded on it.