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The Mismeasure of Man (Revised and Expanded)…

The Mismeasure of Man (Revised and Expanded) (original 1981; edition 1996)

by Stephen Jay Gould (Author)

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1,550168,000 (4.11)3
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 tonbsp;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."… (more)
Title:The Mismeasure of Man (Revised and Expanded)
Authors:Stephen Jay Gould (Author)
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (1996), Edition: Revised and Expanded, 448 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Mismeasure of Man [Revised & Expanded] by Stephen Jay Gould (1981)



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In the updated version of The mismeasure of man, Stephen Jay Gould debunks race science, beginning with measurement of skulls and body types to IQ tests and finally to a discussion of The bell curve (which I must admit I have not read). As a Darwin scholar and professor, he uses the mathematics of factor analysis to show fallacies in each of the subjects along with many illustrations. He also defends the original intent of the Binet IQ test, which was to point out children that could be helped by teachers. All of Gould's conclusions are obvious - the scientist/sociologist/psychologist sees what he wants to see and comes to the conclusions that best fit his own world view. Gould himself believes the "out of Africa" theory that life began there since the genetic diversity is greatest on that continent. But he has the firm belief that there is no difference in intelligence between races, no one race superior or inferior.

Gould does not use footnotes to cite his works, but instead uses the scientific style of intext notes. Footnotes are for clarification or for additional material. There is an exhaustive bibliography and an excellent index. And, if your eyes glaze over in the mathematical sections, they can easily be skipped without losing the continuity of the book.

An important book on scientific racism and its roots which will be on reading lists for years to come. ( )
  fdholt | Jul 8, 2019 |
This book is frustratingly hard to rate.

On the one hand it disturbingly documents the history of "scientific" racism/prejudice re: temperament/intelligence/etc.

On the other hand it is frustratingly out of date, even as a historical source; pages and pages are used to 'disprove' e.g. craniology or the validity/goodness of forced sterilization which presumably no one believes in anymore, outside of some kooks who are not going to read this book.

On the one hand it documents the invalid attempts to 'prove' the existence and measurement of g by factor analysis and testing done in the 1910's, and the role of this proof of the supposed racial inferiority of e.g. blacks to justify the... racial inferiority of blacks.

On the other hand, the book doesn't address more recent research on the heritability of g (than the early 1900's!) or non-racial/racist dimensions of this (e.g. Gould leaves the unwary reader with the impression that all research on heritability is race/racism or class based.)

On the one hand a questioning of (some aspects of) g, heritability of g, evolutionary/social psychology/biology is given (this is the argument/question of the existence of modules/a multitude of evolved behaviors, for those who are at least somewhat familiar with these debates.)

On the other hand, Gould's answer is literally that the mind is like a general purpose computer (he uses this as an analogy at one point, but then also states twice that the mind is a 'general' thinking device, which is how it can so adaptably implement different cultures.) But this is problematic, to say the least, if there is no such thing as general intelligence.

All in all, a passionate argument against racism, including the (highly, highly likely to be) invalid claim that races are separable by intelligence/IQ/g/etc. But far from perfect and showing its age quite a bit. ( )
  dcunning11235 | Aug 28, 2017 |
In The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould examines the manner in which scientists described intelligence as “unitary, linearly rankable, [and] innate” in order to argue for social programs or against aiding the disadvantaged (pg. 23). He combines his knowledge as a paleontologist with that of a social historian in exploring how these ideas developed and changed over time. Gould’s book “discusses, in historical perspective, a principal theme within biological determinism: the claim that worth can be assigned to individuals and groups by measuring intelligence as a single quantity. Two major sources of data have supported this theme: craniometry (or measurement of the skull) and certain styles of psychological testing” (pg. 52). He works to “criticize the myth that science itself is an objective enterprise, done properly only when scientists can shuck the constraints of their culture and view the world as it really is” (pg. 53). Indeed, beyond summarizing the scientific concepts, he spends a great deal of time demonstrating how scientists could not be truly objective and always reflected the concerns of their time.
Gould begins with an examination of those who focused on physical differences in their quest for biological determinism. He writes, “Racial prejudice may be as old as recorded human history, but its biological justification imposed the additional burden of intrinsic inferiority upon despised groups, and precluded redemption by conversion or assimilation. The ‘scientific’ argument has formed a primary line of attack for more than a century” (pg. 63). Those performing scientific measurements of the differences in skull size, like Samuel George Morton, presented all of their data in order to prove that they hadn’t altered it. Gould finds their flaw, writing, “The prevalence of unconscious finagling, on the other hand, suggests a general conclusion about the social context of science. For if scientists can be honestly self-deluded to Morton’s extent, then prior prejudice may be found anywhere, even in the basics of measuring bones and toting sums” (pg. 88). These biological determinists later merged their work with the worldview Darwin presented. Gould writes, “Evolution and quantification formed an unholy alliance; in a sense, their union forged the first powerful theory of ‘scientific’ racism – if we define ‘science’ as many do who misunderstand it most profoundly: as any claim apparently backed by copious numbers” (pg. 106). This led “any investigator, convinced beforehand of a group’s inferiority, can select a small set of measures to illustrate its greater affinity with apes” (pg. 118). Their own biases critically shaped their results.
Of IQ tests, Gould writes, “The hereditarian interpretation of IQ arose in America, largely through prosetylization of the three psychologists – H. H. Goddard, L. M. Terman, and R. M. Yerkes – who translated and popularized the tests in this country” (pg. 29). The founder, Alfred Binet, sought to create a system whereby schoolchildren could receive a diagnosis and necessary assistance, but American social scientists used it to differentiate people into hierarchies based on an assumption of innate intelligence. E.G. Boring, working with the Army under Yerkes, tried to prove the hereditary hypothesis of intelligence using 160,000 cases. Of his effort, Gould writes, “Boring began with the same hereditarian assumption that invalidated all the results: that the tests, by definition, measure innate intelligence” (pg. 246). While his results were invalid, they still had an impact, shaping ideas that supported Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s decision in Buck v. Bell (1927), which justified forced sterilization.
Looking forward, Gould writes of biological determinism, “Resurgences of biological determinism correlate with episodes of political retrenchment, particularly with campaigns for reduced government spending on social programs, or at times of fear among ruling elites, when disadvantaged groups sow serious social unrest or even threaten to usurp power” (pg. 28). He does, however see worth in debunking these old theories. Gould writes, “If it is to have any enduring value, sound debunking must do more than replace one social prejudice with another. It must use more adequate biology to drive out fallacious ideas” (pg. 352). He continues, “I believe that modern biology provides a model standing between the despairing claim that biology has nothing to teach us about human behavior and the deterministic theory that specific items of behavior are genetically programed [sic] by the action of natural selection” (pg. 357). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Jul 20, 2017 |
unfortunately a largely discredited work. ( )
  clarkland | May 9, 2017 |
In this book, first published in 1981, Gould argues that understandings about the intrinsic intelligence and human worth drawn from mental testing (IQ testing) based on theories of biological determinism are absolutely morally indefensible, but also just scientifically wrong. Nevertheless, he argues that the scientists that found data to support this idea were not acting maliciously, but rather reproducing deeply held cultural beliefs about the social and biological inferiority of non-white peoples. According to Gould, biological determinism, despite being wrong, is an enormously powerful idea that never quite goes away. In fact, it resurfaces typically in times of socio-economic upheaval and stress. Biological determinism has political consequences as well. When groups of people can be shown to be inherently inferior and incapable of change, governments have little or no responsibility to provide these people with any sort of social safety net or support.
In his words, "the Mismeasure of Man is a critique of a specific theory of intelligence often supported by particular interpretation of a certain style of mental testing: the theory of unitary, genetically based, unchangeable intelligence." Gould sets out to re-evaluate the scientific findings of two generations of mental testers and re-calculate their data.
The first group involves nineteenth century physical anthropologists and scientists who relied on physical methods to provide evidence about the mental capabilities of African-Americans. This group of scientists promoted craniometry, phrenology, and physical measurements of skulls in order to make their arguments about black inferiority. Gould is able to show that by selectively but unconsciously skewing the data, these scientists were able to definitely "prove" that whites were smarter and had more innate intelligence.
The second group of scientists moved beyond the scientific limitations of the craniometrists and declared that intelligence could not be measured physically, but rather mentally. They drew on the work on Binet, who created the first set of IQ tests to identify mentally handicapped children to provide them with help. Binet's ideas became the basis of widespread IQ tests that reached popularity during the 1920s during a period of national hysteria about the effects of Eastern European immigration. Because the tests were in English and had a heavily cultural bias to them, they showed that Eastern Europeans had very low IQs. Things like this led to immigration restrictions and generated eugenic ideas about "feebleminded-ness".
Gould also investigates the mathematical proof involved in proving that a measurable general intelligence even exists. Using factor analysis, a common scientific technique to search for general explanations among disparate sets of data, Gould attempts to re-evaluate the mathematical proof that demonstrated that general intelligence is real. This part of the book got very complex and although I applaud Gould's attempts to bring factor analysis to an understandable level for general audiences, I confess that I didn't understand much of it outside of a very basic grip on the idea that mathematicians have not been able to prove this.
The bit about factor analysis is important to understanding Gould's attacks on the 1994 book, The Bell Curve, which relies heavily on this technique and assumptions about its validity for intelligence as its central theme. Included in the book are a few essays, including one pointed critique of The Bell Curve. Additionally, Gould includes an essay about Darwin, which is good reading.
The writing style is very accessible, especially considering Gould's professional training as a paleontologist. He does tend to use long excerpts from books, which I suppose could be considered telling rather than showing, but some paraphrasing would have done better in certain parts. I got a bit lost in the factor analysis part, (I'm a historian, not a scientist!) but I appreciate his attempts to make it understandable. Although written prior to more recent histories of science that use gender as a category of analysis, it would have been interesting to see an analysis of the ways that racial understandings of IQ intersected with popular and scientific (also erroneous) ideas about the limited intellectual capacities of women.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of mental testing and race. ( )
  lisamunro | Jan 25, 2015 |
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This new and expanded edition (1996) contains a new introduction and 5 more chapters, increasing to 432 pages (from 352 pages) plus 10 more index pages. The original chapters have been corrected and brought up to date but are essentially the same. Please do not combine as the works are sufficently different.
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