Blumenbach’s Racial Spectrum Theory: Not Just Five “Races”

This blog is based on text from Chapter 1 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

During his lifetime, Blumenbach became famous for his collection of over 100 human skulls from throughout the world. But he also sought out to different kinds of people in the flesh to observe how they behaved. Once while visiting the international port city of Amsterdam, Blumenbach made a point of observing “twenty one living Chinese.” He also collected pictures and paintings to see how they dressed and lived. Blumenbach noted that there were many drawings available depicting exotic peoples, but “when they are critically examined, very few are found which you can trust.” His drawings included a Turkish woman, two Chinese sailors, a “Boshman with wife and child,” a Native American from Tierra Del Fuego and a “New Zealand chief.” It was as if he was studying the wings of sparrows, but instead of simply dissecting wings, he collected paintings of them and, whenever possible, he went outside and took notes on how they flew. It was not enough observe their bones. Blumenbach wanted to see pictures of them and words written by them.

In 1810, Blumenbach’s presented parts of his collection in Abbildungen Naturhistorischer Gegenstände (Illustrations of Objects from Natural History). True to its title, it is chock-full of pen and ink illustrations like those in Figure 1.

Dec14-Mastadon ToothThis document is essentially an atlas of pictures representing everything from anthills and fossils, to domesticated dogs and newly hatched reptiles. It is not so much a field guide as a portable museum. This book also included illustrations of what he called the five varieties of humankind, as seen in Figure 2. In some of his publications, he used the word races instead of varieties. It is possible that he defined the word race to be a lineage or branch of humankind, and not a distinct unrelated group which is how race is defined today. I will discuss this somewhat confusing nomenclature in more detail in later blogs.

Dec14-Blum5FacesThe five portraits shown in Figure 2 were presented on six separate pages in the order that they are presented in the figure. The Mongolian was on the first page followed by the American, and so on. They were, in a sense, “field view” examples of Blumenbach’s different varieties, and all of them are presented in a dignified manner.

For Blumenbach, these pictures were not illustrations of anonymous biological samples, but real people with names. As a result, we can now scour historic records to find out something about who they were, how they lived (their habitus), and why Blumenbach chose them to be quintessential examples of their race.

The first picture depicts the dapper Fedor Iwanowtisch (1765-1832) who likely came from what is now far eastern Russia or one of its neighboring Asian republics. He was a successful illustrator born to the Calmuk people, now known as the Oirats, who are the western-most population of Mongols. As a child, Iwanowtisch was said to have been captured or enslaved by Cossacks, and later adopted by a Russian family of means. Trained as an artist, he studied in Rome for seven years, and later traveled to Greece with Thomas Bruce (1766-1741) the Earl Elgin, remembered mostly for bringing the Elgin Marbles to England.[1] In a way, Iwanowtisch was like Phillis Wheatley, but with a happy ending.

The second picture is Tayadanuga (1743-1807), a famous Mohawk chief, now known as Theyendanega or Joseph Brant. As the son of an influential chief who was allied with the British troops in colonial New York, Theyendanega was educated in the English system. He became a staunch supporter of the British during the American Revolution.The third image is that of Jusaf Aguia Efendie (1744-1824), now known as Yusuf Agah Efendi. He was the first Ottoman ambassador to England from 1793 to 1797.His weathered face and central Asian ethnicity will become important later on when I discuss how Blumenbach’s old fashioned definition of beauty, may or may not have differed from the definition we use today.

The handsome turban-clad Polynesian in the fourth picture is Omia (c.1751-1780), also called Mia or O’Mia. This young man traveled from his native Tahiti to Britain with Captain Cook’s flotilla. He charmed King George III (1738-1820) and London society with his exotic ways, his politeness, and his intelligent, inquisitive manner. He later returned to Tahiti and gave fine gifts to his people. Through this action, Omia antagonized the local chiefs, who looked bad by comparison to this young upstart of un-chiefly birth. He died before the age of thirty of an infectious disease, as was common for many south sea islanders who came in contact with Europeans. In Hawaii, the epidemic of 1832-1833 and the whooping cough and influenza epidemic of 1848-1849 each killed 10,000. The 1853 small pox epidemic killed at least 2,800 and probably more. It is estimated that prior to Cook’s arrival there were 400,000 to 800,000 native Hawaiians. By 1823, there were fewer than 135,000 and only 23,000 by 1919.

The fifth portrait is that of the formally-attired Jacobus Elisa Capitein (1718-1747), a Ghanaian slave who was taken to the Netherlands as a child and adopted as a son by his master. He excelled at school and became the first native African to graduate from the Dutch university. Capitein was a supporter of slavery, noting that it was consistent with Christian principles. He became a missionary in Ghana, but was unsuccessful since he was too Dutch to be accepted by his ancestral people. His attempt to marry a Ghanaian was stifled because she was not a Christian. He subsequently married a Dutch woman, and in his later years suffered ill-health and debt. In the late 18th century, his life story and scholarly talents were cited by those who supported racial equality. However, his later failures in life were cited by those who opposed it.

What is distinctive about these five portraits is that they all treat their subjects with equanimity. The Asian is not a weak-willed peasant, the American is not a painted savage, and the Caucasian is not a Nordic superman. The Polynesian is not a wild-eyed cannibal nor is the African a sub-human semi-ape. These drawings are not stereotypes. They are men, presented in the respectful way that Blumenbach intended. The common denominator linking all these people is that they were able to function and flourish in the highest echelons of white European (or European American) society, despite being born in exotic locales, thousands of miles away from each other. Through these examples, Blumenbach is showing us that it is the environment that shapes human beings. Give a barbarian child a book, and she will grow up to be become a civilized individual. Savagery is not an inherited condition, and so, neither is civilization.

The text Blumenbach wrote when first describing the five portraits presented in his 1810 book reads:

“Die physiognomischen Unterscheidungs zeichen dieser 5 Rassen habe ich in der 3ten Ausgabe der Schrift de generis humani varietate nativa S. 177 u. f. ausführlich angegeben; wo auch 5 musterhafte Schedel von denselben aus meiner Sammlung abgebildet sind, die man mit den gegenwärtigen 5 Porträts vergleichen kann.

Hier nur soviel: Die Caucasische Rasse ist nach allen physiologischen und historischen Datis wahrscheinlich der Urstamm, der mit der Zeit durch die verschiedenen Ursachen der Degeneration in die beiden Extreme, nämlich einerseits in die Mongolische B. mit dem platten Gesichte; und anderseits in die Aethiopische mit den prominirenden Kiefern, ausgeartet.

Translating Blumenbach’s work is difficult, and much of what he wrote is still not available in English or even modern German. I was unable to find a translation of his above text. Thus, I took a crack at it myself, using my high school knowledge of German, an on-line translator, and my undergraduate experience measuring a collection of 201 human skulls from throughout the world.

As far as I can tell, Blumenbach was noting that the five pictures presented in Figure 2 where good examples of the five major varieties of human beings. He suggested these five portraits should be compared with five skulls of each race that he had already discussed in a previous publication. Blumenbach also said that all the available evidence suggested that Caucasian race (or lineage) is probably the ancestral strain of all the forms of human kind. He went on to propose that there were various factors (not just one) that caused Caucasians to derivate – what we would now call evolve – into all the other races. He stated that the two races whose skulls are most different from Caucasians are the Mongolian and the Ethiopian, by which he meant West African. According to Blumenbach, the Mongolian skull has a flat face relative to the face of the Caucasian skull. Conversely, the Ethiopian skull has a more protruding upper and lower jaw than does the Caucasian. Thus Caucasian skulls have a face with a somewhat protruding jaw that is intermediate between the two other extremes.

Confused? Well, you should be. In this passage, Blumenbach is saying that the portraits of the five men can be compared to the illustrations of five skulls that he had published 35 years earlier in his anthropological masterwork De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa, 3rd Edition (which I will henceforth refer to as De Generis of 1795).. This book was a pioneering examination of human diversity and it was written in Blumenbach’s characteristically tortuous Latin. Its title translates as The Human Race’s Natural Variety. However the book has since come to be known as On the Natural Varieties of Mankind. The book itself, (I’ve paged through an original copy) is about six inches tall and four inches wide, about like a modern day field guide. It has no pictures, except for some plates at the very end. These pen and ink illustrations of five skulls, as shown in Figure 3 below, fold out like a map. You can see darkened lines where the paper was folded accordion style. These are the skulls that Blumenbach was comparing to the five portraits.

Dec14-Blum5SkullsIn this drawing, the five skulls are labeled (from left to right) Tungusae, Caribaci, Feminae Georgianae, Otaheitae, and Aethiopissae. Translated in to English, these terms are respectively: Tungus (a native Siberian people), Carib (the Kalingo Indians of the Caribbean Islands ), Female Georgian, Tahitian, and Ethiopian. These were presented as examples of the five primary varieties that Blumenbach called Mongolian, American, Caucasian, Malay, and Ethiopian. Blumenbach has been cited by both Gould and Bruce Dain as having “invented” the name Caucasian to describe Europeans, Middle Easterners, and South Asians. In fact, Blumenbach’s university colleague Christoph Meiners had previously used it. It would be more accurate to say that Blumenbach popularized the term.

Blumenbach’s Malay Variety was not what we would now call Malaysians, but rather a group encompassing Polynesians, Indonesians, Australians, and other peoples of the South Pacific. Blumenbach’s description of these skulls (as translated from Latin into English by Bendyshe) reads:

“Five very select skulls of my collection, to demonstrate the diversity of the five principal human races.

Fig. 1. A Tungus, one of those commonly called the Reindeer Tungus. His name was Tschewin Amureew, of the family of Gilgagirsk. He lived about 350 versts (sic) from the city Bargus; and cut his own throat in 1791. Schilling, the head army surgeon was sent thence by Werchnelldinski, to make a legal inquiry as to the cause of his death; he brought back the skull with his own hand and gave it to Baron de Asch.

Fig. 2. The head of a Carib chief who died at St Vincent eight years ago, and whose bones, at the request of Banks, were dug up there by Anderson, the head of the royal garden in that island.

Fig. 3. A young Georgian female, made captive in the last Turkish war by the Russians, and brought to Muscovy. There she died suddenly and an examination was made of the cause of death by Hiltebrandt, the most learned anatomical professor in Russia. He carefully preserved the skull for the extreme elegance of its shape, and sent it to St. Petersburg to de Asch.

Fig. 4. The skull of a Tahitian female, brought at the request of Banks by the brave and energetic Captain Bligh, on his return from his famous voyage, during which he transported with the greatest success stocks of the bread-fruit tree from the Society Islands to the East Indies.

Fig. 5. An Ethiopian female of Guinea, the concubine of a Dutchman, who died at Amsterdam in her 28th year. She was dissected by Steph. Jo. Van Geuns, the learned professor at Utrecht.”

Bendyshe’s translation has Blumenbach saying that there were five “principle human races,” but the original Latin is humani varitatum principalum or “main varieties of human.” Blumenbach was not saying that there were only five races. Rather, he was proposing that there were five main types (which is to say large populations) of humans. There were other “types” as well, but they were not as populous. Blumenbach’s notion that there were five types of human beings was largely accepted throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century. However, his idea that races were parts of one single unit did not break through into the public consciousness. The average man on the street viewed Blumenbach’s five groupings as five distinct and separate races. In many respects, these classes are still with us today. In terms of common usage, these can be described as red, yellow, black, white, and brown (although in America, brown tends to mean Hispanic). This simple racial color scheme still survives in the children’s song I learned in church school: “Jesus loves the little children, All the little children of the world, Red and yellow, black or white, All are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

However, Blumenbach never proposed that there are five (or four) distinct races of humanity. For him, the “Innumerable varieties of mankind run into one other by insensible degrees.” Blumenbach’s original Latin text used the term gradation invicem confluent (gradations into each other flow). With this language, he was proposing that races are much like the currents that course through the oceans of the world. One race gradually merges with the next just like the Atlantic Ocean gradually merges with the Pacific below the tip of South America. Ask yourself how many oceans there are, and you might come up with five to seven answers. But the only true answer is one, because there is but one body of salt water covering the earth. In theory, a heavy-duty rubber ducky dropped into any of the earth’s coastal waters could eventually float through all of them.

By his own admission, Blumenbach viewed his five-fold classification system as being imperfect, although – not surprisingly – he viewed his own system as being the best one available. And in a way, his classification did not have five divisions, but ten. He proposed that each of his five main varieties could be further divided into two subgroups, which can be charted out as seen in Figure 4. In this figure, I added text in italics to show how Blumenbach’s ten part subdivisions tend to be broken down in east-west or north-south divisions. Furthermore, Blumenbach regarded Egyptians as belonging to neither Caucasian nor the Ethiopian variety but rather as a “linking” group that joins the two, much as an isthmus joins two continents. Similarly, he regarded central Asian Cossacks as links between, but not belonging to, the Caucasian and Mongolian varieties. Joining the Mongolians and the Native American were the “Eskimotae.”

Dec14-Blum10RaceTableWhen viewed at this ten-part subdivision level, Blumenbach’s system looks less like a number of distinct categories and instead takes on the feature of a gradually changing continuum. Using modern terminology, I shall refer to Blumenbach’s system as a “racial spectrum” which is much like the color spectrum (infrared, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and ultraviolet), all of which are wavelengths that transition into each other. This gradual change of traits from place to place is common in the natural world. Zoologists refer to such incremental geographical variation as a cline, but I am not going to use that word because most people are unfamiliar with it. Instead I will use spectrum.

My use of the word spectrum to describe human racial variation draws from the 1990 anthropological research of C. Loren Brace in which he compared measurements of the teeth and facial bones of 57 human populations. He wrote that, “there is a spectrum of variation in humans that is “rarely taken into account in appraisals of human evolution in general and individual fossil specimens in particular.” His findings were that, among the populations he measured, there were a range of tooth sizes, with Europeans having the smallest and native Australians having the largest teeth. And yet, Brace noted, centuries’ worth of contact (like sexual intercourse and blood transfusions) between Europeans and native Australians show beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are the same species. He cautioned:

“There is almost certainly some ethnocentrism inherent in viewing the spectrum as running from Europe to Australia, but this quite literally does extend from one geographical extreme of the earth to the other, and, dentally at least, the Australian aborigines can legitimately stand for a morphological extreme in contemporary H. sapiens and Europeans come quite close to representing their antithesis.”

In many ways, Brace’s 20th century lab-based finding of what he called a spectrum of traits has a strong parallel in Blumenbach’s 18th century observations. What is more important is that both these men came up with the same overall conclusions independently. Due to this more-or-less confirmation of Blumenbach’s ideas, I feel comfortable referring to Blumenbach’s concept as a racial spectrum, even though he did not use those words. It would appear they were both observing the same naturally occurring phenomenon: a cline.

A good analogy to explain the way in which Blumenbach viewed human populations involves the flow of water through a river system. For example, the Mississippi River down in New Orleans received its waters from other major rivers like the Ohio, the Illinois, and the Missouri. These rivers are also fed by branches of smaller rivers that collect water from creeks, streams, and ultimately tiny intermittent rivulets. All of these waterways are part of one interconnected network that together form a drainage basin. For Blumenbach, the notion that Negros and Caucasians were entirely separated sub-species would be as silly as saying the Ohio River and the Mississippi River were completely unconnected. And just as the Ohio River is home to some fish that cannot be found in the Mississippi, so Kenyans have some traits, like brown skin, that Austrians do not possesses. And yet Kenyans and Austrians are connected via the brown-skinned Ethiopians and Egyptians, the tan-skinned Lebanese and Greeks, and the Balkan peoples who live between Greece and Austria.

Blumenbach did not believe that there were separate races. Nor did he suggest, like 20th century British-American anthropologist Ashley Montague (1905-1999) and others, that race was a biologically invalid concept that simply does not exist. But then again, comparing Blumenbach’s ideas with Montague’s is not entirely fair, because they were living in different places and times. The definition of race that Blumenbach used in early 19th century Germany was not the same as was used later authors, from Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) in the 1920s to Gould or Michael (who is me) in the 1980s. To fully appreciate the vocabulary differences that separated the worlds of Blumenbach and Montague it is essential to know how people have viewed racial variation – or more accurately, ethnic variation within the human racial spectrum – since the days of ancient Egypt. I address this topic in Chapter 2 of my book.

 

 

An Artistic Restoration of Blumenbach’s So-called “Beautiful Skull”

THIS POST IS ONE OF A SERIES OF UPDATES ON MY RESEARCH FOR MY FORTHCOMING BOOK, SKULLS, RACE, & BEAUTY.

There are a number of books out there which discuss how Blumenbach was supposedly obsessed with the beauty of the female Georgian Skull in his collection, and how he was supposedly convinced that the peoples of the Caucasian mountains were the most beautiful of all human beings. Personally, when I read Blumenbach in Latin (not the bad English translation of Thomas Bendyshe), my sense is that he regarded the skulls of these people as having a symmetrical form, like a sculpture or piece of architecture. But I must admit he did seem to be quite taken with the female Georgian skull. He could be odd that way.

Although many scholars have theorized about the role of beauty in Blumenbach’s writings, I have never seen anyone who actually tried to recreate the faces of Blumenbach’s famous five skulls, as seen in the graphic below.

Blumenbach skulls

During the recent snow storm, I found myself stuck in my house, so I took a crack at attempting to illustrate how these skulls might have looked. I followed a few rules. For a start, all the faces would have the same eyes, ears, eyebrows, and hair, which is not accurate, but is fair. I did not want to make anyone look better or worse by giving them a fancy hairdo or teacup ears. Overall, I tried to give them the general features of an Egyptian since I’m familiar with Egyptian art. Also, Egypt is sort of ethically “neutral” because it is centrally located at the juncture of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Again, this approach is not scientific, but it is fair. I had to guess when it came to noses and lips, but I tried to make them all have a similar curvature below the bony bridge of the nose. The pictures below are what I came up with. The first face is that of a Native American from the Caribbean.

Blum_AM

I believe this skull is a male. I had trouble with this nose given the angle of the original skull drawing. The large jaw strikes me as being similar to that of native Brazilians. The next face (proceeding alphabetically) is the Caucasian Variety, which Blumenbach illustrated with a Georgian female.

Blum_CA

She has a large forehead and prominent bridge in her nose, which is rather big by today’s standards. I must admit that she does indeed look like a woman from central Asia. Personally, I would not say she was especially beautiful or ugly. For those who might claim that Blumenbach thought she was a beautiful person, my drawing does not entirely support that claim, but in 18th century Germany, standards may have been different than mine. The next face is that if the woman of Guinea in West Africa who Blumenbach designated as a member of the Ethiopian Variety.

Blum_ET

This woman had an overbite and a very wide nose, although I used that the term “wide” with caution because in reality it is only Europeans and some Native Americans who have thin noses. Thus what Europeans would call a “wide” nose is actually the standard form of human nose. It is the thin nose (like mine) that is the non-standard trait. I must admit, I think she’s kind of cute. I’d say that of all the faces in this set, she’s the most attractive. The next face is that of what Blumenbach called a Tahitian, which Blumenbach described as a member of the Malay variety. To me it looks more like someone for Papua New Guinea.

Blum_MA

This face was the hardest to draw because the bridge of the nose was so high and almost seemed to be off center. Perhaps the nose had been broken. Also this skull, unlike the others, was missing some teeth. I had to draw in the front teeth. Also, this crania did not seem to be resting quite right on the jawbone, so my reconstruction may have the lower face being too small. The final face was a Siberian that Blumenbach used to illustrate the Mongolian Variety. This skull was easy to draw in part because the very high cheekbones gave it a far eastern look. Indeed this face, which I think is a male, does look like a Siberian.

Blum_MO

And there you have it. If you have any comments or know of anyone else who has reconstructed Blumenbach’s skulls, let me know. I’ll be researching this topic and pumping out footnotes on it over the next few months. As far as I can tell, I’m the first person in the 300 year history of anthropology to give this a try. Better late than never!

Did Morton Pre-Sort Skulls before Measuring Them?

THIS POST IS ONE OF A SERIES OF UPDATES ON MY RESEARCH FOR MY FORTHCOMING BOOK, SKULLS, RACE, & BEAUTY.

Lately I’ve been looking onto the records on the 100 ancient Egyptian skulls in Morton’s collection and finding some inconsistencies. In 1838, Samuel George Morton was sent 100 skulls from Egypt by George Gliddon, and Englishman who grew up there with this diplomat father. Morton used these skulls as the basis for his 1844 book Crania Aegyptiaca, in which Morton claimed that black Africans were used as slaves in ancient Egypt, and that ancient Egypt was ruled by a Greco-Roman aristocracy and populated by a native Egyptian peasant class. Morton wrote that he was sent the skulls by Gliddon who had, “paid no particular attention to Ethnography.” In other words, when Morton opened the packages and saw the skulls for the first time, only then did he use his own expertise to determine the race of each skull.

However, in the files of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, they have the original copy of the invoice that Gliddon provided to Morton in 1838. On that invoice, Gliddon presented ample information about where skulls came from and what their ethnicity was assumed to be. For example, Gliddon’s invoice describes skulls of Greeks, Jews, and Circassians that came from the graveyards of their ethnic enclaves.

Simply put, it appears that Morton may have outright lied about not knowing the ethnicity of the skulls, which if true, could have significant implications to his work. By the time Morton had written Crania Americana, he had already concluded that “Negroes” (or West Africans) had smaller and differently shaped skulls than northern Europeans. It is important to note that Morton thought that it was a combination of skull size and SHAPE which determined mental ability, not just size as has been widely reported. Thus, if Morton pre-sorted his Egyptian skulls, he may well have simply taken the smaller more oblong skulls and deemed them to be “Negroes.” Later, when he measured the skulls (which he did with acceptable accuracy), his Negro sample would have been smaller on average. Of course, Morton’s Egyptian sample was by definition East Africans, and in the 19th century the term Negro often referred only to East Africans, so Morton was being quite loose (and I would argue unacceptably loose) with his terminology.

Gould and others who sought to show that Morton (and other 19th century scholars of his ilk) had an underlying unconscious racial bias, largely overlooked evidence documenting what was Morton’s very conscious racial bias. Although Crania Americana, Morton’s first major craniological book, provided some external skull measurements that approach modern standards for scientific research, his second book Crania Aegyptiaca is, in my view, cluttered with arbitrary assumptions and outright stupid mistakes. It is a logically-flawed book that is less bombastic than, but comparable in overall racist ideology to, Nott and Gliddon’s overtly bigoted Types of Mankind.

It is clear from my 1988 measurements and those of Lewis in 2011 that some of the ethnic samples (most notably the Peruvians) in Morton’s collection were smaller than the collection as a whole. Such variation would be expected in any large sample of human crania, and so is of no more or less significance that the size of the pinky toe. The question is therefore, did Morton pre-sort and re-classify the 100 Egyptian skulls so as to, in a scene, exaggerate the modest differences between ethnic groups in his collection? My suspicion is that he did, but more research would be needed to prove or disprove it.

Further research that might resolve this issue might involve having an trained anthropologist determine the ethnic affinity for the 100 Egyptian skulls that were they focus of Crania Aegyptiaca, and then see if Morton’s designation was correct or not. That might indicate if he pre-sorted the skulls. This would make a nice undergrad thesis for any bright-eyed Penn anthropology student.

Michael’s 1988 Measurements are Consistent with Lewis and Morton: Yet More Evidence Refuting Gould’s Speculation that Morton Mis-measured Skulls

NOTE: To see the graphics in this post in focus, just tap your cursor on them.

Throughout the summer months I have been creating Excel spreadsheets containing the skull measurements (for internal cranial capacity) that Morton published during his lifetime. I thought this task would take a few weeks.[1] However, it turned out to be considerably more work than I had anticipated because Morton’s data sets are confusing and not easy to organize. For example, a page of Morton’s 1849 data set is shown below.[2]

It describes one specimen as “16: Iroquois?” and another as “21. Celt: supposed to be a British soldier.” This lack of clarity occurs throughout Morton’s writings.

Morton Page 2My goal in creating a modern spreadsheet was to compile a digital data set of Morton’s measurements and then compare them with the measurements I took in 1988.[3] As it happened, that effort was difficult as well. My 1988 data was stored on two 5½ inch floppy disks, but when I searched though my files from 30 years ago, I could only find one of them. I have yet to find a way to retrieve the data on it. Fortunately, I still have all my original hand written lab notes. Unfortunately, there were two possible ways to interpret my notes from back then, and so I am presenting two options for my measurements in Table 1.

Table 1: Morton’s “Shot” Data and Michael’s 1988 Data
In this table “SGM” designates cranial capacity as recorded in Morton’s 1849 catalog.[4,5] “JM3” designates cranial capacity based on the average of all three repeated measurements I took for my 1988 study. “JM2” designates cranial capacity based on the average of just two of the three measurements I took for my 1988 study as explained below.

JMTAB1

JMTAB2

 

JMTAB3

JMTAB4

JMTAB5

JMTAB6

The reason why I present two measurements for my old data (I will call it Michael88’s data) is quite boring, so I’ll be brief. I measured each skull three times for my 1988 paper. To keep from being accused of having a racial bias, I designed a methodology in which I was “blind” to the results of my measurements until weeks after I measured the skulls. Simply put, I filled the skulls with plastic balls, emptied the balls into a small bucket, and scooped up some of the balls into a small drinking cup. I then weighed the balls and the cup, and repeated the process five times (six times for one big skull). Weeks later I added the weights of all the cups and balls, subtracted the weight of just the cup, and then converted the weight of just the balls to volume. I loaded all the raw data into a computer program, and the program figured how big each skull was. Thus, no one could accuse me of bias in re-measuring the skulls. My original lab notes, which also recorded the words written in the skulls themselves, look like this.

JM88 Notes

To date, no one has ever accused me of having a racial bias in regards to my research into Morton, so my technique was successful in that respect. However, when I recently put all my data into a spread sheet — and for the first time was no longer blind to it — I found that about eight of my 603 measurements were just dead wrong. They were either far too high or far too low to be correct. Human error had crept into my measurements. Rather than deleting only these dud measurements, I took a different approach. For each skull I measured, I dropped the most extreme value of the three measurements. In other words, I only kept the two measurements that were the most similar to each other (thus generating the JM2 data in Table 1). Indeed, this is not proper scientific technique. And yet, my JM2 data compares quite well with Morton’s, and also with the rigorously scientific measurements reported by Lewis in 2011. I know this because Lewis data posted his 2011 data on the Internet.[6.] I downloaded a copy and compared his measurements with mine.

In 1988 (technically speaking it was 1986), I measured 201 of the skulls that Morton measured using lead shot. The average skull size for Michael88 was 79 in3 while Morton’s mean for those 201 skulls was 81 in3. Of my measurements, 14% (29) of them matched his perfectly, while 4% (9) of my measurements were smaller than his. One quarter (51) of my measurements were within +/- 1 in3 of Morton’s, while 83% (166) were within +/- 3 in3. To put that in perspective, 3 in3 is only about 4% of Morton’s average skull size (81 in3) or Michael88’s average skull size (79 in3). Since I am not a trained statistician, I cannot comment on the statistical validity of the above evaluation. But I can say that over 80% of my reported cranial capacities are quite close to Morton’s. Thus, my findings support Lewis and Michael88 (and also to some extent Gould), all of whom concluded that Morton’s measuring technique using lead shot was indeed sound.[7] Morton’s technique was not perfect, but it was “close enough” for early 19th century science.

My data also compares well with that of Lewis, who measured many of the Morton skulls some decades after I did. Lewis used a more rigorous methodology than I did, and I regard his measurements as the most accurate ever taken. I measured some skulls that he did not, and he measured some that I did not. Altogether, Lewis and I measured 164 of the same skulls. His mean (as I now calculate it) for only these skulls was 77 in3, which was 2 in3 less than mine. Morton’s average for 201 skulls was 2 in3 bigger. Comparing Michael88 to Lewis, a total of 10% (16) of my measurements matched his, while 79% (129) were smaller. A total of 44% (72) of my measurements were within +/- 1 in3 of Lewis’s, while 88% (144) were within +/- 3 in3. To put that in perspective, 3 in3 is only about 4% of Lewis’s average skull size (77 in3). Over 85% of my measurements were quite close to Lewis’s. As previously noted, over 80% of my measurements for 201 skulls were quite close to Morton’s. It appears we all got more or less the same results.

In Stephen Jay Gould’s book, the Mismeasure of Man, he accepted that Morton accurately measured his skull collection using lead shot.[8] However, Morton had initially measured each skull using sifted white pepper seed.[9] The photo below shows Morton’s seedMorton Shot BW and shot. I found these small spheres lodged into some of the cracks in the Morton skulls when I measured them back in 1986. This photograph presents one of the small seeds (left) and a larger ball of lead shot that Morton used (center), along with an even larger plastic ball (right) I used and a penny to give a sense of scale.

 

In 1839, Morton published a data set based on his seed measurements.[10] Then in 1849, he published a second data set that was based only on his shot measurements.[11] As it happens, these two data set do not entirely match up in a number of very confusing ways, as I will discuss in a later blog. Nonetheless, I was able to find 35 skulls that Morton measured with seed that I had measured using plastic balls. His mean for this set of skulls was 78 in3 and so was mine. I found that 6% (2) of my measurements matched his, while 46% (16) were smaller. A total of 57% (20) of my measurement were within +/- 1 in3 of Morton’s, while 91% (32) were within +/- 3 in3. And to put that in perspective, 3 in3 is only about 4% of 78 in3, which was both Morton’s and Michael88’s average skull size. Thus, over 90% of my measurements were quite close to Morton’s seed measurements while, as noted above, over 80% of my “shot” skulls were quite close to Morton’s “shot” skulls. Given the small size of this sample, there are no strong statements that one can make about it. But it is the only sample I have, so I present it knowing its limitations.

My conclusion is that both Morton’s early seed data and later shot data are reasonably accurate, and I stress the word “reasonably.” When dealing with old fashioned natural history books and data sets from 150 years ago it is unwise to say that any evidence “clearly” supports any modern conclusion. I have even had problems figuring out my own notes from the 1980s! Nonetheless, like Lewis, I find that Morton’s data sets do not support Gould’s speculative claim that Morton selectively mis-measured the skulls with seed.[12] I am not sure that there is much more that I can add to this statement, other than to stress that I am commenting only on Morton’s ability to measure the internal volume of a human skull. I am not exonerating Morton. His overall research was flawed at many levels, even though his measuring technique generated results with a “reasonable” level of accuracy. And Morton was indeed a racist, although, as I will detail in a future blog, his specific flavor of racism (Anglo-Saxon supremacy) is not the stereotypical racism most people associate with 19th century American historical figures.

But if Morton did a good job of measuring the skulls, is Morton’s overall data set valid? Not really. As I have shown in past blogs, Morton was prone to ignore the information about the skulls that was submitted to him the scholars who sent them to him. For example, Morton received the skull of a Creek Indian from a doctor who had actually dissected the corpse. However, Morton disregarded the doctor’s input. Instead, Morton claimed the Creek was part African based only on the features of the skull.[13] I recently found additional documentation describing how Morton was sent the skulls of Native Americans, but he deemed them to be European or African Americans simply because they did not fit his preconception of what a Native American skull should look like.

While Gould claimed that Morton’s hidden innate racism unconsciously skewed his measuring technique, I propose that Morton’s blatant conscious racism resulted in a pre-sorting of the skulls. I will take up this topic in yet another blog, along with my observations on the confused and disorganized nature of Morton’s data sets. I feel this last issue has not yet been fully explored by Gould, Michael88, or Lewis. As a result, many people (including me) have long been under the impression that Morton’s data sets are clear and easy to interpret, when in many respects they are a mess.

If any readers find some errors in my above data sets, or are otherwise unclear as to what I am saying, please let me know. I had to enter a great deal of data by hand, and my sources were very old books that were hard to read in part due to the less-than-ideal quality of the printing presses used to make them. It is quite possible that I made some mistakes. Furthermore, Morton’s vocabulary is quite antiquated and can be difficult to follow. I have back-checked my work, but another check would be appreciated. I have no panel of professors to review the accuracy of my work, only you folks. Any assistance would be appreciated.

[1] Samuel G. Morton, Crania Americana: or a Comparative View of the Skulls of the Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America, (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839), 257-259; Samuel G. Morton, Catalogue of Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals, (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Thompson, 1849), unnumbered pages 1-63.

[2] Morton, Catalogue of Skulls, unnumbered page 2.

[3] John S. Michael, “A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research.” Current Anthropology 29: 2 (1988), 349-354.

[4] Morton, Catalogue of Skulls, unnumbered pages 1-63..

[5] J. Aitken Meigs, Catalogue of Human Crania in the Collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Thompson, Printers, 1857), 19-103.

[6] Lewis, DeGusta, Meyer, Monge , Mann, et al. “The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias” PLoS Biol, http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371% 2Fjournal.pbio.1001071, accessed July 2011.

[7] Stephen J. Gould, “Morton’s ranking of races by cranial capacity: Unconscious manipulation of data may be a scientific norm,” Science, Vol. 200, (1978), 503-509.

[8] Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1981); and Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man: The Definitive Refutation of the Argument of the Bell Curve, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, 1996).

[9] Morton, Catalogue of Skulls, vii.

[10] Morton, Crania Americana, 257-259.

[11] Morton, Catalogue of Skulls, unnumbered pages 1-63.

[13] Gould, “Morton’s ranking of races,”506.

[13] Morton, Catalogue of Skulls,unnumbered page 9.

Einstein’s Brain: This is a Brain I Would Not Want to Have

When I mentioned to friend of mine that small brained pygmies are – bluntly put – smarter that Neanderthals ever were, her response was, “Well of course, Einstein was short and I’m sure his brain wasn’t all that big.” Her assumption was that Einstein’s brain is somehow the gold standard of intelligence. This is nothing new. Soon after his death, Einstein’s relatives agreed to have his brain removed for study. It was eventually preserved in to 240 slices, most of which were eventually lost.[1] However in 2012, hundreds of photographic slides of the slices were used to reconstruct a model of his brain. It was found that it had some uncommon structures like unusual folding. The researchers speculated may have been related to his childhood training on the violin or his “remarkable powers of non-verbal visuospatial (sic) processing.”[2] Yet no one hypothesized if any of these noteworthy structures related to his dishonest philandering or his inability to emotionally connect with his family.

In 2012, historian Walter Isaacson published a biography of Einstein, documenting his poor treatment of women, which like formulating equations, is also a function of the brain.[3] Rather than simply leaving his first wife, the physicist Mileva Maric, Einstein submitted to her a written list of eight numbered “conditions” she would have to obey to keep him from divorcing her. These included directives that she bring him “three meals regularly in my room,” (his italics) and that he keep his “bedroom and study neat, and especially that my desk is left neat for my use only.” He told her not to expect him to either sit with her, or accompany her outside of the house. She was required to stop talking to him when he requested it.[4] After they divorced and he moved to America, he never again saw her or his youngest son, Eduard who was institutionalized in a mental hospital due to bi-polar disorder. Einstein later married his cousin, with whom he had been sleeping during his first marriage. Like his first wife, he frequently cheated on her.[5] His older son, Hans, became a successful engineer in the United States. It was rumored that Han’s adopted daughter, Evelyn was actually Albert’s illegitimate child, but no one including her was able to document it.[6] Such was Einstein’s poor reputation.

Contrast Einstein with a much less well-known figure who lived in an isolated region of central Africa largely untouched by civilization. His English moniker was “Freddy,” and he was totally illiterate having little notion of what a book was even for.[7] As the leader of his community, Freddy’s main responsibility was to hunt and direct the patrols who guided the boundaries of their territory. In his society, there was always the fully justified fear that they would be attacked and killed by their neighbors with whom they were in a near constant state of war. Freddy was no pacifist, and likely had blood on his hands from past battles. Nonetheless, when a toddler in Freddy’s band became orphaned and no one else had the means to raise him, Freddy, who had no wife, adopted him. This caring action of a voluntary single-parent could be called courageous, but also foolhardy since fatherhood would distract Freddy from his extremely important duties. In a sense, Freddy was putting all his kinfolk at risk just to save one of them, and a rather unproductive one at that. Clearly, Freddy has sense of dedication, responsibility, and personal integrity which Einstein never possessed.

If you had to be genetically altered to have a brain like either Einstein’s or Freddy’s, whose would you choose? It is not an easy question to answer, but I would lean toward Freddy even though Einstein was a celebrated genius and Freddy was a chimpanzee. Freddy’s story was recorded in a nature documentary produced by the Disney film studios in 2012.[8] Even if scholars could come to a crystal clear understanding of race and the relationship of brain size to intelligence, we would still have to figure out what intelligence is, or how much it really matters. Einstein was a wiz at theoretical physics. But in other very significant ways, he was an idiot, whose brain structure might well show signs of such idiocy. What if he had been born 50 years earlier when the field of physics was not yet asking the sort of complex questions his mind was able to answer? He might have been just another person who never realized his ultimate intellectual potential, in other words a normal human being. If Da Vinci had by chance gone blind through a disease as a boy, he would not have been a great painter. Where would the violin prodigy Mozart have been if as an infant, a horse’s hoof had accidentally crushed his hand? It is not just the brain that is responsible for intelligence. To focus on it exclusively is to ignore an organism as a whole entity. People are not isolated units, but an interactive collection of interdependent organs who also interact with the world around them.

My brain is probably larger than Einstein’s. I have a large hat size. I am tall which is not unexpected given that I am mostly of German and British heritage, two tall nations, and also a bit Dutch. The Dutch are generally regarded as the tallest people in the world followed by the Massai people of Kenya. Why these disparate groups are tall is not known. It may be due to genetics, diet, geography, a combination of the three, or something else all-together. Nevertheless, my brain is still larger than most of the people reading this blog. And yet, most of the people who read this blog can read faster than I can. This is because I am dyslexic and read slowly. I function perfectly well, although I cannot spell, read time on a circular clock, or tell my right from my left. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I can do all those things, but I do them with some effort. I must use spell check when I type, and that helps me when I misspell words like “the,” which I periodically write as t-e-h. One of my most annoying problems is that I spell trail as trial, which in my profession as an author of recreational trail plans, happens all the time. I often miss that mistake. Sometimes when I do catch it, I correct it, or at least I try to, because when I attempt to correct it, I sometimes type in the wrong word yet again. At my job, I always have someone else proof my work, even simple form letters.

Undeniably, my large northern European male brain does not work as well as that of the majority of the world people, who are female and shorter than me. Most people are not dyslexic, and their small brains can do things my big brain cannot. If you ask them which side is their left side, they will immediately point to the left. If you ask me that question, I will pause and think. I will then remind myself that when I am driving, it is easy to make a right turn, but left turns are more difficult because you have to cross traffic. That is why there are “no left turn signs” set up along roadways. Thus, I have trained myself to remember that turning my car to the side of the road that has oncoming traffic is a left turn. This is how I know what side of my body is the left side. It also explains why I will never get behind the wheel in Britain. As a child I trained myself to recall the hand I use to write my name (the right side), but for some reason the traffic-based reference works better for me now.

One might say my big brain grants me no great benefit, since its dyslexic structure hampers its proper function. After all, every time I must consider which side is the left side, I go through a thought exercise using memory and imagination. And yet, in a way I am like a woman with no arms who must adapt by training the muscles in her feet, or a blind man whose brain becomes especially good at processing sound. Some studies indicate that dyslexics have an improved ability to see things in their peripheral vision. This rings true to me because as a teenager I studied in the bathtub, fully clothed with no water in it. To this day, when I edit text I write, I place the copy on the floor in the middle of an empty spot on the carpet. I can only focus on written words when all the objects in my peripheral vision are removed. So, is my brain worse than most other people’s, or just less conventional? If we were Cro-Magnons living in a cave, would their brains better help us to hunt and gather fruits, or mine since I might better see birds or hanging grapes in my peripheral vision? Maybe our band of cave-dwellers would prosper by having both types of brains, or just one brain like mine. Or maybe my brain is just random fluke, like those people (including one of my cousins), who was born with one misshapen double earlobe the doctors easily corrected when he was still an infant.

But if we all had brains like Einstein’s I think we would be in trouble. When it comes to listing good brains to have, I put his way at the bottom.



[1] Nick Collin’s, “Einstein’s brain ‘exceptionally complicated,’” The Telegraph (UK), (November 27, 2012), www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9707090/Einsteins-brain-exceptionally-complicated.html.

[2] Melissa Healy, “Einstein’s brain: Even on the surface, extraordinary,” Los Angelis Times, (November 28, 2012), articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/28/news/la-heb-einsteins-brain-extraordinary-20121127

[3] Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007).

[4] Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe, pp. 186-187; and Deborah Arthurs, “Was Einstein the world’s worst husband? Wife ordered to keep room tidy, serve three meals a day – but expect NO affection… and she must stop talking when he demands it,” The Daily Mail, (April 23, 2012), www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2133922/Was-Einstein-worlds-worst-husband-Wife-ordered-room-tidy-serve-meals-day–expect-NO-affection–stop-talking-demands-it.html#ixzz2SMIESo88

[5] Arthurs, “Was Einstein the world’s worst husband?”

[6] Douglas Martin, “Evelyn Einstein Dies at 70; Shaped by a Link to Fame,” The New York Times, (April 18, 2011), www.nytimes.com/2011/04/19/us/19einstein.html?_r=1&

[7] See the following footnote.

[8] Chimpanzee, Alastair Fothergill and mark Linfield, directors, Tim Allen, narrator, (Disneynature, 2012), Film

Latin and German Speakers: Here is Your Chance to Translate Blumenbach’s Writings

If I had a lots of spare money or access to a grant, I would commission a modern translation of Blumenbach’s writings on human variation. But I don’t, so I will post his writings here in the hope that some skilled Latin and German speakers will translate it for me. If this works, I’ll post more text.  The big question is this: Does Blumenbach say that Caucasians are THE most beautiful people, or that Georgians are A most lovely people ( or something else all together)?

Here is his famous description of a skull from Georgia:

Blum Latin 1

 

 

 

 

Blum Latin 2

And here it is in the first German translation (not translated by Blumenbach) of his Latin text:

Blum Germ 1

 

 

 

 

 

Blum Germ 2

Early 19th Century versus Modern Interpretations of Blumenbach

In my previous post I mentioned that Gould and other modern writers have portrayed Blumenbach as a man who felt that Caucasians were “the most beautiful” variety of human. My contention is that this view is based on a bad translation of Blumenbach by Thomas Bendyshe who essentially hijacked Blumenbach’s Latin texts, and translated them to conform with Bendyshe’s belief that different races evolved from different kinds of apes.  I recently looked into how authors before Bendyshe viewed Blumenbach’s views on beauty and race.  This is what I came up with so far:

1791 – “Mankind differ (sic) in colour in form in stature and in their manners in all the intermediate degrees between the East and the West and the North and the South. Buffon has elegantly described these differences Doctor Hunter made seven varieties of mankind founded on their colour only and Blumenbach has made only five founded on the colour of the skin and the formation of the face and stature.  His first variety comprehends the inhabitants of all Europe of the western part of Asia and of the northern part of Africa, the inhabitants of Greenland and of Esquimaux (sic). These have a white skin and a beautiful form.” – From “Vaughn’s Exposition on the Principles of Anatomy,” The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature, Vol. 2, (London: A. Hamilton, 1791), 332.

1796 – “Dr. B defines the five varieties which he assumes of the human species one and indivisible: 1. the Caucasian variety; the model, according to our estimate, of beauty…The Caucasian he considers as the primitive variety because the others recede from this in regular gradation to the Negroe or Æthiopic on one side, and to the Mongolic on the other; also because from his chemical hypothesis as mentioned above he conceives the degeneracy much more easy from white to black than the contrary…” – From The Monthly Review, Vol, 21 (London: R. Griffith, 1796), 5.22.

1796 – “Prof. Blumenbach has concluded his collection of skulls… with the third decade containing ten plates and 16 pages… In this decade is the skull of a young female georgian which exhibits the most beautiful form. Its elegant proportion of parts smoothness of surface and easy flow of outline with the nearly spherical figure of the cranium are well preserved in the delineation.” – From The Analytical Review, Or History of Literature, Domestic and Foreign, on an Enlarged Plan, Vol. 23 (London: J. Johnson, 1796), 557.

1809 – “This method he [Blumenbach] calls the norma verticalis: and illustrates by means of three heads. The middle of the three, distinguished by the beauty and symmetry of all its parts, is that of a Georgian female; the two outer ones are examples of heads differing from this in the opposite extremes. That which is elongated in front is the head of a Negress, from the coast of Guinea: the other, which is expanded laterally and flattened in front, is the cranium of a Tungoose, from the north-east of Asia. The margin of the orbits and the zygoma are elegantly contracted in the Georgian; and the jaws are hidden by the symmetrical expansion of the forehead.” – From William Nicholson, ed The British Encyclopedia: Or, Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, Vol. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1809), un-numbered page under the heading “Man.”

1822 – “The name of this variety is derived from Mount Caucasus; because in its neighborhood, and particularly towards the south, we meet with a very beautiful race of men, the Georgians. (See the quotation from Chardin at p. 81, V. 2;) and because, so far as the imperfect lights of history and tradition extend, the original abode of the species seems to have been near the same quarter.” – From William Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, Zoology and the Natural History of Man, Vol. 2, (London: Kaygill Printer, 1822), 268.

Note: The above text appears to be a nearly direct translation of Blumenbach’s Latin text from Section 85 of De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa (1795). This same text  that was translated somewhat differently by Bendyshe in 1865 (page 269) as follows: Caucasian variety: I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus both because its neighbourhood and especially its southern slope produces the most beautiful race of men I mean the Georgian (Footnote 1) and because all physiological reasons converge to this that in that region if anywhere it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones of mankind.”

1822 – “Blumenbach is inclined to believe that the primitive form of the human race was that which belongs to the Caucasian variety, of which the most beautiful specimens are now exhibited by the Georgians, Turks, Greeks, and some Europeans. From the finely formed skull of this race, as from a primitive configuration the other forms descend, by an easy and simple gradation on the one hand to the Mongolian, and on the other to the Ethiopian variety. The greatest mental powers have been bestowed on this variety; so that they have discovered nearly all the arts and sciences; indeed, almost our whole treasure of literature and knowledge has been derived from the same quarter. These nations have the most intelligent and expressive countenance, and the most beautiful bodily proportions: they occupy the middle regions of the globe, while the extremities are filled by others.” – From William Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, Zoology and the Natural History of Man, Vol. 2, (London: Kaygill Printer, 1822), 268.

1830 – “Fig. 4 of a Georgian female distinguished by the symmetry and beauty of all its parts. It is in the collection of Professor Blumenbach from whose work the annexed outline is taken The form of this head is of such distinguished elegance that it attracts the attention of all who visit the collection in which it is Contained. It corresponds exactly with the marble statue of a nymph in the collection of the late Mr. Townley of which Blumenbach possesses a plaster east. It is rendered doubly interesting as it tends to confirm the testimony of the numerous travelers who have unanimously concurred in extolling the beauty of the inhabitants of Georgia and the adjoining country.” – From David Brewster, ed., “Craniometry,” The Edinburgh Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1830), 320.

1831 – “The 1st great class [of humans] comprehends all the inhabitants of the world that were known to the ancients, excepting the Laplanders. Of this great class Blumenbach supposes the Caucassian Family to have been the original stock. I have taken my characters of this class from the skull of a Circassian girl, of ten or twelve years of age, which is of singular beauty in its form and proportions, and which corresponds very nearly to the Georgian skull represented by Blumenbach. The contour of the whole skull is elegant.” – From Alexander Monro, Anatomy of the Human Body in its Sound State, Vol. 1, (Edinburgh: John Carfrae and Sons, 1831), 205.

1836 – “The idea here obviously suggests itself of connecting the figure of the head and consequently of the brain among the Greeks with the high distinction attained by that people in philosophy and the fine arts But before we can determine that this relation is essential and real we must explain why other nations who partake of the same form have never displayed the same genius According to Blumenbach the skull of a Georgian female in his collection is equal in beauty of conformation to the Greek indeed he only gives to the Grecian skull the second place but the natives of Georgia have never been supposed to be possessed of any intellectual superiority It may also occur to those who would refer the great mental power of the Greeks to the organization of their brains to ask themselves the question why if that opinion were true did the Greeks cease soon after the Roman world had become enslaved to show any proofs of high intellect” – From James Cowles Prichard, Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Vol. 1, #rd Ed.  (London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, 1836), 304-305

1839 – “He [Blumenbach] regards the Caucasian race as the primitive stock, or as the standard and type of the rest. It appears, indeed, to occupy an intermediate place between the Mongolian race, on the one side, and the Ethiopian on the other… The various intermixtures which have taken place between these several races, in different parts of the world, render it very difficult, at the present day, to draw those precise lines of distinction which have probably, in remoter times, characterized the primitive races now enumerated.” – From Peter Roget, Outlines of Physiology: With an Appendix on Phrenology, (Phildelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1839), 362-363.

1847 – “The most intelligent writers have been fully aware of the diversity which may be found among Negroes, if looked for.  Blumenbach has mentioned several instances of Negro heads with European features, and which gave no other proof of genuine negro descent, than the colour of the skin and the texture of the hair… Blumenbach has cited Le Maire, Adanson, Ulloa, and others who assert that there are many Negresses whose features are beautiful according to the European standard of beauty.” – From James Cowles Prichard, Researches into the Physical History of Mankind, Vol. 1, (London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, 1847), 197.

1860 – “Little could the poor Georgian captive dream of the posthumous honours and admiration that were to atone to her for her living wrongs… Blumenbach regarded her symmetrical cranium as a peculiarly valuable prize. It was in the Third Decade of his anatomical descriptions of skulls published in 1795 that the skull of the fair Georgia was introduced accompanied by a glowing description of its elegance and unequalled grace and a reference to the beauty of the Georgian women which as his example proved lives even in their fleshless bones. A comparison of the skull with a cast of one of the most beautiful classic busts in the Townley collection seemed to the enthusiastic craniologist as though he had acquired the actual skull of the head from which the ancient marble was copied and when placed alongside of the only Greek skull in his collection the Georgian was superior to it the Greek being next in rank.” –  From E. Chapman, ed., The Canadian Journal of Industry Science and Art, Vol. 5. (Toronto: The Canadian Institute, 1860), 342-325.

I give that last word in this blog to Thomas Huxley (who indeed was prone to disparaging non-whites), to demonstrate that I am not the first one to be concerned that Blumenbach’s views have been misrepresented.

1901 – “Of all the odd myths that have arisen in the scientific world, the “Caucasian mystery,” invented quite innocently by Blumenbach, is the oddest. A Georgian woman’s skull was the handsomest in his collection. Hence it became his model exemplar of human skulls, from which all others might be regarded as deviations; and out of this, by some strange intellectual hocus-pocus, grew up the notion that the Caucasian man is the prototypic “Adamic” man, and his country the primitive centre of our kind. Perhaps the most curious thing of all is, that the said Georgian skull, after all, is not a skull of average form, but distinctly belongs to the brachycephalic group. – From Collected Essays of Thomas Huxley: Man’s Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays, (London: MacMillan, 1901), 244-245.

 

 

Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary, Part 4

4.1: GOULD’S MOST SIGNIFICANT ERROR: STEREOTYPING BLUMENBACH

Gould’s most unjustified misrepresentation of a historic figure focused on the Enlightenment period German anatomist Johann Blumenbach who, like Morton, studied skulls. Blumenbach, who wrote his major works in Latin, did not use the word “human races” but instead used generis humani varietatum,[1] which means “the varieties of human kind.”[2] Blumenbach did not believe that humans could be separated into distinct races, but rather that there were innumerable interrelated varieties that flowed into each other. [3] For him, human “varieties” were all parts of one unified entity, like the world’s oceans which are, in reality, simply locations in what is a single interconnected body of water. Blumenbach viewed racial differences as what we would now commonly call a spectrum, which in in biological terminology is referred to as a cline.

Morton, who read Latin, wrote that his research was based on Blumenbach’s. However, Morton explained that within his own writings, “the word race is substituted for variety.”[4] Thus Morton misrepresented Blumenbach’s ideas. It was Blumenbach who first used the word “Caucasian” to describe white Europeans. He famously described the shape of one skull specimen from the Caucasus Mountains as venustissimam which is often translated as “very beautiful,” although its literal translation would be “most comely/graceful.”[5] Gould and many others have interpreted this to mean that Blumenbach harbored racist ideas that whites were the most beautiful race.[6] Even Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health has accepted Gould’s claim.[7] However, this claim is somewhat of an exaggeration since the Latin text could be interpreted a number of ways. Blumenbach could just as easily have been saying that Caucasians were a most beautiful variety, which would be more consistent with his racially tolerant outlook. Far from being a racist, he collected books written by black Africans and educated former slaves to demonstrate that all people had the same intellectual potential. [8] He was an active anti-racist whose argued that human racial differences were mere superficial alterations within one species and not the major differences such as those which separate humankind from all other animals, most notably apes. [9]

In 1996, when Gould updated The Mismeasure of Man, he added an article about Blumenbach.[10] It included a drawing of skulls which Gould claimed to be an illustration from one of Blumenbach’s books. In this graphic, a Caucasian skull is situated higher than those of other races. When a paper by University of Tubingen historian Thomas Junker demonstrated that the original drawing placed all the skulls at the same level, Gould blamed the mistake on his editor saying, “I don’t think that I even knew about the figure when I wrote the article, for I worked from a photocopy of Blumenbach’s text alone.”[11] Gould dismissed this error as “inconsequential” and faulted Junker for misstating “the central thesis of my article—a misinterpretation that cannot, I think, be attributed to any lack of clarity on my part.” 

This incident has parallels to Gould’s conflict with Morris. First Gould commits exaggeration by accusing Blumenbach of being a culturally predestined racist, and therefore having a limited conceptual space. Then Gould accuses Junker of not understanding Gould’s central thesis, which certainly seems to suggest that Junker also has limited conceptual space. In the end, Gould disengaged with Junker just as he did with Morris and me.

I am not the first to propose that Gould was prone to periodically castigating anything he disagreed. In 1983, Bernard Davis came to a similar conclusion when he described the contents of Gould’s book, the Mismeasure of Man as “neo-Lysenkoism.” Tofrim Lysenko was the Soviet-era Russian scientist who rejected Mendelian genetics, and through political connections suppressed it from being taught on the basis that it was anti-communist.[12] Davis wrote that through The Mismeasure of Man, Gould was similarly engaging in “an effort to outlaw a field of science because it conflicts with a political dogma.”[13]

But unlike Lysenko, whose government connections permitted him to end the careers of those who disagreed with him, Gould held no such power. However, he did have the bully pulpit of his considerable fame, and was willing to publicly brand people with the moral crime of racism, such as the authors of the Bell Curve.[14] In that respect Gould was more akin to Abu Ḥamed al Ghazali, the 12th century Seljuq Persian Islamic scholar whose philosophy proposed that mathematics was the work of the devil. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has noted that al Ghazali’s proclamation had a detrimental effect on Islamic scholarship, most notably astronomy.[15] Gould’s impact is not remotely comparable to al Ghazali’s; however, Gould did link morality with a specific field of study. Instead of associating math with the evil of Satan, Gould connected the examination of human racial differences with the evil of racism. Thus Gould could label Blumenbach as inherently unconsciously racist, simply because Blumenbach accepted that there were physical variations in human populations.

In 1983, Davis proposed that Gould’s outlook (and others who infuse science with political ideology) might one day squelch future research. As Davis put it, “A chilling atmosphere is quite sufficient to prevent funding agencies, investigators, and graduate students from exploring a taboo area.”[16] And indeed Davis’s words proved prophetic. In 2002, Wolpoff and Caspari wrote that Natural History magazine refused to publish critiques of Gould articles.[17] In 1986, my advisor, the Antarctic paleontologist Gerald Webers, wisely told me not to be too critical of Gould, or else I might not get published. And so I self-censored my work, limiting the discussion of Gould. Two years later, I was published in a leading journal. Jason Lewis, another undergraduate who measured the Morton skulls, did not self-censor his critique of Gould. His paper was repeatedly rejected despite being co-authored by some of the nation’s leading anthropology professors. By the time it was finally published, Lewis had become a PhD. According to an editorial in Nature magazine, Lewis’s criticism of Gould:

… was rejected by the journal Current Anthropology, and spent eight months in the review process at PLoS Biology. And although an undergraduate did publish a more modest study scrutinizing Gould in 1988, it is remarkable that it has taken more than 30 years for a research group to check Gould’s claims thoroughly. Did Gould’s compelling writing and admirable anti-racist motivations help to delay scrutiny of his facts? Quite possibly, and this is regrettable.[18]

Once it was published, Lewis’s paper was for all practical purposes accepted as valid, even by those who did not like its tone. It defies common sense to believe that Lewis’s paper could have been rejected for an entire decade because of a lack of quality scholarship. I therefore propose that multiple journals rejected Lewis’s paper because they were afraid of critiquing Gould. Like me, they self-censored themselves. Indeed, Gould is not the only one responsible for creating a climate of fear. He was but one part of a community, including his publishers, and the Harvard University administrators who benefited from Gould, the controversialist, the brand. Gould was a celebrity, sought out by audiences and magazine editors for being bold and revolutionary. They all had a vested interest in letting him get away with writing things they would not accept from other scientists, a practice which Mandy Garner thoroughly documented in her 2002 paper on Gould entitled “Biology’s unedited crusader.”[19] 

Furthermore, when Science magazine published Gould’s poorly-documented historic evaluation of Morton, they lent legitimacy to it by presenting it as scientific research, which it was not. Nature magazine did the same when it published Gould’s even more speculative critique of Blumenbach.[20] Anthropologist John Hawks wrote that Gould’s publications about Morton are:

 

…very widely read and cited by people who will never examine the primary evidence. Gould owed us a responsible reading and trustworthy reporting on that evidence. In its place, he made up fictional stories, never directly examined the evidence himself, and misreported Morton’s numbers… I don’t think that Gould’s errors can be written off as “unconscious bias.” Reading back over his 1978 article, I cannot believe that Science published it.[21]

 

The field of anthropology also bears some responsibility for permitting Gould to disseminate incorrect information for such a long period of time. As noted above, professional anthropologists are often more prone to critique each other than cooperate. Without a unified voice they are poorly equipped to defend themselves against ill-informed theories proposed by well-known non-anthropologists. If an anthropologist were to write a paper about snail evolution, the invertebrate paleontological community would rally to point out that an anthropologist is unqualified to make such statements. Yet Gould was permitted to write about the evolution of the brains in Cro-Magnons. No anthropologist would write a paper about ants, yet ant expert Edward O. Wilson wrote about human behavior.[22] Based in sheer speculation, Richard Dawkins has proposed that the transfer of ideas from one person to the next, which he calls mimetics, operates much like genetics. This is not surprising given that is his area of expertise is genetics.[23] None of these men, who may genuinely excel in their chosen fields, have any more qualifications to make statements about anthropology than I do. And yet they have been able to gain a wide audience because actually-qualified anthropologists have been too Balkanized to stop them.

4.4: WHO IS “RIGHT” AND WHO IS “WRONG”

If both Gould and Morton were “wrong,” then who is “right?” Is brain size related to intelligence? The answer begins with this: brain size typically relates to body size. Neanderthals never learned to make or use bows and arrows and their tool kits were not nearly as sophisticated and varied as those of Cro Magnons, but because they had bulkier bodies than modern humans, they had larger brains.[24] Conversely, the pygmies of the Congo, whose brains and bodies are small, hunted birds with poison-tipped blowguns darts, a complex technology that requires a highly advanced mind.[25] In all societies, women are shorter than men, and thus have smaller brains than their male relatives.[26] And ethnic groups from colder climates are usually taller, stockier, and, yes, larger-brained than those from equatorial zones. This phenomenon, known as Bergman’s Rule, is also true for rabbits, foxes and other mammals.[27]

The notion that Congolese pygmies might be more intelligent than European Neanderthals is something that does not fit in with Gould’s view on anthropology. He held that Neanderthals were just another race of modern human beings, saying, “Neanderthal is not an intermediate form – it’s us.”[28] As Gould saw it – through the lens of punctuated equilibrium – we humans evolved quickly from a small population that had become different from their pre-human ancestors, and we then stopped evolving. “Think of Cro-Magnon people 50,000 years ago,” Gould said, “They were us. There’s no difference in the brain capacity and intellectual abilities. What’s happened is all cultural evolution.”[29] So according to Gould’s scenario, humans formed long ago in one brief burst of change from pre-human to human, and ever since then entered a period of no change, which in the language of evolution is called stasis. Such a view is consistent with Gould’s unwavering belief in the pervasiveness of punctuated equilibrium. Thus Gould was engaged in confirmation bias.

Ironically, Morton also was a proponent of stasis. Late in his career he concluded that each race of humans was created specifically adapted to the climate in which it lived, and that each had not changed (that is, each remained in stasis) since their initial creation.[30] He noted (with his italics) that, “the races of the human family are primordially distinct,” and that “Man was aboriginally suited by his Creator for the various locations in which he has placed him.”[31] While Gould held that ever since the dawn of human formation, all men were, and have always been, of equal intelligence and brain size. Morton argued just the opposite. But both were mistaken, since – bluntly stated – small brained pygmies are smarter than large brained Neanderthals ever were. Furthermore, it was Morton’s contention that the different human races were actually different species, but that they could interbreed like horses and donkeys. His theory was that geographically closer races were more likely to produce fertile offspring, thus Englishmen and Native Australians were the least likely to produce children.[32] There are certain animals, like the various species of larus gull, in which this phenomenon does in fact occur. Animals with this characteristic are called a ring species.[33] However, contrary to Morton’s claims, humans varieties are not ring species.

There are no separate races of human beings. Recent DNA studies suggest that genetic variation does indeed exists between different populations, but it is like the colors of the spectrum, with differing features grading into each other, constantly intermixing like the waters of the oceans.[34] It would appear that Blumenbach was “right” in accepting that there are racial differences, but not distinct races. There are subtle shades of grey in nature that some scientists, inclined to classifying things into neat black and white categories, fail to accept. Gould did not find much value in the grey zone, instead preferring that the concept of objectivity be completely jettisoned, and that stale theories be declared stone dead. His favorite quote from Charles Darwin was, “How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!”[35] In short, Gould had a rigidly dualistic (and thus exaggerated) view of the word which closed him off (and thus disengaged him) from all of the fascinating ambiguity and uncertainty that still characterizes the scientific discussion of human racial diversity.

It is safe to say that Gould and Morton were subject to normal confirmation bias, as are Lewis and myself. Confirmation bias is part of human nature. However, speculating that Morton’s errors or Gould’s errors show a pattern that exhibits a complex unconscious bias is simply unwarranted based on the historic record. When it came to the Morton skulls, both Morton and Gould made many errors. Gould saw Morton’s errors as indicating unconscious racial bias. But the historic record, which includes the skulls, suggests that Morton’s mistakes were random with with no pattern. Furthermore, the historic record indicates that Gould was a man prone to making serial charges of unconscious bias against people living and long dead. Thus Morton’s case was not, and is not now, an especially good example of unconscious racial bias in science. Rather he is just another antiquated scholar stereotyped by Gould based on an insufficient review of the historic record.

In remembering Gould, Ian Tattersall wrote, “Indeed, he was capable of committing in his own writings exactly the kinds of error of which he had accused Samuel Morton.” And it appears that time has shown this to be the case. Morton was mistaken in his belief in that someone can say something significant about people based on the volume of their cranial capacity, while Gould was equally as mistaken in his belief that someone can say something significant about people based on their limited conceptual space. To paraphrase Darwin’s critique of Morton, there was “want in exactness” in the manner Gould gave the facts.

In the final analysis, the Morton-Gould Affair, which has been popularized as a diagnostic example of the role of unconscious bias in science, is simply a case of two over-eager scholars jumping to conclusions based on a small amount of data. It is unfortunate that the discussion of Morton’s work has occupied so much energy over the past 30 years, when a more important issue is Gould’s historically inaccurate misrepresentation of Blumenbach’s work, which unlike Morton’s was a foundational element of modern physical anthropology and public policy regarding racial variation that still impacts us today. A proper representation of Blumenbach’s theories and an accurate translation of his major Latin publications into modern English and German are long overdue and would be of great benefit to science and society at large.



[1] Johan Blumenbach, De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa, 3rd Edition, (Gottingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1795).

[2] This translation is based on an Latin dictionary dating to Blumenbach’s era which is John Entick, The New Latin and English Dictionary, (London: Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, 1771), pp. (unnumbered but with letter headings) GEN, HUM, and VAR.

[3] Thomas Junker, “Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, Stephen Jay Gould und die naturliche Einheit der Menschen,” Verhandlungen zur Geschichte und Theorie der Biologie, Vol 13, 2007, pp. 17-28.

[4] Morton, Crania Americana, p. 5.

[5] Entick, The New Latin and English Dictionary, p. VEN. This dictionary defined the adjective venustus as “comely, graceful, genteel, fine, gallant, pleasant, happy, lucky.” 

[6] Recent scholars who have critiqued Blumenbach based on Gould’s misinterpretation or Bendyshe’s mistranslation of his works (or both) include: Conrad Quintyn, The Existence or Non-existence of Race, p. 21; Nell Painter, The History of White People, (W. W. Norton and Company, 2010), p. 80; Sara Figal, Heredity, Race, and the Birth of the Modern, (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 79; and Raj Bhopal, “The beautiful skull and Blumenbach’s errors: the birth of the scientific concept of race,” in The British Medical Journal (December 22, 2007), pp. 1308–1309, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2151154/, accessed December 2012.

[7] Francis S. Collins, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, (New York: Harper Collins, 2010), p.145.

[8] Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word, pp. 44-47.

[9] Junker, “Johann Friedrich Blumenbach,” pp. 17-28.

[10] This article was adapted from Stephen Jay Gould, “The Geometer of Race: In the eighteenth century a disastrous shift occurred in the way Westerners perceived races. The man responsible was Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, one of the least racist thinkers of his day,” Discover Magazine, (November 1994), online edition http://discovermagazine.com/1994/nov/thegeometerofrac441#.UOGEqXcdOZQ, accessed December 2012

[11] Stephen Jay Gould, “Critiques and Contentions: On Mental and Visual Geometry,” ISIS, 1988, 89:502.

[12] Jacob Hamblin, Science in the Early 20th Century: An Encyclopedia, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005), p. 188.

[13] Davis, “Neo-Lysenkoism and the press,” p. 58.

[14] In The Mismeasure of Man (1996), pp. 379-390, Gould’s essay “Ghosts of Bell Curves Past”  presented parallels between the Bell Curve and the works of the white supremacist 19th century writer Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau.

[15] Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “Naming Rights,” a lecture given as part of the Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival Lectures given at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, November 5, 2006. http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/beyond-belief-science-religion-reason-and-survival/session-2-4, (accessed 2013). Tyson notes that there are an abundance Arabic-named stars and mathematical concepts, like algebra and algorithm, which date to the era before al Ghazali, but few that come after.

[16] Davis, “Neo-Lysenkoism and the press,” p. 58.

[17] M. Wolpoff and R. Caspari, Letter to the Editor, Human Nature Review, Vol. 2, 2002, p. 297.

[18] Editorial, “Mismeasure for Mismeasure,” Nature.

[19] Garner, “Biology’s unedited crusader.”

[20] It warrants noting that ISIS also published works by Gould; but ISIS, as a history journal, has never claimed to publish scientific research. Furthermore, ISIS also published Junker’s critique of Gould’s evaluation of Blumenbach which documented Gould’s misrepresentation of the historic record.

[21] John Hawks, “Gould’s “Unconscious Manipulation of Data,””John Hawks Weblog, June 8, 2011, www.johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/meta/gould-morton-lewis-2011

[22] Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1975), pp. 547-575.

[23] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (Oxford University Press, 2009, 1976), p. 192.

[24] Clive Finlayson, Neanderthals: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 83, and Victoria Gill, “Oldest Evidence of Arrows Found: Researchers in South Africa have Revealed the Earliest Direct Evidence of Human-made Arrows,” BBC News Online. 2010, (August 26). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11086110.

[25] Rory Nugent, Drums along the Congo: On the Trail of the Last Living Dinosaur, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 191.

[26] T. White and P. Folkens, Human Bone Manual. (Burlington, MA: Elsevire Academic Press, 2005), p. 386.

[27] W. Leonard and P. Katzmarzyk, “Body Size and Shape: Climate and Nutritional Influences on Human Body Morphology,” in Michael Muehlenbein, ed. Human Evolutionary Biology. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 157.

[28] Quoted in Gleick, “Breaking Tradition with Darwin,”

[29] Ibid.

[30] Cook, “The Old Physical Anthropology and the New World,” p. 38.

[31]Samuel Morton, “Notes from the meeting of January 14, 1851,” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 5:7, 1851, p. 33

[32] Bronwen Douglas, “Climate to crania: science and the racialization of human difference,” in B. Douglas and C. Ballard, eds., Foreign Bodies: Oceania and the Science of Race 1750-1940 (Canberra, Australia: Australian National University E Press, 2008), p. 67.

[33] Martin Rowland, Biology (Walton-on-Thames, Surry: Thomas Nelson and Sons Limited, 1992), p. 555.

[34] Spencer Wells, Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project, (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2007), p.106.

[35] Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life, p. 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary, Part 3

3.1: GOULD’S DISENGAGEMENT

As noted above, I have concluded that that Morton was a racist whose research on supposedly ancient Egyptian skulls was flawed by multiple errors, and that it appears that he may have pre-sorted his skulls to conform with his documented racist views. Superficially, it may seem that I am in agreement with Gould’s assessment of Morton. However, there is one major distinction: Gould claimed that Morton had an unconscious racial bias, of which Morton was not aware. Gould said Morton was racist but he didn’t even know it. I make no such claim. Instead, rather like a lawyer, I propose that the preponderance of evidence indicates Morton was a racist, and that additional evidence suggests racism may have skewed his research. For the latter charge, he is innocent until proven guilty.

            As noted above, it is now Gould who faces charges that his research was skewed by his unconscious ideological bias. Some argue that he was a better example of unconsciously biased science than Morton was.[i] I do not support that position. While I agree that Gould’s research was flawed by poor scholarship, I do not see an ideological left-wing bias as the root cause of his errors. Rather, I propose an alternative explanation. I view his mistakes as deriving from his rigidly dualistic view of the world, his penchant for exaggeration, and from a dismissive personality that caused him to simply ignore people and ideas that displeased him. To justify my claims, I will rely on the historic record and my own face-to-face experience with Gould, which through this paper I am entering into the historic record.

Stephen Jay Gould had a remarkable ability to gather diverse pieces of information on a wide range of topics and quickly evaluate them. However, once he made up his mind he was unlikely to change it. This personality trait was evident in his writing process. He composed all his works, even after personal computers became the norm, on a manual typewriter with few, if any, rewrites.[ii] Gould was also known to submit his copy to editors with the request that they not alter it. That request was often granted.[iii] In other words, Gould processed information in his head, quickly organized it, recorded it, and then he disengaged. Once he had generated his conclusions, there was minimal inward reflection, nor was there back-and-forth discussion with others. Gould repeatedly exhibited this kind “disengagement;” and, it impacted his research into Morton and his charges of unconscious racial bias against Morton and other scholars both living and dead.

Gould was prone to disengage with people with whom he disagreed. When describing those who did not accept his theory of punctuated equilibrium, he once wrote: “When smart people don’t ‘get it,’ one must conclude that the argument lies outside whatever ‘conceptual space’ they maintain for assessing novel ideas in a given area.”[iv] In the language of rhetoric, dismissing an argument by dismissing the intellectual worthiness of the person who made it is known as the fallacy of “ad hominem.”  And so, Gould used the fallacy of ad hominem to justify disengaging with his opponents, often in the form of unilaterally ending all further discussion. Once he had labeled them as having a limited conceptual space, he could ignore them.

Gould justified disengaging with some his critics by declaring that they had limited “conceptual space” or words to that effect. For example, in 1998, Gould’s book Wonderful Life was critiqued by Cambridge University paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris in Natural History magazine. Morris proposed that it was unfair of Gould to charge that Charles D. Walcott, the discoverer of the fossil rich Burgess Shale, had conducted research that was not scientifically valid but instead had been warped to fit Walcott’s “preconceptions.”[v] In other words, Gould held that Walcott had limited conceptual space and so his ideas were invalid and should be rejected. Through this justification, Gould disengaged from Walcott so that no further discussion was needed.

Gould responded by charging that Morris also had limited conceptual space. Gould wrote, “I am puzzled that Conway Morris apparently, doesn’t grasp the equally strong (and inevitable) personal preferences embedded in his own view of life.”[vi] Gould further expounded on this theme, finding fault with Morris as an individual who was out of touch with his own subconscious motives:

Conway Morris’s peculiar and undefended reversal of these usual arguments about probability can arise only from a “personal credo”—and I would value his explicit attention to the sources of his own unexamined beliefs.[vii]

And so Gould found justification for disengaging with Morris by claiming that his “personal credo” essentially blinded him from seeing the truth, just as Walcott’s “preconceptions’ blinded him.

 

3.2: EXAGGERATED CLAIMS OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

In his 1977 book Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Gould proposed that the research of the Dutch anatomist Lodewijke Bolk was influenced by his racist views. Gould was correct that Bolk was a racist, since Bolk openly wrote that “the division of mankind into higher and lower races is fully justified.”[viii] Thus it was reasonable for Gould to propose that Bolk’s research was influenced by his racism. Unfortunately, Bolk was not the only figure from the history of science whose work was skewed by racism. In the early 1960s, University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Carlton Coon proposed that black Africans evolved from Homo erectus after other races did. He was charged with infusing his research with racism, which was mere speculation until letters surfaced demonstrating that he was working behind the scenes with an organization opposed the integration of public schools.[ix] Once it was found that Coon, like Bolk, had documented his racist views, it was reasonable to accept that his apparently racist research was genuinely driven by racism.

Gould regularly made charges that his critics were right-wing ideologues. Science writer John Horgan observed that Gould had a “tendency to denigrate on a moral basis people who disagreed with him, and especially people he accused of biological determinism. Sometimes, he made it sound like they were all racists and sexists and crypto-fascists.”[x] Thus Gould was able to label his opponents with a specific form of limited conceptual space that was defined by right-wing ideology. In Gould’s worldview, racism associated with extreme right-wing ideology was an especially potent cause of limited conceptual space.

Gould’s critique of Bolk was warranted. However, in the Mismeasure of Man, Gould selectively ignored parts of the historic record, using a bigoted quote written by Benjamin Franklin at the age of 48 to suggest an inherently racist outlook.[xi] Gould failed to mention that at the age of 58, Franklin became a staunch abolitionist.[xii] Gould also claimed innate racism in the writings of Alexander von Humboldt,[xiii] who personally acted to abolish slavery in Germany[xiv] and famously wrote, “There are nations more susceptible of cultivation, more highly civilized, more ennobled by mental cultivation than others – but none in themselves are nobler than others. All are in like degree designed for freedom.”[xv] This was a statement of human equality that Morton emphatically disputed.[xvi]

Gould’s misrepresentation of Franklin and Humboldt speak to another aspect of his personality. Gould was prone to making exaggerated statements. Both his friends and foes admit that he was a gifted popularizer of science; a salesman if you will. And like a well-seasoned pitchman, he would add flourish and exaggeration to sell the product, which got him into trouble at times. Gould was accused of exaggerating the importance of his theory of punctuated equilibrium, which held that evolution occurs in fits and stops rather than gradually over time. After Gould presented this idea at a meeting, renowned Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr noted, “It’s a brilliant tour de force that Steve has produced,” but he doubted that Gould’s observations were as important or innovative as Gould had claimed. He described the proof for punctuated evolution to be on “thin ice” adding “and there is no thinner ice than Steve’s ice.”[xvii] Similarly John Maynard Smith, another key evolutionary theorist, argued that punctuated equilibrium was not an entirely new or especially revolutionary idea.[xviii]

Gould’s exaggerations sometimes led to public embarrassment. Once, instead of merely critiquing a mainstream evolutionary theory (known as neo-Darwinian synthesis), he instead said it was, “effectively dead,” a phrase for which he was heavily criticized within his profession for years thereafter.[xix] Not only was it an exaggeration, but it reflected Gould’s proclivity for disengagement, cutting off all further discussion by metaphorically declaring an idea he refuted to be “dead.” 

In 1977, Gould exaggerated the importance of Morton by quoting luminaries, like Oliver Wendell Holmes, who praised Morton’s work, but not Morton’s critics.[xx] However, in 1847, Charles Darwin wrote a letter to his friend Charles Lyell, faulting Morton for citing dubious information to support his views on hybrids. Darwin noted that there was “a want in exactness in the manner Morton gives the facts,” and concluded, “I do not think Dr. Morton a safe man to quote from.”[xxi] Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, who promoted theories on “Aryan” white supremacy,[xxii] rejected Morton’s work for having an arbitrary sample. In 1855, he used the words, “quite incomplete and unscientific” to describe Morton’s Table from page 260 of Crania Americana, which was reproduced on page 505 of Gould’s 1978 paper.[xxiii] In 1867, British craniologist Joseph Bernard Davis also faulted Morton’s sample sizes.[xxiv] In 1876, Scottish-Canadian Daniel Wilson published an extensive refutation of Morton’s Crania Americana, addressing it over 30 times throughout over 300 pages of text.[xxv] And although the renowned anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka recognized Morton as the “father of American anthropology,”[xxvi] Hrdlicka wrote a letter in 1911 that states, “The actual value of the anthropological work of Samuel G. Morton lies only in the fact that it has drawn, more than any other work, the attention of scientists to the American man, and that it has stimulated further research. His measurements and observations are only of very little value today.”[xxvii] 

In his 1978 paper, Gould employed an unconventional technique to charge Morton with being a racist, even though there was, at the time, no definitive evidence to justify that claim. Instead of saying Morton was admittedly racist, Gould proposed that Morton was unconsciously racist. In other words, Morton behaved like a racist but was not aware of it. Gould’s theory held that Morton, having been born into the racist culture of early 19th century America, had been infused – in a sense infected – by the stain of racism that permeated his culture.

In this respect, Gould was making an argument much like those favored by the post-modernist, deconstructionist school of literary critics. For example, in his book The Emperor’s Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds, deconstructionist literary critic Ariel Dorfman proposed that Babar the elephant, the cartoon character from the popular children’s story, was actually a unconscious attempt by its French author, Jean de Brunhoff, to indoctrinate children into believing that French colonialism in Africa was a positive thing.[xxviii] Dorfman comes to this conclusion when he sees Babar, an African elephant, enjoying a new life in a very Paris-like city where he can dress in a waistcoat and go to the symphony, rather than roaming naked in the jungle like a native. Of course this is Dorfman’s subjective personal interpretation and has no claim to objectivity.

With the deconstructionist approach, it does not matter what an author intended to write, but rather what his or her surrounding culture directed the author to subconsciously write. It is as if the author was an actor reading a script previously written by his or her culture.[xxix] Gould also made similar charges against Darwin, proposing that his theory of gradual evolution (gradualism) was “not of nature,” but rather was unconsciously influenced by the British imperial culture in which Darwin lived.[xxx] Gould proposed that gradualism was “an a priori assertion from the start – it was never seen in the rocks” but rather was the product of 19th century “cultural and political biases.”[xxxi] In 1977, Gould published his now famous paper, “Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered,” which he co-authored with Niles Eldredge. In this paper Gould claimed that “punctuated change dominates the history of life,” and “must be the dominant mode of evolution.”[xxxii] Furthermore, Gould claimed that those paleontologists who did not accept this new view of evolution were unconsciously biased. As Gould and Eldredge wrote:  

We argue that virtually none of the examples brought forward to refute our model can stand as support for phyletic gradualism; many are so weak and ambiguous that they only reflect the persistent bias for gradualism still deeply embedded in paleontological thought.[xxxiii]

And so, just as Gould accused Walcott and Morris (as individuals) of having a limited conceptual space, so Gould accused the entire field of paleontology of having a limited conceptual space because it came from the same western imperialist cultural tradition that generated Darwin.

Thus in Gould’s worldview, an individual (or group of people) from a racist or imperialist society was predestined to be racist at an unconscious level, even if his or her behavior proved otherwise. Because Franklin, Humboldt, and Morton came from racist cultures, their very ideas must be permeated with racism. Gould held that in science, “theory is always, and must be, colored by social and psychological biases of surrounding culture; we have no access to utterly objective observation or universally unambiguous logic.”[xxxiv] Furthermore, Gould claimed that, not some but “all professional historians of science” embraced the notion that “theories must reflect a surrounding social and cultural context.”[xxxv] As Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History put it, when it came to “the issues of nature versus nurture, Gould was firmly on the side of nurture.”[xxxvi]

Gould’s nurture-only viewpoint was stereotyping akin to the nature- only racism of Morton, who held that “the origin of all the varieties of character are congenital” and based on the “structure of the brain.”[xxxvii] For Morton, a person’s biological heritage, and thus race, determined a person’s intelligence and personality, or at least exerted an unavoidable effect upon the person. Gould opposed stereotyping people based on the race into which they were born. He vilified it as fallacious “biological determinism.”[xxxviii] Yet what he proposed could be called “cultural determinism,” in which people are stereotyped based on the culture into which they were born. Gould went as far as to declare that not just some, but “all American culture heroes” like Jefferson and Lincoln, “embraced racial attitudes” that were fundamentally racist.[xxxix]

Gould’s cultural determinism also contains elements of exaggeration and disengagement. His evaluation of Morton provides a good example of this. First, Gould exaggerated the scant historic records he had gathered regarding Morton so as to make it appear Morton was a well-documented racist. Then, once he had declared Morton to have this moral failing, Gould claimed that a racist ideology was the cause of Morton’s limited conceptual space. Thus Gould could justify disengaging from Morton, and so ad hominem, reject the validity of Morton’s research and measurements. Gould said that Morton’s mis-measurements “must have happened,” thus cutting off any consideration that there could another explanation. In regards to Morton, Gould employed exaggeration followed by disengagement. After that, Gould would not allow further discussion, as I will discuss below.

In 1986, I mailed my results to Gould, who requested we meet after he gave a lecture in May at the University of Minnesota.[xl] Our meeting lasted perhaps five minutes. He told me that I “missed the point,” and abruptly ended the conversation, ignoring me and instead speaking to the man next to him. My recollection is that he did not say goodbye, so I simply walked away.[xli] This harsh reaction was not unusual for Gould. According to three former students of Gould including paleontologist Warren Allmon, Gould was “a difficult role model. He decided quickly whom he did and didn’t favor, and you usually didn’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”[xlii] Paleontologist Jerry Coyne noted that Gould (one of his thesis advisors), could be “quite rude to those he considered his intellectual inferiors, and that was pretty much everyone.”[xliii] After I published my paper in 1988, I sent Gould a copy but got no response. When I wrote him again, he replied that he had lost it and requested another copy, which I sent.[xliv] I never heard back from him.

Sometime later, Gould gave a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, after which he was asked a question about my paper. His response was simply that he would not discuss it, and he did not.[xlv] Gould never mentioned my paper in any of his prolific writings.[xlvi] In 2011, Lewis wrote that, “were Gould still alive, we expect he would have mounted a defense of his analysis of Morton.”  Soon after that, Prothero noted, “I’m sure if Steve were alive, he would be able to counter these accusations in his own inimitable way.”  And yet these two statements conflict with the fact that Gould actually had two opportunities to counter such accusations, and instead chose to silently disengage.

It is in part because of the way that Gould reacted to my paper that I cannot support those who charge him with conducting research that was skewed by his own unconscious ideological bias. After all, Gould’s ideological bias, conscious or otherwise, was not the reason why he shut down all conversation with me or about my work, never mentioning it once in his many publications. It was not my political ideology he opposed, since he had no idea what it was. It is therefore not surprising that he never launched an ad hominem critique of me or implied I had limited conceptual space. Instead, he simply ignored me or any mention of my research for the rest of his life. Thus, I propose that Gould’s left-wing bias was not the root cause of his drive to debunk Morton and other racists, known or presumed. Rather it was his simple refusal to accept that he might be wrong. Gould’s supposed unconscious ideological bias is a red herring, a concept as fanciful and manufactured as Morton’s supposed unconscious racial bias.



[i] See footnote 4.

[ii] Mandy Garner, “Biology’s unedited crusader,” The Times of Higher Education On-line, 2002, (April 26), www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=168713&sectioncode=26

[iii] Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life, p. 34.

[iv] Quoted in Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life, p. 23.

[v] S. Conway Morris and S. Gould, “Showdown on the Burgess Shale,” Natural History magazine, (December/January, 1998), p. 48-55.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Quoted in Gould, Ontology and Phylogeny, p. 359.

[ix] Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word, pp. 236-237.

[x] John Horgan, John Horgan (Stevens Center for Science Writings, Cross-check) and George Johnson (The Cancer Chronicles, Discover) video blog. Bloggerheads.tv, 2011, (June 24). http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/3044

[xi] Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (1996), p. 64.

[xii] Walter Isaacson, ed. and Benjamin Franklin, A Benjamin Franklin Reader, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), p. 202.

[xiii] Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, (1996), p.70.

[xiv] Julius Lowenberg, et al., Life of Alexander Von Humboldt, Vol. II. (New York: Cosimo Books, 2009 reprint from 1873), p. 254.

[xv] Quoted in Richard Popkin, et al., The High Road to Pyrrhonism. (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1980), p. 100.

[xvi] See the quote from Morton in J. Nott and G. Gliddon, Types of Mankind: Or, Ethnological Researches: Based Upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races, and Upon Their Natural, Geographical, Philological and Biblical History, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, and Company, 1855), pp. li-lii.

[xvii] Quoted in James Gleick, “Breaking Tradition with Darwin,” New York Times, 1983 (November 20).

[xviii] Gleick, “Breaking Tradition with Darwin.”

[xix] Quoted in Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life, p. 16.

[xx] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity,” p. 503.

[xxi] Charles Darwin, Letter to Charles Lyell, Down, UK, Jun 2, 1847, posted at Darwin Correspondence Project, www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-1093

[xxii] Frank Spencer, ed., History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997), 441.

[xxiii] Joseph-Arthur Gobineau, Adrian Collins, trans. The Inequality of Human Races, (New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915), p. 112.

[xxiv] Joseph Bernard Davis, Thesaurus Craniorum: Catalogue of the Skulls of the Various Races of Man, in the Collection of Joseph Barnard Davis, (London: Printed for the Subscribers, 1876), p. 346.

[xxv] Daniel Wilson, Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilization in the Old and the New World, Vol. 2, (London: Macmillian and Co., 1876) pp. 112-132.

[xxvi] Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word, p. 91.

[xxvii] Ales Hrdlicka, Letter to Edwin J. Nolan, Academy of Natural Sciences, Washington DC, May 2, 1911.

[xxviii] Ariel Dorfman,The Emperor’s Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds, with a New Preface by the Author, (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 12-57.

[xxix] For more on this topic known as “Death of the Author,” see Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 31-32 in which she notes, “In the social sciences the “death of the author” closes off the study of some topics, reinforces others, and opens up still others. First and most obvious, post-modernists diminish the importance of the author as a writer of texts. Post- modern social science then, spends little energy on discovering what the “author really meant.” Second, the repercussions are even greater when the author is conceived of broadly as an actor with political, economic, and social roles…”

[xxx] S. Gould and N. Eldredge, “Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered,” Paleobiology, April 1977, v. 3, p. 145.

[xxxi] S. Gould and N. Eldredge, “Punctuated equilibria,” p. 115.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Stephen Jay Gould, Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997), p. 420.

[xxxv] Quoted in Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on his View of Life, p. 18.

[xxxvi] Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on his View of Life, p. ix.

[xxxvii] Spencer, Frank, “Samuel George Morton’s Doctoral Thesis on Bodily Pain: The Probable Source of Morton’s Polygenism” Transactions and Studies of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, 1983, 5 (4): 336.

[xxxviii] Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on his View of Life, p. 34.

[xxxix] Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (1996), 64.

[xl] Stephen Jay Gould, Letter to John S. Michael, Cambridge, MA, March 11, 1986.

[xli] John S. Michael, Letter to Harry Jerison. Melrose Park, PA. June 25, 1996. UCLA Prof. Jerison wrote me a letter in June 1996 asking if I had done any more research on Morton. I responded that I had not, but offered him my data. He did not take me up on the offer.

[xlii] Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on his View of Life, p. ix.

[xliii] Jerry Coyne, “Gould gets it in the neck,” Why Evolution is True web site, posted June 14 2011. www. jerrycoyne.uchicago.edu, Accessed 2012.

[xliv] Gould, October 12, 1988.

[xlv] Janet Monge, personal communication, 2011. Monge observed this at one of Gould’s lectures.

[xlvi] Gould published 479 peer-reviewed papers, 22 books, and 300 essays as noted in Michael Shermer, This view of science,” p. 496.

Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary, Part 2

2.1: MORTON’S MISTAKES AND GOULD’S MISTAKES

In 1986, I identified only one misstatement in Gould’s work that was patently contradicted by the historic record. He had written that Morton’s errors must have been unconscious because Morton “made no attempt to cover up his tracks.”[i] However, in 1986, I reviewed an original copy of Morton’s book Crania Americana that Morton had personally signed. In this copy, there was a pen-and-ink correction of a misprint. With his own hand, Morton had drawn a zero over the number 82 in a table that listed the cranial capacity of Native Americans.[ii] Thus, I was able to document that Morton knew of his mistakes, contradicting Gould’s assertion. In 2011, Lewis found this correction in other copies of the book, including one that had once been owned by Gould.[iii]

In 2012, I found additional errors that further disproved Gould’s claim that all of the miscalculations that he detected were “in Morton’s favor.”[iv] On page 259 of Crania Americana, Morton made a mistake first noted in an 1840 article, mostly likely written by George Combe, who wrote, “There must be a misprint in the figure of 60 for the posterior chamber of the American crania in general since 57.9 should represent the true size that is if the anterior chamber be rightly given at 42.1.”[v]Also, in Morton’s 1841 paper, “Observation on a second series of ancient Egyptian crania,” he listed nine “Negroid” skulls from different locations in Egypt, but their sum total was printed as seven.[vi] Neither of these errors indicates bias “in Morton’s favor,” and I believe the last one to be a typographer’s error.

The notion that some of Morton’s errors were typographical is quite plausible given his poor penmanship, which is evident from his letters and notes, some 490 of which are archived in the Library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.[vii] Within this collection is a handwritten draft of an article regarding the fertility of mixed-race people born to European and Native Australian parents.[viii] This draft includes a table hand-written by Morton in pen and ink, in which it is sometimes hard to tell the number 5 from 6 and 3, and also the number 4 from 11.[ix] Some of Morton errors may simply be the result of typesetters misreading his unclear hand written notes when printing copies of his books. As with the flawed table in my 1988 paper, some of Morton errors may have been random typos indicating no discernible pattern of bias.

Morton’s 1844 publication Crania Aegyptiaca contains numerous errors which were never reported by Gould. [x] In this book, Morton examined what he claimed to be the skulls of ancient Egyptians as well as ancient Egyptian artworks depicting various ethnic groups. From these sources, he concluded that the existing races of humanity were also present in ancient Egypt as distinct forms, and that “Negros were numerous in Egypt, but their social position in ancient times was the same that it now is, that of servants and slaves.”[xi] This book included the craniological measurements for 100 Egyptian skulls summarized in Figure 1.

In this table, the smallest of the three Semitic Thebians is 79 cubic inches. The mean is also listed as 79 cubic inches, which is mathematically impossible. Furthermore, four of the five means reported in the seventh column are incorrect. When I recalculated Morton’s table based on the data he had published, I found that Morton’s table contained 13 mathematical errors, as shown in Table 1. Neither Gould (1978), Michael (1988), nor Lewis (2011) identified any of these errors, none of which indicate a pattern of racial bias. A more likely explanation is that Morton was not skilled in math. He openly admitted that his education in mathematics was lacking and that he had never “acquired a strong bias or affection” for it.[xii]

Figure 1: Morton’s 1844 Ethnographic Divisions Table from Crania Aegyptiaca[xiii]

Morton CA Table

Gould studied Morton’s table from Crania Aegyptiaca (Figure 1) but failed to report even its most obvious errors. In Gould’s 1978 paper, he presented a table (Table 2 below), which he claimed was a reproduction of Morton’s table (Figure 1). However, these two tables are different. Gould used the modern term people in place of the historically accurate term Ethnographic Divisions, and inserted Caucasian as a heading above the terms Pelasgic, Semitic and Egyptian. This evidence indicates that Gould misrepresented the historic record.

Table 1: 2011 Recalculation of Morton’s 1844 Ethnographic Divisions Table

Ethnographic Division

Locality

No. of Crania

Largest Brain

Smallest Brain

Mean

Second “Mean”

Pelasgic Form

Memphis

14 13

97

79

89 90

88 85

Abydos

1

89

89

89

Thebes

5 6

92

82

86 87

Philae

1

74

74

74

Semitic Form

Memphis

1

88

88

88

82 79

Abydos

1

69

69

69

Thebes

3

85

79 73

79

Egyptian Form

Memphis

7

83 86

73

79

80 79

Abydos

2

96

85

90 91

Thebes

25 22

95

68

80

Ombos

2

77

68

73

Debod

3

82

70

75

Negroid Form

Maabdeh

1

71

71

71

79 76

Thebes

5

88

71 77

81

Negro

Philae

1

73

73

73

73

Note: All numbers with strikethroughs are miscalculations as published in Morton’s original 1844 table.

Table 2: Gould’s 1978 “Peoples” Table[xiv]

 Gould Paper

          In Gould’s 1978 paper, he also stated that Morton equated skull size with intelligence, noting that cranial capacity was “the most important physical measure of all since Morton regarded it as a rough index of overall intelligence.”[xv] However, Morton was not certain what caused intelligence. Rather, he suspected it was a combination of the size and shape of the brain. In regards to Native American skulls, Morton wrote that:

the Peruvians had the smallest heads, while those of the Mexican were something larger, and those of the barbarous tribes the largest of all… An interesting question remains to be solved, viz: the relative proportion of brain in the anterior and posterior chambers of the skull in the three different races [of Americans].[xvi]

In 1839, Morton noted that he was planning to study “the anterior and posterior chambers of the skull in the four exotic races of men.”[xvii] In 1849, he wrote about what he perceived to be in Negros “the greater relative magnitude of the posterior or animal portion of the brain.”[xviii]

Gould also starkly contradicted the historic record when he claimed that Morton was a “self-styled objective empiricist” who was “widely hailed as the objectivist of his day.”[xix] This incorrect statement and variations of it have been repeated by many authors including Lewis and myself.[xx] Gould never cited any historic sources to back up this claim, and indeed there are none to cite. In Morton’s day, the word objective did not refer to a philosophical worldview, but was simply a term used in grammar.[xxi] The word empiricism referred to doctors who had no formal education and so were either unqualified or practiced “quackery.”[xxii] Morton himself once used empiricist as an insult aimed at doctors overly interested in turning a profit.[xxiii]  I have yet to see the words objective or empirical in any publications by Morton or his contemporaries.

Although Morton and his contemporaries did not use the word objective, it appears 24 times in Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man (1996), along with objectivity (19 times) and empirical (22 times).[xxiv] Indeed, objectivity, which Gould viewed as a myth, loomed large in his writings. He wrote that, “Great thinkers are not those who can free their minds from cultural baggage and think or observe objectively (for such a thing is impossible), but people who use their milieu creatively rather than as a constraint.”[xxv] Gould also explored these ideas in his 1977 book Ontology and Phylogeny, in which the word empirical appears 26 times.[xxvi] On the “Biological arguments for racism,” for example, he writes:

The litany is familiar: cold dispassionate, objective modern science shows us that races can be ranked on a scale of superiority. If this offends Christian morality or a sentimental belief in human unity, so be it: science must be free to proclaim unpleasant truths. But the data were worthless. We never have had, and still do not have, any unambiguous data on the innate mental capacities of different human groups.[xxvii]

So, by 1977 Gould had already committed himself to the proposition that data have “never” supported differing levels of intelligence among human races. Thus, it appears that in 1978 Gould had an incentive, regardless of any ideological bias, to find fault with Morton. If Gould failed to discover errors in Morton’s data, he would be contradicting what he had already written the year before. Such a drive to be consistent with one’s previous statements is known as “confirmation bias.” As I will argue below, both Morton and Gould had normal human confirmation bias, but there is not sufficient evidence to charge them with any form of unconscious bias.



[i] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity,” p. 509.

[ii] Michael, “A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research,” p. 353.

[iii] Lewis et al., “The Mismeasure of Science”

[iv] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity,” p. 506.

[v] Anonymous, “Notices of Books.” The Phrenological Journal and Magazine of Moral Science for the years 1840, 1840, 13: 386, p. 359. Combe was likely the author of this article because he is listed the copy writer for that volume of The Phrenological Journal as noted on page 386. Combe is also known to have authored another anonymous review favorable to Morton, as documented in Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots, p. 85.

[vi] Samuel Morton, “Observation on a Second Series of Ancient Egyptian Crania,” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1845, 1 (2): 125.

[vii] “Samuel George Morton Papers,” American Philosophical Society web page, www.amphilsoc.org/mole, accessed 2013.

[viii] Samuel Morton, Some remarks on the infrequence of mixed offspring between the European and Australian races, April 1850. This is a handwritten draft manuscript archived at the American Philosophical Society.

[ix] The final draft of this table was printed with no errors relative to the initial draft in Samuel Morton, “Notes from the meeting of April 22, 1851,” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 5:7, 1851, p. 174

[x] Samuel Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca; or Observations on Egyptian Ethnography Derived from Anatomy, History and the Monuments (Philadelphia: John Penington, 1844), p. 66.

[xi] Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots, p. 51.

[xii] Charles Meigs, A Memoir of Samuel George Morton, M.D., Late President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia: T. K. and P. G. Collins Printers), p. 12.

[xiii] Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 21.

[xiv] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity,” 507.

[xv] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity,” 503.

[xvi] Morton, Crania Americana, 262.

[xvii] Morton, Crania Americana, p. v.

[xviii] Samuel Morton, An Illustrated System of Human Anatomy: Special, General and Microscopic, (Philadelphia: Grigg, Elliot and Co., 1849), p. 70.

[xix] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity,” pp. 503 and 509.

[xx] Michael, “A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research,” p. 353; and Lewis et al., “The Mismeasure of Science”

[xxi] Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language; Exhibiting the Origin, Orthography, Pronunciation and Definition of Words, (New York: S. Converse, 1830), p. 564

[xxii] Ibid., p. 294.

[xxiii] Samuel Morton, Brief Remarks on the Diversities of the Human Species and Some Kindred Subjects. (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Thompson, 1842), p. 24.

[xxiv] This was based on a Google books online search of The Mismeasure of Man.

[xxv] Quoted in Allmon et al., Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life, p. 26.

[xxvi] Stephen Jay Gould, Ontology and Phylogeny, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977).

[xxvii] Ibid., pp. 127-128.