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


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.


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


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.



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


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


No. of Crania

Largest Brain

Smallest Brain


Second “Mean”

Pelasgic Form


14 13



89 90

88 85







5 6



86 87






Semitic Form






82 79









79 73


Egyptian Form



83 86



80 79





90 91


25 22














Negroid Form






79 76




71 77









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.

Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary



In The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould argued that the craniological research by 19th century anatomist Samuel George Morton was skewed by Morton’s unconscious racial bias. Gould identified errors in Morton’s work and claimed they all indicated racial bias. In 1986, I re-evaluated Morton’s research and re-measured a sample of skulls from Morton’s collection. I found no clear pattern of racial bias, a finding which was confirmed by Jason Lewis in 2011. Recently, some critics have proposed that Gould’s research was skewed by his unconscious ideological bias. I have found numerous previously unreported errors in the work of both Morton and Gould. These mistakes indicate poor scholarship, and not unconscious bias. In my opinion, the historic record does not support claims that Morton’s research was flawed by unconscious racial bias, nor that Gould’s work was flawed by unconscious ideological bias. It appears that, at most, both men suffered from common confirmation bias. Over the next few weeks, I will post a series of blogs that I hope will spur some discussion and comments. If you have any additional information about Gould, Morton, or the Morton skulls, let me know.


The role that racial bias plays in scientific research was a favorite topic of the late Harvard paleontologist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002). In his critically acclaimed best-selling 1981 book, The Mismeasure of Man, Gould claimed that Samuel George Morton (1799-1851), a famous 19th century Philadelphia anatomist,[i] was driven by his unconscious racist bias to skew the results of his research into how the size of skulls varied between human races.[ii] During the 1840s and 50s, Morton measured a collection of human skulls from throughout the world. Through this study, he concluded that white Europeans had skulls whose internal volume was larger than all other ethnic groups, while black Africans were the smallest.[iii] Gould refuted this conclusion, but did so using arguments that struck some as being unscientific or unfair “presentism” in which past historical figures are judged by current standards.[iv] Thus to some of Gould’s critics, The Mismeasure of Man was itself a prime example of unconscious bias, supposedly driven by Gould’s own left-wing ideology.[v] And so, the charges of racist bias and left-wing bias have flown back and forth.

In 2011, Rutgers University anthropologist Jason Lewis published a paper detailing errors in Gould’s evaluation of Morton research. Lewis also re-measured the Morton skulls and found Morton’s measuring technique was accurate. Lewis was subsequently charged with ulterior motives.[vi] An editorial in Nature magazine stated that, “Lewis and his colleagues have their own motivations” and “an interest in seeing the valuable but underestimated skull collection freed from the stain of bias.”[vii] Anthropologist Jonathan Marks labeled the paper as “paranoid positivist rhetoric mixed with slovenly-argued bombast” whose authors sought to inflate the value of their “exceedingly parochial work.”[viii] Back in 1986, I also re-measured the Morton skulls and came to a conclusion much like that of Lewis.[ix] However, charges of bias have never been directed at me, only charges of incompetence, as I will detail below. And so I hold a unique position in this debate. I am an amateur historian with negligible academic standing as either an anthropologist or a biologist. And yet I am also one of a very few people who has an in-depth familiarity with both Morton’s writings and the skulls themselves.

Gould’s most widely-read discussion of Morton was presented in his 1981 book, The Mismeasure of Man, and its expanded 1996 edition. Gould’s evaluation was based on a paper he published in Science in 1978 entitled “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity: Unconscious Manipulation of Data May Be the Scientific Norm.”[x] In this paper, Gould proposed that Morton had initially subconsciously mis-measured the skulls in his collection so as to make it appear that the skulls of whites were larger than those of other races.[xi] Gould also repeated this version of Morton’s narrative at his popular classes, his public lectures, and in a edition of NOVA entitled Stephen Jay Gould: This View of Life.[xii] In time, Morton came to be viewed as the quintessential example of an unconsciously-biased scientist. Sometimes, he still is even by scholars familiar with the overwhelming evidence to the contrary as presented by Lewis.[xiii] Gould’s misrepresentation of Morton’s research was first noted by Harvard Medical School’s Bernard Davis in 1983, and yet neither his nor Lewis’s paper have made a broad impact on the scholarly community or society at large.[xiv] More discussion of this topic is therefore warranted.

By his own admission, Gould only spent “several weeks reanalyzing Morton’s data.”[xv] The implication is that he did the work quickly, and did not conduct an in-depth review of the historic record relating to Morton. Gould’s original 1978 paper only made reference to ten documents dating to the 19th century,[xvi] and at no point did Gould ever measure, or even view, the skulls in the Morton collection.[xvii] These skulls, in addition to being human remains, are also authentic and informative elements of the historic record, as significant as any of Morton’s books, letters, or data sets. And yet they were never examined as part of Gould’s research. Former student and friend of Gould, Donald Prothero discovered a similar instance where Gould rushed a paleontological paper without checking his sources, and as a result it included incorrect data. Prothero attributed this oversight to Gould’s extreme work load.[xviii] 

In 1986, I measured the internal volume of 200 skulls belonging to the Morton Collection of Human Crania housed at the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.[xix] At the time, I was a senior at Macalester College in Minnesota, researching my honors thesis.[xx] These skulls, and about 800 others, were originally collected between 1830 and 1852 by Morton.[xxi] I undertook this research to verify Gould’s assertion that Morton’s research was a “patchwork of assumption and finagling, controlled, probably unconsciously, by his conventional a priori ranking.”[xxii] All available evidence indicates that I was the only person in the 20th century to conduct direct research on the skulls relating to Morton’s evaluation of them.


I re-measured the Morton skulls in 1986 as part of my undergraduate thesis, which was limited in scope and conducted without the rigor of graduate research. Nonetheless, I determined that my measurements more or less matched Morton’s, and so I described his overall results to be “reasonably accurate.”[xxiii] In 2011, Lewis and his team (which included senior anthropology professors from Princeton, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania) concurred that, “The data on cranial capacity gathered by Morton are generally reliable.”[xxiv] In 2012, I entered my 1986 data into a modern computer spreadsheet, and through that double check found eight errors in which I simply did a bad job of measuring the skulls. Lewis also found flaws in my 1988 paper (published two years after my initial research) the most blatant of which were seven errors in one table.[xxv] These seven errors did not exist in Table 3 of my 1986 thesis. It is now clear to me that when I reformatted the table for publication in 1988, I flipped some of the numbers.[xxvi] I am dyslexic enough that I cannot tell time on a circular clock, and so am prone to mistakes of this kind. Nonetheless, my admittedly amateur investigation – Lewis characterized my 1988 paper as “uninformative”[xxvii] – was still thorough enough to confirm that although Morton was a racist, he correctly measured the skulls in his collection. It is indeed possible to be a racist and correctly measure a skull.

In recent years, the nature and level of Morton’s racism has been discussed in a way that has led to some confusion. In 1986, I assumed Morton was a racist, largely following the evidence presented by William Stanton in his book The Leopard’s Spots, and the overall disparaging comments Morton made about a wide variety of ethnic groups.[xxviii] Gould’s 1978 paper also drew heavily on Stanton’s book.[xxix] In 2010, Rutgers University historian Ann Fabian also portrayed Morton as a racist who believed that “superior races had bigger skulls.” [xxx] Her overall evaluation of Morton was criticized by David DeGusta, although he agreed that Morton was indeed a racist. In response to her claim that “Morton and his colleagues… wanted Caucasian heads like theirs to be the largest,” DeGusta noted that Morton, who disparaged the Irish, was the son of a man who was born in Ireland. Thus DeGusta concluded that Morton “did not hesitate to denigrate his own kind.”[xxxi]  However, Morton came from an ethnically English family who colonized Ireland during the reign of William of Orange.[xxxii] A letter sent to Morton in 1823 from a family friend or relative of Morton’s father refers to Ireland as to “our little barbarous island,” whose “islanders are going on just as usual,” by committing robberies and burning houses.[xxxiii] In 1839, Morton proposed that the English, Welsh, and Scots had Germanic “Jutland” origins, but the Celtic Irish did not. He added that that “the most unsophisticated Celts are those of southwest Ireland, whose wild look and manner, mud cabins, and funeral howlings recall the memory of a barbarous age.”[xxxiv] Clonmel, Ireland, where Morton lived during breaks from his four years at the University of Edinburgh, is in southwest Ireland.[xxxv]

The confusion over Morton’s assumed Irish heritage, and the fact that he did not make the sort of bold, outlandish racists statements like others of his era did, can make it appear that Morton was not a racist. However, when looking at his life as a whole, I have to conclude that Morton was a racist, or at least more racist than not, since racism is often a matter of degrees. Morton was a colleague with the unabashedly racist Dr. Josiah Nott, who gave lectures about the inequality of races he called “niggerology.”[xxxvi] When Nott published a book suggesting that Negroes were a separate species, it was Morton who proactively initiated their long friendship by sending Nott a letter of praise.[xxxvii] All this evidence indicates that Morton was a racist, with both anti-Irish and anti-African views, as was common in his time. He was not a loud obnoxious racist, but rather a quiet one, which was consistent with his nature.

Although my 1988 paper was published in Current Anthropology, it went largely unnoticed. Columbia University science historian Philip Kitcher addressed it only in passing, saying (with his italics):

Gould’s interpretation of Samuel George Morton’s cranial data have been questioned by John S. Michael, who, as an undergraduate student at Macalester College, re-measured the skulls as part of an honors project (Michael, 1988). It is not entirely evident that one should prefer the measurements of an undergraduate to those of a professional paleontologist whose own specialist work included some very meticulous measurements of fossil snails.[xxxviii]

Clearly, Kitcher assumed Gould had measured the skulls, as did historian Bruce Dain who wrote that Gould, “repeated Morton’s experiments on skulls from Morton’s extant collection and found that the “black” skulls were not smaller than the “white” ones.”[xxxix] Prothero wrote that that Gould “did not do most of the actual measurements in “The Mismeasure of Man.””[xl] In fact, Gould did no measurements at all, nor were any done by anyone as part of his research. In 2003, Gould gave an interview about Morton in which he said, “it’s not that easy to measure the volume of a skull,” which indicates Gould unfamiliarity with what is a very simple process.[xli]

My initial involvement with the skulls did not last long. Instead of getting a master’s degree, I became an environmental land planner. As a result, I rarely discussed my paper. My original notes sat in a filing cabinet for 26 years. As far as I knew, my research had been completely forgotten. But unbeknownst to me, it was discussed in at least 16 publications, such as Race and Human Evolution by University of Michigan anthropologists Milford Wolpoff and Rachel Caspari.[xlii] Berkeley anthropologist C. Loren Brace praised my work in Race is a Four Letter Word, and it was mentioned in a footnote within the highly controversial The Bell Curve.[xliii]

Because my findings refuted the writings of Gould, a left-leaning anti-racist Jew, I was celebrated in hate-filled white supremacist web pages, such as davidduke.com and stormfront.org. My work was grossly misquoted in a series of papers by J. Philippe Rushton, a proponent of eugenics from University of Western Ontario.[xliv] In 2002, he served as the president of the Pioneer Fund, which the Southern Law Poverty Center designated as a “White Nationalist” group because it continues to fund the study of “breeding superior human beings that was discredited by various Nazi atrocities.”[xlv] I have written this paper in part to document my strong displeasure that my work was used to promote eugenics or racist ideology, which I in no way support.

My quarter-century absence from the world of Morton and Gould came to an end in June of 2011 when I read an article in the New York Times entitled, “Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim.”[xlvi] It described how six anthropologists, led by Jason Lewis, now with Rutgers University, had re-measured a sample of the Morton collection. They found that their measurements were reasonably close to Morton’s.[xlvii] Although Lewis correctly faulted errors in my 1988 paper, his conclusion was essentially the same as mine, which I had also expressed  two years before in my 1986 undergraduate thesis. According to the article in the Times, Kitcher even declared that I had been “vindicated.” 

Within a few weeks, web blogs and magazines like Nature and Discover began suggesting that it was Gould whose research was skewed by his well-known liberal bias.[xlviii] Gould had long been an outspoken advocate for racial equality and social justice. In The Mismeasure of Man, he consciously set out to “debunk” the errors of legendary scientists whose research he viewed as being skewed by their racist preconceptions.[xlix] Throughout his career, Gould’s critics had accused him of infusing his scientific writings with exaggerations and leftist ideology. But after the Lewis study came out in 2011, they began charging him with a more extreme form of bias that verged on outright fraud.[l] However, no one has yet gone on the record with details of Gould’s questionable actions. For the sake of transparency I will note that I have been told about a number of Gould’s questionable actions by his contemporaries, but only off the record. I suggest it might help with the resolution of the Morton-Gould affair if more members of the academic community would be willing to share such information.

A few months after Lewis’s paper was published, I met with Janet Monge of the University of Pennsylvania, the long-time curator of the Morton collection, who was a co-author of Lewis’ paper. She had supervised my research back in 1986, but we had not been in contact since then. For ten years, she and Lewis had tried to locate a copy of my measurements of the skulls, but I had the only copy. In 2011, I gave a copy to them. I also began reading through my photocopies of Morton’s original publications, as well as on-line publications written by Gould, Morton, and other antiquated racial theorists. Within a year, I had found flaws in Morton’s works that no one had documented before. I also found flaws in my own paper, including the measurements that I had simply botched.[li] And then I started finding a significant number of errors in Gould’s publications, some of which I will report below.

[i] Morton held leadership positions at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia from 1827 to 1852 and was its president during the last three years of his life, as noted in L. Rizzo and E. Rosenzweig, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia President’s Office and Administration Records, 1874-2003 ANSP.2010.051 (Philadelphia: September 20, 2010), p. 12, and Samuel Morton, A Memoir of William Maclure, Esq., Late President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia, T.K. and P G. Collins, 1841), p. i.

[ii] Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1981) and Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man: The Definitive Refutation of the Argument of the Bell Curve, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996) whose cover notes that it won the1981 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 1983 Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Research Association.

[iii] In this set of blogs, I will use both modern and outdated historical terms to describe human variation and ethnic groups.

[iv] Jane Buikstra, Introduction to the 2009 Reprint Edition of Crania Americana, (Davenport IA: Gustav’s Library, 2009), pp. xxix, and Della Cook, “The Old Physical Anthropology and the New World” in J. Buikstra and L. Beck, eds., Bioarcheology: The Contextual Analysis of Human Remains, (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006), 40.

[v] Steve Blinkhorn, “What Skullduggery?” Nature, 1982, 926: 506; Bernard Davis, “Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the Press,” National Affairs, 1983, 73: 56; and C. Loring Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word: The Genesis of the Concept, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 89. A thorough review of Gould critics is noted in Michael Shermer, This view of science,” Social Studies of Science 32:4 (2002), p. 491. A comprehensive appreciation of Gould that also mentions his critic’s views can be found in Warren Allmon, “The Structure of Gould,” in Stephen J. Gould: Reflections on his View on Life, Allmon, Kelly, and Ross, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 3-68. Criticisms of Gould’s evolutionary theories are in Adam Wilkins, “Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002): A Critical Appreciation,” BioEssays, and  David P. Barash, “Grappling with the ghost of Gould: A review of The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould,” in Human Nature Review, (July 9, 2002), http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/gould.html

[vi] Jason Lewis, David DeGusta, Mark Meyer, Janet Monge, Alan Mann, and Ralph Halloway. “The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias,” PLoS Biol. 9(6), 2011.

[vii] Editorial, “Mismeasure for Mismeasure,” Nature, 474 (June 23): 419.

[viii] Jonathan Marks Web blog, “Plotz biology” Anthropomics: A blog about evolution, anthropology, and science, inspired by the three Georges: Gaylord Simpson, Carlin, and S. Kaufman, (June 17, 2011). www.anthropomics.blogspot.com, accessed 2013.

[ix] John S. Michael, “A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research,” Current Anthropology, 1988, 29 (2): 350.

[x] Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (1981), p. 56.

[xi] Stephen Jay Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races by Cranial Capacity: Unconscious Manipulation of Data May Be a Scientific Norm,” Science, 1981, 200 (4341): 503-509.

[xii] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/listseason/11.html, (accessed 2012)

[xiii] Michael Yudell, “A short history of the race concept,” S. Krimsky and K. Sloan eds., Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, (New York: Columba University Press), p. 17

[xiv] Bernard Davis, “Neo-lysenkoism, IQ, and the Press,” pp. 41-59

[xv] Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, (1996), p.86.

[xvi] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races,” p. 509.

[xvii] Stephen Jay Gould, Letter to John S. Michael, Cambridge, MA, October 12, 1988, and Janet Monge, personal communication, 2013. Monge is the curator of the Morton Collection of Human Crania, who informed me that Gould never visited the skeletal collections at the Penn Museum where they have been stored since the early 1960s. Prior to that, they were stored at the Academy of Natural Sciences, which has no record of Gould viewing the skulls. Also Lewis (2011) wrote, “Gould did not measure nor personally examine the skulls in the Morton Collection—his argument was based on analyzing Morton’s measurements.”

[xviii] Donald Prothero, “Happy Birthday Stephen Jay Gould,” Skeptikblog, September 21, 2011. www.skepticblog.org/2011/09/21/happy-birthday-stephen-jay-gould, accessed 2012.

[xix] John S. Michael, “A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research.” I measured 201 skulls, but the data for one are now lost. I suspect a sheet of my original notes slipped out during the ensuing 26 years.

[xx] John S. Michael, An Analysis of Samuel G. Morton’s Catalogue of the Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals, Third ed., Based on a Re-measurement of a Random Sample of the Morton Collection of Human Crania, Unpublished Honors Thesis for the Department of Geology, Macalester College, May 1, 1986.

[xxi] Samuel G. Morton, Catalog of Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals, (Philadelphia: Merrihew and Thompson, 1849), p. iii.

[xxii] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races,” 504.

[xxiii] Michael, “A New Look at Morton’s Craniological Research,” 354.

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

[xxv] David DeGusta and Jason Lewis, “An Evaluation of Michael’s Analysis of Morton and Gould,” (Unpublished Paper, Undated circa 2011), pp. 1-2. I also made two additional errors on Table 4 of my 1988 paper which DeGusta and Lewis missed. The “Mexican Recalculation Sample” size is listed as 27 when it should be 26, and the “Mexican Recalculation Sample” mean should be 83.

[xxvi] The correct values are on page 16 of Michael, An Analysis of Samuel G. Morton’s Catalogue. In 1986, my research was documented in a 62 page undergraduate thesis. I then edited it down into a six page paper that was not reviewed by my thesis advisor, and so the errors in the1988 Current Anthropology paper are mine alone.

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

[xxviii] William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots: Scientific Attitudes toward Race in America, 1815-1859, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 24-89.

[xxix] Gould, “Morton’s Ranking of Races,” pp. 503-509. Also, Gould’s dedication in The Mismeasure of Man (1981) which reads, “To the memory of Grammy and Papa Joe, who came, struggled, and prospered, Mr. Goddard notwithstanding,” appears to be a variation on the heading for the final chapter of The Leopard’s Spots which reads, “Notwithstanding Mrs. Grundy,” p. 192.

[xxx] Ann Fabian, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2010), p. 16.

[xxxi] David DeGusta, “An Evaluation of Fabian’s characterization of Morton in the Skull Collectors,” http://www.stanford.edu/~lewisjas/Morton, (Undated, circa 2010), p. 3.

[xxxii] John Jordan, Colonial Families of Philadelphia, Vol. 2, (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1911), pp. 1715-1717.

[xxxiii] G. Fitzgerald, Letter to Samuel George Morton, Clonmel, Ireland, April 13, 1823. At the time of this letter Morton was a 24-year old medical student at Edinburgh University, who during his four years of education there lived with his uncle James Morton, a successful merchant from Clonmel. The letter begins with “My Dear Sam,” suggesting a close relationship.

[xxxiv] 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), p. 16.

[xxxv] Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word,” pp. 88-89.

[xxxvi] Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots, p. 118.

[xxxvii] Reginald Horsman, Josiah Nott of Mobile: Southern Physician and Racial Theorist, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press,1987), p. 94.

[xxxviii] Phillip Kitcher, “Evolutionary Theory and the Social Uses of Biology. Biology and Philosophy, 2004, 19: 13-14.

[xxxix] Bruce Dain, A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 217.

[xl] Prothero, “Happy Birthday Stephen Jay Gould,” Skeptikblog.

[xli] Quoted in Bakcground Readings, “Interview with Stephen Jay Gould,” edited transcript posted at Race the Power of an Illusion, PBS, www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-01-09.htm, accessed 2013.

[xlii]These include: Conrad Quintyn, The Existence or Non-existence of Race?(Youngstown, NY: Teneo Press, 2010), M. Little and K. Kennedy, eds., Histories of American Physical Anthropology in the Twentieth Century, (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010) and Michael Banton, Racial Theories, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[xliii] Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word, pp. 88-89, and R. Herrnstein and C. Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. (New York: The Free Press, 1994), p. 772. I disagree with the conclusions of the Bell Curve. I also question the validity of its sources, most notably the research papers of Philippe Rushton, which are cited 11 times in its index. On page 564 of the Bell Curve, Rushton is called “a serious scholar who has assembled serious data.”

[xliv] Rushton, Philippe, “Race, Brain Size and Intelligence: A Rejoinder to Cain and Vanderwolf,” Personality and Individual Differences, 1990, 11: 785-794; Philippe Rushton, “Mongoloid-Caucasoid Differences in Brain Sizes from Military Samples,” Intelligence, 1991, 15 (3): 351-359; Philippe Rushton, “Brain Size and Cognitive Ability: Correlations with Age, Sex, Social Class, and Race,” Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 1996, 3 (1): 21-36.

[xlv] Brace, “Race” is a Four Letter Word, p. 263, and www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/groups/pioneer-fund.

[xlvi] Nicholas Wade, “Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim,” New York Times, 2001, (June 13): D4.

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

[xlviii] Editorial, “Mismeasure for Mismeasure,” Nature and William Saletan, “#59: The Mismeasure of Stephen Jay Gould: Looking Deeper into Stephen Jay Gould’s Claims has Revealed He was Guilty of the Same Sins He Decried in Others,” Discover Magazine, 2012 (January 3). For a summary of blog responses see “Coverage of the Morton-Gould Controversy,” Until Darwin, www.until-darwin.blogspot.com/2012/03/coverage-of-morton-gould-controversy.html

[xlix] Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (1996), p. 352.

[l] Columbia University anthropologist Ralph Holloway described Gould as a “charlatan,” as quoted in Wade, “Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim,” p. D4.

[li] The remaining 187 cranial capacity measurements I made in 1986 were reasonably consistent with those of Lewis, whose raw data I have acquired and compared to mine. In response to the concerns about my paper noted by DeGusta and Lewis in “An Evaluation of Michael’s Analysis of Morton and Gould,” I found their critique to be valid on most, but not all points. I maintain that the stated scope of my paper was very limited and so I never intended to address a number the issues that they regarded as gaps in my research. They also interpreted the historic record pertaining to Morton’s research in a way that I do not, and they regarded my interpretation to be a shortcoming in my work. I would argue that our differing opinions are equally valid. In summary, I would not characterize my paper as “uninformative” as they did, but rather “less informative than would be ideal.”