A Letter to Nathan Cofnas: Please Stop Misrepresenting my Research.

In February of 2015, my 1988 paper was cited in a paper by Nathan Cofnas, a professor with the Department of Philosophy, Lingnan University, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. His paper, entitled “Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting,”” was published in the Journal of the Association for Foundations of Science, Language and Cognition. The abstract to this paper reads:

“Some prominent scientists and philosophers have stated openly that moral and political considerations should influence whether we accept or promulgate scientific theories. This widespread view has significantly influenced the development, and public perception, of intelligence research. Theories related to group differences in intelligence are often rejected a priori on explicitly moral grounds. Thus the idea, frequently expressed by commentators on science, that science is “self-correcting”—that hypotheses are simply abandoned when they are undermined by empirical evidence—may not be correct in all contexts. In this paper, documentation spanning from the early 1970s to the present is collected, which reveals the influence of scientists’ moral and political commitments on the study of intelligence. It is suggested that misrepresenting findings in science to achieve desirable social goals will ultimately harm both science and society.”

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After reading this paper, I felt that Prof. Cofnas had misrepresented my 1988 research. And so, I sent the following letter to the magazine editor, but did not get a reply.

March 6, 2015

Diederik Aerts, Editor
Foundations of Science
Journal of the Association for Foundations of Science, Language and Cognition

Dear Mr. Aerts,

The February 2015 edition of your journal included a paper by Nathan Cofnas (Science is Not Always “Self-Correcting”) which referenced my 1988 article, “A New Look at Morton’s’ Research.” Unfortunately, Cofnas has misrepresented the conclusions of my paper to make it appear that my findings verified the craniological research and overall conclusions of Samuel George Morton. Although my re-measurements of the Morton collection of skull did indicate that Morton’s measuring technique generated data that was “reasonable accurate,” I also prominently noted that the way in which Morton classified human into races (as he defined the term race) was “meaningless.” Thus, Morton was measuring arbitrary subsets. As a result, his anthropometric research was pointless. Morton might as well have been accurately measuring the skulls of twenty-four categories of humans whose names began with different letters of the alphabet. I am dismayed that Cofnas has failed to mention the most important aspect of my research. It is only recently that I found out Cofnas’ colleague, Neven Sesardic also misrepresented my work in a similar way in his 2005 book Making Sense of Heritability.

I would also like to note that in Cofnas’s paper, he uncritically refers to “black” and “white” Americans. Both of these categories are arbitrary subsets. In the New World, most “blacks,” (a term with different meanings in different nations like Haiti and Brazil) are descended from both Europeans and Africans. Also, a substantial number of American whites, including myself, have some small African ancestry. American blacks and whites are genetically one creolized population which ranges from darker to lighter. Thus, Cofnas’s paper, which appears to endorse the statistical evaluation of arbitrary subsets, perpetuates the same arbitrary terminology as found in Morton’s flawed research; Stephen Jay Gould’s poorly executed 1978 critique of Morton’s research; and Sesardic’s somewhat excessive 2005 critique of Gould.

To reiterate, Morton’s research was flawed because he regarded races as distinct units of population, and failed to view human variation as a constantly evolving racial spectrum (one of many naturally occurring biological clines), in which there are gradual physical changes from one location to the next. Sadly, Gould, Sesardic, and now Cofnas have also made the same fundamental mistake, thus rendering their discussions of Morton’s research, invalid. Like other human talents, the ability to score well on an IQ test may or may not be influenced by genetic factors and so warrants investigation. However, using arbitrary subsets of human populations as part of that investigation is a wasted effort, just as Morton’s evaluation of internal cranial capacity was a wasted effort.

Sincerely,
John S. Michael

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Since I did not get a reply from the editor, I emailed a copy to Prof. Cofnas and a number of the board members of the journal that published his paper. On March 11, 2015, Prof. Confas then sent a reply in which he argued that he had not misrepresented my paper. (Note: After I posted the above letter and a summary of his response, Confnas contacted me on March 22, 2015 and requested I post his letter in full. Readers should be aware that Mr. Confas owns the copyright to his letter and has given me written permission it post it in this blog.)  Prof. Cofnas’s response letter read:

Dear Mr. Michael,

In “Science Is Not Always ‘Self-Correcting'” (in press at Foundations of Science), there are two sentences about your paper:

Michael (1988) actually did remeasure more than 20% of Morton’s skulls (the collection has been preserved), and found no evidence of bias on Morton’s part. Gould repeated his accusation against Morton in the revised edition of The Mismeasure of Man (1996) without mentioning Michael’s study.

In Michael (1988), you write:

Of the crania measured by Morton, 201 were randomly selected for remeasurement. (p. 351)

Contrary to Gould’s interpretation, I conclude that Morton’s research was conducted with integrity….He was attempting to understand racial variation and not, as Gould claims, trying to prove Caucasian racial or intellectual superiority. (p. 353)

Although Gould is mistaken in many of his assumptions about Morton and his work, he is correct in asserting that these tables are scientifically unsound. He fails, however, to mention the overriding reason for rejecting them, namely, Morton’s acceptance of the existence of race. Most anthropologists feel that there is too little evidence to conclude with certainty whether the concept of race is a biological reality or simply an artifact of classification (Weiss and Maruyama 1976:47). If race does not really exist, then Morton’s samples are meaningless…. (p. 353)

As you can clearly see, you make two claims in your (1988) paper: (1) Morton accurately measured the skulls; (2) the concept of race has no biological reality. (1) is an empirical finding. (2) is your opinion. In my FOS paper, I quote you in connection with (1). It is absurd to say that I “misrepresented the conclusions of [your] paper to make it appear that [your] findings verified the craniological research and overall conclusions of Samuel George Morton.” Even if you consider your assertion that race is “meaningless” to be the “most important aspect of [your] research,” it is not misrepresentation for me to cite your empirical claim without discussing an opinion that you express in the same paper.

If you want to submit an article on the biological unreality of race to FOS or any other journal, I suggest that you do more than simply point out that races (human groups–whatever you want to call them) overlap. Even Neven Sesardic and I know that.

Also, you write in your response to me that “the ability to score well on an IQ test may or may not be influenced by genetic factors and so warrants investigation.” If you submit this for publication, it is likely that referees will take issue with this statement. The influence of genetic factors on IQ has been investigated extensively (spoiler alert: there is a big influence).

Best wishes,
Nathan

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The way I see it, Cofnas chose to mention that Morton accurately measured skulls, which Cofnas regarded as an empirically derived finding. Cofnas then stated that he chose NOT to mention that I stated that the concept of race is biologically meaningless because, as Cofnas viewed it, such a concept was simply my personal opinion, and nothing more. I do not agree with him on this. Since I did cite Weiss and Maruyama (1976:47), no one can say that I was expressing my own opinion. One might disagree with Weiss and Maruyama, but to say that their findings are my personal opinion is not correct.

I then wrote the following response:

Prof. Cofnas,

The notion that human races exist as distinct biologically-valid units has been disproved by DNA studies. That observation is not my opinion. Although races do not exist, there is indeed clinal racial variation within humans, akin to the variation of ladybugs as documented by Dobzhansky long ago. I would propose that it is in fact YOUR OPINION that races exist as distinct units that have statistical significance. Clearly, you and I are not in agreement on this issue. Hopefully the editors of FOS will publish my letter so that their readers may judge whether your arguments are more convincing than mine.

By failing to present those aspects of my paper which you personally deem to be “my opinion,” you are in fact misrepresenting my paper. If my paper is, as you indicate in your last email, flawed by my “opinion,” then why quote it at all? Lewis et al. deemed my paper to be “uninformative,” which you fail to mention. At least they were consistent in their critique, which you were not. If you think that my paper is of value, then you should present all of my findings, and not just the ones with which you agree. You should note what you perceive to be its substantial flaws, as Lewis et al. rightly did. If you feel my paper is too flawed to be of value, then do not cite it at all.

You have indeed misrepresented my paper. As Gould did in so much of his research, you have cherry-picked only those findings that you personally deemed worthy of mention. In so doing, you have given the false impression that my paper as a whole supports your position. Hopefully, my letter will be published by FOS, so that it can be openly reviewed by the journal’s readers. If these readers come to regard my views as misinformed and naïve, so be it. At least they will get an honest representation of my views, and not your selectively-edited misrepresentation.

I would also argue that the word “empirical” should not be used to describe the measurements I made of the Morton Collection. I accurately measured the Morton skulls, as did Morton. However, the racial classifications he used (and the ones I used as well) were arbitrary subsets. I have never claimed otherwise. In summary, I do not regard measuring meaningless samples as an “empirical” endeavor, even if each measurement is reasonably accurate.

Lastly, as someone who is quite familiar with Morton’s writings and has worked with his arbitrarily-gathered skull collection, I would caution you to refrain from suggesting that Morton’s research was a useful contribution to science. He was an overt racist who endorsed the bogus theory of Arrested Development, a fact which Gould never mentioned. Morton’s publications were riddled with mathematical and factual errors, not just the few that Gould cherry-picked. Darwin even warned Lyell not to trust Morton’s research. Morton’s publications were fatally flawed by sloppy research, as were Gould’s. The tacit implication in your paper and the writings of Sesardic is that Morton was “right” and Gould was “wrong.” In reality, both were wrong.

Sincerely,

John S. Michael

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A FINAL THOUGHT: I doubt Prof Cofnas and I will ever agree on this issue. Since he is an academic, who publishes in journals, and I am not (and thus cannot realistically hope to publish in a journal), it is difficult for us to communicate. I write blogs, which are quickly posted, and sometime quickly refuted, while his works are more carefully considered over a period of years. Unfortunately for me, when my 1988 paper is misrepresented – as it has been in the past few decades – that misrepresentation spread quickly through the internet. The sad reality is that even if a journal were to publish a letter from me, few people would read it. So, in order for me to restore my tarnished on-line reputation, I have to act quickly.  I am not sure who has the upper hand; Cofnas with his slow but respectable journals, or me with my fast but non-peer reviewed internet blogs.  Regardless, this is the only media outlet I have, so I just have to make due.

Is it Better to Measure a Skull with Seed or Lead Shot? Answer: Neither.

This blog is based largely on text from Chapter 27 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

In this blog post I will answer a question that has been nagging me for nearly thirty years. In 1986 I measured the cranial capacity (braincase) of some 200 skulls from the Morton Collection of Human Crania. To measure those skulls, I filled them with acrylic plastic balls. However, when Morton measured them in the mid-1800s he used either seeds or lead shot. In 1839, he measured 256 skulls, by his count, with seed. In Crania America he described this seed as “white pepper seed” which was “selected on account of its spherical form, its hardness, and the equal size of the grains. It was also sifted to render the quality still greater.” Some years later, Morton remeasured most of these skull and a few hundred more using lead shot. Morton explained his reason for changing from peppercorn to shot in a notice published in the April 1841 Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia:

“Morton made some observations on a mode of ascertaining the internal capacity of the human cranium, by means of the tin tube and graduated rod as described by him in Crania Americana…The material hitherto used by Dr. Morton for the purpose of filling the crania, was white pepper seed, which was selected on account of its spherical form, and the general uniformity in the size of the grains… Dr. Morton then tried leaden shot of the size called BB measuring 1/8th of an inch in diameter which being perfectly smooth and spherical of uniform size and therefore not liable like the seeds to variations from packing”

Eight years later, in 1849, Morton published a catalog describing all the skulls in his collection which included a note explaining that:

“All the measurements in this Catalogue, both of the facial angle and internal capacity, have been made with my own hands. I at one time employed a person to aid me in these elaborate and fatiguing details; but having detected some errors in his measurements, I have been at the pains to revise all that part of the series that had not been previously measured by myself. I can now therefore vouch for the accuracy of these multitudinous data, which I cannot but regard as a novel and important contribution to Ethnological science.

It is necessary to add, that the measurements originally published in the Crania Americana were made with seeds, which will explain the discrepancy between the numbers observable in that work and this catalogue. The measurements of the Crania Aegyptiaca having been originally made with shot, require no revision: nor can I avoid expressing my satisfaction at the singular accuracy of this method since a skull of an hundred cubic inches if measured any number of times with reasonable care will not vary a single cubic inch.”

In other words, Morton hired an assistant to measure the skulls, but did not get what Morton regarded as good results. So, he tried to correct this situation by doing all the measurements himself, and also by using shot which he regarded as a better medium for measuring the skulls.

Although Morton was enthusiastic about the accuracy of his measuring technique, later scholars were not as impressed. Later in the 19th century Carl Vogt, agreed with Morton’s overall findings but not Morton’s measuring technique. In 1864, Vogt praised Morton for concluding that whites had larger skulls than black, thus disproving Tiedemann. Vogt dismissed the “erroneous results formerly propagated by Tiedemann,” which “asserted that the cranial capacity of the Negro was not less than that of the European.” Yet, Vogt faulted Morton for not sufficiently compressing the lead shot when filling the skull, which was a technique used by French anatomist Paul Broca (1824-1880). Vogt wrote that Morton’s skull measurements:

“… as well as those of Welcker, were made with small shot, with which the cranium was filled, and shaken until no more could be introduced. Broca has observed, that no exact measurement is obtained by this method, the differences arising when the same skull is measured several times, amounting to from twenty to thirty five cubic centimeters owing to the fact that, in many skulls, some parts of the internal cavity of the cranium rise above the level of the occipital foramen, through which the shot is introduced. Broca, therefore, by means of a long cuneiform instrument, presses the shot in every direction, until no more can be introduced. His results, though comparable with each other present therefore somewhat higher numbers. Again, the skulls examined by the American observers were selected specimens, whilst those of Broca were obtained from disturbed churchyards.”

Simply put, Vogt felt that Morton should have compressed the shot. Vogt also seems to hint that that Morton’s samples were “selected specimens” rather than a random sample exhumed from a grave. Vogt did however reference Morton’s measurements of Malay skulls to refute claims that they were nearly as large as Europeans. So it seems that Vogt supported those of Morton’s findings that confirmed his own conclusions. Indeed, confirmation bias is an indelible part of the human condition.

Vogt proposed that Morton improperly failed to compact the lead shot that he used to measure skulls. A century later, Stephen Jay Gould postulated that Morton did not compact the skulls with shot, but did compact the skulls when he was measuring them with peppercorns. As Gould wrote in the Mismeasure of Man (page 97)

“I assumed that measures by seed would be lower. Seeds are light and variable in size, even after sieving. Hence, they do not pack well. By vigorous shaking or pressing of the thumb at the foramen magnum (the hole at the base of a skull), seeds can be made to settle, providing room for more. Measures by seed were very variable; Morton reported differences of several cubic inches for recalibrations of the same skull. He eventually became discouraged, firing his assistants, and redid all his measurements personally, with lead shot. Recalibrations never varied by more than a cubic inch, and we may accept Morton’s judgement that measures by shot were objective, accurate and repeatable – while earlier measures my seed were highly subjective and erratic.”

Later on the same page, Gould speculated as to how Morton’s seed measurements may have generated different results from the shot measurements. Gould wrote:

“Plausible scenarios are easy to construct. Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives it a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action.”

In a 1984 PBS Nova program, Gould was filmed explaining that he had reanalyzed “Morton’s data one summer a few years back. And I discovered that his ranking of whites, Indian and blacks was based more on his hopes than any reality of his data.” Gould then went on to accuse Morton of under-measuring black skulls and over-measuring white skulls, saying:

“Morton picks up the skull of a black man. Gee, it looks kind of disconcertingly large, he’s a little worried about it. You pour in the mustard seed, you shake it very gently try to get it to settle, pour it out again. Then you pick up a white skull which is disconcertingly small and you pour in the mustard seed. You take your thumb and you push on the foramen magnum as hard as you can, you push down, you pour some in some more. It’s… it’s not hard. I mean that must have been what happened.”

In the video, Gould can be seen pantomiming Morton using his thumb to push more seed into Caucasian skulls. And also note that Gould referred to “mustard seed,” not white pepper.

It should be noted that neither Vogt nor Gould actually re-measured Morton’s skulls and Gould never even laid eyes on them. So, both of these men were making assumptions. The question I had for many years was: Were these assumptions true? Does lead shot actually generate more reliable measurements than pepper seed?

In 2014, I decided to run a test. I bought a plastic model human skull from a medical supply store. I measured it with white pepper seed, lead shot and some other materials, like millet which was used by Tiedemann. I bought the white a pepper seed at a Korean grocery store. Shot is hard to find and expensive, so I bought used scuba divers’ weights which are filled with shot. I did not sift the shot or any of the seed materials, so my findings are not “lab quality.” Also, I measured the plastic skull and its contents with my kitchen scale. I invite any enterprising undergrad to re-run this test. If I’m wrong, so be it. My results should therefore be viewed as PRELIMINARY. I would however note that I actually have experience measuring skulls and this is not my first time conducting such research.

My methodology was quite simple. I measured the cranial capacity of my skull in three ways with the assumption that I would get three different results.

1. I measured the skull by filling it with material and only shifting the skull from side to side. One must tilt a skull a bit fill it up. My goal was to try to avoid any settling or compaction of the materials. I call this technique “NOT SHAKEN.”

2. I measured the skull by filling it with material and then I shook it to make it settle. But, I did not push my fingers into the skull to compact it. This is the normal way that modern researchers measure a skull, and this was the technique I used for my 1988 paper. I call this technique “SHAKEN ONLY.”

3. I measured the skull by filling it with material and then I shook it to make it settle and then pushed my fingers into the skull to compact it. I call this technique “COMPACTED.”

I then repeated this process using five different materials: White Pepper, White Mustard,
Millet Seed, White Rice, and Lead Shot. I repeated the measurements for each type and technique ten times. I then took all my data and determined a coefficient of variance (CV) for each type of material and technique. CV is a standard statistical measurement. In very broad terms, a lower CV indicates a more consistent measurement. At the end of this blog I have posted my raw data and calculations.

Once everything was finished, I had generated the fifteen CVs that are presented below:

CV – Material, Technique
0.6 – White Pepper, Compacted
0.8 – Yellow Mustard, Compacted
0.9 – Millet Seed, Not Shaken
1.0 – White Rice, Compacted
1.1 – Lead Shot, Shaken Only
1.1 – Millet Seed, Compacted
1.1 – Lead Shot, Compacted
1.3 -Yellow Mustard, Not Shaken
1.4 -Yellow Mustard, Shaken Only
1.8 – White Pepper, Not Shaken
1.8 – White Pepper, Shaken Only
2.0 – White Rice, Shaken Only
2.2 – Millet Seed, Shaken Only
2.8 – White Rice, Not Shaken
3.2 – Lead Shot, Not Shaken

The main conclusion is that shot is not an especially accurate measurement material relative to other materials. Compressing does not give worse or better results regardless of material. Gould’s assumption, which has been unquestioned for decades, has no foundation. If anything, his assertion shows how little he actually knew about the technique of measuring skulls. But then again, his expertise was studying snails. One would never presume that an anthropologist would have any expertise with snails, thus there is no reason that Gould would be an expert on skulls.

Some practical findings of my research were:

1. It appears that compacting the materials when filling a skull with ANY materials is just a bad idea. It put too much pressure on the skull. When I compressed the materials, (regardless of what they were) the material all moved into the face area, where there are more holes. This is also where there are more fine bones. I would not recommend doing this on a real skull because you would end up breaking some of the internal face bones. Gould assumed that Morton employed compression to make white skulls seem larger. But for that ASSUMPTION to be true, Morton had to have been willing to damage his white skulls.

2. Mustard seed is a mess and is annoying to use. It gets all charged up with static electricity and spills out of eye holes and such. I hated using it due to the mess. Also, I had to work to get the last few seeds out of the inside of the skull.

3. Lead shot is difficult to use and could easily damage many skulls. When my plastic skull was full of lead shot it weighed 19 pounds. The largest bowling ball is 16 pounds. A skull is round and has no good handles. I was afraid I would drop it and smash it. The muscles in my arms got sore hoisting it to the scale. Also, for some reason, a few table spoons of shot balls stayed in the skull. I had to shake it rigorously to get them out. My plastic skull had a removable top that was held together by magnets. The skull popped open the first time I filled it with the shot. It spilled all over the floor. So, I had to tape the skull shut. In summary, shot is hard to use and could easily crack both the thicker and thinner bones in a dry skull. Also, shot was just as easy to compact as any seed material. So for me, it had no special benefits the seeds lacked.

4. Rice was easy, but only worked well when compressed.

5. White pepper was easy to use, but only got good results when compressed. That observation suggests that a lab worker would need to practice a very consistent technique which required some training. So, Morton could have been right that his lab tech got inconsistent results.

6. Millet was the preferable material for many reasons. It was not messy at all. It was light weight, thus doing minimal damage to the skull. It was also easy to pour out of the skull. Most importantly, Millet generated a low CV without even shaking it. It was also quicker. In the 1930s, LIFE magazine ran an article of Harvard anthropologist Earnest Hooton. (“Hooton of Harvard,” LIFE, August 7, 1939). A photo on page 61 shows him measuring a skull with (according to the caption) millet, not shot.

In conclusion, Gould’s assumption that shot was somehow a better material than seed is was a false assumption. Also, it is just as easy to compact shot as seed. If as Gould proposed, Morton’s bias led him to unconsciously mis-measure with seed, then how come that strong bias did not affect his shot measurements? Did Morton’s racial bias inexplicably turn off at some point? A more likely scenario, which I have proposed on other blog posts, is that Morton simply lied. His work was riddled with random errors. I think that when his measurements got results he didn’t like, he would just write down something else. Given that he was an overt racist, he would periodically lie to make Anglo-Saxons appear superior to other races. But that is a case of lying, not subconscious bias secretly corrupting his data set. We have to remember that Morton was not a modern scientist, honor bound to publish only those results that are rigorously tested in a lab setting. He was not, nor did he ever claim to be the objectivist Gould said he was.

Gould uncritically accepted Morton’s false claims that the shot was the ideal material for measuring skulls. My research (as seen in other posts on this web site) suggests that Morton conducted his measurements in part to refute the craniological research of Tiedemann who used millet. So, Morton may have sold (or oversold) the accuracy of shot, so as to make Tiedemann look like an old fashioned guy with an outdated technique that should not be trusted. Ironically, my results show that millet is the preferable material, thus supporting Tiedemann’s findings. The way I see it, if the question is asked, “Who is RIGHT about measuring skulls, Morton or Gould?” The answer is, “Tiedemann.”

I reiterate that the research present on this blog should be regarded as preliminary, and I eagerly encourage some undergraduate, or even a high school student, to duplicate it. Until I am proven wrong, I am the only person who has taken on this task. My work, faulty as it may be, is currently the best done to date. It may not be perfect, but at least from my perspective, I finally have a halfway decent answer to a question that has been bugging me for decades.

PDFSeed-Shot Morton_v5

Ancient Egypt and Bad Math: Morton’s Research Ran Rife with Errors

This blog is based on text from Chapter 29 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

Samuel George Morton’s Crania Aegyptiaca is a case study in his staggeringly bad employment of basic mathematics. Within Crania Aegyptiaca, Morton published the craniological measurements of a set of 100 skulls from Egypt, most of which were ancient Egyptians. Morton summarized his findings on these skulls in the table shown below.

Egypt Blog 1The above table contains a blatant error regarding the Semitic (or Arabic) skulls, three of which are from Thebes. According to Morton, the smallest of the three Semitic Thebans is 79 cubic inches, and the mean is also 79 cubic inches. This is mathematically impossible. Furthermore, four of the five means values presented in the sixth column do not actually generate the mean reported in the seventh column, which I shall call the second mean.
In 2011, I recalculated second means in the above table. Figure 2 below presents the means and second means reported by Morton in 1844 along with the corrected second means. This figure shows that four of the five second means reported by Morton were lower than they should have been. Morton’s Pelasgic Form, Semitic Form, and Negro Form were all incorrectly inflated by 3 cubic inches. Morton’s Egyptian Form was boosted up one inch.

Egypt Blog 2After I found the above-noted errors, I decided to recreate Morton’s 1844 Table using Morton’s raw data, which he published in Crania Aegyptiaca. The internal volumes of the 100 skulls he measured are included in a 15-page inventory within the book. Recreating this table was no simple task because Morton was not consistent with the terms he used to describe the ethnicity of the skulls he measured. For example, his Ethnographic Divisions Table (Figure 2) does not describe any skulls as being mixed race. However, on page 19 of Crania Aegyptiaca, he presented a table (Figure 3 below) describing five of his 100 skulls as mixed. My challenge was to find out to which Ethnographic Division these five mixed skulls were assigned within Morton’s Ethnographic Division Table.

Egypt Blog 3To complicate matters even more, the above table refers to mixed skulls, but the term mixed is not used in the 15-page inventory. Furthermore, on page 7 of Crania Aegyptiaca, Morton describes Skull No. 795 as “Egyptian blended with the Negroid form?” indicating that Morton regarded it as having mixed ethnicity. And yet on page 31, this same skull is included in a listing of “Egyptian Group” skulls. On page 8, Morton describes Skull No. 802 as “Egypto-Pelasgic Form,” but it is included in a list of “Pelasgic Group” skulls on page 30. Morton’s inconsistent definitions make his inventory and his tables unclear and confusing. However, I was able to deduce what skulls Morton measured and how he classified them by combining all the information presented in his 15-page inventory, along with tables on pages 19 and 21, and the listing of skulls in the Pelasgic, Egyptian, and Negroid Groups, found on pages 30 and 31. (I spent a few weeks just sorting out this Gordian knot, a testament to either my obsessiveness or thoroughness. Take your pick.)

Figure 4 shows a spreadsheet with all the information I gathered from the tables and text within Crania Aegyptiaca. The final column of Figure 4 presents the ethnicities I was able to deduce from Morton’s information. I was fortunate in that I was able to cross reference all of Morton’s lists and tables, and from them assign every mixed skull to one of the categories on Morton’s Ethnographic Divisions table. I cannot fathom why Morton published his information in such a convoluted manner. His organization system defies common sense. It was only with the aid of a computer datasheet that I was able to untangle it all, and finally account for each of his 100 skulls.

Egypt Blog 4aEgypt Blog 4b

Using the data listed in Figure 4 above, I re-created Morton’s Ethnographic Division Table as shown below in Figure 5.

Egypt Blog 5Ultimately, I was able to determine that Morton’s 1844 Ethnographic Tables contained 13 mathematical errors, as shown above in Figure 5. There are a total of 65 units of data (numbers) listed on this table. Thus, the 13 errors indicate that 20 percent of the information on this table is in error. Stanton (1960), Gould (1978), Michael (1988), and Lewes (2011) all failed to note the errors on this table, including the blatantly incorrect mean for the three Semitic skulls from Thebes. We all spent hours and hours gazing our eyeballs directly at Morton’s table and none of us noticed that the mean for the Semitic-Thebans was utterly impossible. That fact is somewhat distressing, and Lord knows I was as guilty as the rest. It is also distressing to realize that Morton, who was held in such high esteem by his colleagues, could have generated a table in which approximately one fifth of the data was in error.

There have been those who have argued that Morton’s craniological research is a diagnostic example of bias, unconscious bias, science correcting itself, or science failing to correct itself. To them, I would argue that his research is so flawed that it is not a good example of anything… save a man who did sloppy work.