Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary

 

Introduction

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.

1.1: THE MISMEASURE OF MAN

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.

1.2: RE-MEASURING THE SKULLS

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.

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001071.

[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.”

21 thoughts on “Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary

  1. Pingback: Interesting commentary on the Morton/Gould affair | Living Biology

  2. ***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, ***

    1. I am familiar with a number of Rushton’s papers, but wasn’t aware he had misrepresented your work. Could you please elaborate? From what I recall, he simply stated that your work showed Morton’s work appeared to have been conducted with integrity. Is that incorrect?

    2. In reading a number of Rushton’s articles I’ve never seen any suggestion he was a proponent of eugenics. Could you clarify what you mean here? Note that the Southern Poverty Law Centre is hardly an impartial source in describing scientific work. In fact, it has a similar motivation and approach to Gould – distort and tarnish those whose views or research threaten their beliefs.

    3. Tarring the Pioneer Fund with some statement made in 1937 is akin to tarring the Ford Foundation because of Ford’s earlier publications. Are you aware that the Fund also supported breakthrough research such as the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart work by Thomas Bouchard?

    4. Thank you for posting this fascinating account. Gould is certainly an example of what Jonathan Haidt describes in this article as distorting science to protect sacred beliefs.

    ““If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/science/08tier.html?_r=0

    • Thanks for the heads up on the evoandproud post.

      I plan on posting a more detailed explanation of how Rushton manipulated by paper, but here is the quick summary: In 1990, Rushton wrote that “Michael concluded that Morton’s research “was conducted with integrity…(while)…Gould is mistaken”…”

      The full quite was, “Contrary to Gould’s interpretation, I conclude that Morton’s research was conducted with integrityy. Morton was one of the first scholars to attempt the study of human diversity through objective measurements, and it is not surprising that he made mistakes. Although he cannot be excused for his errors, or his unfair comparisons of means, he should be given credit for taking the risk of experimenting with a new and innovative technique. He was attempting to understand racial variation and not, as Gould claims, trying to prove Caucasian racial superiority. The Science historian William Stanton concludes that “Morton himself never equated cranial capacity with intelligence.
      Although Gould is mistaken in many of his assumptions about Morton’s work, he is correct is asserting that these tables are scientifically unsound.

      So basically, Rushton clipped two clauses, one about Morton and the other about Gould, and then pasted them together to make a sentence implying that Morton was “right” and Gould was “wrong,” when my intent was to present a more nuanced evaluation. Some people have turned the Morton-Gould affair into a all or nothing debate in which either one side is right or the other side is right, and I think that is a mistake. Both men made mistakes and proving one wrong does not prove the other one right. I think Rushton was hell bent on disproving Gould (and vice versa), and as a result Rushton cherry picked facts from my research to support his own views.

      As for the Southern Law Poverty Center, I trust them more than I trust the Pioneer Fund. In a way it is a matter of degrees. Who do you trust? I think when you look at the bulk of Rushton’s work, and the organizations he chose to associate with, you see a picture of a man who felt that humans could be bred to be more intelligent. I call that eugenics, but other people may not.

      My main point is this: just because I critique Gould, it does not mean that I support Morton. Likewise just because I critique Gould, it does not mean I support Rushton. I think all three of them came to overly grand conclusions based on what I view as a small amount of data.

      Here’s a question for you. Do you believe that races are distinct units? If they are not, does Rushton’s work have any validity?

      • My answer: no, races are not distinct units. For the second question: yes, Rushton work is sound, (the way I read him, I do not think Rushton’s work is based on an assumption that races are distinct units).

        • I have not read all of Rushton’s works but I have read his papers quoting me and a just few more. So I can’t claim to know the full body of his research, though I know some folks think he has been misrepresented. One critique I have of his writing style is that he often supports his arguments by quoting other papers that he himself wrote. Thus, his response to his critics is essentially “I’m correct because I agree with something I already wrote.” That approach does not leave a positive impression on me. From my viewpoint, he does not provide enough examples from nature, or other people’s research to back up his claims. For example, he proposed that in humans, brain size is inverse to penis size. A bigger brain means a smaller penis. Is this something you agree with? What is the basis for this in nature? Do any other animals or primates show that trend? What would be the evolutionary explanation for that? Did Rushton gather data on penis size? Do pygmies, who have small brains, have large penises? My understanding is that pygmies are small in all their body parts. If you are familiar with his work I’d be interested in your take on these questions.

          • “From my viewpoint, he does not provide enough examples from nature, or other people’s research to back up his claims. For example, he proposed that in humans, brain size is inverse to penis size. A bigger brain means a smaller penis. Is this something you agree with?”

            Sorry for spamming your blog with replies …. but you are asking for them.

            The penis-brain idea was part of his application of r/k selection theory to individual human differences. Just look up r/K selection and imagine that it applied between humans and that intelligence facilitated K-selection. And reproductive organ size facilitated R-selection. From what I have read, the life history part is basically correct, the penis=R IQ=K idea isn’t, and the race difference in life history issue is unresolved. Regardless, Blacks Africans do, on average, have smaller brains and larger dicks than Yellow Asians — the significance of that just is not clear. (It does sound funny saying that.)

          • No need to apologize. I did indeed ask for comments and thanks for taking the time to write them down. After all, I was ignored for 30 years, so even getting any response is a step up from me. I will not deny that much of the race debate has been PC driven, but it has also been non-PC driven. It has been manipulated by both sides of the political spectrum, and each deserve their share of the blame. Some people simply thrive on stirring up controversy for controversy’s sake, and I think Gould and Ruston are both in that camp.

            As for eugenics, even in a theoretical sense, it is morally wrong. It’s just bad, and saying it is not is playing with fire. I think that sometimes, scientists get so hung up on data and statistical modeling that they don’t see the impact they have on people. Science is a tool, like a hammer. You can use it to build a hospital or break somebody’s kneecaps. Eugenics, even in a cool academic discussion, falls into the latter category. There are some things that are simply unethical. If someone thinks I silly for saying that, I’m willing to be silly.

            Morality aside, from a practical standpoint eugenics is, for lack of a better word, “inorganic.” I don’t trust humans to breed humans. Let nature do it. I agree with Wille Nelson’s comment on human’s place in the universe, “Fortunately, we’re not in change.”

            As for IQ and general intelligence, they seem like overly data-driven concepts to me and not based on direct observation of the complexities of human intelligence. For example, in my line of work I deal with maps of environmental conditions. Even the best digital maps need to be “ground-truthed.” You have to get out there and go into the field to see if the academic information is correct, and sometimes its not. The landscape is always going to be more complex than your mapping. If someone says an ethnic groups is of low intelligence, just showing me series IQ scores is not enough; I want you to show me that you have lived with these people and got to known them, and only then can you conclude they are not smart. Ground truth your data, don’t just test a bunch of college students in a controlled setting and end it there.

            150 years ago Von Humboldt wrote about the abilities of Natives of the Caribbean Islands after spending time with them. He said their lack of clothing was not due to them being too dumb to make it, but rather because they didn’t need it. Thus they were being economical by not wearing much. That to me is an example, a case study if you will, of intelligence in action. He saw them solving problems. In my opinion, and I reiterate it is my opinion based on just a few of Rushton’s articles, Ruston’s work is like a map nobody ever ground-truthed. Morton was the same way.

            Clearly, I don’t find Rushton’s arguments persuasive. Von Humboldt’s eye witness testimony, however, impresses me a great deal. It all boils down to who you want to believe, the guy behind the desk or the guy out in the field. And I will note that this discussion with you is similar in style to ones I have had with supporters of Gould. They keep telling me I misread is work or that I need to read just “one more paper” and I’ll agree with his conclusions. I’m getting it from both sides.

      • Michael,

        You said: ” I call that eugenics, but other people may not.”

        Sure, but why do you consider eugenics, per se, to be morally problematic? And do you actually believe that human intelligence can’t be raised through eugenics? Try reading Razib Kahn’s “None dare call it eugenics”. And then listening to Steve Hsu’s discussion in the NPR show “Genius Babies”. And then maybe dig into the biological liberalism/conservatism debate. Your reflexive opposition to the pro-eugenics position of the Pioneer Fund seems childish. But perhaps you have discussed your views on this issue in more detail elsewhere?

        As for Rushton’s “misrepresentation”, it’s not clear that there was one. When I read, “was conducted with integrity…(while)…Gould is mistaken”, I am inclined to infer that Gould’s referred to mistake concerned the his evaluation of bias on the part of Morton. Consider the opening sentence of the paragraph: “Gould also repeats verbatim his (1981) claim that S. G. Morton (1799-1851), one of the giants of 19th American science, ‘unconsciously’ doctored his results”. Here, Rushton obviously is discussing Gould’s claim about bias, not Gould’s assessment of the data. As such, the logical inference would be that he quoted you in reference to Gould’s assessment of Morton, not in reference to Gould’s reassessment of Morton’s data. Did you not imply that Gould was wrong with regards to his insinuation that Morton was biased? Whatever the case, this hardly constitutes a gross misquote or a cherry picking — at best a small misinterpretation. Hopefully, you have more to go on than this.

        “I think all three of them came to overly grand conclusions based on what I view as a small amount of data”

        So, Rushton reviewed a massive amount of evidence and has since been proven meta-analytically correct with regards to the within population correlation between brain size and general intelligence. But, he still improperly came to the overly grand conclusion that Gould misrepresented the totality of the data. Even though Gould did.

        “Do you believe that races are distinct units? If they are not, does Rushton’s work have any validity?’

        Rushton’s work, for example, on the general factor of personality, on life history theory, on the correlation between brain size and g? Why don’t you peruse the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences and find out? Were he wrong about race, though, would this make him wrong in other regards?

        But as for race, Rushton (2000) states: “Each race (or variety) is characterized by a more or less distinct combination of inherited morphological, behavioral, physiological traits….More significantly, they confuse the scientific meaning of race, that is, a recognizable (or distinguishable) geographic population.”

        “Distinct” can mean “distinguishable” in the sense of “identifiably different” and it can mean “discrete” in the sense of “unconnected”. Since Rushton notes admixture i.e., ” and that there is a blurring of category edges because of admixture”, presumably he means the former. Are there “(distinguishable) geographic population(s)”? Sure, for example, Black Africans have characteristic dental traits relative to out-of-Africans. In zoology, the classic rule is the 75% rule. If 75% of a geographically defined subspecific population can be distinguished from 97% of another, then the two populations are — or can be — called subspecies or races. I imagine that at least recently 75% of people whose ancestors never left sub Saharan African could be correctly assigned to the non-out of African group. Possibly recent migrations have made the application of the geographic race concept difficult, but then the zoological rules are unclear in these instances. For example, at some point modern humans and certain archaics overlapped in geographic range and intermingled, but this doesn’t preclude speaking of the populations as if they were Mayrian subspecies.

  3. Pingback: linkfest – 06/23/13 | hbd* chick

  4. ***So basically, Rushton clipped two clauses, one about Morton and the other about Gould, and then pasted them together to make a sentence implying that Morton was “right” and Gould was “wrong,” when my intent was to present a more nuanced evaluation.***

    Thank you for the clarification.

    ***I think when you look at the bulk of Rushton’s work, and the organizations he chose to associate with, you see a picture of a man who felt that humans could be bred to be more intelligent.***

    I think there are a few things to say to that:

    a) that is hardly controversial? Otherwise how could evolution even occur? Even Professor James Flynn (who the Flynn Effect of rising test scores is named after), who argues against Rushton & Jensen’s position on group differences, and is politically left wing would agree with that. Flynn has observed that currently the trend is for selection against high intelligence as smarter women tend to have fewer children in New Zealand. I understand that is the case in most industrialized countries.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10450313

    b) Behavioural traits are partly heritable so if a trait has a greater reproductive pay-off you may get a shift in the population average over time. Professor Steve Hsu, who is a core member of the Beijing Genetics Institute’s Cognitive Genomics Project (Steven Pinker is another member), provides an example here.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2011/08/demography-and-fast-evolution.html

    c) The term eugenicist is generally used in a pejorative sense, almost like name calling.

    ***Do you believe that races are distinct units? If they are not, does Rushton’s work have any validity?***

    I think they are similar to races and sub-species you observe in other animal species. Again, I’d recommend Hsu’s discussion* on what genomics has shown and the prospect of potential group differences. Also see Jerry Coyne’s (interestingly Coyne studied under Lewontin – who was ideologically similar to Gould) post on the subject.

    * http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/metric-on-space-of-genomes-and.html

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/are-there-human-races/

    I think Rushton’s basic ‘rule of 3′ is somewhat simplistic and he stretched the r/K explanation for his findings (see Professor Henry Harpending’s comment on his West Hunter Blog ‘Dan Freedman’s Babies, Part Deux’ April 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm). Harpending notes comments:

    “In ecology it is a nice descriptive heuristic but it is not a theory in any sense that I can see. And I think Phil stretched a bit. For example he said that penis size differences fit the theory. Why? r-strategists are supposed to put effort into reproductive tissues at the expense of the quality of the organism. What does penis size have to do with anything in the theory? And Africans hardly make lower quality organisms. Perhaps if Africans had larger testes there would be a fit, but last I read Danes have the biggest human testes.”

    I think he was on firmer ground when he stuck to psychometrics.

    • I’m really not qualified to comment on the finer points of Rushton’s work, all I can say is that he misquoted me and over simplified (exaggerated if you will) my findings. In that respect, I put him and Gould in the same category: exaggerators. As for human variation, I see merit to some of the evidence that humans have actual subspecies, but to my eyes there seem to be more convincing evidence that there are no distinct units. It’s like the blind man and the elephant. Just because an elephant’s tail does not look like its trunk does not mean they are separate units. If modern humans interbred with Neanderthals, I find it hard to believe that modern human population ever had the sort of isolation needed to form subspecies. We are just too mobile and prone to have sex with each other, even when it is supposed to be forbidden. But then again, a lot of this has to do with how one defines subspecies. Myself I think there is a racial spectrum, and the question is not “what race do you belong to,” but rather, “where do you lie on the spectrum.”

      As a dyslexic who is also colorblind, I hope you will forgive me if I question those who emphasis the value of importance IQ. I get along pretty well despite being unable to tell time. They way I see it, human society (in which we live in small clan groups), probably benefits from having a range of levels and types of intelligence. If everyone had a high IQ it would probably be a bad thing. Just as a forest is most adaptable when it has a diversity of trees, so a human community is most adaptable when it has a diversity of “mental types.” The ability to score well on a IQ test may be as inheritable as height, but not everyone ought to be tall.

      Again, this may not be an issue that was central to Rushton, and there are those who could argue I am “misreading” him. All I can say is that I’m not complete fool, and when I “read” him, the picture I get is of a man who thinks that Asian/Mongolians are a distinct group and that they are smarter than whites or blacks, and furthermore, that smartness is due to inherited brain size. And for me, that does not jive with the fact that pygmies have small brains are a really quite smart. I am unimpressed with Rushton’s work on race, just as I am unimpressed with that of Morton, Gould, Vogt, and Coon. However, Wiedenreich’s work impresses me a great deal, and I like the fact that Boas and Von Humboldt actually bothered to go out in the field and observe people before making claims out their abilities. So at least you know where I stand.

      • “As a dyslexic who is also colorblind, I hope you will forgive me if I question those who emphasis the value of importance IQ”

        Is there an association between dyslexia, color blindness, and general intelligence? Whatever the case, general intelligence is causally related to a number of outcomes that most individuals in industrialized society value e.g., productivity, creativity, humor, civility, respect for the law, etc. Hence, calling someone stupid is taken as more of an offense than calling someone short. But sure, society needs bagger and street sweeper That’s all nice — unless you don’t like the entailed inequalities. This was the whole Bell Curve debate. If ‘no big deal’, then why all the uproar in response to pointing out individual and group e..g, class differences in general mental ability? Why wasn’t the reaction to Jensen, Murray, Rushton, etc. “meh…”? Obviously, because it is a relatively big deal — especially if your goal is equality of outcomes.

        • Steve Hsu noted a similar “Then Assistant Professor HoSang once puclbily stated (during a social science seminar at Oregon I attended) that he would “do everything in his power” to oppose another (Sociology) faculty member’s effort to explain recent genetic results to the broader field. I found this statement so odd that it stuck in my memory. The paper that elicited the threat is published here. The story behind the publication of the paper (which took something like 4 years; I have read the actual referee reports), by a faculty member who has held tenured positions at both Oregon and Dartmouth, is shocking and contributed to my comments in the last paragraph above.”Greg Cochran recounts difficulties getting the ashkenazi intelligence paper published here.

  5. ***But then again, a lot of this has to do with how one defines subspecies. ***

    Well, exactly. And they of course tend to have zones of hybridization and interbreeding. The idea of discreet entities is a bit of a strawman. Nevan Sesardic mentions this observation by Dobzhansky:

    Professor Fried has correctly pointed out that there is no careful and objective
    definition of race that would permit delimitation of races as exact, nonoverlapping,
    discrete entities. Indeed, such criteria do not exist because if they did,
    we would not have races, we would have distinct species. (Dobzhansky in Mead
    1968, 165)

    Race: A Social Destruction of a Biological Concept, Biology and Philosophy 25 (2010), 143-162.
    http://www.ln.edu.hk/philoso/staff/sesardic/getfile.php?file=Race.pdf

    *** that smartness is due to inherited brain size***

    Yes, well the famous example is that Einstein had a relatively small brain (although more glial cells relative to neurons). There is a statistical correlation with performance on psychometric tests (apparently about .33), but there is obviously a lot more involved than size alone.

    • Your comment on Einstein prompted me to post a new blog taken from by draft book. I will check out the Sesardic link. I’ve tried reading his stuff before but got confused by the philosophical references (that’s not my strong suite). What is his overall stance? All I’ve heard is that he is anti-communist/Marxist and anti-homosexual. I know that he quoted my work quite a bit so I’m interested to know more about him.

      • “All I’ve heard is that he is anti-communist/Marxist and anti-homosexual. I know that he quoted my work quite a bit so I’m interested to know more about him.”

        His overall stance is that the philosophical discourse on IQ, heritability, race, etc. is intellectual dishonest and is PC driven. Specifically, he argues e.g., that there plausibly are human races, that geographic populations plausibly do differ in congenital IQ, that heritability isn’t meaningless, etc. He certainly is anti-marxist. And he sees the race/IQ debate as an extension of his anti-marxist struggle.The claim of anti-homosexuality is based on the following paper: Sesardić (2007) “Homosexual marriage: The Victory of Political Correctness and Bad Arguments”. Basically, he’s critical of how marriage traditionalist arguments are treated by other philosophers. Equating this with anti-homosexuality is a rather cultural marxist thing to do.

  6. You said: “As for eugenics, even in a theoretical sense, it is morally wrong”

    Michael,

    This is the new face of eugenics:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/jul/07/ivf-baby-born-genetic-screening
    It’s here. It’s just a matter of time before to-be- parents engage in embryonic selection for traits such as general intelligence — I mean, this scenario is a decade or three out. Call it wrong if you want, but it’s going to happen.

    You said: “If someone says an ethnic groups is of low intelligence, just showing me series IQ scores is not enough”

    IQ tests are subject to both cross temporal and to cross psychometric bias. The extent of bias is in principle testable but testing for psychometric bias is often difficult. This can be done, though. For example, it was recently shown that international differences on achievement tests do not have the same meaning as intranational differences, differences which are substantially due to genes. See: Täht and Must (2013) “Comparability of educational achievement and learning attitudes across nations”. The point here is that the issue of psychometric bias can be explored psychometrically. Exploring causal theories for latent trait differences is another issue.

    You said: In my opinion, and I reiterate it is my opinion based on just a few of Rushton’s articles, Ruston’s work is like a map nobody ever ground-truthed.”

    See, for example: Rindermann (2012) “African cognitive ability: Research, results, divergences and recommendations” Section 6: Further indicators.
    http://lesacreduprintemps19.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/african-cognitive-ability.pdf Or: Lynn and Vanhanen (2011) “Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences”
    https://lesacreduprintemps19.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/intelligence-a-unifying-construct-for-the-social-sciences-richard-lynn-and-tatu-vanhanen.pdf

    My point is that the ‘ground truth’ issue has been discussed and has been explored somewhat. This is a complex issue and I am not saying that Rushton is right — in fact, I have come largely to the opposite conclusion after thoroughly exploring the issue and his arguments — but I am saying that he was more scientifically grounded with his theories than Gould was with his critiques.

    • I find Lynn to be as off-kilter as Rushton. All I can say is that it appears that you find IQ and general intelligence to be valid concepts, and I’m sure you got your reasons. I just don’t see it that way. Sometimes one has to agree to disagree.

    • I would also add Rushton (who grossly misrepresented my research)and Jensen to that list, and in general most the posts on VDARE.com. I’ve read a few your a articles and they are well researched, and have been of use to me. However, you seem to be stuck in a rut on the value of IQ, as if no other measure of human talent mattered. You make statements about the IQ of blacks as if all blacks were genetically identical, which is not even close to being true. If, as Blumenbach contended, race is a spectrum in which there are no distinct separate units, then all the statistical evaluations (like those about IQ) which assume that races ARE distinct… are pointless. You might as well be relating IQ to shoe size. It is as if you are drawing a line from the tip of South America to Antarctica and declaring that the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans never flow across it. At least that’s how I see it.

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