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

2.1: MORTON’S MISTAKES AND GOULD’S MISTAKES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morton CA Table

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

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

Ethnographic Division

Locality

No. of Crania

Largest Brain

Smallest Brain

Mean

Second “Mean”

Pelasgic Form

Memphis

14 13

97

79

89 90

88 85

Abydos

1

89

89

89

Thebes

5 6

92

82

86 87

Philae

1

74

74

74

Semitic Form

Memphis

1

88

88

88

82 79

Abydos

1

69

69

69

Thebes

3

85

79 73

79

Egyptian Form

Memphis

7

83 86

73

79

80 79

Abydos

2

96

85

90 91

Thebes

25 22

95

68

80

Ombos

2

77

68

73

Debod

3

82

70

75

Negroid Form

Maabdeh

1

71

71

71

79 76

Thebes

5

88

71 77

81

Negro

Philae

1

73

73

73

73

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

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

 Gould Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xiii] Morton, Crania Aegyptiaca, 21.

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

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

[xvi] Morton, Crania Americana, 262.

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

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

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

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

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

[xxii] Ibid., p. 294.

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

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

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

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

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

11 thoughts on “Stephen Jay Gould and Samuel George Morton: A Personal Commentary, Part 2

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

  2. From what I can gather, Gould had quite a reputation in his field for representing ideas which no serious scientist espoused as the majority view; then using statistical arguments to debunk the ideas purported to be a consensus, thereby making himself seem cutting edge. Slick!

    Re “self-styled objective empiricist” . A recent NYT screed by a philosophy professor who claims philosophy originated a metaphysical category of race which functioned as an “ad hoc rationalization of slavery”.

    • I think Gould let his fame get the better of him. As for the article, I think the “metaphysical” spin may be a bit much. but there is a connection between early anthropology and the slave trade. The terms race, negro and cast are all Portuguese words that were jargon developed for the slave trade in the mid 1500s, so it is fair to say that science did not develop those concepts rather, scientists accepted them from slavers. That article is overall on the right track.

      • In my opinion that article makes the same assumption about the human species that it castigates the Western world for making about races. (IE it assumes there are necessarily qualities that all members of the class share). It so happens that species like Homo habilis that could be fertile with modern humans and apes died out, but if they were still around those extinct species would constitute an unbroken chain of fertility between apes and humans, and what are now regarded as separate species would be in a single species that included modern humans, even though the extremes of the species (apes and humans) would not be fertile with each other.

        The arguments about the lack of scientific validity to any concept of human races would then apply to homo habilis and even chimps. If you doubt that, Gould seized on reports that chimps had culture and wrote in the NYT about how it showed there was no ‘golden barrier’ of achievement that put humans on a separate higher level. See here

        It seems to me there would be a name for black Africans as there is an identifiable appearance that they share. That the name derived from Portuguese slavers shows nothing much. You seem to be saying Africans status came from slavers’ concept of them, and that was taken over by scientists to show them as a separate race. There were many white slaves in the 16th century Americas they were just as subject to abuses, with the exception that a white baby would not be born a slave. The slaveowners got round that by having selected black slaves impregnate white women or girl slaves, and even white non-slaves such as female indentured servants were used as breeders of black slaves in this way. See here.

        People got to be transported as slaves simply through being on the wrong side (like the Irish aristocracy displaced by Cromwell) or just being unable to support themselves and becoming a profitable resource. Abolitionists did not base their case on Africans being identical with Europeans and not constituting a race. I think formal theories of race that rationalized slavery had only worsened the position of African slaves in a relative sense by removing the rationale for white slavery, which was already long gone. Africans continued to be hereditary slaves because of their hereditary qualities; they were significantly more resistant to a number of tropical diseases. As slaves, Africans were a superior race that generated more profits for the slaveholder. If was profit rather than prejudice that the system ran on. In the part of the US where slavery died out Africans were thought of as being of another race, but there was no longer a way to make a big profit from it. Abolitionists in the North, (almost all of whom were racists by today’s standards) got traction under those circumstances I think there is far too much being laid at the door of the science of that era. Science wasn’t a decisive factor for good or ill back then; it couldn’t be now.

        • The big money was in the African slave trade. That’s my point. Indentured servitude was no cakewalk (which some of my ancestors had to endure) but slavery was an industry and just like the oil biz impacts how science is done, so the slave trade had is influence. As for the ideas that slave owners had their slaves impregnated white woman, that sounds crazy to me. I doubt that my minimal African ancestry was a result of that.

        • “OK. So if we accept that to be so we have an itneresnitg position. Terry: “Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that similar ecological conditions had led to the fixing of that phenotype? A semi-desert habitat with a great deal of glare seems accepted as explaining the Khoi-San eyefold. The same for Mongolian? Semi-desert? The Mongolian phenotype came to fixation on the edge of the Gobi Desert, and spread from there?”I doubt it. If we look at all the data together, we see that Khoisans also have high incidence of the Mongolian spot in babies, their skin is lighter, their physical morphology is very different from that of other Sub-Saharan Africans, the Hofmeyer skull at 36K is also metrically Eurasians and not like modern Africans at all. Even linguistically their “clicks,” albeit very distinct phonetically, show some similarity not to other African linguistic phenomena but to the phonetics of such secondary auxiliary registers as Paleosiberian and Ainu “throat-singing” and an Australian “secret language” called Damin. Neutral markers are so susceptible to genetic drift and gene flow that they may obscure ancient population relationships, while non-neutral biological traits and culture may preserve these connections better. See “Human Diversity and History” by Harpending and Eller (2000). I think Khoisans are an early offshoot of an East Asian or Northeast Asian population that went through a bottleneck and then expanded in Africa.”Doesn’t necessarily follow at all. I think we can presume neither A nor B entered America as soon as they had formed….[B] But very common through most of China and out into the Pacific, as far as New Zealand. I’m sure it is the haplogroup most likely to have arrived in America via the coast, in boats.”Terry: did they carry those boats all the way up to the Lake Titicaca? In some Andean populations, B is as fixed as in the Maoris. I don’t believe in boats, overkills, volcanoes or hurricanes when they are inserted into human prehistory only to explain inconvenient facts. “They could have hung around separately in East Asia for thousands of years.”Look, Terry, how many assumptions we need to make to make things work. Macrohaplogroup N expanded thousands of miles away from East Africa, where it supposedly originated; there are no intermediary lineages anywhere between East Africa and East Asia; then a couple of members of this haplogroup lingered somewhere for thousands of years before entering America in a single migration responsible for bringing to the New World a whole new phenotype (and these are neutral markers presumably), whose origin in Asia is unclear; the youngest member of the same macrohaplogroup sneaked into the New World via the coast in boats but penetrated the continent the deepest. This is an exercise of turning the map of the world into a chessboard and human populations into pawns.The only biogeographic pattern that’s compelling to me is that mtDNA macrohaplogroup N (including R) and Y-DNA haplogroup C (which is as high in frequencies in the Maoris as mtDNA B) are very similar in distribution and probably originated as a result of one of the earliest splits in human population history. Since their representatives in Africa and in the areas adjacent to Africa are all derived if found at all, these macrohaplogroups originated way outside of Africa. Only in our wildest dreams do they constitute evidence of an “expansion” out of Africa.

          • I would caution about trying to link Bushmen with Asians. After all, Northern Europeans and Native Australians both can have blond hair. Would you say they are related? What about African pygmies and Pacific island pygmies?

  3. Most of the consensual relationships in the racially and sexually mixed Virginia slave barracks in the early days of slavery were between white women and African men. I’m NOT talking about indentured labour when I say there were white slaves. But, the status of the offspring of white mother and father slaves was not that of a slave, so there was a commercial motive for slaveholders to have white female slaves impregnated by Africans, thereby creating more ‘property’ . The category of slave included black slaves in position of authority over whites slaves and indentured labourers in those days, and they were allowed and encouraged to take advantage of white women both slaves and indentured labour.

    In Barbados there were commercial stud farms where white females transported from the British Isles, if 13 years or older, were sent to for impregnation by selected African slaves. Men of the Mandinka tribe were preferred for this work, and careful records were kept; it was much the same as the slaveholders did when breeding horses. The owners of the stud farms also bought the contracts of white female indentured labourers and used them as breeders.

    • I find the work of Winthrop D. Jordan and Ira Berlin to be the most impressive when it come to the topic to slavery, so I defer to them.

  4. “We conclude that the mpgoholorical diversity documented through time in the New World is best accounted for by a model postulating two waves of human expansion into the continent originating in East Asia and entering through Beringia.”The mpgoholorical diversity documented through time in the New World can also be accounted for by a model postulating the existence of an ancestral population in the Americas much earlier than Clovis that diversified into two attested mpgoholorical types – the “Paleo”-Indian and the “recent” Indian. The first one went largely extinct (although survived in Fuegians and Baha Californians), the latter one persevered. The current paper, although again based on a myth of the peopling of the Americas perpetuated by archaeologists (hence the fourth scenario is not even being entertained), actually shows that a very ancient pre-Clovis population in the Americas is a poorly documented but a necessary corollary of several lines of evidence. This is in perfect accordance with linguistics and kinship studies that document high diversity and the high frequency of ancestral types in the Americas.”Mongoloids surely didn’t come out of nowhere, but we currently don’t have any evidence of how Mongoloid (or rather proto-Mongoloid) morphology came into being.”Mongoloids, just like American Indians, have high frequencies of shovel-shaped incisors, which is an ancient hominin dental trait widely attested in Neanderthals (not uncommon in modern African populations). It’s likely that some characteristic aspects of Mongoloid morphology (cranial and dental) is a retention from Asian and Eurasian hominins. In light of the fact that African San have epicanthus – another Mongoloid trait not present in Amerindians – is another indication that “Mongoloids” could be older than we think, both in the Old World and the New World.The most recent discovery of Neanderthal “admixture” in modern humans outside of Africa fits with this line of reasoning very well. “In spite of arguments over the overall diversity of American languages it seems that the Na-Dene group is distinct from all the others (and seemingly related to some Eurasian languages), whether the others are all related or not. This distinction is most easily explained as the result of a separate migration.”May be a separate migration from North America into Siberia at the end of the Ice Age? The dates of Clovis-type tools are becoming younger as they progress from southern areas of North America into Alaska (Mesa culture). The Ket language that was recently showed to be related to Na-Dene could be a product of this reverse migration to Siberia. If you look at Y-DNA C haplogroup, which is found at high frequencies in Na-Dene, is also found at low frequencies in Inuits, North and Central American Indians.

    • Interesting information but you may be over thinking this. Lots of ethnicities have epicantal folds or semi-epicanthal folds. It’s not an all or nothing thing. And a race does not migrate as a unit. Ethnic groups merge and split all the time, rather like clouds. You really can’t say that Mongolians are ancient since they may have had multiple roots.

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