Personal Commentary on Morton & Gould 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]

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]

          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.

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