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Debunking Stephen Jay Gould

A recent article (more below) reminds us of this Nicholas Wade story last year, “Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim” (New York Times, June 13, 2011), on how Stephen Jay Gould did a number on a 19th century scientist, and the story only came out nine years after his death:

In a 1981 book, “The Mismeasure of Man,” the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould asserted that Morton, believing that brain size was a measure of intelligence, had subconsciously manipulated the brain volumes of European, Asian and African skulls to favor his bias that Europeans had larger brains and Africans smaller ones.

Physical anthropologists at the University of Pennsylvania reexamined the case and discovered that Gould was wrong about just about everything. The details are interesting:

Dr. Gould, who died in 2002, based his attack on the premise that Morton believed that brain size was correlated with intelligence. But there is no evidence that Morton believed this or was trying to prove it, said Jason E. Lewis, the leader of the Pennsylvania team. Rather, Morton was measuring his skulls to study human variation, as part of his inquiry into whether God had created the human races separately (a lively issue before Darwin decreed that everyone belonged to the same species).

In his book, Dr. Gould contended that Morton’s results were “a patchwork of fudging and finagling in the clear interest of controlling a priori convictions.” This fudging was not deliberate, Dr. Gould said, but rather an instance of unconscious doctoring of data, a practice he believed was “rampant, endemic and unavoidable” in science. His finding is widely cited as an instance of scientific bias and fallibility.

But the Penn team finds Morton’s results were neither fudged nor influenced by his convictions.

It was Gould who was making most of the errors in his paper analysis, leaving scientists today wondering whether Gould was attributing to the long-dead non-Darwinist the very fault of which he himself was guilty, when the other guy wasn’t.

Psychiatrists call it projection.

The most likely reason no one noticed is that it was okay when a famous Darwinist* did it, until the stink grew too hot.

While we are here, the article that mentions the story is a good read on the true causes of variations in IQ. The author argues for societal wealth as an important factor in increases in IQ. One interesting type of analysis is the IQ differences between native and emigrant populations, a century later. Most emigrants leave for better conditions, not worse ones, and if IQ were genetically determined, you would expect little change. But IQs increase under better conditions. A promising thought, that.

Why bring up Gould’s misbehaviour a year after it came to light? It was possible to debunk the genetic thesis of IQ, as this article does, but Gould was too motivated by ideology (he was a Marxist) to do it properly.

A lesson in that.

* Yes, Gould played around with doubts early in his career but eventually returned to the faith.

Hat tip: Five Feet of Fury

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2 Responses to Debunking Stephen Jay Gould

  1. 1

    I do think people see things as they want.
    I do think evolutionists easily put things together in frames of presumptions and sincerely come to error.
    In fact all men do.

    I know evolutionists did weigh skulls to make the point of high/low intelligence.
    If the whole presumption is that human brain size relative to ape size is a reason for why we are smarter then apes then the brain size thing is a factor in conclusions about intelligence.
    Science fiction teaches head size equals brain size.
    In fact always animal intelligence is said to be relative to brain size.
    As a kid I always heard them teach boys brains were bigger then girls brains.

    Evolution is about the evolving brain.
    they can’t now say size doesn’t matter if thats what matters.
    Their stuck. SHHHHHH.

    In fact our intelligence is from our image of God/soul and unrelated to the natural world.
    Our brain is a minor middleman between our thinking soul and our body machine.
    All babies are equal in intelligence.
    its just later that motives and surroundings bring the great differences.
    YEC makes good fodder with this because evolution still ints at racial/sexual smarts differences beyond free will.

  2. Well, I do find it marginally more plausible that, with their enormous brains, whales are more likely to have designed and created the universe than random chance. And, surely, a pathetic fallacy is better than an even more zany fallacy, insentient fallacy.

    I wonder if Pythagorus’ law about right-angle triangles and stuff had a hand in creating the universe. We know from the multiverse, random chance can be very devious – even infinitely imaginative. Not a thing to cross!

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