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Morton, Gould, and Bias: A Comment on "The Mismeasure of Science".

Weisberg M, Paul DB - PLoS Biol. (2016)

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.

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Stephen Jay Gould famously used the work of Samuel George Morton (1799–1851) to illustrate how unconscious racial bias could affect scientific measurement... Morton had published measurements of the average cranial capacities of different races, measurements that Gould reanalyzed in an article in Science and then later in his widely read book The Mismeasure of Man... In his 1839 Crania Americana, Morton used “pepper seeds,” but he switched technique to using lead BB shot for the measurements presented in his later works, especially the 1844 Crania Aegyptiaca... The mean cranial capacity for Africans, Americans, and Caucasians had all increased between 1839 and 1844, as is shown in Fig 1... However, they did not change by the same amounts... They also considered Gould’s other criticism of Morton’s methods and analysis, which they also judged to be mostly without merit (we are here only concerned with the measurement issue; for detailed discussions of all the claims in dispute, see )... They concluded that “Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould”... We take no issue with Lewis et al. ’s remeasurements, but argue that these measurements are not and cannot be evidence for their conclusion... Although Lewis et al. found Morton’s shot-based measurements to be accurate, Gould already accepted this... He actually praised Morton for the “rare and precious gift” of having published all his primary data, thus enabling others to check his work... Gould did not believe that biased results are inevitable... In his view, only if we “understand and acknowledge inevitable preferences” can we countermand their influence... Lewis et al. conclude that, contra Gould, “biased scientists are inevitable, biased results are not. ” But this was precisely Gould’s own view! Lewis et al. have charged that Gould’s “own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of bias influencing results”.

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Change in mean cranial capacity from Crania Americana (CAM) to Catalogue of Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals (CAT).
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pbio.1002444.g001: Change in mean cranial capacity from Crania Americana (CAM) to Catalogue of Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals (CAT).

Mentions: After tabulating and reanalyzing Morton’s data, Gould was struck by a systematic difference between the two sets of measurements. The mean cranial capacity for Africans, Americans, and Caucasians had all increased between 1839 and 1844, as is shown in Fig 1. However, they did not change by the same amounts. The African skulls have a much larger increase in mean cranial capacity than the Americans and Caucasians. If this difference were the result either of lack of precision or of a systematic measurement error, the change should be approximately the same for the different races, but it was not. Gould thought that the best explanation for the more dramatic change in the African mean was unconscious manipulation on Morton’s part in 1839, when technique made that manipulation possible.


Morton, Gould, and Bias: A Comment on "The Mismeasure of Science".

Weisberg M, Paul DB - PLoS Biol. (2016)

Change in mean cranial capacity from Crania Americana (CAM) to Catalogue of Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals (CAT).
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4836680&req=5

pbio.1002444.g001: Change in mean cranial capacity from Crania Americana (CAM) to Catalogue of Skulls of Man and the Inferior Animals (CAT).
Mentions: After tabulating and reanalyzing Morton’s data, Gould was struck by a systematic difference between the two sets of measurements. The mean cranial capacity for Africans, Americans, and Caucasians had all increased between 1839 and 1844, as is shown in Fig 1. However, they did not change by the same amounts. The African skulls have a much larger increase in mean cranial capacity than the Americans and Caucasians. If this difference were the result either of lack of precision or of a systematic measurement error, the change should be approximately the same for the different races, but it was not. Gould thought that the best explanation for the more dramatic change in the African mean was unconscious manipulation on Morton’s part in 1839, when technique made that manipulation possible.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.

AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED EXCERPT
Please rate it.

Stephen Jay Gould famously used the work of Samuel George Morton (1799–1851) to illustrate how unconscious racial bias could affect scientific measurement... Morton had published measurements of the average cranial capacities of different races, measurements that Gould reanalyzed in an article in Science and then later in his widely read book The Mismeasure of Man... In his 1839 Crania Americana, Morton used “pepper seeds,” but he switched technique to using lead BB shot for the measurements presented in his later works, especially the 1844 Crania Aegyptiaca... The mean cranial capacity for Africans, Americans, and Caucasians had all increased between 1839 and 1844, as is shown in Fig 1... However, they did not change by the same amounts... They also considered Gould’s other criticism of Morton’s methods and analysis, which they also judged to be mostly without merit (we are here only concerned with the measurement issue; for detailed discussions of all the claims in dispute, see )... They concluded that “Morton did not manipulate data to support his preconceptions, contra Gould”... We take no issue with Lewis et al. ’s remeasurements, but argue that these measurements are not and cannot be evidence for their conclusion... Although Lewis et al. found Morton’s shot-based measurements to be accurate, Gould already accepted this... He actually praised Morton for the “rare and precious gift” of having published all his primary data, thus enabling others to check his work... Gould did not believe that biased results are inevitable... In his view, only if we “understand and acknowledge inevitable preferences” can we countermand their influence... Lewis et al. conclude that, contra Gould, “biased scientists are inevitable, biased results are not. ” But this was precisely Gould’s own view! Lewis et al. have charged that Gould’s “own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of bias influencing results”.

Show MeSH