Re: Gould, Science, Mistakes and Fraud

Robert Snower (
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 19:50:47 GMT

A very informative post. Thank you.

Best wishes. R. Snower (Bryant) wrote:

>Joel's been mentioning fraud in science from time to time. The NSF
>publishes a list of folks caught doing that, every year. Here's an
>interesting case that will never make that list. It involves Stephen Jay
>Gould, Ivy Tower resident at Harvard.

>In 1978 and 1981, Gould challenged the early use of morphometrics by
>intelligence researchers in the last century. Much of what Gould said
>seems reasonable, and on the whole he was well received. However, in the
>1978 paper (page 503, ref below), Gould accused Morton (1849) of
>"finagling" and "juggling" data. Morton's bias, Gould suggested, need
>not have been conscious:

> "Morton, measuring [cranial capacity] by seed, picks up a
> threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly...Next, he
> takes a distressingly small caucasian skull, shakes hard, & pushes
> mightily at the foramen magnum."

>In the book _Not In Our Genes_, (1984) Lewontin and friends quoted this
>passage authoritatively, claiming that Gould had "exposed" intentional,
>"systematic distortion of the evidence" by nineteenth century

>But in 1988, a re-measurement of the skulls used in Morton's original
>study found that the few, small errors Morton made were *not* in the
>direction Gould had claimed. Michael (1988) concludes that Morton had
>conducted himself with scientific integrity, and that Gould, charitably,
>was "mistaken" in his attack.

>In his book, Gould admitted to "embarrassing errors" in his 1978
>calculations (Gould 1981, p. 66). Nobody used this as fodder for
>discrediting Gould, as he himself would surely have done if, say, Rushton
>had made the same mistakes. (It looks like the supposedly raging
>political war in academia may be largely one-sided. Heh. That happens
>when you fight staw men instead of real ideas, as Gould often does.)

>More typically (Gould is rarely caught out and out fudging), in his
>essay, "Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples," Gould complains about
>adaptationists' insufficient testing of their evolutionary hypotheses
>about the origins of the female orgasm. In the same essay, Gould himself
>declares without evidence (and without presenting a single testable
>prediction) that "the real answer" is that female orgasm is analogous to
>a male nipple: functionless baggage from early, sexually undifferentiated
>embryonic development. (Evidence published since strongly suggests that
>Gould was wrong.)

>These examples well enough illustrate the points I wished to make:

>1. hypothesis testing is not "arrogant," as has been suggested by some;
>indeed, as Gould found, it can be humbling! Propagandistic prose will
>never replace hypothesis testing science as an effective way to
>approximate reality.

>2. Science is self-correcting. Gould screwed up, but the mistake was
>caught by Michael.


>Gould, 1978. Morton's ranking of races by cranial capacity. Science, 200:

>Gould, 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton.

>Michael, 1988. A new look at Morton's craniological research. Current
>Anthropology, 29: 349-254.

>Morton, 1849. Observations on the size of the brain in various races and
>families of man. Proc. Acad. Natural Sci., Philadelphia, 4: 221-224.