The Mismeasure of Man
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The Mismeasure of Man

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  4,822 ratings  ·  216 reviews
When published in 1981, The Mismeasure of Man was immediately hailed as a masterwork, the ringing answer to those who would classify people, rank them according to their supposed genetic gifts and limits.

Yet the idea of biology as destiny dies hard, as attested to by the attention The Bell Curve received, and the arguments therein, which Gould so effectively anticipated --...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 1st 1993 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1981)
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Have you ever felt a little upset with white people saying black people are lesser people? Well, prepare to feel furious. Gould documents a series of scientific frauds by racist scientists seeking to show white racial superiority.

This book will make your blood boil - but if more people had read it no one would have fallen for all that bell-curve rubbish a few years later.

Racism sucks, and it is based on ignorance. If you are looking for a cure to such ignorance, this is as good a place to star...more
Nov 04, 2011 Jocelyn rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: science fans, analyzers, freethinkers
NOTE: If you enjoyed this book, I highly recommend Edwin Black's War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race.

REVIEW: Gould crafts a powerful and well-researched argument against the intellectual and physiological measurement (and comparison) of men. His research spans the history of biological determinism and its fallacies, intermingled with a refutation of Murray/Herrnstein's The Bell Curve (the revised edition of this book with the attached criticism of The Be...more
Sean DeLauder
Before a proper summation can be given, one first has to understand the Why of The Mismeasure of Man. The Why being hundreds of years of conservative, white-folk-do-well-because-they're-smartest ideology supported by "science", and the more recent belief in the existence of an inherited IQ number by which all humans can be ranked, culminating in The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray (1994). It is a book that asserts poor people are, in short, intellectually inferior to the non-poor, and thus...more
Shaenon Garrity

A history of the use of intelligence testing to support racism, sexism, and class boundaries, focusing on two areas: 19th-century craniometry and 20th-century IQ tests. The going gets a little heavy in the final chapters when Gould busts out the math, but it's an eye-opener, using two specific historical examples to make larger points about the way science, though supposedly neutral, can be warped to enforce existing prejudices. (When poor Italian immigrants flooded into America in the early 20t...more
Max Maxwell
Mar 30, 2009 Max Maxwell rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marxists who need to be in denial to be happy
Recommended to Max by: Any number of liberal-arts junkies
NOTE: Feel free to read the full review, but I can sum it up in a fact. Gould need only have written the two-page epilogue to his book, a concise essay, rather than the remainder of the book. In fact, the entire thing is just so much pink fiberglass insulation leading up to the final page of the book. Everything he intended to say is there without any jargon or facts and figures. As a teacher, I intend to photocopy and teach that page alone. Carry on if desired.
The Mismeasure of Man is often touted as a definitive refutation of racialist pseudoscience and eugenics. However, while I would highly recommend Gould's work, I would do so as an entry point to the subject.

Gould's prose is highly readable and entertaining as always. His coverage of the history of eugenics and scientific racism is excellent and engaging and it's worth reading for this alone. Now, on to the qualifications. A flaw in the book is Gould's revised measurements of Morton's skulls. Gou...more
Yasiru (reviews will soon be removed and linked to blog)
I read from this book (though I readily admit I haven't read the whole thing) during my introductory psychology course at university because the lecturer pointed it out as an example of good science debunking racial prejudices. I was somewhat sceptical then (about a book on science being written for the express purpose of countering a political attitude supposedly resting on scientific grounds), and as it turned out, Gould was overzealous with his case and may have proceeded with just the kind o...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
This was absolutely spectacular! A scientific look at the prejudices that pseudo science has used to confirm and back unnecessary racism. An inside look at the so called evidence that has furthered the labeling and segregating of mankind. It was absolutely flawless! I loved this book. Page after page was extremely infuriating. It is amazing how we can use science to twist facts to our own liking. I am so glad I found this at the library. It makes me both simultaneously wonder what other current...more
Tanja Berg
"We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within".

I cannot do this book justice in a review. The matter is complicated and lies at the heart of what I believe. I have not yet taken an IQ test which I couldn't have done better if I had practiced certain things beforehand. Next number in a line, l...more
I'm no expert in psychometrics, neuroscience, genetics, education, biology, physiology, psychology, factor analysis, or quantitative methodology. I'm only a layperson with an interest in literature, humanity, and science. So just note that the comments below are offered by a nonprofessional.

My comments on The Mismeasure of Man:
This book presents an interesting history of various attempts to measure intelligence among groups and attempts to rank groups by "innate" mental ability. Gould argues, e...more
Kolbjørn Brønnick
This book is a political document, not a popular science book. Unfortunately, the book is an example of dishonest cherry picking of findings and selective omission of studies that would ruin the story Gould tries to construct. Ironically, Gould commits the same "crime" he accuses the racist scientists of: selective bias.

There is no scientific honesty in this book, and as a consequence, Gould gives ammo to those he tries to discredit and disarm. Irony once again.

Maybe this topic should be left un...more
Geoffrey Miller
Intellectually fraudulent, utterly ignorant of modern intelligence research, politically biased.
David B
Stephen Jay Gould presents a highly readable debunking of intelligence testing over the years. He argues that the mistake of researchers in this field right from the beginning has been the belief that intellectual capacity is a fixed measureable quality that follows inevitably from one's heritage. The white European males who started this line of inquiry naturally saw themselves as fine exemplars of intelligence and a worthy standard of comparison. Therefore, results that favored other racial gr...more
This book is largely a criticism about how one's biases could cloud one's judgments of facts, specifically how biases against race, gender, and class can influence how intelligence is viewed. It points out the error of reducing intelligence into a single value, of attributing intelligence solely to either nature or nurture, and of putting meaning in results grouped by arbitrary qualities such as skin color.

In today's world, none of these ideas are revolutionary. I think anyone who's spent time r...more
This was a fascinating but frustrating look at two flawed methods of understanding and quantifying human intelligence: craniometry and intelligence testing. I was sure I'd mostly skim the first section and be far more invested in the chapters on testing, but the opposite was true. His thorough takedown of craniometry was revealing more for racially-charged quotations from the 18th and 19th centuries than the analysis of fraud and biases in measuring, averaging and reporting capacities of skulls....more
Yasha Zhurinsky
This is a very interesting book. It is describing multiple attempts to measure "worth" of people by assigning a single number to every individual - be it brain volume, some parameters of the scull or IQ. It is very instructive to see how many biases (class, racial etc.) showed up even in the work of those scientists who tried hard to be objective. All those scientists, they were SURE one could reduce a human to one number.. And threading through the book is the scary feature of the most pre WWII...more
I started reading this book based a friend's recommendation after a discussion about science and politics. Going into it, I understood it to be two things:

An argument against the use of science to "prove" preconceived notions, in particular about the supposedly innate cognitive abilities of different races
A larger look at how it's possible to "fight science with science" (my phrase)

Given the binary option of saying whether I think Gould is successful in achieving his stated goals, I'd have t...more
Dave Maddock
Though the expanded second edition is marketed as a "refutation of the argument of The Bell Curve," Mismeasure was written first. Not having read The Bell Curve, I skipped the ~25 page addendum that directly responds to it. It's only fair to read Curve itself before attacks of it, but frankly, it is unlikely I will ever do so.

Gould builds a compelling case against various historical and contemporary scientific arguments for biological determinism. Mismeasure has been criticized as a leftist pole...more
David Bonesteel
Stephen Jay Gould presents a highly readable debunking of intelligence testing over the years. He argues that the mistake of researchers in this field right from the beginning has been the belief that intellectual capacity is a fixed measureable quality that follows inevitably from one's heritage. The white European males who started this line of inquiry naturally saw themselves as fine exemplars of intelligence and a worthy standard of comparison. Therefore, results that favored other racial gr...more
Erik Graff
Apr 15, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sciences
The public school system I attended in Park Ridge, Illinois had us taking standardized texts several times a year, year after year: Iowa Tests, California Testa, PSAT, NMSQT, ACT, SAT etc. Some of us, the cooperative ones, got quite good at it and had our choice of colleges. We were, we were told, intelligent--or, correlatively, "not living up to potential".

Beyond the satisfaction of thinking myself smart, however, was an unease. It wasn't just that I wasn't particularly good at much of anything...more
Peerawat Chiaranunt
I found this book very disappointing considering how much I love other books by Gould. The Mismeasure of Man aims to attack some of the supposed evidence for scientific racism. The book's purpose intrigued me initially, but as I began reading its content, I found Gould's method very unconvincing.

This is one of Gould's arguments that I found most difficult to buy - Gould's attack on craniometry. He first gives a brief background of some of the first craniometric studies of human races done by Ag...more
Evolutionary Theory

The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould

In The Mismeasure of Man evolutionary biologist, anatomist, and historian of science, Stephen Jay Gould, provides both a historical sketch and scathing critique of the methods and motivations underpinning biological determinism, a theory that “society…is an accurate reflection of biology.” (Gould: 1981:20) Gould critically analyzes two myths: that scientific processes are objective, and that human intelligence is a heritable trait and...more
This was one of the most boring books I have ever read. Gould brought up some good points and he told some good stories, but he just went on and on and on. After 5 hours of different ways that these scientists measured skulls and how it was wrong, I was so ready to be done. Not only was the book boring, it was insanely negative. Gould paints a picture of doom and gloom, that mankind is completely subject to their own preconceptions and that all measurements done in the name of science are skewed...more
An Important Tome Against Racism and Bias in Science

Stephen Jay Gould's gifts as a splendid historian of science, biologist, statistician and writer are ably demonstrated in his revised edition of "The Mismeasure of Man". Like a great vintage wine, this classic work in the history of science has aged well; Gould's additional essays, most notably his devastatingly effective critique of "The Bell Curve", have only enhanced this fine book's virtues. "The Mismeasure of Man" opens with an excellent s...more
Gabriel C.
Ugh, I read this too long after The Bell Curve and so now I can't remember what Jensen did there. I remember it being a hard, shiny carapace that I couldn't breach. So is this a breach? I've heard that his science is all wrong. But he's not doing any science, he's critiquing, and maybe his critique is overwrought, that's fine, it is what it is.

I wish this had been a more interesting read. The subject is extremely interesting, but it sort of withers on the vine in every single chapter. It was a...more
Aug 20, 2008 Linnaea rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Linnaea by: Asaf Bachrach
Shelves: non-fiction
Should be required reading for anyone who's ever taken a standardized test. And even more so for anyone who has ever administered, scored or helped write such a test, or used results from such a test to make judgements about people. The book is both a history of the development and use of measures of intelligence (starting with skull measurements and culminating in the Stanford-Binet), in particular their use in racial and gender based discrimination, and a critical examination of the nature of...more
Adam Cherson
I rate this book a 3.3 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being best. This is a fantastic book for those with a taste for the history of science. Few of us realize just how culturally biased science can be and this book really drives that point home. Gould shows us how science can be co-opted by cultural prejudice and also how with time it can also break free of these pernicious bonds. It is a wonderful lesson for those working in fields that are not yet fully accepted as mainstream knowledge. I particula...more
Michael Burnam-fink
The Mismeasure of Man is a truly magnificent and detailed work in the history of science. Gould chronicles the influence of hereditarian and heirarchial ideology on scientific research and public policy, tracing the pernicious ideas that distinct groups of people or races could be ranked from primitive to civilized and that a single innate factor of intelligence determined personal success in life. In reanalysis of the original working papers of scientists like Broca, Morton, and Yerkes, Gould f...more
Gould's The Mismeasure of Man does an excellent job of amalgamating antiquated pseudosciences that were racially motivated and presenting them to the reader in an accessible fashion. As a staunch empiricist, Gould does not shy away from offering statistical and observable data in his rebuttals, and points out how the minds of the past utilized flawed datasets.

Gould additionally attacks the still lingering IQ reification via multiple prongs. He gets into gritty statistical details (which are quit...more
Like the best research literature, this book is far more limited in scope than you might expect just from hearing about it. Instead of somehow using Almighty Science to critique racism in all forms, like I thought it was before reading, it's simply a history and refutation of the abuses of science in the name of biological determinism -- the idea that social stratification is a direct reflection of inherent biological quality and intelligence, and furthermore that intelligence can be quantified...more
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The Mismeasure of Man (Paperback) by Stephen Jay Gould 4 42 Apr 26, 2013 02:21PM  
  • The Ants
  • On Growth and Form
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  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
  • The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction
  • The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
  • Sociobiology: The New Synthesis
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  • What Evolution Is
  • Climbing Mount Improbable
  • Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society
  • The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution
  • Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex
  • Connections
Stephen Jay Gould was a prominent American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Most of Gould's empirical research was on land snails. Gould...more
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Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History Ever Since Darwin: Reflections on Natural History Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History

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“We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.” 360 likes
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