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The Mismeasure of Man

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  5,659 ratings  ·  244 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 witness the attention devoted to The Bell Curve, whose arguments are here so effectively anticipated and thoroughly underm
Hardcover, 444 pages
Published June 17th 1996 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 28th 1982)
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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
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
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.
Erik Graff
Mar 04, 2015 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
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
Geoffrey Miller
Intellectually fraudulent, utterly ignorant of modern intelligence research, politically biased.
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
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
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
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
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
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
So dang good. Gould unflinchingly dismantles the long, historical practice of using the era's state of scientific knowledge to support racist, classist, sexist, and xenophobic agendas. Moving from phrenology to IQ tests, he demonstrates in a clear and mordant prose how cultural prejudice can lead to woefully (and sometimes willfully) incorrect applications of the scientific method. He does so not only to shame the bigots of the past-- including some choicely offensive quotes from Actual Beloved ...more
Not as interesting a book as I was expecting - more a historical survey and examination of flaws in IQ testing.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Galen Kenney
This is a very important book in both understanding the history of scientific racism and addressing a common (yet very flawed) view that science and reason grants an individual immunity to bias.

Gould states "Determinists have often invoked the traditional prestige of science as objective knowledge, free from social and political taint. They portray themselves as purveyors of harsh truth and their opponents as sentimentalists, ideologues, and wishful thinkers…I believe that science must be unders
Mr Gould is a well known scientist author. In this book he demonstrates how many use statistics to prove a point with biased data and a biased outlook. He focuses on intelligence testing as a prime example of how 'science' was used to validate an invalid idea. Intelligence testing itself got lots of support when the military started using it. By cherry picking the data or setting conditions for testing so that people with no experience of testing or lack of language skills will fail, guaranteed ...more
Brian Wilson
The Mismeasure of Man - revised and expanded version by Stephen Jay Gould, is an analyses of the measurement of intelligence over three centuries. This chronology covers theories and research by: Agassiz, Galton, Broca, Lombroso, Binét, Goddard, Terman, Spearman, Burt, Thurstone and Jensen, and provides for interesting reading. Gould has an excellent knowledge on the subject matter and his discussion including many preposterous assumptions by scientists over the last three centuries is a wake-up ...more
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The Mismeasure of Man (Paperback) by Stephen Jay Gould 4 42 Apr 26, 2013 02:21PM  
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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 about Stephen Jay Gould...
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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.” 391 likes
“Errors of reductionism and biodeterminism take over in such silly statements as “Intelligence is 60 percent genetic and 40 percent environmental.” A 60 percent (or whatever) “heritability” for intelligence means no such thing. We shall not get this issue straight until we realize that the “interactionism” we all accept does not permit such statements as “Trait x is 29 percent environmental and 71 percent genetic.” When causative factors (more than two, by the way) interact so complexly, and throughout growth, to produce an intricate adult being, we cannot, in principle, parse that being’s behavior into quantitative percentages of remote root causes. The adult being is an emergent entity who must be understood at his own level and in his own totality. The truly salient issues are malleability and flexibility, not fallacious parsing by percentages. A trait may be 90 percent heritable, yet entirely malleable.” 1 likes
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