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The Mismeasure of Man

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,157 Ratings  ·  259 Reviews
The definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve.

How smart are you? If that question doesn't spark a dozen more questions in your mind (like "What do you mean by 'smart,'" "How do I measure it" and "Who's asking?"), then The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould's masterful demolition of the IQ industry, should be required reading. Gould's brilliant, funny, engag
Paperback, 448 pages
Published June 17th 1996 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 28th 1982)
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Sep 01, 2014 Trevor rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
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
Max Maxwell
Mar 30, 2009 Max Maxwell rated it it was ok  ·  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.
Kolbjørn Brønnick
Oct 24, 2012 Kolbjørn Brønnick rated it did not like it
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
Sean DeLauder
Jan 24, 2014 Sean DeLauder rated it it was amazing
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
Erik Graff
Mar 04, 2015 Erik Graff rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Shaenon Garrity
Jun 22, 2007 Shaenon Garrity rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction

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
Geoffrey Miller
May 12, 2012 Geoffrey Miller rated it it was ok
Intellectually fraudulent, utterly ignorant of modern intelligence research, politically biased.
Tanja Berg
Oct 08, 2011 Tanja Berg rated it really liked it
"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
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
Jun 09, 2012 Peerawat Chiaranunt rated it did not like it
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
Mar 17, 2012 Danny rated it liked it
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
May 24, 2011 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
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
Clara (ClaraSQ_Rincón)
Lo empecé como una mera lectura curiosa, pero se convirtió en un ensayo adictivo, mucho más de lo que podría haber imaginado en ningún momento. "Desmitificante" cuando tiene que serlo, Gould da una clase soberbia sobre lo que ha de entenderse como objetividad en la actividad científica y rebusca en el archivo, desempolvando las caras "b" de muchos procedimientos, artículos y estudios cuya repercusión ha llegado a nuestros días.
No es una obra difícil, aunque sí es cierto que hay momentos en que u
Dec 06, 2012 Natalie rated it did not like it
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
Gabriel C.
Dec 07, 2012 Gabriel C. rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, 2012
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
Aug 20, 2008 Linnaea rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 09, 2015 Chrissy rated it really liked it
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
Feb 01, 2015 Steven rated it liked it
Shelves: science, american
Not as interesting a book as I was expecting - more a historical survey and examination of flaws in IQ testing.
David B
May 24, 2014 David B rated it really liked it
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
Mar 18, 2014 Pam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, sci-tech
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
Mar 29, 2014 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2014 Yasha Zhurinsky rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 31, 2012 Curtis rated it it was ok
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
Dec 26, 2012 Dave Maddock rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
Jun 10, 2013 David Bonesteel rated it really liked it
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
Nov 13, 2012 Ann rated it really liked it
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
Jan 16, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 13, 2007 Russell rated it liked it
This book was a stealth rebuttal to "The Bell Curve" by Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein so a brief description of the Bell Curve is required.

"The Bell Curve" provided a textbook-like presentation of testing results which indicated that IQ scores are the most reliable statistical indicator for social class and economic success in today's America. More controversially, The Bell Curve further delved into the IQ differences, exhibited through testing, in race.

Gould tries to debunk IQ testing a
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The Mismeasure of Man (Paperback) by Stephen Jay Gould 4 43 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.” 401 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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