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The Mismeasure of Man

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  8,344 ratings  ·  398 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, 2nd edition, 446 pages
Published June 17th 1996 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 28th 1982)
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Zach Didn't read the book did you Joel? …moreDidn't read the book did you Joel? (less)
John I assume you don't believe that all persons are equally reliable. In fact, I hope that, whoever you read, you read with literate comprehension. You mi…moreI assume you don't believe that all persons are equally reliable. In fact, I hope that, whoever you read, you read with literate comprehension. You might be able to figure out whether he knows what he's talking about, or is incompetent or lying.

Knowledge is very scarce? I hope one realizes that 120 years of modern physics, has brought in a huge amount of knowledge. (Newtonian physics, electromagnetism, and chemistry as well.) At least don't be oblivious to the existence of cars, airplanes, computers, other electronics, the internet, and so forth.(less)

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Alok Vaid-Menon
Oct 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
19th century physicians used the sheen of science to justify racism. American naturalist Samuel Morton believed that white people had the largest brains and that this was evidence of superior intellect. He finagled his results in order to confirm his prejudice: excluding small white skulls to raise the mean size of his own group. German anatomist Emil Huschke argued that Black people and white women were biologically undeveloped like white male children, “living representatives of an ancestral s ...more
Trevor (I sometimes get notified of comments)
Jul 07, 2007 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
Feb 05, 2009 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 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
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gould is a good person and an excellent thinker. This is a call to scientists to examine their own biases and it is a demolishment of centuries of racist genetic testing. It's also such a pleasure to read someone who is a sound thinker and can write logically. I know some of his debunkings (i.e. Morton) have since been debunked, but that does nothing to diminish the importance of this work.

Also, he notes that racist "science" tends to proceed from movements demanding equality. And so it is that
Geoffrey Miller
May 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Intellectually fraudulent, utterly ignorant of modern intelligence research, politically biased.
Sean DeLauder
Mar 01, 2012 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
Apr 12, 2010 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
Sep 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
Re-rated to a 1 star after further reading in behavioral genetics and after reading reviews which show the ideologically based nature of this book (SJWs always project).
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
Jan 02, 2012 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
Peerawat Chiaranunt
Apr 14, 2012 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
Shaenon Garrity
Jun 22, 2007 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
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
This wasn't quite the book I was looking for, nor is it entirely what it appears - at least, as it may appear to a contemporary reader. Perhaps when it was first published it didn't seem so...unpromising. Let me try to explain myself.

The Mismeasure of Man has the subtitle 'The definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve'. That's why I picked it up. That's not really what the book is about, only about thirty pages near the end address that book particularly. Gould's work is a general
Griffin Wilson
This book, published in 1981, was partially a response to Arthur Jensen, a famous psychometrician and behavior geneticist, who I might consider the 'arch-hereditarian' of modern intelligence research, and whose famous 1969 article drew great ire from the public and a wide variety of intellectuals. Gould deems Jensen and his school "biodeterminists," and sets out to debunk the theoretical basis of intelligence research, the g-factor (along with providing a history lesson).

Something I did really a
Cassandra Kay Silva
Apr 01, 2011 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
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race, science, history
Though written 40 years ago, Gould's polemic against hereditarianism has not lost any of its potency and urgency. Whether through craniometry, obscure body measurements, general intelligence or IQ-tests, the ruling class has time and time again found ways to reify social and historical classes as expressions of a timeless, unchanging reality. This mechanism, rooted in feudalism, persists vigourously in capitalism and makes a sneaky comeback in the guise of fascism and colonialism. To be recogniz ...more
Ayelet Waldman
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One shouldn't read Baron-Cohen without first fortifying oneself with Gould. ...more
Tanja Berg
Sep 24, 2011 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
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is, strictly speaking, not the first time I've read this book. The first time was at least twenty years ago, when I gave my father a copy for his birthday (he enjoyed it greatly) and then snuck a read of it myself separately. Okay, I didn't read the whole thing; I cut straight to the chapter where Gould swung a wrecking ball through "The Bell Curve" in a few concise pages, the better to arm myself with arguments against that apologia for institutionalized racism. But I did myself a disservi ...more
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
leftwinger argues, classically, contra old pseudoscience. cordelia fine's Delusions of Gender might as well be part II of this type of project. ...more
Usha Alexander
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for everyone interested in the history of race and racialism.
Jun 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Read this quite some time ago along with several other books by the author, which I would I expect enjoy re-reading, so there might be a longer review here after that.
May Ling
Jun 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology
While I wouldn't say it was my favorite read, I give it high marks for what it is. This piece provides the historical tale of the mis-measurement of man (as the title suggests) in terms of intelligence. It is a very thorough analysis of analysis gone wrong and the social implications associated with doing so.

The need to measure IQ became warped throughout the ages and served two miserable purposes of which become readily apparent in the book. First, poorly designed IQ tests became the basis of
Nov 28, 2012 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
For those of us who oppose the excessive use of evolutionary psychology as a rationale for human activity, Stephen Jay Gould is something of a touchstone. And in this treatise, he points his attention towards what is almost certainly that most glaring misuse of evolutionary concepts: the relationship between physical appearance and intelligence. But not only that, he takes it a step further and questions the validity of "intelligence" as a unified, quantifiable thing.

It should be noted, however,
Kai Pak
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, although science relies on cold, hard quantification; it is, at the end of the day, a human enterprise and thus, subject to all of our varieties of weaknesses, biases, opinions, and ugliness. I think this book should be on the reading list for all budding scientists (including myself): beware, you my wrap your research in all the fancy analysis and mathematical formulation that you want, but you can still be led astray and down the path of bad science and logical fallacies.

The book does re
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written with great detail and volumes of valuable information, this book should be required reading for many different disciplines from anthropology and biology to statistics and history. Gould shines a light on a long history of bias, bad science, discrimination an racism in areas of education, measure of intelligence, anthropology and even immigration and eugenics. Unfortunately, I am not well educated in statistics for which I couldn't appreciate the book at its fullest and should revisit it ...more
Aug 01, 2008 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
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The Mismeasure of Man (Paperback) by Stephen Jay Gould 4 50 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

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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.” 456 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.” 6 likes
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