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The Mismeasure of Man

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  7,876 ratings  ·  344 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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Kevin Bonham No. The scientific arguments are sound, if not 100% accepted by all scholars. The _ad consequentiam_ is incidental to the scientific critique, though …moreNo. The scientific arguments are sound, if not 100% accepted by all scholars. The _ad consequentiam_ is incidental to the scientific critique, though I think quite profound in terms of the social critique. (less)

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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.
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
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
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
Geoffrey Miller
May 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Intellectually fraudulent, utterly ignorant of modern intelligence research, politically biased.
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
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
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
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
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
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: race, history, science
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.
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
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
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
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
Usha Alexander
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for everyone interested in the history of race and racialism.
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
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
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
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
With the return of "race science", yet again, this book is as relevant now as when it was first published. Gould was wrong that Charles Murray's argument would not make it to the twenty-first century, thanks to people like Sam Harris, but was fortunately right about everything else. He even predicted what arguments against his book people would make and preemptively debunked them. He said that he did this because it would be a good measure to see which of his critics actually read his book. Rea ...more
Kim Hoag
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The rot of the need to be superior (“biological paternalism”) has always been pervasive and accepted and has destroyed many. How it has been subsumed into the educational, religious, and political systems—injected into the bloodstreams of nations—is the topic of this book. To purposefully mismeasure a racial group in order to rank and dismiss them has an insidious history which Gould details clearly. I thought I'd be bored with the statistics, measurements, and factor analyses but the themes of ...more
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant debunking of the ideas of innate, unchangeable intelligence, IQ, and the Bell Curve.

Gould narrates a fascinating, horrifying history of the search for a scientific proof of innate, unchangeable, heritable intelligence, featuring many elitist, racist and sexist characters. He makes complex scientific and mathematical ideas simple, understandable, and enjoyable to read.

Well worth a read.
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you have friends that love Sam Harris and his bell curve crap, send them this book. It’ll shut them up.
Sep 05, 2012 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
Nov 13, 2012 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
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The Mismeasure of Man (Paperback) by Stephen Jay Gould 4 49 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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