Rating: 3/5

I would like to start off by saying I give author Stephen Jay Gould major props for calling out the work of some of the most highly regarded, yet prejudiced and racist scientists, of our time, as so few have done before him. The intent of The Mismeasure of Man was to demonstrate how these prejudiced and racist scientists’ pre-existing beliefs prevented them from conducting impartial studies and justly interpreting results, and I believe he did just that.  

I believe many scientists have recognized the confirmation bias that exists in their specific field of research; it is no secret that scientists’ pre-existing views about the field they study do guide their collection of data and interpretation of their results. Futhermore, these a priori assumptions guide scientists in choosing which variables to measure, which theories to test, which statistical methods to employ, and more. The connection between beliefs and methods is strong; I feel as if few scientists would argue against that. Gould does an incredible job of providing anecdotal evidence of how some of the most highly regarded scientists’ pre-exisintg beliefs skew their judgement; however in doing so, Gould also exposes his own pre-existing beliefs that have skewed his judgement in writing this book. 

If Gould’s thesis is indeed true, and scientists’ pre-existing beliefs prevent them from conducting impartial studies and justly interpreting results, then Gould, himself a scientist, is not immune to the confirmation bias that plagues nearly all scientists. What is worse, Gould criticizes nearly every scientist in his book for not acknowledging his or her pre-existing beliefs, yet Gould did not acknowledge his own pre-existing beliefs either. Though I largely agree with Gould’s anti-racist arguments, I found him to be quite hypocritical in this regard, and thus I found it difficult to respect his critique of other scientists.

Though I myself do not know enough about the field of intelligence research to determine whether Gould’s facts are right or wrong, in conducting further research, I learned the way in which Gould re-analyzed the data of the scientists he critiqued was flawed. For example, Gould originally cast Samuel George Morton as a racist who intentionally manipulated his skull size data to support his beliefs in white superiority; however, it was later discovered in 2011 that Gould manipulated his own data when re-analyzing Morton’s work in order to support his own biases. After learning this about the author I so highly regarded while reading his book, I lost a great amount of respect for him; I even felt slightly cheated and lied to. It was obvious the perspective Gould took when writing The Mismeasure of Man was guided entirely by his own pre-existing beliefs about intelligence research; in fact, Stephen Jay Gould may be the ultimate example of confirmation bias in the history of intelligence research. 

Alas, I no longer wish to dwell on the negatives of the author and/or his book. At the end of the day, I thoroughly enjoyed The Mismeasure of Man. It truly opened my eyes to the cultural and personal biases that surround theories such as biological determinism and intelligence testing. Furthermore, it showed me just how biased and subjective scientific research, and any research for that matter, may be; in fact, I think it turned me into somewhat of a skeptic, and I will never read a news report or scholarly journal article or textbook the same way again. From now on, I will always question the author’s motives in writing a specific piece, and I will always wonder if the information presented is factually correct, or whether it is what the author wants me to believe is factually correct. For these reasons, I believe anyone in higher education should read this book, if only to realize just how biased research is.

Finally, as any good scientist should do, I acknowledge my own pre-existing beliefs may have skewed my judgement and my opinions about this book. So why don’t you read it and decide for yourself?