Literature Study GuidesThe Mismeasure Of Man

The Mismeasure of Man | Study Guide

Stephen Jay Gould

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Stephen Jay Gould

Year Published





Argument, History, Science

At a Glance

As a young paleontologist (scientist who studies fossils) at Harvard University in the late 1960s, Stephen Jay Gould believed that biological determinism was dead. Surely no serious scientist still maintained the view that people's behavior is dictated by their genetic inheritance, Gould thought. He was shocked into writing The Mismeasure of Man after American psychologist Arthur Jensen published a paper claiming that there was an innate difference in intelligence between whites and blacks. Gould analyzed the weaknesses of Jensen's arguments in the 1981 edition of this book, but he felt compelled to expand the book in 1996 to perform the same critique of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994), a book that made an argument similar to Jensen's, by political scientist Charles A. Murray and psychologist Richard Herrnstein.

Although Gould predicted that the 21st century would see the end of claims about the intellectual inferiority of women and black people, he was wrong. One author of The Bell Curve, Murray, continued to lecture widely on the college circuit. Controversial arguments that certain groups are inherently inferior continue to rage, spurring debate on immigration issues, social policy, and government funding for disadvantaged groups. The Mismeasure of Man is even more relevant today than it was when it was first published.

Perspective and Narrator

Although much of The Mismeasure of Man is written in the third person, Gould frequently uses first-person narration to inform readers of opinion regarding the historical and scientific events he examines.

About the Title

Gould believes that intelligence quotient (IQ) test scores fail to capture the full range of human mental abilities that underlie what is called intelligence. Even worse, these test scores have been used to make the false claim that white males are smarter than women or members of other racial groups. These are the misjudgments and miscalculations to which Gould refers in the title as The Mismeasure of Man.


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