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In the first section of this chapter, "The Frame of The Mismeasure of Man," Gould explains why he chose that title and why it is still appropriate 15 years later. The book's limited scope is its strength, Gould believes. The book focuses on the single topic of whether IQ tests measure something real called intelligence and accurately express it in terms of a single numerical score.
While Gould admits that the publication of Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve was the outrage that prompted him to write this revision, he changed very little in this new edition. He still believes that his decision to focus on scientists of the past was best. The old arguments lie at the heart of the modern ones and illustrate their errors. This is a historical perspective that most scientists lack, but Gould is also able to use his statistical training to analyze old data, something that trained historians cannot do as expertly as he can.
In the second section, "Why Revise The Mismeasure of Man after Fifteen Years?" Gould lays out in often passionate terms why he believes this revision is necessary. Biological determinism "appeals to the worst manifestations of our common nature," especially our fear and judgment of those we think are different from us. New statements of biological determinism continue to arise periodically, not because of revelatory new data but instead due to changing political moods. Whenever there is a call to reduce government spending on social programs, determinism arises again. Gould says it should surprise no one that the publication of The Bell Curve in 1994 happened at the same time as a "new age of social meanness unprecedented in my lifetime."
In the third and final section, "Reasons, History and Revision of The Mismeasure of Man," Gould freely acknowledges his own personal and family history of social activism. He goes on to state that this kind of acknowledgment is something all scholars and scientists should make, Charles Murray among them. (The Bell Curve's other author, Richard Herrnstein, died two months before its publication, so Gould often refers to Murray alone.) "It is dangerous for a scholar even to imagine that he might attain complete neutrality," Gould says. Yet Murray never admits that he has long been an employee of conservative think tanks.
Gould goes on to defend himself against some of the critical reviews of the first edition of the book. Some reviewers objected that he is a paleontologist, not a psychologist, and thus should stick to dinosaurs. But Gould points out that he has attacked intelligence testing through a statistical analysis of the data—something at which he is an expert. In fact, when he discovered that one of the determinists he profiled had invented this statistical method to support his views, Gould was so offended that he had to write this book.
Except for this introduction and five new essays at the end, the main text of this revision is otherwise the same as the original from 1981. Gould closes with a heartfelt call to action to "expose the fallacies of science misused for alien social purposes."
Gould opens the original 2981 edition with a retelling by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato of a story about his teacher Socrates. In this tale, Socrates admits to teaching a lie to the citizens of Athens. In order to create a peaceful social order, Socrates invents a myth that God created humans in three separate and unequal ranks: gold, silver, and bronze. It may have been a myth, but Gould states that its effects have shaped Western society ever since. The scientific version of this Socratic lie is called biological determinism, and one of its claims is the subject of this book. Gould intends to disprove the idea that humans are born into separate groups that can be ranked by intelligence from high to low.
Over the past two centuries, scientists have talked about genes rather than metals as the basis for these innate, or inborn, intellectual differences. Biological determinists also make the claim that they are simply facing facts when talking about genes and IQ. Gould disputes this, stating that determinists are driven by conservative political beliefs. This does not necessarily make them wrong, he says, but all scientists need to admit how their preexisting views might be influencing their interpretation of scientific data. Only if they are aware of this can they correct for it. Although science is a powerful tool for uncovering facts, scientists must "give up the twin myths of objectivity and inexorable march toward truth." Scientists can be truly impartial only after they realize that no human being is perfectly objective.
Gould believes that those biological determinists who research intelligence have not come to this necessary realization. This has resulted in a pair of fallacies, or errors. The first fallacy is reification, the belief that an abstract concept such as intelligence has real existence somewhere in the brain. The second fallacy is ranking, the idea that everything can be measured on a scale of increasing value or worth. These two fallacies are combined in the notion that a person's intelligence can be summed up in a single number—or score on a test. This is false, Gould says. This is the mismeasure of man in the title of his book.
Gould goes on to sketch out his approach in the book. He will look at scientific figures from the past whose work went astray because of these fallacies, and he will analyze their work using techniques of both professional scientists and historians, hoping to spot any sign of cultural influence on data interpretation. If he can find this, he states, "then the status of biological determinism as a social prejudice reflected by scientists ... seems secure." And find it he does. "I have continually located a priori prejudice, leading scientists to invalid conclusions," Gould says.
He is driven in this task by his passionate belief that biological determinism hurts people. "Few injustices [can be] deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope."
Although racial prejudice has existed throughout history, it was given legitimacy in the 19th century when some scientists said they could prove that darker-skinned races were inferior to whites. People of that time were already prejudiced. Even the American leaders we still revere today such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln all believed in the inferiority of black people. This is the "shared context of culture" of the first section of the chapter, and it is these assumptions that lie at the core of scientific conclusions about racial ranking, not objective data, Gould says.
In "Preevolutionary Styles of Scientific Racism: Monogenism and Polygenism," Gould outlines the two prevailing theories about racial origin in the years before Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859. Monogenism was rooted in the Old Testament and taught that God created one race with Adam and Eve. The various darker-skinned races had "degenerated" from this primordial ideal in response to climate as they moved away from Eden. Polygenism ignored the Bible, claiming that the various races were separate creations—and separate species.
Despite this lack of scriptural support, polygeny was the prevailing theory in the United States, especially in the years before the Civil War. In "Louis Agassiz—America's Theorist of Polygeny," Gould relates that when the famous Swiss naturalist Agassiz was a polygenist, he stated that races should be ranked not only by their physical differences but also by behavioral ones. On this basis, black people should be at the bottom because there was, Agassiz said, no great civilization in sub-Saharan Africa.
Agassiz adopted this theory without any data to support it. But in the most important section of this chapter, "Samuel George Morton—Empiricist of Polygeny," Gould reanalyzes the data that Philadelphia physician and scientist Morton assembled in his bid to support the theory. Morton collected skulls and measured their cranial capacity. A larger skull equaled a larger brain, and a larger brain allegedly indicated greater intelligence, or so Morton thought. He believed that his measurements conclusively proved that white males were superior on this basis. However, when Gould takes a second look at the measurements, he concludes that Morton made several crucial errors. After adjustments are made to correct for these errors, Morton's data no longer shows that white male skulls are larger than those of women and nonwhites. Gould does not believe that this was deliberate fraud on Morton's part. He thinks Morton made these mistakes because he did not realize how his preconceptions about racial inferiority were influencing his methods.
In the concluding section, "The American School and Slavery," Gould notes that American polygenists didn't agree as to what the separate and unequal status of human races meant for the institution of slavery. Many in the slaveholding South welcomed the works of Agassiz, Morton, and others. If the various races were separate species, then black people could no more rise above their inherent inferiority than a mouse could become a cat, and if black people weren't as fully human as white people, it was acceptable to own them as slaves. But church-going Southerners were uneasy about polygeny's lack of religious foundation. They justified the practice of slavery by referring to Bible-based monogeny and its claims that black people were a degraded offshoot of God's original creation.
Darwin's theory of evolution was swiftly accepted by most of the scientific community after 1859. That led to the victory of monogeny over polygeny. In "The Allure of Numbers," Gould notes that monogenists further strengthened their case for a scientific basis to racism with the use of numbers. Thus, the eminent French neurologist Paul Broca elevated the field of craniometry, or skull measurement, to new heights of respectability. But just like Morton, Gould claims, Broca's prior belief that the skulls of whites should be larger distorted his interpretation of the data.
Gould tells the story of an American physician whose data seemed to show that white skulls were bigger than those of women and black people. But he knew before he measured them to which race and sex the skulls belonged. When the man who had taught him at medical school measured skulls without knowing that information in advance, he failed to get the same results. This story illustrates two crucial flaws that Gould sees with the data on race. First, numbers are used as tools to confirm existing biases. Second, these biases also lead to flaws in experimental or statistical methods.
In the second section of the chapter, "Masters of Craniometry: Paul Broca and His School," Gould expresses great respect for Broca. The French surgeon and anthropologist once said, "It is an axiom of all observational sciences that facts must precede theories." But Broca did not follow his own rules, Gould charges. Although Broca made careful measurements of the skulls in his research study, he unconsciously "manipulated" the data afterwards. Broca already believed that white males had the largest brains and were the most intelligent of all human beings. So, when "Mongolian" or Asian brains turned out to be larger than those of white European males, Broca suddenly changed the rules. Over a certain baseline, he said, size didn't matter. Therefore, a large brain did not necessarily mean that its bearer would be smart. But watch out for those small brains! They were the key sign of low intelligence.
Then, when the brains of famous white scientists turned out to be smaller than expected, Broca said it was due to age or poor health, not low intelligence. When criminals were found to have large brains, Broca said that it was just swelling caused by their execution. When the brains of prehistoric Cro-Magnon men were found to be larger than those of 19th-century Frenchmen, Broca explained it away by saying that the part of the brain that mattered was larger in modern men than in cavemen. In other words, Broca didn't let any of the conflicting skull measurements dissuade him from what he believed before he began. He explained away all the contradictions and announced that white males had the largest brains.
Gould says that Broca also made an even more fundamental error. Like many modern determinists, Broca failed to understand that variation is part of nature. No two individuals of any species are exactly alike. A certain amount of variation is not only expected but predicted by evolutionary biology. Variation is random and normal, not a sign of some underlying hierarchy of worth.
In a short postscript, Gould notes that anthropologists in the 20th century abandoned craniometry in favor of mental tests in their elusive quest to prove group differences in intelligence. This shift happened in part because mental testing was deemed a more accurate route to determining intelligence than either skull or brain size. But the change also occurred due to new data that did not support the conclusions of Broca and his followers. It took a century for someone to finally say that the whole endeavor was built on a fallacy. In 1970 South African anthropologist P.V. Tobias published a study that disputed the relationship between brain size and intelligence. Tobias asserted that intergroup differences in brain size had never been established at all.
In this chapter Gould illustrates how determinists took two evolutionary ideas out of context to support claims about how biology dictates the fate of individuals and groups. The first of these ideas is recapitulation. This is the notion that the life stages of an organism from embryo to adult repeat the evolutionary stages of species development. "An individual, in short, climbs its own family tree," Gould explains. So the gill slits of a human embryo reveal descent from an ancestral fish. Determinists loved recapitulation because they could use it to support their ranking of racial groups. "The adults of inferior groups must be like children of superior groups, for the child represents a primitive adult ancestor," Gould writes. Recapitulationists used a wide array of physical, emotional, and behavioral traits to claim that women and darker-skinned people were more like children and thus inferior to white men.
In a similar way the 19th-century Italian physician Cesare Lombroso proclaimed that criminals could be recognized by how their faces and heads resembled their simian ancestors. "Criminals are evolutionary throwbacks in our midst," Gould explains. He includes many fascinating historical illustrations of how Lombroso thought these "born criminals" looked. Lombroso's theory of atavism, or reversion to ancestral form, was the foundation of a field called criminal anthropology and was highly influential for many years.
Lombroso did attempt to ground his theory in fact, turning to craniometry. He measured the skulls of 383 dead criminals and claimed this showed that they had smaller brains. However, Gould says the raw data doesn't show this at all. The skulls of criminals and law-abiding people are about the same size.
Due to this lack of reliable data, other anthropologists such as Paul Broca rejected Lombroso's theory. But it did have a lasting legacy. Lombroso believed that so-called "born criminals" should be treated differently than those who commit a single crime due to some sort of emotional explosion. Therefore, he advocated treating "born criminals" more harshly. Things such as probation, parole, and early release are the result.
In an epilogue Gould notes that the quest to find physical abnormalities that would explain criminal behavior continues. He does not believe it will be successful, however. As he says repeatedly throughout the book, his field of evolutionary biology shows that variation between individuals is the norm of nature. The fact that some members of a group misbehave does not necessarily mean that there must be some disorder that causes it. Gould believes that violence and crime arise from societal oppression, not brain size or head shape or chromosomes.
Gould traces the history of IQ testing and states that the view that intelligence is largely hereditary, and also fixed throughout life, is a peculiarly American interpretation. This lengthy chapter is broken into four sections, each one focusing on a specific psychologist and his contribution to the field.
Gould begins in France with Alfred Binet, who was the director of a university psychology lab. Binet abandoned craniometry when he realized that he was allowing unconscious bias to influence his measurements of skulls. But he was determined to find some way to evaluate schoolchildren who weren't doing well academically in order to develop the best educational plan for them. As a result, he developed a test that gave children a series of ordinary daily tasks and compared their performance to that of other children the same age. The test resulted in a score that became known as an intelligence quotient, or IQ.
When the test was exported to the United States, Binet's fears that it would be misused to label children as congenitally and irremediably unintelligent were realized. Gould says that Americans committed two grave errors. First, they reified intelligence, treating an abstract concept used to explain test scores as if it were a real thing. Second, they assumed intelligence was innate and immutable, a fallacy Gould calls hereditarianism. He does not deny that intelligence is at least partly inherited, but it can be altered.
In the second section, Gould profiles the work of Henry H. Goddard, the man who invented the term "moron." Goddard ran a school in New Jersey for what were called the "feeble-minded" and both reified intelligence and considered that it was fully inherited: born a moron, die a moron. His school was not meant to educate the feeble-minded but to keep them in a place where they would be safe—and society would be protected from them. Goddard saw the feeble-minded as being not only less intelligent but less moral than others. He thought that they should be kept in special schools and prevented from marrying and having children and that U.S. immigration officials should identify those with lower IQs and keep them out of the country as well.
Yet it was a Stanford University psychology professor who was most responsible for the nationwide dissemination of Binet's IQ test. Along the way it became known as the Stanford-Binet test. It is still one of the two most common intelligence tests used in the United States. Lewis M. Terman modified the test first, however, making it less reliable as Gould states in the third section of the chapter.
Like Goddard before him, Terman linked low intelligence to morality and criminality. He believed the feeble-minded should be segregated and prevented from having children. He thought that his version of the IQ test would be of enormous benefit by bringing "tens of thousands of these high-grade defectives under the surveillance and protection of society." Terman also proposed using IQ scores to steer people with lower intelligence to menial jobs supposedly more suitable for them. He was chagrined to discover that a group of hobos he tested had higher IQs than policemen and firemen.
Terman mainly tested schoolchildren, and his data do seem to show that a child's IQ score is stable over time. He inferred from this that intelligence must be hereditary and denied the idea that poverty or a disadvantaged home life could lower test scores or that education could raise them. He also predicted that IQ scores of Mexicans, Native Americans, and African Americans would be lower than those of whites.
Towards the end of his career Terman stopped talking about his hereditarian claims without ever directly repudiating them. However, he did start to acknowledge that environmental factors did have an effect on intelligence.
Terman was pivotal in bringing IQ tests to schools throughout the United States, but even before that, Harvard psychologist Robert M. Yerkes was testing millions of soldiers. Yerkes was determined to get data that would establish psychology as a "hard" science just like physics. Gould devotes the fourth and final section of the chapter to an exhaustive critique of these tests. He blasts the content and structure of the tests as well as the slipshod way they were administered in hectic military training camps. All these things make the test results completely unreliable, in Gould's view. Gould includes many parts of the test in the book so readers can try it for themselves. He gave the test to his own Harvard undergraduates, many of whom didn't finish because it was impossible to write fast enough to do so. If his students couldn't finish it, how could scared military recruits with little formal education be expected to do so?
Nevertheless, the statistics derived from these tests were used as support by racists and eugenicists for years afterwards. Yerkes concluded that the tests showed that lighter-skinned northern Europeans were more intelligent either than Slavs from Eastern Europe or the "darker peoples" of southern Europe. Blacks lay at the bottom of the IQ scale. However, white males didn't do so well either. The average intelligence age of white male recruits was only 13, just above that of Goddard's morons.
The effects of Yerkes's Army Mental Tests went far beyond the military. They helped mass intelligence testing in this country and were used to promote racial segregation and discrimination. The results of the tests were also used as ammunition in the drive to limit immigration. The immigration quotas, in particular, had a horrific human toll. Gould estimates that in the years before World War II, six million people from Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe were barred from entering the United States. Many of those people were political refugees or Jews who later perished during the war. Scientific theories have dramatic consequences in the real world, Gould says. "Ideas can be agents as sure as guns and bombs."
By Gould's own admission, this chapter on the statistical technique of factor analysis is the most challenging one in the book. Although he avoids mathematical equations as much as possible, there are still a lot of charts and diagrams. But Gould says that without understanding how scientists use factor analysis, it is not possible to fully appreciate how even experts can draw erroneous conclusions from their data. All the numbers and charts and vector diagrams in this chapter lead Gould to one conclusion—that many psychologists have used IQ test scores to make baseless claims about intelligence.
Gould jumps around in time in the seven sections of this chapter, still maintaining focus on a four-generation lineage of psychologists and their use—and misuse—of factor analysis. The founding father of this statistical tool was Charles Spearman, an English psychology professor at University College in London. He was succeeded at the university by Sir Cyril Burt, who also was in charge of testing at London city schools for 20 years. Burt's work has been dogged by controversy by charges that he falsified his data.
Not until the second section of the chapter, "Correlation, Cause, and Factor Analysis," does Gould start outlining key concepts that lay readers must know. He makes the crucial distinction between correlation and causality—just because two factors can be correlated, or numerically linked, does not necessarily mean that one of them caused the other. It's especially difficult to make sense of correlations when looking at a complex set of data with more than three factors. This is where factor analysis comes in as a mathematical way of clarifying data.
Spearman invented factor analysis to help him make sense of IQ test data. In the process he came up with a "correlation coefficient" labeled g that he identified with general intelligence. In other words, Spearman believed that factor analysis proved that a cognitive ability called general intelligence existed, was largely inherited, and could be accurately measured by IQ tests. Gould challenges Spearman's conclusions on both statistical and logical grounds, but Spearman's work was widely accepted at the time.
His successor, Burt, used Spearman's ideas for his own claims that intelligence was hereditary. Burt developed the technique further—and eventually made the false claim that he, not Spearman, had invented factor analysis. In the fourth section, Gould claims that Burt allowed his strong prior belief in hereditarianism to influence both his collection and interpretation of test data.
American psychologist L.L. Thurstone came along and added his own touch to factor analysis, the vector method that Gould illustrates in this chapter. In the process Thurstone decided that both Spearman and Burt had placed their factors in the wrong place. They created g where it never existed! But, as Gould reveals in the fifth section, Thurstone reached this conclusion because of his preexisting belief that there wasn't one kind of general intelligence but rather seven kinds of special intelligence. Two different but equally valid methods of statistical analysis came to two different conclusions about the same data. "How can we say with assurance that one represents reality?" Gould asks. "Perhaps both ... are wrong." That later proved to be the case, when Thurstone discovered he too had made errors in his calculations.
Yet Spearman's g never died. In an epilogue to the chapter, Gould criticizes an 800-page defense of general intelligence published in 1979 by the American psychologist Arthur Jensen. Gould faults Jensen first for doing factor analysis incorrectly and then for unjustifiably using it to support the existence of a thing called intelligence. Gould also blasts Jensen for suggesting that the difference in IQ scores between whites and blacks reflects not cultural bias of the test but a real and innate difference in intelligence.
Gould concludes this lengthy foray into statistics with a quote from the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill. It sums up the error that all four scientists made. Mill wrote, "The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever received a name ... (has) an independent existence of its own." Burt, Spearman, Thurstone, and Jensen all committed this error, which Gould calls reification. Spearman's g exists in a mathematical equation only, not in anyone's brain. There is no such thing as general intelligence.
This chapter has three sections. In a short one-paragraph section entitled "Debunking as Positive Science," Gould defends his critical approach to theories of intelligence as positive and constructive, not negative or destructive. He states that the popular conception of science as steadily progressing from the emptiness of ignorance to the fullness of truth isn't accurate. Science starts with what he calls a "full barrel" of observations and theories. It progresses by learning which theories are wrong and getting rid of them to make room in the barrel for more accurate ones.
In the second section, "Learning by Debunking," Gould claims that biological theory should be driven not by the prejudices of society but by scientific fact alone. Using this yardstick, the notion that there are racial differences in intelligence doesn't hold water. Different racial stocks split off from the species homo sapiens only 100,000 years ago. In evolutionary terms, that is brief and certainly not enough time for significant genetic change to have occurred. Modern DNA studies have confirmed that there is only a small amount of genetic difference between various races.
In the final and longest section, "Biology and Human Nature," Gould states that the aspect of our physical selves that best explains human uniqueness in the animal kingdom is our brains. These brains have allowed humans to develop culture, which in turn has become the driving agent of change between different groups. In other words, Gould sees cultural, not biological, evolution as the explanation of racial differences on IQ tests. He claims that this is why determinism is wrong, "because the features they invoke to make distinctions among groups are usually the products of cultural evolution."
Gould suggests that behavioral traits may not arise directly from Darwinian evolution, but that it may be enlightening to use this as an analogy to understand how cultural evolution may be at work. But beware of taking the analogy literally and attributing a specific behavior to a specific gene. Genes may establish a range of possible human traits but not dictate how an individual will behave. For example, the fact that some humans engage in intergroup warfare does not mean that aggression is coded by our genes. Not all groups wage war, and some of those who did in the past have stopped now. It is more accurate to say that human genes allow for the potential of aggression. Gould calls these potentials "underlying generating rules" and says that is what sociobiologists should be looking for in human genes.
The claims of biological determinists that human intelligence is not only inherited but fixed are wrong. As Gould sees it, the hallmark of our uniqueness as a species is flexibility in the face of change. "What is intelligence, if not the ability to face problems in an unprogrammed (or, as we often say, creative) manner?" Gould asks. This "mental flexibility" means that change is always possible. "Humans are learning animals," Gould concludes.
These two pages were the final ones of the original 1981 edition of The Mismeasure of Man. In them Gould tells the story of 20th-century sisters Carrie and Doris Buck. Both of them were involuntarily sterilized under the terms of a Virginia law that permitted this for people deemed to be feeble-minded. Lawyers took Carrie's case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1927 in an attempt to have the law declared unconstitutional, but the justices upheld it.
Both women were still alive in 1980 and the subject of a profile in The Washington Post. Gould alludes to this article, noting that the reporter found both women to be "able and intelligent" if uneducated. Although he does not say so explicitly, this is an indictment of the accuracy of intelligence tests used in the 1920s to label people as mentally deficient. Gould uses the story of the Buck sisters as an example of the damage done by biological determinism, eugenics, and their mismeasure of men and women. He rails against "the pain of a single dream unfulfilled ... in the name of an ideology advanced to purify a race."
Although Gould refers to The Bell Curve many times throughout the revised edition of his book, this chapter is the only one in which he analyzes it in detail. This critique is largely confined to the first section, titled simply "The Bell Curve," and is structured using three numbers: two, three, and four.
Two stands for the dual claims that Gould says Charles Murray and the late Richard J. Herrnstein make in their book. First, Murray and Herrnstein claim that there is a "permanently poor underclass consisting of genetically inferior people." Second—and more controversially—the authors claim there is an inherited difference of intelligence between racial groups, the average score of African Americans being about fifteen points lower than that of white Americans.
Gould uses the number three to list the trio of ways—content, argument, and program—in which he thinks the two authors are "disingenuous," or insincere. Author Murray has frequently denied that the content of his book has anything to do with racial differences in intelligence. Gould quotes the first line of The Bell Curve to disprove this—"This book is about differences in intellectual capacity among people and groups."
Four stands for the quartet of assumptions about intelligence that all must be true, Gould says, in order for The Bell Curve's claims to stand up. The first claim is that intelligence can be summed up in a single number (IQ score). The second claim is that the score can be used to rank both people and groups from low to high in terms of their mental ability. The third claim is that intelligence is biologically based and inherited. And the fourth claim is intelligence is permanent and unchangeable, even by education or experience. Gould says all four of these claims are false, so therefore everything Murray and Herrnstein state in their book is false.
Gould cites several ways in which the arguments of the book are wrong. He points out that all the charts and data in the book are based on just one study. He also claims that the authors misrepresent how broadly accepted the concept of general intelligence is among psychologists. They confuse correlation with causation, which means they make the error of assuming that just because a numerical relationship can be found between two events it proves that Thing A causes Thing B, which is not always true. Finally, they use language in a muddy and misleading way, especially when talking about how their data shows no bias. They mean the word in a statistical way, hoping that lay readers will not realize this and think they mean they are not personally biased. In fact, Gould says, the book is inspired by bias. "The book is a manifesto of conservative ideology," he claims.
The second section of this chapter is called "Ghosts of Bell Curves Past." It deals with the work of a 19th-century French count whom Gould sees as an intellectual ancestor to Murray and Herrnstein. Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau wrote a four-volume book based on the idea that the decline of a country is based on inferior races interbreeding with superior ones and dragging the entire culture down.
Gobineau, Herrnstein, and Murray all make the same error, Gould says. They see intelligence as something inherited and unchangeable after birth. Gould reminds readers of the motivation behind Alfred Binet's development of the IQ test. Binet did not believe that his test measured a real thing called intelligence, rather he saw it as a tool to identify the strengths and weaknesses of children in French schools who needed remedial help. This is a message from history that Murray and Herrnstein are wrong in their assertion that education cannot alter the situation of disadvantaged groups. "Biology is not inevitable destiny," Gould says. The claims made in The Bell Curve can and must be demolished both on the grounds of scientific accuracy and ethics.
In three essays new to the 1996 edition of the book, Gould profiles three historical figures in an effort to refute criticism that he is unfair to the scientific subjects of The Mismeasure of Man. In the section titled "Age-Old Fallacies of Thinking and Stinking," he writes about the 17th-century English physician and writer Sir Thomas Browne. In "Racial Geometry," Gould writes about J.F. Blumenbach, a German naturalist who in the 18th century invented a naming scheme that divided humanity into five races. In the final section of the book, "The Moral State of Tahiti—and of Darwin," Gould writes about his scientific hero Charles Darwin, the 19th-century English biologist who developed the theory of evolution by natural selection.
The common thread linking Browne, Blumenbach, and Darwin is that each of them in some respect rose above the racial prejudices of their time in order to affirm the essential unity of human beings. Browne wrote a book debunking what today we would call rumors, urban myths, or "fake news," one of which was the canard that Jews stink. Browne used a combination of observation and logic to disprove the stereotype, despite the fact that he himself was not entirely free of anti-Semitic prejudice, which he did not let stand in the way of fact.
Blumenbach is viewed by many as the founder of modern racial taxonomy, but all he did was add one new category—Malay—to the four-race system devised by his mentor, the famous Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus. In doing so Blumenbach also introduced the concept of ranking races: light-skinned "Caucasians" were at the top and darker-skinned "Ethiopians" and "Mongolians" were at the bottom. But, Gould says, this ranking was almost accidental, claiming that Blumenbach was for his time one of "the least racist, most egalitarian" writers.
While Darwin saw nonwhite races as inferior in many respects, he never believed that this was an irredeemable situation. Darwin was fully convinced not only that members of these groups could improve but that they were entitled to equal rights. He was a fierce opponent of slavery as well. So even though Darwin was not egalitarian, he was also not a biological determinist.
Gould believes that there is a valid way to judge people of the past by standards of the present. We can distinguish between those historical figures who used their racist or sexist views as "an excuse" to deprive people of their rights and those who did not. Browne, Blumenbach, and Darwin were not free of prejudice, but they all urged equal treatment of people no matter what their race or gender. Although Gould does not say so explicitly, this is how the three subjects of his closing chapter differ from the scientists he profiles earlier in the book.