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Gould exposes Protagoras' thingy,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Mismeasure of Man (Hardcover)
Gould's title plays off Protagoras' claim that "man is the measure of all things." This Sophist encouraged his students to utilize whichever methods yielded desired results, but admonished them to always remember that "truth" found this way is relative, a product of a created system, and not an objective verity. Gould shows that many unwitting modern disciples of Protagoras' school retained the method but forgot the underlying madness. The Mismeasure of Man is an investigation of attempts to reify human "intelligence" in order to determine worthiness (mental and otherwise) by establishing a ranking based on a single derived factor and presenting the resultant scalar reckoning as biological and incontrovertible. This quantifiable difference has allowed scientific establishmentarianism that justifies (and perpetuates) racism, sexism, and classism as inevitable and natural. Gould surveys the last three centuries and exposes the faulty logic of reductive systems for the evaluation of human mind (and spirit): craniometry, craniology, recapitulation, criminal anthropology, and modern I.Q. testing. Gould knows that many readers (and non-readers) will attack him for writing outside his proper domain, and he counters this by insisting that he is not writing a book about psychology per se, but about the general error of reification in the sciences. As young up-and-coming evolutionary biologist, Gould received extensive training in statistics, especially factor analysis. It is with statistical expertise that he exposes the logical (not mathematical) weaknesses of using factor analysis and other quantitative methods to distill a person's intelligence to a single quantity. Gould shows how this reification is ultimately an embodiment of a priori assumptions after they have been processed through a circular argument, usually obfuscated (instead of supported) by numbers and mathematics in the name of objective quantification. Gould spent an entire month reworking Broca's data. Gould found in Broca an unparalleled collector of raw figures, but also uncovered "advocacy masquerading as objectivity." Gould's historical survey of intelligence testing in the twentieth century demonstrates too well how science can become a powerful technological tool (weapon) of the state. At the beginning of this century, Binet designed his scale to be used as an instrument to help identify those (relatively few) students in need of special education and not as an absolute measure of intelligence or anything else inherent or irredeemable. Goddard (the American who christened the term "moron") adopted Binet's methods but not his ideology, proffering Binet's I.Q. as an intrinsic and permanent entity by which eugenics could and should (and would) be directed. Gould himself uncovers Goddard's manipulative retouching of photographs of research subjects to suggest their stupidity or vileness (these disturbing photos are reprinted in this book). R. M. Yerkes conducted an enormous study of 1.7 million U.S. Army draftees, a boon to the statistical prowess of a fledgling science, but his method and data analysis were patently absurd as confessed in an 800-page description published by Yerkes. Gould feels sure that those who touted the conclusions of this tome never took the time to read it. Gould includes samples from Yerkes' intelligence tests as well as the instructions given to the illiterate recruits, often hilarious sometimes disconcerting (Gould also administered the tests to Harvard undergrads). Gould thus traces the evolution of an inheritable, fixed, and quantifiable "intelligence" emerging in America, culminating in negative and positive eugenics (Buck v. Bell (1924)), becoming subtler (insidious) after the horrors of the holocaust became known, but always lurking submerged. Gould suggests that Spearman and other reductionists working in a so-called soft science suffer from "physics envy" as they long for universal laws and basic particles (Gould does realize that physicists themselves no longer find such comforts). "With g as a quantified, fundamental particle, psychology [would be able to] take its rightful place among the real sciences." In the most challenging and instructive part of the book, Gould dissects factor analysis, a tool of data sorting that simplifies a complex system and thereby helps in the identification of possible underlying causes of correlation amongst variables. Gould acknowledges the great worth of this tool to all sciences, but warns against a great danger: reification. Researchers and non-professionals alike tend to treat mathematical abstracts (Spearman's g ("general intelligence") here, "averages" in Gould's Full House) as if they are real things. Gould traces this proclivity back to seminal practices of western philosophy and the thrill of flushing out the Platonic essence hidden within the evidence. Once factor analysis has delivered a value to a researcher, it may not only be accepted as a real thing, but the most real thing. Gould illustrates (literally) that while the ordering principal of factor analysis is useful, its starting point is arbitrary, as demonstrated by the different but equally mathematically valid approaches which each yield separate results. Gould argues that each approach to the analysis was dictated by a priori assumptions, and the result, meant to prove these assumptions, ends up actually resting on them. This circular reasoning thereby becomes impossible to disprove on its own terms, and Gould must expose the fundamental flaw at its roots: the reification of a result begotten from an arbitrary initiation. Even though this book was written more than a decade prior to The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994), it is considered the definitive answer to that now infamous tome (Gould does include a great new introduction and a specific critique of The Bell Curve in the revised edition of The Mismeasure of Man (1996)). Gould explains that the hereditarian viewpoint resurfaces whenever the economic and political climate is favorable, but that the biological determinist argument never really changes substantially. Gould's book should serve as a timeless reminder of the limitations not of biology, but of reductionist science. Let us heed Protagoras' words and recognize that whenever man is the measurer and/or the measured, he is also the measure. Not only can Protagoras' aphorism lead to a more honest science, it will also result in a more humanitarian science.