Gould's bias

A new study finds that Stephen J. Gould's criticisms of another scientist's data was misplaced, and the eminent biologist and historian succumbed to data bias himself.

By | June 16, 2011


In 1978, Stephen J. Gould published a criticism of the work of Samuel Morton, a prominent physician who concluded that Caucasians were cognitively superior to other races due to their higher average skull volume. Gould accused Morton of "unconscious manipulation of data," saying that the scientist's data were a "patchwork of assumption and finagling, controlled, probably unconsciously, by his conventional a priori ranking."

But in a study published last Tuesday (June 7) in PLoS Biology, researchers at Stanford University and the Paleoanthropology Institute in Oakland, California, re-measured Morton's skulls, and found that Gould, not Morton, was subject to cherry-picking data. Morton's numbers differed from the re-analysis in only seven cases, none of which favored his theory of Caucasian superiority, Wired reports. Gould, on the other hand, omitted several skulls that would have affected his results in a non-preferential way. "Gould's own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of a bias influencing results," the authors conclude.


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