Scientific Cheating Catalog: The Mismeasure of Man
The book “the mismeasure of man” chapters 3 and 4, Gould discusses further some of the ways that scientists have cheated either intentionally or unintentionally. I have cataloged some of those instances I found to be fascinating in these two chapters below.
1) Francis Galton (1822-1911) was Darwin’s cousin. He used numbers to construct the so called beauty map of the British Isles and he also suggested a method for quantifying boredom. He could back up his methods by numbers; however as we all have come to know–interpreters of numbers as Galton was are often times trapped by their own priori convictions (page 107).
2) Robert Bennett Bean in 1906 published a long technical article comparing the brains of American blacks and whites. He was a practicing physician and through his research he found –according to him, meaningful differences in that black are inferior to whites. He used the relative sizes of the parts of the corpus callosum to justify that blacks are inferior to whites since they have smaller genu, hence less brain in the front seat of intelligence (page 109).
3) Paul Broca (1861) was a professor of clinical surgery in the faculty of medicine and the founder of the Anthropological Society of Paris in 1859. He was the strongest supporter of the ideas that brain sizes constituted the differences in intelligence among the races. Again, even after extensively restudying Morton’s method, Broca still was another victim of his own preconceived notion about blacks. He and the society he lived in held deep beliefs that blacks were an inferior race (page 114-125).
4) E. D. Cope was the most celebrated American paleontologist who came up with the idea of recapitulation. In recapitulation the idea is that adults of inferior groups (i.e., blacks) are like children of superior groups (i.e., white male). Cope identified 4 groups of human forms following this criterion: nonwhite races, all women, southern as opposed to northern European whites, and lower classes within superior races (page 144).
5) B. Kidd used the recapitulation argument to justify colonial expansion into tropical Africa. He wrote “dealing with peoples who represent the same stage as that of children in the history of the development of individuals in the white race. The tropics will not, therefore, be developed by the natives themselves”. To that end, recapitulation is indeed still used in many circles in the west as a justification for imperialism and economic colonization of Africa (page 147).
This does remind me of the many things I have heard and seen on TV this and many years past. I will use the past presidential election as an example. If you happened to watch MSNBC and Fox news simultaneously, you would have thought the election was too close to call. Each of these TV news channels had their own statisticians manipulating the numbers to meet the expectations of the pre-conceived notions of their viewers. For Fox news, Mitt Romney was a winner long before the election-day and for MSNBC news, Obama was a declared winner weeks ahead of the election-day. This shows how prior convictions can have a huge impact on the way data is collected and computed to fit the fore mentioned prior notion.
In addition, another contentious today’s issue that priori conviction is at play is global warming. Global warming is one of those issues that scientific consensus has almost been reached. However, you still have few scientists who are using data from geological times to justify the fact the earth has cooled and warmed in times past and that, perhaps what we are experiencing now—might just be one of those natural circles. Therefore, there should be no cause for concern.
On the other hand you have scientists who have accumulated great amount of data supporting the argument that global warming is caused by excessive burning of fossil fuel causing the accumulation of greenhouse gasses. I am leaning on the latter camp. It might be just because of the environment awareness time that I am in and if the former a proven to be collect—future generations will debate this issue in light of our prior conventions the same way we are talking about scientists such as Broca and their ideas regarding biological determinism and inferiority of the blacks and other minority races to whites.
To conclude, most of the research we are conducting as researchers today are somewhat clouded by our own views and the societal expectations of the time—our time. Yes, better scientific method have been developed to minimize the effect of priori conventions in data collection and interpretations through the development of the scientific method, but still as we are humans, our prior notions most times shows up in the results sections. Therefore, numbers alone are not all that important at all if confounded with prior-convictions.
Gould, J. S. (1996). The mismeasure of man. New York: NY. W.W. Norton &Company, Inc.