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Essay Samples > Literary Analysis > Mismeasure of Man
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Mismeasure of Man

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The Mismeasure of Man was written in 1981 by Stephen Jay Gould. The author begins his narration by condemning two myths of science: first, “…that science is an objective enterprise that is properly done only when science experts can shuck the limitations of their culture and see the world as it really is.” (p. 53), and second, that science is an inevitable march to the truth that produces a growing collective body of knowledge (p. 55). Gould criticizes biological determinism and the belief that economic and social variations amongst human groups (mainly sexes, races and classes) emanate from hereditary distinctions, and the fact that society is a perfect reflection of biology (p. 52). Gould is lucid in his intention to reveal the scientific weaknesses of biological determinism, especially in the intelligence area and its racial reliance. According to the author, the scientific weaknesses come from two fallacies of ranking and reification, which are present in the argument that intellect can be abstracted as one quantity, which is able to rank every person on a linear scale of unchangeable and inherent mental health (p. 20).

The early chapters of this book talk about the histories of early science of psychological testing and craniometry and their applications to rankings of inferiority and superiority amongst diverse races (Gould, 1996). Through a thorough assessment of historical papers, as well as by redoing the measurements and calculations, Gould demonstrates that numerous conclusions of these sciences were founded on either intentional fraud, or unplanned shoddy work, and were affected by the existing modern notion that white Europeans were superior. In the later chapters, the author explains how physical measurements of intelligence like the skull thickness, brain size etc. gave way to measuring intelligence via a written test (Gould, 1996). Gould describes the rise of the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test to an average system of ranking school children to additional mentally appropriate roles. The author concludes with a concise chapter that outlines his main themes, i.e. the worth of critical skepticism, the remarks on the restrictions of sociobiology, as well as the excessive application of Darwin’s natural selection process (Gould, 1996, p. 350).

Lessons from the Book

One of the fundamental lessons we learn from The Mismeasure of Men is the fact that practical conduct of science is different from the controlled sterile method, where a scientist in a white coat operates in a hygienic laboratory environment (Gould, 1996). Gould shows that numerous variables must be controlled in the measuring the volume and mass of the brain for instance, the time of measuring the brain after death, when to remove the brain stem, etc. In the Army Mental test, the author reveals the numerous practical complexities that were met during the setting up of the tests, in administration of the treatments, as well as in controlling test conditions and treatment groups (Gould, 1996). He presents many valid examples of the way cultural prejudices which were repeated and reinforced, and the way damaging social policy was formulated on the basis of science that was blemished with considerable statistical validity issues. As much as the issues might be benign within the natural science, Gould emphasizes on the need for greater caution to be taken, when humans are involved (Gould, 1996).

A Connection of the Book with the Topics Discussed In Class

The Mismeasure of Men is connected to the bill of rights, i.e. freedom of expression. As much as this book is highly informative and encourages critical thinking, it also has a lot of fallacies which are likely to spread deceptive information amongst readers. It is vital that writers carefully use their freedom of expression to disperse only truthful facts that are beneficial to all.

The Mismeasure of Man is a narrative of the way preconceived prejudice impacts on the scientific conclusions (Gould, 1996). It shows Gould’s intellect and skills in explaining the dramatic between scientific development and social effects in terms that are easily comprehensible to the reader. Irrespective of whether we agree with the author’s scientific conclusions or not, this book certainly promotes critical thinking, as well as healthy skepticism. For instance, the illustration of the replacement of a scientist in a white coat, who operates in a hygienic laboratory environment and producing clean results contributing to increasing knowledge, with biased humans who work in disorganized social contexts and produce end results, which fit any model (Gould, 1996). Gould also warns of the dangers of claiming objectivity in neutral science. He criticizes the belief that objectivity does not mean divulgence of one’s individual views in arguments and analysis. He argues that objectivity ought to be defined operationally as a just treatment of data, and not the lack of preference (Gould, 1996, p. 36). Gould is requesting future policy makers, as well as scientists to act responsibly in affirming supposedly objective scientific conclusions, in addition to considering the social consequences of such conclusions.

Despite being very informative and engaging, this book is not without flaws. It is unfortunate that this book does not include an evaluation of data from the latest sources that may have opposing views to his initial version of the book, especially with regards to evolutionary psychology. This might be interpreted as vague and hypocritical; it does not matter how significant the book’s message on racism or social justice may be. In addition, Gould has excessively utilized rhetorical writing and fallacies. Though this does not detract the reader from the book’s basic cautions of claiming objectivity in neutral science, as well as its consequences, there is a risk of distributing potentially deceptive information to numerous graduate and high school students, who are required to read this book as a part of their learning. In addition, it is very easy for the readers to confuse different interconnected but separate issues concerning genetic variation, evolutionary psychology, etc. In general, The Mismeasure of Man is well written with several examples, to help the reader understand the message. This book is indeed a good read that I would recommend to everybody as a reminder that, at some point, we all permit our prejudices to distort how we perceive the world.

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