I will assume that most archaeologists have read some works by the late biologist and public intellectual Stephen J. Gould. His works on history and evolution (Gould 1986, 1987, and 1989) are of fundamental importance for those who (like me) consider archaeology as a historical science. History, archaeology, geology, paleontology, astronomical cosmology, and other historical sciences share a number of conceptual problems concerning how we can understand what happened in the distant past. Reading what Gould says about how these problems have been addressed in geology and paleontology helps archaeologists think about our own methods and data. And while I am on this theme, Darwin's book on worms is also of great use here (Darwin wondered why ancient Roman ruins became buried, and did fieldwork to investigate the actions of worms in the burial of old ruins -- great stuff!!), and Gould's introduction to that book is very good also. Don't forget Toulmin and Goodfield (1965), another important work in this area. And by coincidence, today I am wearing a T-shirt with Darwin's portrait, wearing a Che Guevara-style beret, with the logo, "Viva la evolución!"
Anyway, back to Gould possibly fudging data. In Mismeasure of Man, Gould uses Samuel Morton's measurements of human cranial capacity (in the 19th century) as an example of how a scientist's personal bias can influence his work and skew one's results. Morton wanted to show that Causians had the biggest brains, and Gould claims to show that this desire led to subtle "fudging" of Morton's data in favor of his preconceptions. Even since 1981, this has become a "textbook example" of bias in research. Well, now some anthropologists have gone back and remeasured a bunch of Morton's skulls at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and re-analyzed Morton's and Gould's data. They concluded that Morton's results were NOT biased or skewed, but that Gould's analyses were biased, with some aspects evidently made up. Wow, this is disheartening -- Stephen Jay Gould has long been one of my intellectual heroes.
The article is:
Lewis, Jason E., David DeGusta, Marc R. Meyer, Janet M. Monge, Alan E. Mann, and Ralph L. Holloway
2011 The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias. PLOS Biology 6(6):1-6. .
The University Museum is using the study to generate publicity. There is information on their website, including a short video about Morton and his collection. The video, narrated by Janet Monge, does not have the best discussion of the collection and the new research, however.
For a nice summary of the new article, see John Hawks' blog.
1985 The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits. Orig. pub. 1881 ed. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Gould, Stephen Jay
1981 The Mismeasure of Man. Norton, New York.
1986 Evolution and the Triumph of Homology, or Why History Matters. American Scientist 74:60-69.
1987 Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
1989 Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Norton, New York.
Toulmin, Stephen and June Goodfield
1965 The Discovery of Time. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.