Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Coverage of the Morton - Gould Controversy

Skulls from the collection of 19th century scholar Samuel Morton.
Steven Minicola/University of Pennsylvania

I know that I have not had the chance to continue writing my comments on the controversy arising around the re-measurement of Samuel Morton's collection of crania.  I intend to finish that task up this summer.  Until then, here is a collection of citations from the web related to the criticism of Gould's interpretations.  I'll include a more scholarly version later, of course.  This is just to give a flavor of the range of opinion.

Commentaries: Serious and Otherwise

Morton skulls hold controversial history
The Daily Pennsylvanian
In his research, Morton found that European skulls were larger than African skulls and he took this information to assert that Europeans were more intelligent than Africans. Stephen Gould, an evolutionary biologist, rose to counter Morton's findings....

Top 100 Stories of 2011 #59: The Mismeasure of Stephen Jay Gould
Discover Magazine
by William Saletan
Discover Magazine
From the January-February special issue; published online January 3, 2012

Scientific error, scientific fraud: why did Gould claim Morton mismeasured skulls?
Posted on March 17, 2012 by Joan Strassmann
Anthropologists Hurl Skulls at Stephen Jay Gould
In the example in question, nineteenth century physician Samuel George Morton, who filled skulls from his grisly ... 
Skullduggery? Did Stephen Gould’s Bias against Samuel Morton Prove His Point?
September 19, 2011 by Kelly Grooms
"Ironically, it seems that it was Gould’s analysis that was flawed and influenced by his biases. Where the results reported in this study falsify Gould’s hypothesis that Morton manipulated his data, they also lend support his greater hypothesis that “Unconscious or dimly perceived finagling is probably endemic in science”, as his analysis of Morton is a strong example of bias influencing results."

The mishmashing of Gould: scientific method and bias

 Gould's skulls: Is bias inevitable in science?
New Scientist
Some left response to latest Gould exposure
race/history/evolution notes
John Horgan equates incompatibilism with racism
Why Evolution is true
Mismeasure for mismeasure
474, 419 (23 June 2011) Published online 22 June 2011 
A critique of the work of Stephen Jay Gould should serve as encouragement to scrutinize the celebrated while they are still alive.

The Mismeasure of Stephen Jay Gould: Dr. Burns' Commentary
Image from the physical anthropology collection at The Burns Archive:
Graphic: John Shaw Billings, MD & Cranial Capacity Research, 1885.
 “Ascertaining Capacity of Cranial Cavity by Means of Water”
Samuel Morton collection of skulls at center of controversy
June 16, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- The scientific integrity of one 19th century Philadelphia scientist has been reaffirmed—but at the decided expense of a prominent late 20th century scientist who had discredited him.

Related or mentioning Morton or Gould

"Peter Wanderfalke (1 April 1806 - ca. May 1849) was a German anthropologist and anatomist, closely associated with early race theory but also an early opponent of eugenics.
In it he reviews Blumenbach's race classifications, Samuel George Morton's.... In 1845 Wanderfalke received a copy of Samuel George Morton's new work...."
 Graphic: Photograph ca. 1844 of German anatomist Peter Wanderfalke

Mulatto: Less than Human
Indian Country Today
Julianne Jennings
Arizona State University

An example of how the Right has responded:

The Reality of Race | American Renaissance
In a 1978 Science paper, Gould (1941 – 2002), reported that the Samuel George Morton (1799-1851), “a prominent Philadelphia physician,” had mis-measured....

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Climate and Migration in Africa, c.1000 BCE

An interesting article in Science on migrations in Africa coinciding with the savannas replacing rainforest in central Africa, c.1000 BCE.

Germain Bayon*, Bernard Dennielou, Joël Etoubleau, Emmanuel Ponzevera, Samuel Toucanne, Sylvain Bermell.  Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), Unité de Recherche Géosciences Marines, F-29280 Plouzané, France.


About 3000 years ago, a major vegetation change occurred in Central Africa, when rainforest trees were abruptly replaced by savannas. Up to this point, the consensus of the scientific community has been that the forest disturbance was caused by climate change. We show here that chemical weathering in Central Africa, reconstructed from geochemical analyses of a marine sediment core, intensified abruptly at the same period, departing substantially from the long-term weathering fluctuations related to the Late Quaternary climate. Evidence that this weathering event was also contemporaneous with the migration of Bantu-speaking farmers across Central Africa suggests that human land-use intensification at that time had already made a major impact on the rainforest.

Published Online February 9 2012
Science 9 March 2012:
Vol. 335 no. 6073 pp. 1219-1222
DOI: 10.1126/science.1215400