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Mismeasure Of Man [Paperback]

Stephen Jay Gould
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 1996
Exposes the fatal flaws in the ranking of people according to their supposed gifts and limits by discussing the development of the theory of limits and by reanalyzing the data on which it is based.

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How smart are you? If that question doesn't spark a dozen more questions in your mind (like "What do you mean by 'smart,'" "How do I measure it," and "Who's asking?"), then The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould's masterful demolition of the IQ industry, should be required reading. Gould's brilliant, funny, engaging prose dissects the motivations behind those who would judge intelligence, and hence worth, by cranial size, convolutions, or score on extremely narrow tests. How did scientists decide that intelligence was unipolar and quantifiable, and why did the standard keep changing over time? Gould's answer is clear and simple: power maintains itself. European men of the 19th century, even before Darwin, saw themselves as the pinnacle of creation and sought to prove this assertion through hard measurement. When one measure was found to place members of some "inferior" group such as women or Southeast Asians over the supposedly rightful champions, it would be discarded and replaced with a new, more comfortable measure. The 20th-century obsession with numbers led to the institutionalization of IQ testing and subsequent assignment to work (and rewards) commensurate with the score, shown by Gould to be not simply misguided--for surely intelligence is multifactorial--but also regressive, creating a feedback loop rewarding the rich and powerful. The revised edition includes a scathing critique of Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve, taking them to task for rehashing old arguments to exploit a new political wave of uncaring and belt tightening. It might not make you any smarter, but The Mismeasure of Man will certainly make you think. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A rare book-at once of great importance and wonderful to read....Gould presents a fascinating historical study of scientific racism....A major addition to scientific literature. -- Saturday Review

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CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC, Socrates advised, should be educated and assigned by merit to three classes: rulers, auxiliaries, and craftsmen. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent refutation of scientific racism Nov. 24 2003
By A Customer
This book is a touchstone of sorts. You can tell a lot about someone from what they say about it and from what they think Gould is saying. Some accuse Gould of trying to argue that there are no IQ differences among people -- he is not arguing that. Some people say that he is trying to argue that there are no IQ differences between any two given people of difference racial backgrounds -- he is not arguing that, either.
Gould's argument is fairly straightforward. He is of the opinion that the differences *between* racial groups are on average no greater than the differences *within* racial groups. How Gould's argument could get so distorted and why it gets so many people upset tells me that some people have a need to feel superior and like thinking that there is a scientific justification for them to feel superior.
Based on his analysis of historical instances of intelligence testing, he is also of the opinion that the general goal of intelligence testing has been to (1) come up with a single number scale, ranked highest to lowest, that can be used to peg people in a hierarchy of intelligence and then (2) use the results of that numbering scheme to determine social policies used on those people and (3) pass those results on to the public to reinforce the idea that those people who are disadvantaged actually deserve to be disadvantaged because they belong to an inferior race.
You can gauge based on how upset people get at Gould's reasoning how close to the truth -- and to the nerve -- he is striking.
I think this is an excellent and superbly argued book, and should be read by more people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Old wine May 20 2002
By A Customer
I'd just like to note that this ground has been covered and recovered. See Science and Politics of IQ
by Leon J. Kamin for an earlier treatment of these issues.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but Feb. 22 2003
By A Customer
Although the book is interesting in its content and writing style, the book remains historical in content. If we live by the presumption that our worlds are as only we can "perceive" them, the selfish gene, inbox thinking... and that women have been tormented for generations by men's self preservation(e.g. women being unintelligent, unavailability of schooling, work...), this books history and analysis of intelligence through time and culture only seems to be obvious. Perhaps I would have preferred a discussion and refutal of cognitive concepts along with the history lesson and cultural norms. This of course seen from a high school drop out point of view. I could imagine as a graduate student I would be excited to assimilate the content of the book with what I would have learned in school, but disappointed none-the-less.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gould is Gold Dec 20 2002
To put it bluntly: This book is fantastic. Gould makes incredibly cogent arguments as to the fallacies in logic made by IQ testers and those that tried to brand criminals with race or apperances.
He is very verbose, but the beautiful language, and multipel tangents, just add to the reader's knowledge, and impress on the read the author's immense authority of the subject at hand.
Admittedly, Gould loses the general reader in the chapter on Factor Analysis, but the rest of the book is quite accessible to the layman.
If you want to know why the Bell Curve blows, and why conservatives are so wrong, read this book!
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By Chrome
This book is a perfect example of how anything can be made to sound convincing by a writer that is good enough. Gould uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to obscure his essentially political argument and present it as scientifically valid when it plainly isn't, whatever so many of the readers here represented may think.
The techniques of IQ testing that he criticizes have not been used for many years. He is recycling old material. There are many, many studies that show there are real, and therefore measurable, differences in people's intellectual capacity - and why would that be controversial? You meet smart and dumb people every day. Modern IQ tesing is not perfect but it is improving, it is at least based on scientific method and it can prove its results - something that Gould cannot.
Gould's book is reassuring to people who want to have their own preconceptions confirmed, but it's certainly not good science.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Mismeasure of Man Sept. 9 2002
The Mismeasure of Man written by Stephan Jay Gould is an expose on the IQ measuring, the classification of people via ranking them according to their supposed gifts of intelligence. I say expose, well, Gould does get to the heart of the matter, and does unearth, reveal, and denounce the Bell Curve for what it really is as a test that is flawed from the beginning. As most, if not all, intelligence measuring is skewed to the tester's favor as the innate prejudices come through.
But, reading Gould's explanation, brings out both logical inconsistencies of the theories and the prejudically motivated misuse of the data. Thus, giving the reader a deep look into these measuring techniques from a well grounded position... in particular on race, racism, and biological determinism in general. Gould does an excellent job here, deflating the pseudobiological explanations and bringing to the light fascinating historical facts to illustrate these inconsistencies. It makes it very hard to get an accurated picture of intelligence if the "tester" is testing the wrong things.
Gould's historical approach is very evident in reading this book, as he takes his time to lay the ground work, making his point at the root and foundation on the testing procedures. Nevertheless, Gould's humorus wit works its way through his writting and makes reading this book a pleasure. As always, Gould brings the reader upto speed, to a level that you understand what it is he's trying to illustrate.
In one of the essays in the final section, Critique of the Bell Curve, Gould makes his eloquent argument. "The Bell Curve" by R.J. Hernstein and C.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars For the soft-minded
Noticing that a book was on the market that rehashed the same, tired old 1960's idocy that there is "no difference" between races (subspecies) of homo sapiens, my ever-so-PC... Read more
Published on April 20 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Gould chooses political correctness over science
Gould wants to abolish the opinions that intelligence can be measured and that it is unevenly distributed among ethnic groups. Read more
Published on March 5 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Gould is too biased for this subject
Gould is usally an excellent science writer but his extreme liberal biases prevents him from writing objectively on the subject of intelligence and the evidence that it is unevenly... Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Gould can't hide his political agenda
Gould is a very confused person! His ambitious goal was to prove that intelligence is not inherited but a product of environmental factors such as education. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2003 by Svetoslav Tassev
1.0 out of 5 stars Maybe what you want to hear; but biased, and wrong.
If you want to believe that IQ doesn't mean anything, that "g" doesn't exist, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary: just give yourself permission to believe it. Read more
Published on March 21 2003 by Mark D. Stump
5.0 out of 5 stars Lasting gift to intelligent dialogue about "intelligence"
Gould's book is so good that to give it a bad review borders on intellectual fraud.
He succinctly lays out the arguments against Hernstein and Murray's psuedo-scholarship in... Read more
Published on Aug. 13 2002 by Drew Hunkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read!
Not to go over the top, this book is extraordinarily well-written, intelligent, impassioned, and amusing. Read more
Published on March 29 2002 by Eric Shtob
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