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Books Of The Times
Date: October 21, 1981, Wednesday, Late City Final Edition Section C; Page 29, Column 1; Cultural Desk Byline:Lead:By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt THE MISMEASURE OF MAN. By Stephen Jay Gould. 352 pages. Illustrated. Nor- ton. $14.95.
ONE fitting way to begin this review would be to offer a solemn account of the sharp blow that the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gouldhas delivered to Arthur Jensen and the apostles of innate, hereditary, hierarchical intelligence in human beings.
For without question Professor Gould’s ”The Mismeasure of Man” does deal that blow, if only by confronting Jensen’s ideas at the end of a series of chapters on such subjects as pre-Darwinian craniometry – or the practice of filling human skulls with BB’s – as a measure of the inferiority of blacks and Indians and women; on the famous Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, whose enlightened beliefs included the notion that tattoos were a sign of innate criminality and that designs of clasped hands were found very frequently in pederasts; or on a project undertaken by the American psychologist Lewis M. Terman ”to measure, retrospectively, the IQ of history’s prime movers – its statesmen, soldiers, and intellectuals” -which project concluded about Mozart that ”A child who learns to play the piano at 3, who receives and benefits by musical instruction at that age, and who studies and executes the most difficult counterpoint at age 14, is probably above the average level of his social group.” Intelligence at Play
But the real interest of ”The Mismeasure of Man” doesn’t really lie in the battle it wages against the intelligence measurers and the unfortunate ends to which they have applied their results. Plenty of recent books have done that, and they have tended to be tedious, either because they make the battle seem one-sided or because the battle really is one-sided.
The interest of Stephen Jay Gould’s latest book really lies in watching the author’s intelligence at play. Professor Gould, who teaches geology, biology and the history of science at Harvard, and whose earlier books include two collections of profound yet entertaining essays on natural history, ”Ever Since Darwin” and ”The Panda’s Thumb,” is not the sort of thinker one makes solemn declarations about. To test the validity of a nonverbal test of innate intelligence that was given to all Army recruits during World War I, he made his class at Harvard take the test, and found many students stumped by its challenge to supply the missing part of a Victrola that ”innate intelligence” ought to have told them was the horn.
This sort of absurdity must have been at least part of what inspired him actually to read in entirety the 800-page statistical monograph that describes the protocol of these tests (R.M. Yerkes’s Psychological Examining in the United States Army) and thus to discover at first hand what a ”disgrace” the project actually was. To do so took more wit and energy than was ever expended by the ”racists and eugenicists” who, according to Professor Gould, used the monograph’s summary statistics as a social weapon for their cause but never looked at the ”rotten core” on which they rested.
With similar enterprise, Professor Gould, in his final chapter, goes beyond merely itemizing the damage that intelligence testers have inflicted. He confronts a basic tool of the measurers – the statistical technique called ”factor analysis,” developed by the influential English psychologist Charles Spearman – and demonstrates persuasively how factor analysis led to the cardinal error in reasoning of confusing correlation with cause, or, to put it another way, of attributing false concreteness to the abstract.
It is this sort of performance that makes the book’s eventual refutation of Arthur Jensen seem incidental, for it is far more absorbing to have our powers of reason challenged than it is to have our social consciences shaken. Professor Gould also seems to regard the attack as incidental. In his Introduction, he states that his ”message is not that biological determinists were bad scientists or even that they were always wrong. Rather, I believe that science must be understood as a social phenomenon, a gutsy, human enterprise, not the work of robots programed to collect pure information.” ’27 Ruling Is Quoted
And in his conclusion, he raises the stakes of his game by eloquently challenging the human sociobiologists, who, he believes, ”have made a fundamental mistake in categories. They are seeking the genetic basis of human behavior at the wrong level. They are searching among the specific products of generating rules – Joe’s homosexuality, Martha’s fear of strangers -while the rules themselves are the genetic deep structures of human behavior.”
But he can hit us in the social conscience. He begins his Epilogue by quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. delivering the Supreme Court’s 1927 decision upholding the legal right of the state of Virginia to sterilize a young mother who had scored a mental age of 9 on the Stanford-Binet: ”Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” He ends by quoting the woman’s sister, who was sterilized at the same time under the same law, but, not realizing it, had spent much of her subsequent married life trying to conceive a child. Said the ”imbecile” of the eventual discovery that her Fallopian tubes had been severed: ”I broke down and cried. My husband and me wanted children desperately. We were crazy about them. I never knew what they’d done to me.”
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