Controversial skull study gets a new spin

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Behind the "staff only" door at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, student interns are wheeling around carts of human skulls from nearly every corner of the globe.

The collection contains 2,000 of them, many with carefully printed labels across the foreheads - Icelandic, Peruvian, Mexican Aztec. They form part of a famous - and infamous - collection amassed by Philadelphia physician/scientist Samuel Morton.

Morton used them in the 1830s to make comparative measurements of skull volume - which were seized on by others to assert that whites were smarter than other races because they had bigger brains. The work was seemingly debunked by Harvard paleontologist and writer Stephen Jay Gould in his 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man.

Now Penn Museum anthropologists and colleagues are critiquing Gould's critique. Morton, they say, was right in his measurements, but racist statements based on his work were not. In a paper released last week, they say Gould selectively manipulated data to prove his point.

The paper marks the latest twist in a 180-year tale that touches on racism, bias, ego, the foibles of scientists and their critics, and the oversize shadows left by Samuel Morton and Stephen Jay Gould.

Museum anthropologist Janet Monge, one of the authors of the new paper, said she and Alan Mann, then a museum curator, saw a problem soon after the 1981 publication of Gould's book, which challenged a number of concepts related to race, categorization, and the ranking of humans by intelligence through IQ and other "mismeasures." ...............

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