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Silverman, M.A. Silverman, I. (1984). The Mismeasure of Man: By Stephen Jay Gould, Ph.D. New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1981. 352 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 53:286-293.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 53:286-293

The Mismeasure of Man: By Stephen Jay Gould, Ph.D. New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1981. 352 pp.

Review by:
Martin A. Silverman

Ilene Silverman

This is a book that should be read by every psychoanalyst. Since it is not on a directly psychoanalytic topic, however, it is likely to escape the analytic attention it deserves. This is unfortunate, because its contents are startling and important, both in general and because of the attacks that have been leveled against psychoanalytic theory and practice by those who view statistical measurement as the only means of obtaining scientifically credible conclusions.

There is an old saw that there are three kinds of lies—big lies, small lies, and statistics. Stephen Jay Gould, who teaches paleontology and evolutionary biology at Harvard, has addressed himself to the third kind of lie. The book is about the deceptive use of statistics to provide seemingly authoritative, "scientific" justification for the promulgation of views that actually derive from prejudice, cultural bias, and personal interest. It might very well have been subtitled "Honesty and Dishonesty in Science and Scientists."

Gould examines the use of craniometry and intelligence testing to support the contention that the social and economic disparities that exist between different races, classes, and sexes derive from intrinsic biological differences that establish their relative worth as human beings. "Determinists," he states, "have often invoked the traditional prestige of science as objective knowledge, free from social and political taint. They portray themselves as purveyors of harsh truth and their opponents as sentimentalists, ideologues, and wishful thinkers" (p. 20). Gould pits himself not only against the misuse of science for personal advantage, but also against the illusion that science occupies a utopian realm in which intellectual purity protects it from cultural contamination.

Science, since people must do it, is a socially embedded activity. It progresses by hunch, vision, and intuition. Much of its change through time does not record a closer approach to absolute truth, but the alteration of cultural contexts that influence it so strongly. Facts are not pure and unsullied bits of information; culture also influences what we see and how we see it. Theories, moreover, are not inexorable inductions from facts. The most creative theories are often imaginative visions imposed upon facts; the source of imagination is also strongly cultural (pp. 21-22).

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