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“Morton’s Skulls, Gould’s Statistics, and the Objectivity of Data” by Jonathan Kaplan (Oregon State University)

Date: 1:10pm - 2:25pm PDT April 4, 2014 Location: Gregg Pavilion

Gregg Pavilion

In 2011, Lewis et al published a paper arguing that Gould’s criticisms of Morton’s analyses of skull volumes were, broadly, mistaken. Gould had argued that the average differences in the volumes of skulls between the ‘races’ reported by Morton were the result of Morton’s unconscious biases; Gould further argued that more appropriate methods showed no average volume differences of any significance. Lewis et al counter that in fact Morton’s analysis is to be preferred, and Gould’s analysis inappropriate and biased. But both Gould and Lewis et al are mistaken; both attempt, somewhat foolishly,  to analyze data that cannot speak to the questions it is supposed to. In the end, arguments about the best statistical techniques to deploy serve only to obscure the poverty of the data. While it is possible to accurately measure the skulls that Morton happened to collect, and both Gould and Lewis et al believe, in the end, that Morton did so, there is no appropriate way to use those skulls to answer any of the plausibly interesting questions about the ‘populations’ from which those skulls were drawn (often stolen).

Followed by a panel discussion with:

Jay Odenbaugh, Lewis & Clark College
Janet Kourany, University of Notre Dame
Scott Gilbert, Swarthmore College
Jonathan Kaplan, Oregon State University
Quayshawn Spencer, University of San Francisco


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