Harvard University's Stephen Jay Gould once said that unconscious bias permeates science and interferes with scientific measurements that should be objective, write anthropologists David DeGusta and Jason Lewis in New Scientist. While Gould was himself an "iconic scientist," he still had doubts about "the ability of science to remain free from social pressures and bias," DeGusta and Lewis say. In 1978, Gould wrote a paper in Science. that said that "unconscious manipulation of data" may be the norm in science, and that this manipulation may be unavoidable, given the rewards of status and power given to researchers who do. As an example, Gould pointed to the case of 19th century American physician Samuel George Morton, who, DeGusta and Lewis write, measured human skulls in order to determine whether different human populations belonged to the same, or different, species. "Gould reanalysed Morton's data, and famously argued in Science and in his prize-winning bestseller The Mismeasure of Man, that Morton had manipulated his samples, made analytical errors, and mismeasured cranial capacities as a consequence of a racist bias," DeGusta and Lewis say. But Lewis, in recreating Morton's research, found that Morton's errors — when he made them — were statistically distributed randomly, and didn't fit with his predicted bias. Overall, DeGusta and Lewis write, it seems that Gould was the one who made errors based on his own bias.
We Can't Help It ... Or Can We?
Jul 26, 2011