The Enemy of Polygeny

Analysis of Journal Article “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould

The aim of this blog is to analyze and evaluate the article The Mismeasure of Man (Gould, 1981), as it relates to this week’s theme, Balance and Scholar Identity. The importance of this concept is seen in every human being as we strive to maintain balance, and achieve our identity. Whether that identity is social, spiritual, or scholarly, it is important to establish one. The article from Gould’s 1981 publication was an excellent piece to explore and investigate, as it made me questions the origins of my own identity. As I read the article I was surprised, disgusted, angered and offended. As an African American male, it is very hard to imagine and accept that society identified African slaves, my ancestors, as descendants from an ape species.

Prior to reading this article I had very little knowledge of the concept of Polygeny or Craniometry. I found it very interesting that our Country’s fore fathers, held closely the idea that people of color were inferior and those devoid of color were created in Gods own image.

The Africans (slaves) and the indigenous Native Americans didn’t stand a chance at equality. Scientifically, the deck was stacked against them. Not only were we not considered equal, we were considered a different species. In Medicine Stories (Levins Morales, 1998), the author talks about how the slavers that kidnapped millions of West African people found endless ways to justify their behavior, even to the extent of claiming that slavery was a civilizing influence on the lives of the enslaved.

The idea of biological inferiority was common knowledge and was widely accepted by society, including our Country’s founders. These ideas were substantiated by science, research, and inquiry. Only one problem, the research was wrong.

Samuel George Morton’s was considered the most reputable and respected scholar on the theory of Polygeny. His theories were rooted in science. He studied Craniometry as the science to determine intelligence in different species. His research was extensive, but very faulty. Which led to an absolute incorrect premise that smaller skulls meant smaller brain capacity, thus less intelligent. Although his collection of human skulls was vast and he dedicated his life’s work to the idea that the Negro people were inferior mentally and physically, he was ultimately put to shame by his Mismeasurement of man.

In conclusion, I could not help but think about how this article relates to my scholar identity and my scholarly journey. Action research is a vital component of both. The article The Mismeasure of Man was a brilliant example of how quality research, data, and facts rather than faulty premises are so very important. If his studies were conducted correctly, good ol’ boy Samuel Morton, could have changed the perception of an entire race of people and possibly changed the course of history. Indeed, one of the core values of this program and my scholar identity is impact. The readings made me reflect on the impact of science and the public perception of people of color for centuries.

There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.” – Abraham Lincoln


Gould, S.J. (1981).  The Mismeasure of Man.  New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Levins Morales, A. (1998). Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Identity. Cambridge: South End Press.

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1 comment — post a comment


Great response! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I also had very little knowledge of the concept of Polygeny or Craniometry and felt very much the same as I read it. I was outraged. As a researcher, I want to be mindful of your comment, “The article The Mismeasure of Man was a brilliant example of how quality research, data, and facts rather than faulty premises are so very important.” I want to be sure that I focus on the data, facts and quality research. I want my work to be quality and make a difference.

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