What is it about?

In a 23-page section of "The Mismeasure of Man," Stephen Jay Gould characterized the Army Beta as an example of biased scientists creating an intelligence test in order to perpetuate their discriminatory behavior. However, we compared Gould's judgments to scholarly work about the Army Beta from the time and find that most of Gould's criticisms are either exaggerated or groundless. In reality, the Army Beta was well designed by the standards of the time and measured intelligence--and still does so to an extent today.

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Why is it important?

"The Mismeasure of Man" is a hugely popular science book published in 1981 (and republished in 1996) in which Stephen Jay Gould argued that intelligence testing and related fields were based on a rotten foundation of racism, sexism, classism, and other social evils. One of the targets of his opprobrium was the Army Beta, a test designed in World War I to screen illiterate men for military service. Gould argued that the test was engineered to show lower scores for immigrants and exaggerate the low mental ability of poorly educated men. We show in this article that none of this is true. Indeed, much of Gould's book is based on falsehoods, and it is not a trustworthy source of information about the history of science or the social issues surrounding the study of humans.


This article was rewarding to write for a few reasons. First, it puts Gould's dishonesty on full display and shows how he cherry picked data, ignored information that contradicted his beliefs, and sometimes outright lied about the facts in order to portray early psychologists in a negative light. Second, this article is based entirely on open science principles. The article is open access (which means anyone can read it), and the data, stimuli, and other materials are available for anyone who wants to replicate our work. Third, it was rewarding to learn more about the early history of psychology. Although the early test developers were far from perfect people, but they did pretty admirable scientific work. By the standards of the time, the Army Beta was an excellent test. I think that it is important to recognize these people's limitations (technologically, scientifically, morally) but also commend them for doing the best they could to advance their field under some difficult circumstances. Demonizing them does nobody any good. Finally, it was a joy to work with my student co-authors. This was the first published article for all three of them, and they are all destined for great things.

Dr Russell T. Warne
Independent Scholar

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Stephen Jay Gould’s Analysis of the Army Beta Test in The Mismeasure of Man: Distortions and Misconceptions Regarding a Pioneering Mental Test, Journal of Intelligence, February 2019, MDPI AG, DOI: 10.3390/jintelligence7010006.
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