Viewpoint: Zombie pseudoscience — Evolution and intelligence studies are still shadowed by a focus on brain size

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Phrenology is the detailed study of cranial sizes and shapes as a proxy for brain size and shape… Phrenology has been widely discredited, and is thought by many today to be pseudoscience. However, the vestiges of phrenology remain with us today, and are still used to justify various common beliefs and inferences, even by otherwise very educated people.

The most common way that this happens is the use of brain size in the evaluation of the character of human evolution. It is often supposed by researchers that brain size can be used to measure the intelligence of early humans. The ludicrousness of this is clear.

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[In a recent story,] scientists used human genes to make monkey brains bigger. This is reported as a step in the direction towards a “Planet of the Apes” type of situation (based on the movie where apes developed human intellect and took over the planet).

Related article:  Altruism in animals: Why do animals sometimes adopt other species’ unrelated orphans?

Of course, to believe this requires that we believe in phrenology. If making a human brain’s size to be smaller than that of a monkey doesn’t cause them to lose their human intellect, neither will making a monkey’s brain larger than normal automatically imbue the ape with the ability to reason like a human.

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