The Godfather of Sexist Pseudoscience
This skull-measuring quack believed women are no smarter than gorillas. So why do his 19th-century ideas still influence education policy?
Illustration by Sarula Bao
In the summer of 1881, Frenchman Gustave Le Bon entered the forbidding Tatras Mountains of southern Poland. A bearded man of 40, Le Bon was a Parisian polymath with an appetite for science, anthropology, and psychology. His mission in Poland was to locate and study the society of Podhaleans living in the Tatras. Using the portable cephalometer he invented years prior, Le Bon hoped to record the skull measurements of these curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed mountain people. Convinced of the relationship between race and intellect, Le Bon suspected that only a superior breed could thrive in the inhospitable Tatras — a race that must have evolved beyond their Polish peasant neighbors. How else could they have built a society on terrain so dangerous that even Russian generals avoided sending troops through the peaks?
With his contraption of steel rulers and pressurized screws, Le Bon measured the cranial dimensions of 50 Podhalean men. According to his calculations, t…