Intra- and interobserver error in craniometry: A cautionary tale

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Abstract

This study investigates intra- and interobserver measurement error in craniometry. Data consists of 72 craniometric measurements taken on a series of 28 Sadlermuit Eskimo crania. Utermohle measured the series twice; Zegura measured it once. Statistical procedures used to demonstrate measurement imprecision include the mean difference, the method error statistic, two-way anova without replication, the t-test for paired comparisons, Fisher's distribution-free sign test, and the t-test for independent samples. The results indicate less intraobserver repeatability than expected as well as an alarming lack of interobserver reproducibility for many of these craniometric measurements. We hope these results will serve as a caution against the widespread belief that craniometric measurements are always produced with a high degree of precision by experienced craniometrists. In addition, these results suggest that investigators employing craniometric measurements to study population affinities, functional morphology, forensics, fossil primates, and human microevolution might profit from conducting a measurement error analysis as an important baseline for the interpretation of the biological significance of their results.

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