Boas's Changes in Bodily Form: The Immigrant Study, Cranial Plasticity, and Boas's Physical Anthropology



In two recent articles, we and another set of researchers independently reanalyzed data from Franz Boas's classic study of immigrants and their descendants. Whereas we confirm Boas's overarching conclusion regarding the plasticity of cranial form, Corey Sparks and Richard Jantz argue that Boas was incorrect. Here we attempt to reconcile these apparently incompatible conclusions. We first address methodological differences between our reanalyses and suggest that (1) Sparks and Jantz posed a different set of questions than we did, and (2) their results are largely consistent with our own. We then discuss our differing understandings of Boas's original argument and of the concept of cranial plasticity. In particular, we argue that Sparks and Jantz attribute to Boas a position he explicitly rejected. When we clarify Boas's position and place the immigrant study in historical context, Sparks and Jantz's renalysis supports our conclusion that, on the whole, Boas got it right. [Keywords: Franz Boas, plasticity, anthropometry, heritability, immigrant study]