To be clear, I’m in no way saying that I agree or disagree with any of the substantive conclusions of the book. I haven’t yet looked at the sources from which Little draws his information, and I haven’t yet worked my way through his book in a detailed fashion. I’ll wait to comment on his conclusions after I have the opportunity to examine the data he presents and do my own analysis. What I want to discuss in this post is what makes his approach different from some of the other recent books I’ve read (e.g., Dewhurst, Zimmerman, Chouinard).
Little’s main takeaway point about the accounts of “giant” skeletons is that “There were a lot of these tall people, far more than would be expected by chance” (pp. 189-190). He reaches this conclusion by doing a simple statistical test comparing the proportion of “tall” or “large” skeletons reported in the Bureau of Ethnology’s 1887 and 1894 reports to that which would be expected from a random sample of a population with a “normal” size distribution. He states that
“quite a few unusually tall skeletal remains were found in mounds and detailed in formal reports. The numbers of these far exceed what would be expected in a population where height fits a normal distribution” (p. 118).
Guess what? That’s a potentially falsifiable statement that can be formally evaluated. Hallelujah. And that is why Little’s approach interests me. He has attempted to move the needle forward by doing two things: (1) trying to discern “credible” from “non-credible” accounts; and (2) performing an analysis that focuses on isolating and describing a problem.
By relying on information from the Bureau of Ethnology reports (rather than unattributed tales from country histories and newspapers), Little attempted to be conservative in selecting which accounts are “credible.” In fact, this is a concern throughout the book. Little spends some effort discussing examples of size exaggeration, measuring errors, and outright hoaxes that color the record of “giants.” I found his discussion of those sources of noise to be (for the most part) quite different from the wide-eyed, uncritical refrain of “look at all these accounts of giants!” that seems to be a main thesis of much popular coverage of the topic on television, in books, and on the internet.
While I’m not at all convinced that Little’s conclusion about the greater-than-expected number of "tall" skeletons is correct or supportable based on the data he has presented, I do appreciate what I perceive as an interesting approach that is qualitatively different from anything else that I’ve seen out there so far. My sense is that there are several key assumptions built into Little’s analysis, any one of which could potentially be problematic. I look forward to having a closer look at what he presents. I’ll return to this topic in the future.