Elaborate charts and scientific instruments have been developed to measure and compare human bodies and their physiological capacities.
Some measures, such as the cranial index, were used to classify individuals into particular groups or types. Others, such as fingerprints, were supposed to pick out an individual from the group. The attempt to develop scientific methods of comparatively measuring the body often produced false associations between relatively small variations and human capacity, which tended to favour white upper class European males. For example, in 1888, after measuring the relative brain volumes of Cambridge students, Francis Galton concluded:
Although it is pretty well ascertained that in the masses of the population the brain ceases to grow after the age of nineteen, or even earlier, it is by no means so with University students…. Consequently, high honour men are presumably as a class both more precocious and more gifted throughout than others.
Scientists continue to develop new ways of measuring and classifying bodies – from brain imaging to genetic testing. Advanced technologies for measuring and comparing the body create new forms of bodies to be described and analysed. They hold the promise of better medical treatments while raising concerns about the way that particular bodies are classified. Public unease is revealed in ongoing debates over the use of personal data by employers and insurance companies, or the mandatory use of identity cards containing biometric data.