Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed?

By N. J. Mackintosh | Go to book overview

Preface

CYRIL BURT DIED in 1971, full of honours and after a career spanning more than 60 years. Appointed to the chair of psychology at University College London in 1932, he retired in 1950, but remained active for the next 20 years, virtually until the day he died. He was knighted in 1946, one of only three British psychologists to have been so honoured, and was widely regarded as the most significant and influential educational psychologist of his generation, whose research on educational attainments, juvenile delinquency, intelligence testing, and factor analysis were landmarks in their fields. But, as Arthur Jensen notes in Chapter 1, Burt's posthumous notoriety has comfortably surpassed the fame he achieved in his lifetime. Within a year of his death, Leon Kamin of Princeton University was giving a series of lectures in the US in which he poured scorn on Burt's research on the genetics of intelligence. By 1976, Burt was being explicitly accused of fabricating data to prove that intelligence was inherited, and although these accusations were vigorously disputed, his fate seemed sealed with the publication in 1979 of his official biography by Leslie Hearnshaw, a widely respected historian of British psychology. With access to Burt's unpublished correspondence and diaries, Hearnshaw reluctantly concluded that the charges of fraud were justified--and added a couple more of his own for good measure.

Hearnshaw's biography received almost uniformly favourable reviews, and his conclusions were accepted without further ado by the British Psychological Society, which formally concluded that Burt had been guilty of fabrication of data. And there the matter might have rested. Most of Burt's earlier defenders either acknowledged their error, or remained prudently silent. But two books published some 10 years later, one by Robert Joynson, the other by Ronald Fletcher, succeeded in reopening the case. Working independently, both concluded that the charges against Burt had not been proved and that, at the very least, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. Although neither book was as favourably received as Hearnshaw's, many reviewers accepted that they had raised legitimate doubts.

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