Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed?

By N. J. Mackintosh | Go to book overview

ONE
IQ and science: the mysterious Burt affair*

A. R. JENSEN

THE CASE OF Sir Cyril Burt is probably the most bizarre episode in the entire history of academic psychology. This can be attributed to a combination of elements--the controversial subject of Burt's major research, his unusual personality, his widely acknowledged accomplishments, and the damaging accusations levelled against him after his death. Indeed, Burt's posthumous notoriety exceeds even the considerable fame he enjoyed during his long career.

In his famous study of the IQs of fifty-three pairs of MZa twins--monozygotic (identical) twins reared apart--Burt had shown a high correlation (0.77) between the general intelligence of separately raised twins. What became known as the 'Burt scandal' surfaced in 1976, five years after Burt's death. He was accused of faking data and fabricating both research assistants and co-authors to lend his deception authenticity. The main thrust of the attackers' effort was to discredit Burt's major theory--that genetic factors are strongly involved in human intelligence--as well as the body of research that supports it. Still, Burt was not without his defenders. A number of scholars, mainly former associates, rose to his defence, writing articles and letters to newspapers and making television appearances. The controversy continued for three years.

Then, in 1979, Burt's guilt seemed virtually clinched when Britain's most highly respected historian of psychology, Leslie Hearnshaw, published Cyril Burt, psychologist, which appeared to be a carefully researched and impartial biography of Burt. Hearnshaw had exclusive access to Burt's private correspondence and diaries, which no one else had yet seen. Thus, the biography was almost universally accepted as the last word on the subject and even persuaded most of Burt's supporters. The devastation of Burt's once exalted reputation was a gleeful triumph to his detractors and

____________________
*
An earlier version of this chapter appeared in The Public Interest, 105, Fall 1991, 93-106, published by National Affairs, Inc. It is reprinted, in revised form, with the permission of the publishers.

-1-

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Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Contributors xi
  • ONE IQ and science: the mysterious Burt affair 1
  • References 11
  • TWO Burt and the early history of factor analysis 13
  • References 42
  • THREE Twins and other kinship studies 45
  • Introduction 45
  • References 69
  • FOUR Intelligence and social mobility 70
  • Introduction 70
  • Conclusions 90
  • References 94
  • FIVE Declining educational standards 95
  • References 109
  • SIX Burt as hero and anti-hero: A Greek tragedy 111
  • References 128
  • SEVEN Does it matter? The scientific and political impact of Burt's work 130
  • References 148
  • Index 153
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