Burt and the early history of factor analysis
S. F. BLINKHORN
AT THE TIME the Burt scandal originally broke in 1976--a day I remember as clearly as the day Kennedy was assassinated--I was doing some initial reading for my own PhD, which was concerned in a technical sense with certain developments in confirmatory factor analysis. By the time Hearnshaw's biography of Burt appeared in 1979, the PhD was awarded and I had moved on to other concerns. So it was not until Nature sent me Stephen J. Gould book The mismeasure of man for review that I really took note of the fact that doubt had been cast on Burt's own account of his place in the early history of factor analysis. Gould's own book was so manifestly partisan--in my review I described it as 'researched in the service of a point of view rather than written from a fund of knowledge'--and so surprisingly coarse grained in its account of the origins of factor analysis and the factor- analytic school in psychology, that I thought little more of it at the time. It is too easy to expect non-specialists to be aware of and take into account in popular works the distinctions that are important to specialists, as is doubtless the experience of most scientists watching a television documentary on a subject which touches their professional concerns.
A few years later, Nature sent another book for review, this time The intelligence men by Raymond Fancher. Here, to my astonishment, I read (p. 176):
With remarkable ease for a person totally lacking in formal mathematical training, Burt mastered the basic factor analytic techniques and soon began making original contributions of his own.
This was supposed to have happened when Burt took up his chair at University College London, more than 20 years after he published his first paper, and long after what, in recalling my initial reading of the early literature, had seemed to me to be his original contributions to the field.
Both Gould and Fancher repeat the accusation made by Hearnshaw ( 1979) that Burt falsified the history of factor analysis in his later work. Specifically, Hearnshaw proposed that while Spearman remained alive