PHILOSOPHERS of science are fond of claiming that a theory, or model, can never be disproved by a new fact or even a set of facts, but only by a new and more comprehensive theory. While this may be a useful rule of thumb, it suggests, misleadingly, that individual findings cannot have revolutionary reverberations. In fact, when a solar eclipse in 1919 showed that certain predictions by Einstein of the way light would be deflected were correct, the theory of relativity gained immeasurably in stature. Conversely, proponents of the theory that intelligence is inherited suffered a severe blow when data presented by Sir Cyril Burt were shown to be fraudulent.
A well-entrenched field of study--the psychology of children's art-- has recently been put on trial, thanks to a handful of drawings produced by a single autistic girl named Nadia. A century ago, when scientists and educators turned their attention to the study of children, they frequently began by collecting children's drawings. After all, nearly every child draws, and most draw enthusiastically for several years. Drawings are fun to look at, easy to store, and lend themselves to systematic (though not necessarily penetrating) analysis.
The drawings have usually been interpreted--and even distorted-- to support one psychological perspective or another. Consider, for instance, the way various authorities would analyze a child's drawing