“Print The Legend!” Michael Scammell, Arthur Koestler, And The Case Of Cyril Burt

Michael Scammell`s Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic
has
been hailed
by reviewers as the definitive biography of

Arthur Koestler
, the brilliant ex-Communist
iconoclast whose novel Darkness At Noon
exposed the

Stalinist terror
and who later reinvented himself as
a pioneering science writer.

Scammell`s
biography contains a brief passage about the British
psychologist Sir Cyril Burt, who wrote the foreword to
Koestler`s 1964 book The Act of Creation:


“Among Koestler`s supporters was
the English psychologist Sir Cyril Burt, who wrote a
lengthy foreword for the book. It seemed like an
excellent move at the time, for Burt (the

`father of the eleven-plus`
examination in British
schools) was world famous for his psychological studies
of twins and for his strenuous advocacy for
IQ
tests
as the best means to

measure intelligence.
After his death in 1971,
unfortunately, Burt was unmasked as a scientific fraud
who had faked his data and as a political reactionary
with a soft spot for the

pernicious doctrine of eugenics
—the polar opposite
of Koestler politically. Koestler couldn`t possibly have
known this and silently removed Burt`s foreword from
later editions of the book without explanation, but it
was a sign of poor judgment, and Burt wasn`t the last of
the questionable gurus Koestler would seek out to
support his scientific endeavors”.

This summary of the

Burt scandal
is fatally flawed in two respects: 

  • Burt was indeed

    accused
    of faking data, five years after his
    death in 1971, but a substantial scholarly
    literature has subsequently developed that either
    vindicates him or at least casts serious doubt on
    the charges.
     
  • In any case, Burt`s results have been consistently
    replicated.

Scammell`s
description of Burt as a
“political
reactionary”
is also dubious.

Ronald Fletcher
in his Science, Ideology and the Media: The Cyril Burt Scandal (
1991)
dismissed this view as a
“caricature”
in his chapter The
Sociologists of Education
.

Burt did view

psychology as an extension of biology.
He rejected
the extreme

egalitarianism
rampant on the Left and considered

inequalities in native ability levels
as a natural
variation of the human condition. But Burt also
pioneered the use of tests in educational selection and
advocated the

meritocratic
placement of students on the basis of
intelligence levels irrespective of socioeconomic
background. He argued that
“it is plainly
imperative that the education authority should seek to
determine as accurately as possible the natural
potentialities of each
[child],
and, having done so, provide him with the education best
suited to his needs….” [
The
meaning and assessment of intelligence.


Eugenics Review
, 47
, 81-91.]
For most of Burt`s life, this
was seen as a progressive position. It underlay
Britain`s 1944 Education Act, which enormously expanded
educational access through systematic selection (the


“eleven-plus” exam
).

Scammell similarly caricatures what he
describes as the
“pernicious doctrine of eugenics”. But respected figures like
Sir Francis Galton, the
British polymath and modern founder of eugenics,

 Dean Inge
, a
lecturer in philosophy at Oxford, prolific

author
, and

Dean of St. Paul`s Cathedral
, and the pioneering
social psychologist

William McDougall
were all

eugenicists
who influenced Burt`s intellectual
outlook. The concept of eugenics, as Richard Dawkins has
noted, basically is the implementation of biological
principles.

There may be
more to Burt and Koestler`s collaboration than what
Scammell suggests. Both seemed to have a mutual respect
for each other`s work. According to Koestler biographer David Cesarani, Koestler and Burt met in the early 1960s
and shared
an abundance of interests
. In fact, it was
their mutual interest in parapsychology that brought
Koestler and Burt together. Koestler contributed a paper
in the Festschrift in Burt`s honor,


Stephanos: Studies in Psychology,

edited by Charlotte Banks and P. L. Broadhurst (
1965).

None of this is mentioned in
Scammell`s biography.

Unfortunately, my recent email queries
to Michael Scammell—asking if he was familiar with the
body of literature that exonerates Burt, and if he would
clarify Koestler`s relationship with Burt—remain
unanswered. (Email
Scammell).

In John Ford`s move

The Man
Who Shot Liberty Valance,

the newspaper editor kills the story of who really did
kill Valance with the

words
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the
legend.”
The case of Cyril Burt illustrates
precisely how accusations become legend—and the legend
becomes
Politically Correct history
.

During his lifetime, Burt was widely
respected as an educational psychologist. He was a

former president
of the British Psychological
Society. Author or editor of some thirty books and 350
articles, in 1946 he was the first British psychologist
knighted for his work.

But in 1976, Burt was accused of
faking crucial data in his research on twins reared
apart in

a London Sunday
Times
article
by medical correspondent Oliver
Gillie. (Gillie`s book


Who Do You Think You Are?
, also published in
1976, reveals the author`s own anti-hereditarian views.
He dismissed Burt`s claim for the role of genes in
intelligence:
“there may be major genes that affect intellectual
abilities…. However, there is no direct evidence for the
existence of such genes”
.)

Gillie cited anomalies in Burt`s
data—discrepancies that
Arthur
Jensen
and

Leon Kamin
independently discovered. In
The Science and
Politics of IQ
(1974),
Kamin never explicitly charged Burt with fraud, but
concluded that Burt`s data


“are simply not worthy of our current scientific
attention”
. Leslie Hearnshaw`s official
biography, Cyril
Burt: Psychologist
, published in 1979, concluded
that Burt had been deceptive and


“guilty of malfeasance”.

But ten years later two scholars
working independently published their detailed
investigations into the accusations of fraud and
concluded that the case against Burt was not only
substantially weak, but ill-founded. Besides Fletcher`s
Science, Ideology
and the Media,
Robert Joynson`s
The Burt Affair
also

examined
the allegations of fraud and found credible
alternative explanations of the anomalies in Burt`s
data. The families of two

“missing research assistants”,

one of Gillie`s key accusations, were tracked down and
confirmed that they actually assisted Burt.

In 1995, Nicholas Mackintosh edited a

collection
of papers, Cyril Burt: Fraud or Framed?, published by Oxford University Press.
The conclusions of the five contributors, after
closer examination of the allegations,

were mixed
, but three of the five contributors
rejected the idea that Burt fabricated data.

The widely respected evolutionary
biologist W. D. Hamilton, in a review of Richard
Lynn`s Dysgenics published in the
Annals of Human Genetics
, [PDF]
noted that


“In one case where the attempt was made by various
writers of nurturist and leftist persuasion to convince
the public—claiming even proof—that one psychometrist,
Sir Cyril Burt, had published fraudulent data, it later
came to light that the tirade had been either wrong or
grossly exaggerated in a very high proportion of the
claims it had raised (Joynson, 1989; Fletcher, 1991;
Mackintosh, 1995). Muddle a-plenty of a minor nature was
indeed evident in Burt`s late-life publications on IQ
and heritability but no case of fraud has been proven.”

In 2002,

Philippe Rushton
transcribed a

previously unavailable speech
[PDF]
that Burt delivered to the Association of Educational
Psychologists in 1964. The speech provided new evidence
as to Burt`s research and data collection and, as
Rushton concluded, one could reasonably
“dismiss the
accusations against him as `not proven`”
.

Since these allegations rest on
conjecture and supposition, the burden of proof rests
with Burt`s accusers. Joynson and Fletcher have refuted
a number of their claims, which cannot be disregarded in
any assessment of

Burt`s legacy.
The destruction of some of Burt`s
research at the

instigation
of one of Burt`s ardent critics,

Liam Hudson
, professor of educational psychology at
Edinburgh University, and the fact that Burt cannot
address the charges mean that the case will likely
remain unresolved. But given what is known about this
controversy, C. B. Goodhart`s summary,

posted
on the Galton Institute website, seems
reasonable:

“The only proper conclusion is that the charges that Burt deliberately
falsified his data cannot now be sustained, true though
it is that much of what he published in old age was
badly presented and perhaps even culpably careless.”

Nevertheless, journalists and authors
continue to perpetuate the myth that Burt, a once
respected psychologist, has been
conclusively
unveiled as a fabricator. Michael Scammell is merely the
most recent example. A recent Nexis search found 349
articles that mention- Burt. A subset of 130 within
these 349 articles, some 37 percent, contains some
mention of
“fraud”
or “fabricate”.

Another example:

Sharon Begley,
writing in
Newsweek:

Granted,
the study of racial and sex differences in intelligence
has not exactly covered itself in glory. There was that
unfortunate incident in the mid-20th century, when
British psychologist

Cyril Burt
apparently made up data to `prove` that genes make
blacks and the poor innately less intelligent than
whites and the wealthy. Later studies reaching similar
conclusions were based on statistics that would have
done Mark Twain (`lies, damned lies…`) proud.”

[Sex,
Race And IQ: Off Limits? Scientists who study
intelligence risk adopting a policy of `unilateral
disarmament`
,
April
20, 2009]


In fact, Burt`s research on the
inheritance of intelligence never probed the area of
racial differences. In all of Burt`s major books
—from
The Young Delinquent
,
The Backward Child,
The Subnormal Mind, The
Factors of the Mind
,
to his last book
The Gifted Child—”race”
as a subject is indexed on a select few pages and merely
noted as a passing observation with little if any
significance. (Of course, for most of Burt`s lifetime,
1883–1971, almost everyone in Britain was white.)


Burt`s biographer Hearnshaw,
despite his critical conclusion, states unequivocally
that “Burt was
not a `racist`, and never at any time expressed `racist`
opinions.”
A review of Burt`s complete bibliography,
listed in Hearnshaw`s biography, reveals nothing close
to Begley`s description of Burt`s work.

The
“apparently made
up data”
on blacks and the poor seem to exist only
in Begley`s imagination. Just exactly what
“later studies”
she refers to is equally a mystery. For any credible
science reporter to suggest that the use of
twin
studies
to determine genetic and environmental
contributions of intelligence is scientifically flawed
is irresponsible. Begley`s hostility to behavior genetic
studies and evolutionary psychology research is easily
discernible in her science reporting for
Newsweek.


Another example: the

June 1992
issue of
Omni magazine,
listing Burt in the
“top ten science
frauds of all time”
. In a feature sidebar titled,
“Grand Illusions: The Top Ten Known or Suspected Science Frauds”,
Burt ranked number eight:


“Spurious
Superiority. Sir Cyril Burt, a pioneering British
psychologist, deliberately made up more than three
decades of data, from the mid 1940s until 1966, to back
up his bogus theory on the relationship between heredity
and intelligence. He claimed human intelligence was 75
percent inherited, thereby reinforcing the British class
system”.


What is significant about this
egregious distortion is that it appears in a science
publication after
the publication of the Joynson and Fletcher`s books—but
completely ignores their findings.


In reviewing the Burt controversy
during the early 1990s, I contacted a number of
psychologists familiar with Burt. One was the late Anne
Anastasi, the

widely respected author
of several textbooks on
psychological testing. Anastasi related her memories of
Burt:



“My views have
never been
altered, either by Hearnshaw or by any other books. From
my knowledge of Burt`s publications on factor analysis
and the nature of intelligence, as well as our many
years of personal correspondence, I have consistently
had the highest regard for him as a distinguished
psychologist who pioneered in the development of
sophisticated statistical procedures and of sound
theoretical models of cognitive factors. The allegations
of scientific fraud impressed me as entirely out of
character.”

The crucial lesson in the Burt
controversy: never accept at face value the Politically
Correct legends of the Main Stream Media—or the

anecdotal laziness
that passes for much
college-level scholarship.


Kevin Lamb (
email
him), managing editor of

The Social
Contract
,
is a former library assistant for

Newsweek
and


managing editor

of
Human Events.
He was also
assistant editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.