The Malicious Smearing of a Psychological Pioneer

Review of The Cattell Controversy: Race, Science and Ideology, by William H. Tucker; University of Illinois Press, 2009.

During his twilight years of retirement, Raymond Bernard Cattell had achieved what few social scientists could ever dream of attaining. The American Psychological Association (APA) nominated the highly respected psychologist, author, and co-author of 500 research papers and 56 books, to receive the Gold Medal Lifetime Achievement Award — the pinnacle of top honors in the profession — during the APA’s annual convention in August 1997. In nominating Cattell to receive this prestigious award, the APA summarized his legacy in the APA’s flagship journal The American Psychologist:

In a remarkable 70-year career, Raymond B. Cattell has made prodigious, landmark contributions to psychology, including factor analytic mapping of the domains of personality, motivation, and abilities; exploration of three different medias of assessment; separation of fluid and crystallized intelligence; and numerous methodological innovations. Thus, Cattell became recognized in numerous substantive areas, providing a model of the complete psychologist in an age of specialization. It may be said that Cattell stands without peer in his creation of a unified theory of individual differences integrating intellectual, temperamental, and dynamic domains of personality in the context of environmental and hereditary influences. (American Psychologist, 1997, 797).

Although Cattell received numerous tributes over the years for his multifaceted work in psychology, the APA’s decision to recognize Cattell’s lifetime work firmly anchored his place as a pioneer in the field. After decades of tireless energy and unrivaled persistence in pursuing new frontiers in personality and intelligence research, Cattell finally had earned proper recognition as a distinguished authority from the leading organization of American psychologists.  As a trail-blazing researcher, Cattell’s work spawned a productive stream of empirical findings and theoretical breakthroughs that led to several innovative advances in the study of personality. His theoretical and empirical contributions helped anchor the field of personality and intelligence research on firm scientific principles. Many consider Cattell the father of personality trait measurement.

Cattell at age 15

In 2002, a survey of 1,725 psychologists ranked Cattell 16th among the most eminent psychologists (top 100) of the twentieth century. Cattell edged out Behaviorist John B. Watson who placed 17th and followed just below Hans Eysenck (13) and William James (14). He was the eleventh most-cited psychologist according to the 1975 Social Science Citation Index.

Cattell co-founded the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing (IPAT) with his wife Karen Cattell in 1949. IPAT continues to provide testing tools for private firms to assist in occupational consulting, human resource management (employee screening, selection, and placement), and clinical guidance. In 1960, Cattell founded the Society for Multivariate Experimental Psychology (SMEP) and launched its journal Multivariate Behavioral Research.

After his retirement from the University of Illinois, Cattell took up residence in Hawaii after briefly moving to Colorado and continued work on unfinished research projects. Upon his retirement, the University of Illinois presented Cattell with a leather-bound set of his published books.

In the two weeks prior to the APA’s convention in Chicago, Cattell’s work came under intense scrutiny. As the focus of a last-minute smear campaign, Cattell’s critics — extreme far-left ideologues — waged an intense media blitz of distortions, rumor, and innuendo. These axe-grinding ideological adversaries worked vigorously behind the scenes to undermine the APA’s presentation of the Gold Medal Award. They accused Cattell of “racism” and “anti-Semitism.” The APA decided to postpone the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award and investigate the matter with a “blue-ribbon” panel of experts. The New York Times and other news organizations sensationalized the “controversy” that ensued. Cattell denied the allegations, responded to his critics, and pulled his name as a nominee of the Gold Medal Award, and, at age 92, died a few months later in February 1998.

This sordid ordeal is the subject of William H. Tucker’s The Cattell Controversy: Race, Science, and Ideology published by the University of Illinois Press. Tucker, the author of The Science and Politics of Racial Research and The Funding of Scientific Racism, has carved out a niche as a muckraker of epic proportions. His modus operandi is to discredit scientists who research racial differences in intelligence and personality (anthropologists, geneticists, and evolutionary psychologists). He misleadingly links scholars, no matter how remote, to a rogue’s gallery of sinister culprits. If one recognizes biological race differences or the plausible advances that eugenics offers mankind, Tucker concludes that one is therefore complicit in genocidal mass murder.  The author fundamentally sees the world through a Marxist prism of oppressed and oppressors; for Tucker the realm of human existence consists of radical egalitarians, such as himself, or goose-stepping fascists hell-bent on racial genocide. His career pursuit, put forth in three books published by the University of Illinois Press, focuses on exposing race-realist scholars as “extremists” affiliated with sordid political operatives in the fever swamps of the far right.

To his credit, Tucker recognizes the importance of Cattell’s main body of research in personality, intelligence, and factor analysis. Much of his description of Cattell’s scientific work is largely favorable.

Nevertheless, Cattell is deservingly regarded as one of the most productive research psychologists in the history of the discipline. A true generalist in a field known for the extent of its fragmentation, he was one of the very few social scientists to put forth a comprehensive theory of human behavior, relating abilities, attitudes, motivations (drives), and personality traits to each other, thus bringing together in a dynamic system the classic tripartite categorization of mental activity into cognition, affection, and conation. Perhaps unique among psychologists, he also made contributions to theory, research, measurement, test development, and methodology; it is difficult to think of anyone else with this breadth of accomplishment.

The real rub for Tucker is Cattell’s philosophical views set forth in two complementary volumes, A New Morality from Science: Beyondism (1972) andBeyondism: Religion from Science (1987), and his outlook early in his professional career, set forth in Psychology and Social Progress (1933), The Fight For Our National Intelligence (1937), and Psychology and the Religious Quest (1938).

Most of Cattell’s academic research centers on the application of objective criteria (factor analysis) to identifying core personality and mental traits. Another half-dozen books explore his ideas on forging scientific-derived values from Darwinian natural selection, a systematic approach of applying objective evolutionary principles to ethical and social problems (evolutionary-based ethics) as well as articulating eugenic perspectives on society, differential birthrates, culture, civilization, and national trends. Cattell’s blunt assessments of the role of science in solving societal problems —his scientific-based ethics of “Beyondism” — generated much of the opposition to his receiving APA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cattell’s first few books reflect the thinking of the young scientist at an early stage in his professional career. These writings also reflect the milieu of the times for an academic traveling in progressive intellectual circles in the early 1900s, namely an enthusiastic interest in Darwinian evolution, eugenics and the scientific study of human behavior and social problems. The ranks of the eugenics movement in England and the United States attracted a wide range of prominent authors, statisticians, biologists, and social scientists across the political spectrum — progressives and conservatives alike.

Cattell at age 30

One of his major concerns (along with Sir Ronald Fisher, William McDougall, Leonard Darwin and other leading eugenicists) was the dysgenic generational decline of intelligence. In The Fight for Our National Intelligence, Cattell investigated the relationship between differential birthrates and falling IQ levels. His analysis of this trend was based upon test results from selected English communities. Cattell warned of the misplaced priorities of middle- to upper-class professionals in substituting materialistic luxuries in place of childrearing. He viewed the problem of differential birthrates — impoverished low IQ individuals having large, unsustainable families at the expense of society just as high IQ professionals were forgoing children — as undermining societal stability.

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His critique of the cultural impact of the mass media, from his chapter “False Beacons of Social Progress” in Psychology and Social Progress, reveals an insightful grasp of journalists’ self-aggrandizing role as the ultimate arbiters of “truth” in modern democracies. It reflects a thoughtful critique of the mass media that remains just as valid nearly eight decades later.

On the face of things, the press is at once the most confident and the most unsuitable claimant to the leadership of social thought. Beginning as a system of news retailing, it has become a parvenu politician and social philosopher with intellectual manners and powers, the pinchbeck qualities of which are obvious at some time or other to the meanest reader.

To say that the press merely reflects public opinion is the greatest humbug. It does to a considerable extent reflect the popular intelligence, the popular taste for slipshod methods of reasoning and unembarrassed ignorance, but through these contacts it endeavors to shape public opinion ruthlessly into forms which are rarely sympathetic to the potential sentiments and will present in the public. …

[A]nything in print appears to have the seal of mass approval behind it and carries with it all the powerful herd suggestion which is infinitely stronger than reasoned argument. For this reason the press renders a thousand times more strong the crude herd opinion already present and so holds in vice-like tentacles all attempts at enlightened action necessarily differing from the average viewpoint….

The average newspaper editor feels himself at liberty to contradict an authority in any field whatsoever. In a few minutes he will write a leading article refuting a book representing the work of a lifetime. But he is equal to even more than that. He will venture to put thousands of our democratic rulers — our electorate — hopelessly astray in any subject which he fancies himself at the moment to be an authority.

Cattell’s early work reflects the insights of an astute observer of national and cultural trends, one who can easily bore through the fog of pseudo-intellectual discourse. An objective reading of his early work indicates that the young psychologist could cut to the quick of any fallacy, slipshod argument, or popular fad.

A significant aspect of Tucker’s critique is Cattell’s alleged affiliations with so-called unsavory individuals on the “far-right.” He describes Dr. Roger Pearson, an editor and publisher of academic journals and monographs and author of several books, including an entry-level college textbook, Introduction to Anthropology(Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974), as an “extremist.” Marginal individuals, however remotely affiliated with Cattell, feature in Tucker’s muckraking narrative as sinister rogues one goose-step removed from Josef Mengele. It is a classic guilt-by-association tactic used by contemporary leftists to discredit the ideas of any prominent scholar who rejects their egalitarian multiracialism. (This guilt-by-association tactic, casting aspersions on one individual vis-à-vis the character of others, no matter how distant the affiliations or acquaintances, was vociferously denounced and labeled as “McCarthyism” when directed at leftists.) Cattell’s intellectual company of Pearson, classicist scholar Revilo Oliver, and airline executive, author, and segregationist Carleton Putnam, according to Tucker, “provided additional reason for concern.”

Much of Tucker’s opposition to Cattell’s eugenic perspectives rests on popular fallacies of eugenics. Implicit in Tucker’s critique is the notion that eugenics is grounded on “ideology” and “politics” (hence the ultimate aim of eugenics is the elimination of oppressed racial minorities) rather than firm scientific principles. Left-wing critics of eugenics often argue that it is scientifically baseless. Richard Lynn’s monumental Eugenics: A Reassessment demolishes this argument outright. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins rejects this implicit assertion in his recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth:

Political opposition to eugenic breeding of humans sometimes spills over into the almost certainly false assertion that it is impossible. Not only is it immoral, you may hear it said, it wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, to say something is morally wrong, or politically undesirable, is not to say it wouldn’t work. I have no doubt that, if you set your mind to it and had enough time and political power, you could breed a race of superior body-builders, or high-jumpers, or shot-putters; pearl fishers, sumo wrestlers, or sprinters; or (I suspect, although now with less confidence because there are no animal precedents) superior musicians, poets, mathematicians or wine-tasters. The reason I am confident about selective breeding for athletic prowess is that the qualities needed are so similar to those that demonstrably work in the breeding of racehorses and carthorses, of greyhounds and sledge dogs. The reason I am still pretty confident about the practical feasibility (though not the moral or political desirability) of selective breeding for mental or otherwise uniquely human traits is that there are so few examples where an attempt at selective breeding in animals has ever failed, even for traits that might have been thought surprising.

In an interview for The Eugenics Bulletin, published in 1984, Cattell offered his views on eugenics, social problems, progress in social science research, welfare policies, religious and cultural diversity in the U.S., “Beyondism,” IQ, and a variety of other issues. He was specifically asked about the matter of race from the eugenicists’ perspective,

TEB: Many eugenicists feel it’s best to be noncommittal on the race question, since it’s not our major concern. What do you think?

CATTELL: I agree that the only reasonable thing is to be noncommittal on the race question — that’s not the central issue, and it would be a great mistake to be sidetracked into all the emotional upsets that go on in discussions of racial differences. We should be quite careful to dissociate eugenics from it — eugenics’ real concern should be with individual differences.

Any fair consideration of Cattell’s writings would reveal very little on the subject of race. The subject is rarely indexed in his core scientific books, if mentioned at all. In his books on philosophy, ethics, religion, and social problems, where Cattell mentions race, his views are far from “extreme.” One rare exception of expanded reflection on the subject is his chapter on “Nation and Race: Their Significance” in Psychology and Social Progress. Even here Cattell’s writing largely echoes the scientific milieu of its day. He recognizes race and racial differences as biological realities, but also goes out of his way to stress that any discussion of race should not be based on “a question of superiority and inferiority of races.” For a book published in 1933, one ironically could classify Psychology and Social Progress as projecting progressive ideas of the early twentieth century: religious skepticism, eugenics, birth control and the problem of dysgenic birth-rates, cultural decline, war and peace, nationalism, education, class divisions of rich and poor, etc.

Tucker repeatedly portrays Cattell as some racially consumed fascist ideologue, noting

In fact, despite his personal charm, Cattell’s ideological thought — from his evolutionary ethics in the 1930s to its refinements as Beyondism four decades later —was essentially an intellectual justification for the form of fascism adopted by Nazi Germany and most pricelessly encapsulated by the phrase “totalitarian tribalism.”

This is simply Tucker’s way of projecting his own distorted views when describing what Cattell really believed, as if the psychologist was telegraphing his true sentiments in code to his fellow racialist comrades! It is the mindset of conspiracy mongers and “true believers” of multiracialism.

What Cattell actually stated about race, based on a passage in his first “Beyondism” volume, not only contradicts Tucker’s selective and distorted interpretation but frames egalitarian ethical assumptions of “racism” in perspective,

In accordance with good dictionary practice we may define a racist as one who asserts the superiority of his own race or people, without perception of the inherent impossibility, in our ignorance, of making such a value assertion. But both contra-suggestibility and the departures from objectivity due to the pleasure principle have developed a sect equally prejudiced in the opposite direction. These bigoted individuals may be called ignoracists because in recent years they have totally refused to consider the scientific possibility that races may show statistically significant differences. An open and enquiring mind must accept the possibility that observed differences of culturo-racial groups could be as significant in inherited components of, for example, mental capacity and temperament as in the historically acquired cultural features. Both racism and ignoracism are extreme and dangerous fallacies equally unable to lead to happy and realistic solutions of our problems. Beyondism calls for a more mature attitude than exists in either. It demands as a first act of respect the reality principle that human beings recognize equally the cultural and genetic origins of individual and group differences, and build an ethics of progress on that basis. [emphasis in original]

In a Chicago Tribune article on the decision to postpone the Lifetime Achievement Award, when asked about his self-described “Beyondism” perspective, Cattell said that “important policy decisions should be based on scientific information and knowledge rather than prejudice, superstition or political pressure.”

John Horn summarizes Cattell’s Beyondist views in his obituary published in The American Psychologist,

Cattell’s writings on [Beyondism] are particularly revealing of his drive and character. In these works, as in his books of the 1930s, Cattell argued that morality should be based on science. Beyondism symbolized the idea that humans cannot know what will be required for continuance of their species in the future. Therefore, they should strive to live in accordance with evolutionary principles that maximize the chances of a survival of a species. They should encourage great variety —individual differences — among themselves, so that environmental stresses that might wipe out a homogeneous group would eliminate only some individuals, not all. To this Darwinian principle of survival of individuals, Cattell added the idea of survival of societies: Survival will accrue to societies that can adapt under changing conditions. There should be great variety in societies. Diverse groups should be left alone to pursue their own programs for building the “best” society. No group should dictate to any other, but with that proviso, no group need aid the survival of any other group.

As to the point about pressure to conform to the group, psychology professor and IQ author Robert Sternberg defended the work of prominent psychologists whom he often disagreed with, such as Arthur Jensen and Raymond Cattell, for defying conformity and pursuing productive independent careers. As an open-minded liberal, Sternberg argued that society has benefited from innovations of maverick geniuses. For Tucker and his ideological ilk (Barry Mehler, Abe Foxman, Andrew Winston, Mark Potok, Heidi Beirich, and others) maverick intellects who go against the grain of multiracial egalitarianism should not be recognized for an otherwise productive career as a respected pioneer.

Tucker and other Marxists pseudo-intellectuals have taken it upon themselves to serve as ideological filters — establishing subjective standards for deciphering which individuals are worth honoring and which are worth shunning. His denunciation of Cattell’s work, on the grounds that an “antisocial” and “destructive” ideology influenced his views, is chutzpah with a capital “C”. Ideology, not scientific inquiry nor integrity, fuels Tucker’s anti-Cattellian screed. The difference is that Tucker’s fundamental ideology when extended to logical extremes (totalitarian Bolshevism) is ultimately more deadly than the evolutionary ethics of Cattell’s “Beyondism.”

For a thorough refutation of Tucker’s previous writings on Cattell, visit John Gillis’s website.

Wikipedia offers a more balanced description of Cattell’s career.

The full interview with Cattell in the Eugenics Bulletin is here.

The Cattell family maintains a website in his honor that includes documents on the APA Lifetime Achievement Award, Cattell’s respoonse, etc. See here.

The Indiana University psychology website on Cattell's contribution to IQ research is reasonably balanced.

Kevin Lamb (email him), a freelance writer, is a former library assistant forNewsweek, managing editor of Human Events, and assistant editor of theEvans-Novak Political Report. He is the managing editor of The Social Contract.