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The Real Error of Cyril Burt

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1 The Real Error of Cyril Burt
Chapter 6 The Real Error of Cyril Burt

2 Cyril Burt and the hereditarian synthesis–The source of Burt’s uncompromising hereditarianism, Burt’s initial proof of “innateness,” Later arguments, Burt’s blindness & Burt’s political use of innateness Cyril Burt “Spearman’s successor” His life’s work was fixated on the notion that intelligence is heritable. Gould says: Burt’s conclusions were distorted, namely his proof that intelligence is innate The 1909 study is logically flawed, as well as statistically flawed.

3 1909 Study Burt selected forty-three boys from Oxford schools, thirty elementary school students, and thirteen upper-class boys from preparatory school. He administered tests to all of them. After the data was obtained, he had underqualified people rank the subjects in order of intelligence. Using the data, Burt looked for correlations among the categories, and concluded that upper-class boys were more intelligent than boys of a lower class. To measure the intelligence of the parents, Burt simply assumed it based on their professions and social standing.

4 He also discounted environmental factors for four reasons:
1. The poverty of the lower-middle-class boys cannot be severe enough to make a difference. (Unless they were poor to the point of starvation, it shouldn’t be a huge factor in their intellectual developments.) 2. He used his intuition to assume that the educative influences of home and social life seem small. 3. The character of the tests themselves is unrelated to environmental influence. 4. A retesting of the subjects eighteen months later produced no significant readjustment of ranks.

5 Gould praises Burt on the amount of caution he took when investigating topics OTHER than intelligence. (For example, Burt did a study on left-handedness, which he regarded as a motor disability. He studied a wide range of information, including Renaissance paintings, for the frequency of right-handedness. In the end, he gave up, and simply stated that there were just too many environmental factors to consider. Gould comments on this conclusion by noting that left-handedness is probably more likely to be a heritable trait than intelligence, yet, Burt managed to conduct an unbiased experiment.)

6 Burt’s Extension of Spearman’s Theory
Charles Spearman’s two-factor theory, the g and s, was created to study and generalize human-societal relationships. Cyril Burt wished to use this theory of his predecessor's to rank and sort pupils because they “had to be guided toward professions by identifying strengths and weaknesses in more specific areas” (316). Thus, Burt created the four-factor theory. g—the first component of correlation found in mental testing Group Factors—subordinate to g, but above s s—attributes of a single trait measured on all occasions Accidental Factors—attributes of a single trait measured on one occasion Group factors “cover different abilities according to their form of content” (317). These are used to find the mean (or best fit) of all vectors that describe behavior.

7 Burt on the Reification of Factors
Burt was a strong believer in reification and often thought of how things should be reified rather than of whether or not they should be. Spearman correlated the g to cerebral energy, but Burt identified it to be the cerebral cortex. Stephen J. Gould argues that Burt’s arguments lacked concrete evidence and that they were “sporadic, perfunctory, and peripheral” (319). Burt used the correlation in many of his arguments verbatim and failed to cite sources and provide any specific reason for relating the g with cortical properties. Spearman tried to find a physical location in the brain for factors extracted from mental testing, but Burt was not satisfied with that. He wanted to say definitively that factors exist in the human body. Over his long career, Burt related emotional and polarity traits to the body. Burt felt that every person should know what beauty was when he saw it. He bought birthday cards that ranged from his taste of elegant to ugly and asked pupils to rank the cards based on beauty. When the results did not come out as he had expected, Burt showed that he had a higher reality where the only beauty was the beauty that he saw.

8 Burt and the Political Uses of g
Burt felt strongly on using g as a determinant of deserved education. He was interested in comparing and sorting through different intelligences. Burt saw that a person’s general intelligence is almost entirely unchangeable, and he wanted to sort and rank pupils. He wrote reports for a test called 11+ which was administered to ten to eleven year-olds. Those who passed proved themselves worthy of higher education, but those who didn’t were worthy of skills training. Burt claimed that 11+ was liberal because it allowed special-needs children the same chance to prove themselves worthy as the regular children. As a result of 11+, 80% of pupils were branded unfit for intelligence. Those unworthy were sent to technical schools to be skilled-laborers.

9 L.L. Thurstone–Thurstone’s critique and reconstruction & The egalitarian interpretation of PMA’s
Thurstone argued that Spearman and Burt’s theories lose meaning graphically because they account for negative factoring Thurstone believed that there was no negative factoring, only zero factoring. Negative factors imply factors that have a detrimental effect on human development. This is wrong because factors can have a positive effect or none at all. Vector graphs would work a lot better because they can be readjusted and rotated to value in every factor equally. Called a simple structure because no information would be lost – only redistributed. PMA: primary mental abilities The abilities that every person has. They don’t change positions despite the amount of tests taken or type of tests taken. Thurstone came up with at least 7: V for Verbal Comprehension, W for word fluency, N for computational, S for spatial visualization, M for associate memory, P for perceptual speed, R for reasoning Eliminated g because PMAs were traits that had no hierarchy or a dominant general factor. Set up an egalitarian interpretation because every child was intelligent in their own way. They couldn’t be ranked on a single scale because there are multiple characters that each child could excel in. Emphasized individuality.

10 Spearman and Burt React
Spearman had originally incorporated his critics into his system; Thurstone was a different story. The “g” could vary from test to test, but Spearman maintained that it pointed in the same general direction. Thurstone argued PMA’s were in fixed positions, and Spearman and Burt’s factors weren’t real since they weren’t fixed. Thurstone’s primary mental abilities could be created by constructing a series of redundant tests that would establish vectors close to each other. Therefore, “PMA’s were also artifacts of chosen tests, not invariant vectors of mind.” PMA could actually be test-dependent since factor axes could increase infinitely with more tests (Pg ). Burt’s group factors were disparaged by Thurstone, saying that “negative abilities” cannot exist. In the end, the underlying was not solved; only used a different system of underlying assumptions and mathematics for the same data.

11 Oblique Axes Thurstone came up with the way of representing tests geometrically, yet he set his system up so that axes were perpendicular to each other. This implied that his axes were not correlated. He wished to place the axes as close as possible to clusters of vectors; yet with perpendicular axes, there was no way to achieve this. A possible reason- he wanted there to be no correlation to identify PMA’s. But correlated axes can be placed closer to clusters! Thurstone invented rotated axes and simple structure. He then starting using oblique simple structures. But wait! If the axes themselves are correlated, wouldn’t there be another general factor? Hmm…

12 Return of the “g” Thurstone discovered second order g, a way of saying that correlation coefficients between mental tests are positive. However, Thurstone and the factorists retained their distance. Spearman and Burt believed “g” must dominate, considering group factors secondary; Thurstone was the complete opposite. Thurstone and Spearman and Burt had different tastes regarding their interpretations. Burt and Spearman based their interpretation on the fact that “g” was real. But wait! There was a logical flaw. Reification of factors! In the end, positive correlation comes from conditions during childhood.

13 Thurstone and Factor Analysis
Factor analysis is used with crude data, when there are no firmly established principles. According to Thurstone, using “factor analysis as a primary method implies a deep ignorance of principles and causes.” Their desperate attempts to find correlations among things were the factorists’ only method of searching. Factor analysis is useful when experimentations are hard to conceive.

14 Epilogue: Arthur Jensen & Spearman’s g
Arthur Jensen, “America’s best known hereditarian” according to Gould, wrote an 800-page treatise defending g as a substantial and infallible measure of intelligence. He goes on to define intelligence as the g factor of a large battery of various mental tests. He shows that g correlates quite readily with famous scales of IQ for a large age range, adding supposed credibility to his argument. Noting the ubiquity of g, Jensen proposes ranking all living organisms, from the simplest of single-celled organisms to complex extraterrestrial life. Gould obviously despises this idea, as it implies a linearity of progress with intelligence as the main criterion, rather than the outward expansion of evolution into different species which are attuned for different environments and lifestyles. According to Gould, Jensen attempts to hide his own mistakes in judgment by criticizing the way in which L. L. Thurstone goes about his factor analysis, namely how he discards g as a secondary factor (one that is less indicative of intelligence than Jensen had originally thought). Gould closes by pointing out that g is (to his relief) still the main justification of hereditarian arguments for mean differences in IQ among populations, and that the fallacious g simply nullifies these arguments.

15 Gould’s ideas – Fodder for creationists?!
Robert Wright, a journalist and expert in evolutionary psychology, emphasizes the fact that Gould does not see evolution as a progressive phenomenon that inevitably leads to more and more complex organisms, but a series of random coin-flips that are as likely to cause organisms to become less complex as they are to become more complex; a sort of “drunken-man walk,” if you will. In that case, Wright states, the course of hominid evolution has been “the most serendipitous drunken walk in the history of drinking.” Through Gould’s eyes, an organism as complex as a human being is very unlikely to exist. Creationists also feel that way, and therefore use Gould’s reasoning as leverage to at least disassemble the theory of evolution (and, as an added bonus, give their own beliefs some credibility). Wright gives numerous examples of where positive feedback (and not simply random occurrence) govern the path of evolution, and effectively weakens Gould’s stance on evolution. He goes on to propose that Gould is cautious of pursuing more Darwinian ideas about evolution because of the social Darwinism that tainted those ideas in the early 20th century.

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