Psychology, Eugenics, and
the Case of Raymond B. Cattell
Marvin J. McDonald
Trinity Western University
In the spring of 1996, CPA Section 25 launched
a program at the annual conference of the Learned Societies Congress
at Brock University. One element of that program, a symposium
on psychology and eugenics organised by Section members, consisted
of presentations by Michael Kral, Frederic Weizmann, and Marvin
McDonald. Over the last two years, discussions about connections
between psychology and eugenics have continued at the Section
25 meetings during the annual conventions of the Canadian Psychological
Association. This special issue is a direct result of these continuing
Within the same time-frame, a controversy arose
at the 1997 annual convention of the American Psychological Association
that raised these connections in yet one more forum. Raymond B.
Cattell was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal Award for Lifetime
Achievement in Psychological Science by the American Psychological
Foundation. However, the award was contested based on Cattell's
lifelong promotion of eugenics theory and policies. He was charged
with racism, a charge he flatly denied. In the ensuing debate,
Cattell and his work were defended by vocal supporters and a blue
ribbon committee was struck to look into the allegations. (See
the brief chronology of events at the close of this introduction).
The issues raised by the debate over Cattell's
award reflect major themes in the ongoing examination of relationships
between psychology and eugenics. For instance, the controversy
over the Cattell award quickly became very heated, involving charges
and countercharges of slipshod scholarship, vested interests,
and ideological blindness. The political intensity of these issues
is not unfamiliar to students of the histories of psychology and
eugenics. This special issue was organised to further the exploration
of psychology-eugenics interaction and to consider the controversies
surrounding the Cattell award in that light.
In the summer of 1998, potential contributors
to a special issue of the Bulletin were contacted and invited
to examine fundamental facets of psychology- eugenics interaction
with possible reference to the controversy over Cattell's award.
The following "orienting questions" were sent to potential
contributors to help delimit themes for the special issue.
1. What are the ethical responsibilities of psychology
in honouring prominent psychologists? To what extent, and in what
ways, are a psychologist's personal, political, and religious
views relevant to evaluating that person's work as a scientist
or a professional?
2. To what extent have changing climates of opinion
shaped the expression of eugenics and related ideologies across
the 20th century? How have eugenic views developed during this
3. How has the relationship between psychology
and eugenics changed over the 20th century and how has it remained
the same? How are eugenics, biological determinism, evolutionary
biology, and behavioural genetics related conceptually, ideologically,
Specific Questions regarding Cattell:
1. Was the APA/APF right in reconsidering the
award to Cattell?
2. How do Cattell's early eugenics writings compare
with his later views on eugenics? What is the relevance of Beyondism
in evaluating his academic work in psychology?
3. What forms of discourse frame our efforts to
distinguish and evaluate facets of Cattell's life and work? What
visions of scholarship and society are at stake in the Cattell
As is evident from the essays to follow, these
questions were designed to stimulate and connect reflections from
our contributors rather than
constrain the range of considerations. But to
understand the shape taken by the following collection of essays,
another series of events should be considered.
As guest editor, I requested the participation
of scholars unconnected with the Cattell debate as well as those
who were actively involved in the controversy itself. I attempted
to recruit contributors both from those scholars who actively
objected to the award and those scholars who actively supported
the award. A flurry of e-mail exchanges among potential contributors
recapitulated several features of the Cattell controversy last
year, including charges of inadequate scholarship. It soon became
evident that some lifelong associates and supporters of Cattell,
including Cattell family members, refused to write essays for
a collection that included contributions from vocal opponents
of the award. This stance pre-empted my editorial goal of including
contributors who could offer perspectives on
Cattell's work informed by direct collaboration
and long term familiarity.
The clearly stated reason for this refusal was
to prevent any impression of implicitly endorsing the scholarship
of those who actively objected to the award. Thus the "balance"
brought to a debate by engaging respondents from opposing points
of view is not attained for the Cattell controversy in these essays.
The following essays distinguish several important
facets of psychology-eugenics interaction. Moreover, several of
them make substantial advances in placing the Cattell controversy
within a larger context.
McDonald highlights several conceptual frameworks
required for thorough analysis of connections between psychology
and eugenics. Winston and Mehler extend the historian's analysis
to R. B. Cattell's activities in the last two decades. Tucker
points out that many claims in eugenics are unrelated to scientific
research or theory and makes the case specifically for Cattell's
claims supporting racial separation. Wahlsten and Hunt are both
active researchers in sub-disciplines of psychology directly related
to eugenics debates. Their involvement in the institutional practices
of honouring psychologists offers first-hand perspectives on eugenics
in psychology. Weizmann's essay provides a fitting capstone to
this issue summarising recent historical work showing that eugenics
science have closer connections than is usually
acknowledged. Overall, these essays help clarify our understanding
of psychology-eugenics interaction and effectively broach the
examples of R. B. Cattell and John M. MacEachran in that context.
A Basic Chronology of
Surrounding the Controversy over the APF Award
to Raymond B. Cattell
ANNOUNCEMENT OF AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION
APF recognizes psychologist for lifetime achievement.
(1997, July). APA Monitor, p. 48. Gold Medal Award for
Life Achievement in Psychological Science: Raymond B. Cattell.
(1997, August). American Psychologist, 52, 797-799.
APA ANNUAL CONVENTION (Chicago, August 15-19,
It was announced that R. B. Cattell had been accused
of racism and that the award would be withheld until the situation
was clarified. Lifetime achievement award is questioned. (1997,
September). APA Monitor.
REACTIONS TO THE WITHHOLDING OF THE AWARD
Following the convention, a high volume of correspondence
was exchanged. Many people reacted strongly. A blue-ribbon committee
was formed in the fall of 1997. RBC's health deteriorated. RBC
objected to the process followed by APA/APF and withdrew his name
from consideration for the award. Cattell, R. B. (1997, December
In the new year, the Blue Ribbon Committee was
disbanded without completion of a report for the APF. RBC died
in February and his obituary was published in March, 1998 in the
APA Monitor: " Raymond B. Cattell dies". Available