Conceptual Orienteering in Minefields
Marvin J. McDonald, Trinity
The key objective of the special issue is to
identify a range of viable approaches to the understanding of
psychology-eugenics relationships in general and the case of Raymond
Cattell's eugenics in particular. As a
preliminary step in that direction, the following
conceptual frameworks are summarised as promising means for exploring
the these relationships.
1. Research Ethics and Standards of Scholarship
Over the last several years, controversies about
manufactured data, plagiarism, and other instances of misconduct
have resulted in policy development and publications making explicit
what had been largely implicit codes of conduct among scientists.
For example, Macrina's (1995) text was published by the American
Society for Microbiology as a resource in socialising academics
and graduate students to professional research ethics. Such publications
often presume that scholarly standards are held in common by most
The Sir Cyril Burt controversy is another example
of a research ethics debate that seems to have evaded resolution
by scholarly consensus for more than 20 years despite systematic
attention by numerous competent scholars (Samelson, 1997). In
such instances important issues arise about the scope and standards
of scholarship more broadly. Perhaps differences in positions
and assumptions can be more important than the quality of scholarship
in accounting for "persistently unresolved" controversy.
Although charges of poor scholarship are easy to come by amidst
academic controversies, it is less common to find thorough analysis
and documentation of entire exchanges in polarised academic debates.
And even in arguments buttressed by systematic documentation and
argumentation, it is sometimes difficult to find explicit distinctions
between (a) disagreements grounded in incompatible assumptions
or values, (b) incompetent scholarship as assessed by defensible
standards, and (c) defences of scholarly standards per se.
Personal integrity generally involves consistency between a scholar's
own standards and his or her work.
2. Interdisciplinarity and Technical Sophistication
Another key element to controversies involving
eugenics is the relationships among various scientific disciplines
and eugenics. If eugenics is characterised as a social policy
of selective human breeding to enhance human genetic makeup, then
a tremendous range of disciplines can be relevant to such policy
proposals. In addition to psychology, one would consider behaviour
genetics, sociobiology, anthropology, medicine, evolutionary biology,
multivariate methodology, neuroscience, biotechnology, history
and philosophy of science, political studies, and so on. If a
high degree of technical sophistication is required in all these
disciplines, then the simple quantity of considerations becomes
a barrier to monitoring and evaluating such debates.
For example, several authors in a special issue
on "uses and abuses" of genetics (Hirsch, 1997) emphasised
high levels of technical expertise required to evaluate and critique
positions adopted by various prominent scientists. But how are
scholars to adjudicate claims about the relevance or irrelevance
of technical considerations? Traditional criteria such as accepting
the judgements of prominent experts become problematic when co-ordinating
competing claims across multiple experts, multiple disciplines,
and diverse research programs. In short, the interdisciplinary
scope of eugenics debates can become a barrier to evaluation of
arguments and to consensus building. The limited success of
"expertise-based" responses to controversies
involving eugenics, intelligence, and race, for example, can be
identified through the impact of previous debates (see, e.g.,
Dobzhansky, 1973, or Loehlin, Lindzey, & Spuhler, 1975, from
exchanges in the early 1970s) or through the analysis of continuing
publications in the aftermath of the "Bell Curve" controversies.
3. Scholarly Style
For instance, John Horn, editor of the "evaluative"
Festschrift for R. B. Cattell published in Multivariate Behavioral
Research (Horn, 1984, p. 115), has characterised Cattell's
intellectual strategy, his writing style, and his reception by
other scholars (see especially the introductory and closing essays
by Horn). As an overview by someone who is familiar with both
the author and his scholarship, Horn's comments provide a useful
orientation to his work. And though generalisations should not
be overextended, Horn suggests that Cattell's intellectual and
writing styles sometimes lead to misunderstandings by readers
and to errors of detail in his own writings. The multidisciplinary
breadth, technical sophistication, and scholarly style of Cattell's
work provide challenges to the evaluative task and at times may
necessitate detailed analyses to determine when one can effectively
distinguish between stylistic, substantive, and ideological concerns.
The same kinds of questions are often useful to raise for many
scholars whose work bears on psychology-eugenics interactions.
4. Science and Values
A favourite after-hours debate in the academy
in recent years revolves around disagreements about "political
correctness," the relationships between politics and science,
and related boundaries. The special issue on political correctness
in the CPA journal Canadian Psychology last year provides
a case in point of efforts to advance the debate (Gauthier, 1997).
An exchange on these issues addressing a charge of illegitimate
influence on scientific practice emerges in the
essays by Philip Rushton (1996) and Andrew Winston (1996). "Science
wars" is a somewhat broader rubric that involves many of
the same issues as political correctness, but can also include
questions about the status of "postmodernism" as an
academic and intellectual "school" or movement. These
instances illustrate efforts to explore important issues in scholarly
fashions amidst contention and political wrangling. Moreover,
these concerns involve participants outside the academy, raising
questions about values undergirding scholarship and science. Although
it may be naive to presume that adequate scholarship per se
"resolves" debates involving ideological and political
differences, more "intermediate" goals can be established
such as clarifying the questions under examination and delimiting
potential arenas of agreement. Explicit identification of assumptions
and ideological commitments at stake in a particular debate can,
by intermediate criteria, be counted as "advancing"
a discussion even when the broader questions involve social policy
and political action.
5. Social Responsibility
Is psychologists' involvement in social policy,
politics, and social action completely independent of their responsibilities
as scientists and professionals? The current APA Ethics Code,
for example, tries to balance both social responsibility and personal
freedom on points of this kind (see, for example, the Introduction,
paragraph 5; General Principles B, C, D; Preamble; Standard 1.01;
APA, 1992). When leading Alberta psychologists such as John MacEachran
and W. R. N. Blair participated on the Eugenics Board of Alberta,
their involvement cannot easily be dismissed as merely "private
political interests" with no bearing on their professional
status as psychologists (McDonald, 1996a; Wahlsten, 1997). Due
allowance must be made for the
historical, disciplinary, and political contexts
of their actions, and mere "scapegoating" of individuals
provides little insight into the ways that eugenic policies led
to extensive abuses in Alberta. For instance, evaluating past
actions of psychologists should be informed by standards of professional
responsibility as they were understood at the time. On the other
hand, it is equally inappropriate to avoid any examination of
individual and institutional responsibility for those abuses simply
to avoid embarrassment or discomfort of prominent individuals
and institutions. Especially when psychologists rely on reputation
or offer judgements grounded in research and professional experience,
responsibility involves professional as well as personal standards.
6. Science Studies
An interdisciplinary arena of investigation has
emerged in recent decades drawing on the disciplinary contributions
of the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. The institutional
elements of journals, professional societies, and graduate programs
of study have emerged by now, pointing to some success as an interdisciplinary
field. Scholars in science and technology studies have taken an
interest in scientific controversies themselves (e.g., Brante,
Fuller, & Lynch, 1993). In Brante's (1993) terms, psychology-eugenics
controversies are "science-based" controversies since
they include political and policy issues related to eugenics.
Of course, much relevant work is done by scholars in these fields
without explicitly adopting an STS designation, such as Porter's
(1995) analysis of the social, intellectual, and historical contexts
of statistics and quantification in psychology (IQ testing) and
other fields. Work on psychology's disciplinary development has
addressed a number of important concerns necessary for examining
relations between psychology and eugenics. For example, Danziger's
(1997) overview of recent work on psychological "categories"
like intelligence, variables and personality explicitly addresses
interactions between ideology and theory in psychology's history.
In brief, historians, philosophers, and sociologists all provide
scholarly frameworks for understanding controversies in science,
and some analysts combine these disciplinary frameworks to develop
7. Science-Religion Interaction
Evolutionary theory often engages people, scientists
as well as others, at the level of religion, myth, and worldview,
and this significance can arise over and above its scientific
status and import. The so-called
"creation-evolution" controversies reflect
one facet of this interaction, while another side emerges in the
exploration of evolutionary ethics, evolutionary epistemology,
and naturalistic worldviews. Midgley (1985, 1992) has explored
naturalist appropriations of evolution, generating her own controversies
along the way. Cattell's religious and ethical system, Beyondism,
is an instance of an explicitly acknowledged interface among eugenics,
religion, and science. The interdisciplinary field of science
and religion (e.g., Barbour, 1997) can help formulate key issues
in this interface. Strenuous disagreements about values, religion,
and metaphysics are quite possible among scientists even when
they have similar theoretical frameworks, methodological practices,
and research expertise (McDonald,1996b). Scholarly examination
of interaction between religion and science relies on expertise
in the relevant scientific disciplines and in religious studies
in addition to the investigation of relevant philosophical, historical,
and social factors. Historically, we know that the influence of
religious commitments on natural scientists' work has enhanced
their science is some cases even while inhibiting scientific developments
in other instances (Brooke, 1991). And lastly, principles of religious
freedom and tolerance become relevant to examination of ideological
and political commitments of protagonists in psychology-eugenics
As an orienting exercise, these overlapping frameworks
help characterise directions taken by contributors to this issue
and can also help direct future study.
1. Standards of scholarship:
These essays do not emphasise research ethics.
As Hunt and Wahlsten point out, no one has raised any such questions
about Cattell, and MacEachran was not a researcher. And though
none of these essays focus on Cattells standards of scholarship
per se, that issue was central to the controversy over
publishing this special issue and the decision of Cattell associates
to refuse the invitation to contribute. This topic will no doubt
continue to be raised in the Cattell debate.
2. Interdisciplinary scholarship:
Tucker pointed out that technical, interdisciplinary
perspectives are not necessary for important questions in psychology-eugenics
debates. His point is important to recognise when involving non-scientists
in the evaluation of eugenics. It also raises the question of
how to approach controversies when the relevance of technical
considerations is itself at issue.
3. Scholarly style:
Hunt's emphasis on the choice of terms and their
influence on controversy highlights this concern. Insensitivity
can cloud substantive issues and create difficulties that could
be avoided with greater care.
4. Science and values:
Although charges of inappropriate influence of
values and ideology on scholarship arose in the email debate leading
up to this issue, that specific question is not dealt with extensively
in the present essays. Winston's essay does explore, however,
the organic connection between Cattell's science and his views
on eugenics over the last few decades.
5. Social responsibility:
Although we don't have formal theories of social
responsibility being proposed here, each author explicitly identifies
practical principles of responsibility in social policy and political
action by psychologists. Wahlsten, for example, illustrates his
standards for social responsibility through his participation
in the process of removing academic honours bestowed on John MacEachran.
6. Science studies:
Historical perspectives are clearly highlighted
in the work of each author, and several authors document specific
points with implications for eugenics. Weizmann highlights the
implications of historical work, arguing that eugenics was never
displaced by scientific advances in genetics and biology as is
often presumed. Mehler documents a specific aspect of Cattell's
recent involvement with eugenics proposals.
7. Science and religion:
None of the contributors considers Beyondism as
a religion directly, although most of them deal directly with
its implications for values, ethics, and/or politics. Given the
current interest in working out connections between evolutionary
theory and religion, this exploration will be but a matter of
Of course, the essays in this Bulletin do
not "resolve" the Cattell debate, nor do they offer
final words on connections between eugenics and psychology. Rather,
the editorial objectives guiding the conception and development
of the special issue are (a) to participate in a longer-term process
which eventually depolarises the issues; (b) to maintain respect
for all the protagonists in the controversy over the APF award,
including R. B. Cattell and his family; and (c) to give careful
consideration to a wide range of intellectually defensible positions.
A number of important positions are set out here, and additional
perspectives will continue to unfold as scholars examine the kinds
of questions which gave birth to the essays that follow.
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MARVIN J. MCDONALD, Ph.D., R. Psych., is Associate
Professor of Counselling Psychology at Trinity Western University.
His research interests include theoretical psychology, science
and religion, and elaboration of alternative assessment practices.
His recent most publication includes collaboration with a philosopher:
House, D. V., & McDonald, M. J. (1998). Realist
brains and virtual conversations: Morals, molecules, and meanings
in social constructionism. In W. E. Smythe (Ed.), Toward a
psychology of persons. New York: Erlbaum.