Burt, Tizards and hereditarianism

Most readers are probably aware of the fraud accusations against Cyril Burt on account of various claims, but in particular the repeated digits across populations and other numerical irregularities. There’s also the case of the supposed missing research assistants/coauthors. I came across a particularly illuminating account, worth sharing here:

The first public accusation of outright fraud appeared on October 24, 1976, in the London Sunday Times, under the striking headline: “Crucial Data Was Faked by Eminent Psychologist,” written by Oliver Gillie (1976a), the Times’s medical correspondent. Within days the story was repeated in the mass media around the world. Gillie followed with other sensational articles under headlines such as “the great IQ fraud” and “the scandal and the cover-up,” and a style replete with vilification—”outright fraud,” “fraudster,” “plagiarist of long standing.” ‘

These charges were not based on anything new involving Burt’s data, the peculiarities of which had already been pointed out two years earlier. They rested on the claim that Gibe had been unable either to locate in person or to find any trace of two women—Margaret Howard and J. Conway—who were credited with assisting Burt in his research on twins. Howard was a coauthor of one of Burt’s most important articles on twins and Conway was named as the sole author of an article that was actually written by Burt himself, according to his secretary. These two women could not be traced or even identified with certainty by anyone available for questioning who had been associated with Burt. The “missing ladies,” as Gillie called them, gave him licence to claim that Burt’s data were, as he put it, “faked”.

There is a sidelight to this story that has not yet been recorded anywhere. So, as an eyewitness, I think I should tell it. Although it may seem trivial, I think it is a clue to understanding much of what actually followed. It should be prefaced by two items of information: (1) Shortly before his Sunday Times expose on Burt, Gillie (1976b) published a popular book that took a strongly environmentalist stance and was antagonistic toward the idea of inherited differences in mental qualities; (2) Gillie credited Professor Jack Tizard (since deceased, but then a psychologist in London University’s Institute of Education) with helping him search for the “missing ladies.” Tizard, although he had scarcely known Burt personally, became an active participant in the attack on Burt, giving Gillie information and advice on how to go about it (see Joynson, 1989, pp. 283-288).

I was well acquainted with Tizard, having spent two years (1956-1958) in London in the same psychology department where Tizard was at that time. In frequent lunchtime conversations with him, I found him intensely political and, like so many other Communist [footnote: According to an interview with Tizard that appeared in the APA Monitor, Tizard was a member of the Communist party (Evans, 1977, p. 4)] intellectuals of that period, a “passionate egalitarian,” to use his wife’s characterization (as quoted by Joynson, 1989, p. 296). He was quite outspokenly antihereditarian and anti-Burtian. During the fol-lowing years, I saw Tizard occasionally on my visits to London.

On one such occasion, well before Gillie’s expose of Burt, I told Tizard about the recent publication of my 1974 summation of Burt’s kinship data and asked him if he knew anything about Burt’s assistants, Howard and Conway. I had already sought this information from several of Burt’s former associates, because I thought it would be interesting to talk with these women who were credited with collecting some of Burt’s data on twins. When I mentioned to Tizard that I had not yet come across anyone who knew anything about these women, except for having seen their names in Burt’s articles, his eyes veritably lit up. He excitedly said something to the effect that perhaps these women never existed at all and were just pure figments, and he loudly clapped his hands. His exclamation still rings vividly in my memory: “Wouldn’t it be great if it could be shown that Burt was really just an old fraud!” At that moment I thought, how perfectly his reaction epitomized wishful thinking about smashing Burt and ipso facto the whole hereditarian position.

Then, sure enough, the day after Girlie’s sensational charges of fraud in the Sunday Times, there appeared in The Times (October 25, 1976) an interview with Tizard, headed “Theories of IQ pioneer ‘completely discredited’.” It began: “The theory of Sir Cyril Burt… that man’s intelligence is largely caused by heredity was now completely discredited, Professor Jack Tizard, Professor of Child Development at London University, said yesterday…. Professor Tizard said the discrediting of Burt’s work cast doubt on his whole line of inquiry,” (Devlin, 1976).

This telling episode suggests that the main steam behind the attack on Burt may have been the fervent wish of environmentalists to discredit the theory of the polygenic inheritance of mental ability and all other behavioral traits of obvious personal, educational, and social importance. Such indeed was the leitmotiv in the popular press and TV, both in England and America. (It even predominates in accounts of Burt in some psychology textbooks.) Because ideological propaganda depends not on facts, but on images, impressions, and prejudices, the anti- Burt campaign naturally avoided the fact that Burt’s research was in line with the consensus of other expert studies on the heritability of IQ (Bouchard et al., 1990; Plomin, 1987, 1990). This key phenomenon was perfectly capsulized by Raymond Cattell (personal communication, 1979; also see Cattell, 1980): “The mass media conveyed to a large public that any inheritance of intelligence was a myth, and Burt became the effigy of behavior genetics, in whose burning all claims for genetic inequalities and differences hopefully went up in smoke.”

If you know your history, you may get an irking… Didn’t Tizard also publish something about adopted kids or something, something bad for hereditarianism? Yep:

  • Tizard, B. (1974). IQ and Race. Nature, 247(5439), 316.

But, hmm, the name is Barbara Tizard. Doesn’t fit, unless… Let’s check Jack Tizard’s Wikipedia.

In 1947 Tizard married Barbara Patricia, the daughter of Herbert Parker, a journalist. She was also a psychologist and the couple had three children, two boys (one of whom died in 1983) and a girl, and two adopted children, one boy, who died in 1975, and one girl. Barbara died in 2015 at the age of 88.[1]

Bingo. So, now we have the backstory. A probable communist couple with adopted kids (indicator of personal strong investment in environmentalism) decides to attack hereditarianism and launches a combined media and science attack on the heritability of IQ/race and IQ. One pushes questionable arguments to willing journalists, the other (reverse) p-hacks some data (n = 64) and publishes that.

The couple also published together:

PS. Note to self. Always read Jensen, even the obscure book chapters can have great content.

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  • James Thompson

    Interesting to look at all these disputes in the light of recent knowledge.