chapter  11
16 Pages

Cyril Burt: Fallible Judgments about Deception

ByRobert B. Joynson

This chapter discusses the social sciences in general, and psychology in particular. The British pioneer of educational psychology Cyril Burt was first publicly accused of scientific fraud. The posthumous condemnation of Burt destroyed his reputation, and undermined his life's work. In the aftermath of Burt's condemnation, the British Psychological Society organized a symposium to discuss "Burt's deceptions". The "regular technique" of science does not provide a rigid routine which, if slavishly followed, guarantees a valid outcome. There is always some latitude for fallible individual judgment, both in the application of the method and the interpretation of its findings. Andrew Huxley then said that he had sometimes asked himself whether any contemporary question could lead to a similarly dramatic and emotional confrontation between facts and values. He delivered a scathing denunciation of "scientists who regard the assumption of equal inherited ability which does not require experimental evidence to establish, because the conclusion might disagree with their social and political preconceptions".