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The Cattell Controversy: Race, Science, and Ideology Hardcover – March 20, 2009
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“A thought provoking and systematically laid out argument. . . . Recommended reading to anyone with an interest in the history of the relationship between scientific methods, Western politics and culture.”--Leonardo On-Line
Raymond Cattell, the father of personality trait measurement, was one of the most influential psychologists in the twentieth century, with a professional career that spanned almost seventy years. In August 1997, the American Psychological Association announced that Cattell had been selected the recipient of the American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science. Then, only two days before the scheduled ceremony, the APF abruptly postponed the presentation of the award due to concerns involving Cattell's views on racial segregation and eugenics. In addition to his mainstream research, in his publications Cattell had also posited evolutionary progress as the ultimate goal of human existence and argued that scientific criteria should be used to distinguish "successful" from "failing" racial groups so that the latter might be gradually "phased out" by non-violent methods such as regulation of birth control.
The Cattell Controversy discusses the controversy that arose within the field in response to the award's postponement, after which Cattell withdrew his name from consideration for the award but insisted that his position had been distorted by taking statements out of context. Reflecting on these events, William H. Tucker concludes with a discussion of the complex question of whether and how a scientist's ideological views should ever be a relevant factor in determining the value of his or her contributions to the field.
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What followed was a year-long controversy over Cattell's views and the appropriateness of honoring a man for his scientific achievements and ignoring his social and political views. The controversy raged across the U.S. and Europe in both academic circles and the popular media, dying down only after Dr. Cattell passed away in February 1998. In this engrossing book, Tucker sets out to examine in detail the historical context of this controversy.
Two facts are incontrovertible: Cattell was a brilliant academic and a major fascist ideologue. Cattell was an early and enthusiastic supporter of German national socialism and formulated his fascist notions as Hitler rose to power in Germany. Despite the revelations of the Holocaust, Cattell continued to argue the case for the elimination of inferior races, coining the term, "genthanasia," in the 1970s to refer to the intentional phasing out of inferior racial, ethnic and national groups. Here was a man whose entire academic career was devoted to the propagation of some of the most destructive ideas of the twentieth century and no one in the academic establishment seemed to notice. Those who were close to him and were familiar with his social thought, either found them unobjectionable or quietly supported them.
It is truly remarkable, the extent to which Cattell's academic career remained untarred by his racist, pro-Nazi politics. During a career that lasted over sixty years, no one publicly challenged him. It was as if the man lived in two different worlds. In the world of academia, he was honored for his statistical abilities and imaginative application of statistics to quantify personality. In a wholly separate world - a demimonde of radical eugenists and neo-fascists that includes such associates as Revilo Oliver, Roger Pearson, Wilmot Robertson and Robert K. Graham - he was honored as an original thinker who used his academic position to help legitimize the notion that superior races had an obligation to eliminate inferior races.
This book is a major contribution to our understanding of an important figure in twentieth century psychology and contemporary social theory. It is an attempt to understand "how one of the most eminent research psychologists of the 20th century was at the same time a proponent of a belief system that... actively encouraged practices in conflict with both constitutional guarantees of equality and generally accepted notions of human rights." In the service of this attempt, Tucker has unearthed a huge corpus of materials that have been generally neglected. With a superb command of his subject and a writing style that is clear and logical, he has gone through all of Cattell's significant work and, without oversimplifying, has clarified Cattell's ideology with great skill. Anyone who has read Cattell, even his most ardent defenders admit that it is no small task to bring clarity to Cattell's work.
Anyone interested in the study of racism in American society will find this book a fascinating read and because of it's accessibility it could be used in undergraduate courses that focus on social issues in psychology and racism in America. It certainly ought to have a place in graduate courses in American history, intellectual history and psychology.