Cyril Burt: Biography of this English psychologist and geneticist

The twentieth century was a very important breakthrough for psychology thanks to various European and American authors.

On this occasion, we will review the life of one of the most famous English researchers through a biography of Cyril Burt. His contributions have been mixed up with a series of controversies that we will discover throughout this article, in which we will go through the biography of this author.

    Short biography of Cyril Burt

    Cyril Burt, full name Cyril Lodowic Burt, was born in 1883 in London, United Kingdom. His father was Dr Cyril Cecil Barrow Burt. The family moved to a small neighborhood in Stratford when Burt was a child. His father combined his education with a small business, a pharmacy, until he managed to become a doctor and go to work at Westminster Hospital in London.

    It was then that they moved to the capital and Cyril Burt studied at one of the city’s public schools. Working as a country doctor, his father sometimes took Cyril to accompany him on the roads between different villages. So he was able to check how fast he was learning. During some of these medical visits, they passed through the house of Darwin Galton, brother of the famous Sir Francis Galton.

    These visits brought the work of one of the most important British authors in history to the young Cyril Burt, increasingly drawn to the psychological discipline, to be able to hear firsthand the ideas and knowledge of this genius. especially he was struck by all of Francis Galton’s research on individual differences and statistical studies..

    Cyril Burt’s education continued, this time at King’s School, now Warwick School, and then completed his training at the prestigious Christ’s Hospital boarding school. After this step, it was time to go to college, and he made it to Oxford, specifically Jesus College. Here he had a background in classical subjects and immersed himself in both philosophy and psychology.

    One of his mentors was none other than William McDougall, one of the figures of social psychology of the time. It was he who instructed him in psychometric matters so that Cyril Burt could start working on what would be his first psychological tests. McDougall trained a whole generation of important psychologists because he not only emphasized Burt, but also figures such as May Smith, John Flügel and William Brown.

    Career as an educational psychologist

    Once authorized, he completed this training with the diploma which enabled him to exercise the teaching profession. In addition, William McDougall summoned him to collaborate on an ambitious study aimed at producing a national statistic on the mental and physical qualities of English citizens. Francis Galton himself was behind this idea, so somehow he was able to work alongside the two people who had influenced him the most.

    It was while conducting this research that Cyril Burt became deeply familiar with the concept of eugenics, which in turn led him to introduce authors such as Karl Pearson and Charles Spearman, the work would also be an influence. in the future. In 1908 he was already teaching psychology at the University of Liverpool. In this institution he had the opportunity to collaborate with Sir Charles Sherrington, Distinguished Neurophysiologist and Nobel Laureate.

    Cyril Burt start working on different tools to be able to measure variables such as intelligence and other skills of children, And took Spearman’s work on eugenics as the basis for it. One of his works, published in 1909, drew some rather controversial conclusions.

    The study said that the differences in performance between children from upper-class families, in private schools, compared to children from lower-class classes, who attended public schools, being greater than the first group, were due to genetic factors and therefore innate. This practically meant that the rich were naturally smarter than the poor.

      London City Council Psychologist

      In 1913, Cyril Burt was hired by the London City Council as a psychologist to apply his test batteries to different groups of children in order to discern which of them had an intellectual disability. During this task, he continued to collaborate with Charles Spearmen and therefore based his studies on eugenics.

      He also received help from members of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, some of them as brilliant as psychologist Winifred Raphael. Cyril Burt worked as a psychologist on city council for many years. During this time he published works such as Juvenile Delinquency, work that led to the establishment of the Center for the Clinical Guidance of Children in the District of Islington.

      From 1924, combined her work for city council with another job as a teacher of educational psychology at an institution called London Day Training College., In turn acting as a mentor.

      Internship at University College London and subsequent years

      But in 1931 he received such a large offer that it was worth completing his tenure in both institutions, taking nearly two decades on city council. The department of psychology of the University College London was due to direct, position that until then occupied the same Charles Spearman, reason why it became its successor.

      Cyril Burt, in addition to the president of this section, also acted as a teacher. In reality, among its most prominent students are later figures in the world of psychology as sons Hans Eysenck, Raymond Cattell, Chris Brand or Arthur Jensen.

      Although Cyril Burt’s career has been based on statistical psychology, he has also had some approaches to the field of psychoanalysis, a fact that can be seen in the fact that he has collaborated with the Tavistock Clinic, from this cut. Psychoanalysis.

      Cyril Burt’s reputation has grown steadily, and 1942 became the president of the British Society of Psychology. Only four years later, he received the distinction of sir, being the first psychologist to obtain this honor. It was a recognition of all his contributions and usefulness in the world of education, encouraging all children to have easier access to education.

      In 1951, he decided to end his professional career and retire. He lived another two decades, enjoying his retirement and publishing new works, until he finally ended his days in 1971, at the age of 88. The cause of death was cancer.

      The Burt case

      The death of Cyril Burt did not make his silhouette fall into oblivion, not by far. Soon after, his name started ringing again, and not for good, in what came to be known as the Burt Affair. It all began as a result of examining some of this author’s work in which he investigated cases of identical twins. and how intelligence was inherited.

      However, it was discovered that the records in this regard had been destroyed by Cyril Burt himself. This fact, coupled with a series of inconsistencies in the studies, which emerged through the research of Leon Kamin and Oliver Gillie, triggered quite an earthquake around Burt’s publications.

      It was concluded that much of the data used was expressly fabricated to support the assumptions made. In other words, that is to say these authors claimed that Cyril Burt had falsified the data in some of his investigations. Leslie Hearnshaw, the person who wrote his memoirs and who was also very close to him, suggested that the work Burt did from 1945 onwards was not reliable enough.

      Bill Tucker, another psychologist, comparing the results of Cyril Burt’s work with those of other similar work on twins, concluded that indeed the results must be falsified. However, others Professionals, in this case J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, believed Burt’s work to be reliable, but the search for these same authors was also questioned.

      Earl B. Hunt finds it difficult to conclude whether Cyril Burt’s performance was deliberate or rather was due to unconscious flaws in his procedure. In any case, he claims that the damage this scandal has done to the reputation of the science of genetics has been enormous and resulted in a great loss of research grants that inevitably delayed many important discoveries.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Fletcher, R. (1991). Science, ideology and media: the Cyril Burt scandal. Transaction editors.
      • Gieryn, TF, Figert, AE (1986). Scientists Protect Their Cognitive Authority: Sir Cyril Burt’s State Degradation Ceremony. The knowledge society. Springer.
      • Jensen, AR (1972). Sir Cyril Burt (1883-1971). Psychometry. Springer.
      • Joynson, RB (1989). The Burt case. Taylor and Frances / Routledge.
      • Samelson, F. (1992). Saving the reputation of Sir Cyril Burt. Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences.

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