Psychology, Eugenics, and the Case of Raymond B. Cattell

Introduction to Special Issue

Marvin J. McDonald
Trinity Western University

In the spring of 1996, CPA Section 25 launched a program at the annual conference of the Learned Societies Congress at Brock University. One element of that program, a symposium on psychology and eugenics organised by Section members, consisted of presentations by Michael Kral, Frederic Weizmann, and Marvin McDonald. Over the last two years, discussions about connections between psychology and eugenics have continued at the Section 25 meetings during the annual conventions of the Canadian Psychological Association. This special issue is a direct result of these continuing discussions.

Within the same time-frame, a controversy arose at the 1997 annual convention of the American Psychological Association that raised these connections in yet one more forum. Raymond B. Cattell was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Achievement in Psychological Science by the American Psychological Foundation. However, the award was contested based on Cattell's lifelong promotion of eugenics theory and policies. He was charged with racism, a charge he flatly denied. In the ensuing debate, Cattell and his work were defended by vocal supporters and a blue ribbon committee was struck to look into the allegations. (See the brief chronology of events at the close of this introduction).

The issues raised by the debate over Cattell's award reflect major themes in the ongoing examination of relationships between psychology and eugenics. For instance, the controversy over the Cattell award quickly became very heated, involving charges and countercharges of slipshod scholarship, vested interests, and ideological blindness. The political intensity of these issues is not unfamiliar to students of the histories of psychology and eugenics. This special issue was organised to further the exploration of psychology-eugenics interaction and to consider the controversies surrounding the Cattell award in that light.

In the summer of 1998, potential contributors to a special issue of the Bulletin were contacted and invited to examine fundamental facets of psychology- eugenics interaction with possible reference to the controversy over Cattell's award. The following "orienting questions" were sent to potential contributors to help delimit themes for the special issue.

General Questions:

1. What are the ethical responsibilities of psychology in honouring prominent psychologists? To what extent, and in what ways, are a psychologist's personal, political, and religious views relevant to evaluating that person's work as a scientist or a professional?

2. To what extent have changing climates of opinion shaped the expression of eugenics and related ideologies across the 20th century? How have eugenic views developed during this century?

3. How has the relationship between psychology and eugenics changed over the 20th century and how has it remained the same? How are eugenics, biological determinism, evolutionary biology, and behavioural genetics related conceptually, ideologically, and historically?

Specific Questions regarding Cattell:

1. Was the APA/APF right in reconsidering the award to Cattell?

2. How do Cattell's early eugenics writings compare with his later views on eugenics? What is the relevance of Beyondism in evaluating his academic work in psychology?

3. What forms of discourse frame our efforts to distinguish and evaluate facets of Cattell's life and work? What visions of scholarship and society are at stake in the Cattell "debate?"

As is evident from the essays to follow, these questions were designed to stimulate and connect reflections from our contributors rather than

constrain the range of considerations. But to understand the shape taken by the following collection of essays, another series of events should be considered.

As guest editor, I requested the participation of scholars unconnected with the Cattell debate as well as those who were actively involved in the controversy itself. I attempted to recruit contributors both from those scholars who actively objected to the award and those scholars who actively supported the award. A flurry of e-mail exchanges among potential contributors recapitulated several features of the Cattell controversy last year, including charges of inadequate scholarship. It soon became evident that some lifelong associates and supporters of Cattell, including Cattell family members, refused to write essays for a collection that included contributions from vocal opponents of the award. This stance pre-empted my editorial goal of including contributors who could offer perspectives on

Cattell's work informed by direct collaboration and long term familiarity.

The clearly stated reason for this refusal was to prevent any impression of implicitly endorsing the scholarship of those who actively objected to the award. Thus the "balance" brought to a debate by engaging respondents from opposing points of view is not attained for the Cattell controversy in these essays.

The following essays distinguish several important facets of psychology-eugenics interaction. Moreover, several of them make substantial advances in placing the Cattell controversy within a larger context.

McDonald highlights several conceptual frameworks required for thorough analysis of connections between psychology and eugenics. Winston and Mehler extend the historian's analysis to R. B. Cattell's activities in the last two decades. Tucker points out that many claims in eugenics are unrelated to scientific research or theory and makes the case specifically for Cattell's claims supporting racial separation. Wahlsten and Hunt are both active researchers in sub-disciplines of psychology directly related to eugenics debates. Their involvement in the institutional practices of honouring psychologists offers first-hand perspectives on eugenics in psychology. Weizmann's essay provides a fitting capstone to this issue summarising recent historical work showing that eugenics and mainstream

science have closer connections than is usually acknowledged. Overall, these essays help clarify our understanding of psychology-eugenics interaction and effectively broach the examples of R. B. Cattell and John M. MacEachran in that context.

A Basic Chronology of Events
Surrounding the Controversy over the APF Award
to Raymond B. Cattell


APF recognizes psychologist for lifetime achievement. (1997, July). APA Monitor, p. 48. Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science: Raymond B. Cattell. (1997, August). American Psychologist, 52, 797-799.

APA ANNUAL CONVENTION (Chicago, August 15-19, 1997)

It was announced that R. B. Cattell had been accused of racism and that the award would be withheld until the situation was clarified. Lifetime achievement award is questioned. (1997, September). APA Monitor.


Following the convention, a high volume of correspondence was exchanged. Many people reacted strongly. A blue-ribbon committee was formed in the fall of 1997. RBC's health deteriorated. RBC objected to the process followed by APA/APF and withdrew his name from consideration for the award. Cattell, R. B. (1997, December 13).

In the new year, the Blue Ribbon Committee was disbanded without completion of a report for the APF. RBC died in February and his obituary was published in March, 1998 in the APA Monitor: " Raymond B. Cattell dies". Available online: