Cyril Burt: biography of this English psychologist and geneticist.
A summary of the life of Cyril Burt, one of the great figures of the History of Psychology.
The 20th century was a very important advance for psychology thanks to different 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 were involved in a series of controversies that we will discover throughout this article, in which we will go through the biography of this author.
Brief biography of Cyril Burt
Cyril Burt, whose full name was Cyril Lodowic Burt, was born in 1883 in London, United Kingdom.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 went on to work at Westminster Hospital in London.
It was then that they moved to the capital and Cyril Burt was educated in one of the city's public schools. Working as a country doctor, his father would sometimes take Cyril with him to accompany him on routes between different villages. Thus he was able to see how quickly he learned. On some of these medical visits they passed 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 closer to the young Cyril Burt, who was increasingly attracted to the psychological discipline, being able to hear firsthand the ideas and knowledge of this genius. Especially He was attracted to all of Francis Galton's research related to 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 that stage, it was time for him to go to university, time came for him to enter university, and he did so at Oxford, specifically at Jesus College, where he studied at the University of Oxford.. Here he was trained in classical subjects and studied both philosophy and psychology in depth.
One of his mentors was none other than William McDougall, one of the leading figures in social psychology at the time. It was he who instructed him in psychometric matters so that Cyril Burt could begin work on what would become his first psychological tests. McDougall trained a whole generation of important psychologists, not only Burt, but also figures such as May Smith, John Flügel or William Brown.
Career as an educational psychologist
Once he graduated, he complemented this training with a diploma in educational psychology, he complemented this training with a diploma that qualified him to work as a teacher.. In addition, William McDougall called him to collaborate in an ambitious study that aimed to develop a national statistic on the mental and physical qualities of English citizens. Francis Galton himself was behind this idea, so in a way, he was able to work alongside the two people who had most influenced him.
It was while conducting this research that Cyril Burt became deeply acquainted with the concept of eugenics, which in turn led him to meet authors such as Karl Pearson and Charles Spearman, whose work would also be an influence on Burt in the future. By 1908, he was teaching psychology at the University of Liverpool. At this institution he had the opportunity to collaborate with Sir Charles Sherrington, an eminent neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate.eminent neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate.
Cyril Burt began to work on different tools to measure variables such as intelligence and other aptitudes of children.He took Spearman's work on eugenics as a basis. One of his works, published in 1909, established some rather controversial conclusions.
The study stated that the differences in performance between children from upper-class families in private schools compared to children from more modest classes who attended public schools, being superior for the first group, were due to genetic factors and were therefore innate. This meant, practically speaking, that rich people were naturally more intelligent than poor people.
London City Council psychologist
In 1913, Cyril Burt was hired by the London City Council itself as a psychologist, to apply his batteries of tests to different groups of children with the aim of discerning which of them had an intellectual disability. During this work, he continued to collaborate with Charles Spearmen and thus to draw on his studies on eugenics..
He was also assisted by members of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, some of them as brilliant as the psychologist Winifred Raphael. Cyril Burt worked as a psychologist for the City Council for many years. During that time he published works such as Juvenile Delinquency, a work that led to the creation of the Center for the Clinical Guidance of Children in the Islington district.
From 1924 onwards, He combined his work for the City Council with another job as a teacher of educational psychology in an institution called London Day Training College, acting as a counselor.acting in turn as a counselor.
Stage at University College London and final years
But in 1931 he received such an important offer that he ended his time at these two institutions, having been with the City Council for almost two decades. It was to head the psychology department at University College London, a position that until then had been held by Charles Spearman himself, so he became his successor.
Cyril Burt, in addition to the chairman of this section, also acted as a professor. In fact, among his most eminent among his most eminent students were later personalities in the world of psychology, such as Hans Eysenck, Hans Eysenck, Hans Eysenck, Hans Eysenck, Hans Eysenck such as Hans Eysenck, Raymond Cattell, Chris Brand and Arthur Jensen.
Although Cyril Burt's career was based on statistical psychology, he also had some approaches to the field of psychoanalysis, as can be seen by the fact that he collaborated with the Tavistock clinic, of this type, as well as with the British Psychoanalytical Society.
Cyril Burt's reputation continued to grow, and in 1942 he became president of the British Society of Psychoanalysis. in 1942 he became the president of the British Psychological Society.. Only four years later, he received the distinction of Sir, the first psychologist to be so honored. This was a recognition of all his contributions and his usefulness in the educational world, helping all children to have easier access to education.
In 1951, he decided to end his professional career and retired. He lived two more decades, enjoying retirement and publishing new works, until he finally ended his days in 1971, when he was 88 years old. The cause of death was cancer.
The Burt case
Cyril Burt's death did not make his figure fall into oblivion, far from it. Soon after, his name began to be heard again, and not for the better, in what became known as the Burt case. It all began as a result of a review of some of this author's work in which he investigated cases of identical twins and how intelligence was inherited. and how intelligence was inherited.
However, it was discovered that the records had been destroyed by Cyril Burt himself. This fact, together with a number of inconsistencies in the studies, which came to light through the investigations of Leon Kamin and Oliver Gillie, triggered an earthquake around Burt's publications.
It was concluded that much of the data used had been fabricated to support the hypotheses put forward. That is to say, these authors claimed that Cyril Burt had misrepresented the data in some of his research.. Leslie Hearnshaw, the person who wrote his memoirs and who was also very close to him, suggested that the work done by Burt after 1945 lacked sufficient reliability.
Bill Tucker, another psychologist, comparing the results of Cyril Burt's work with those of other similar work on twins, concluded that the results must indeed be falsified. However, other professionals, in this case, J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, did believe that Burt's work was reliable, but the research of these same authors was also questioned.
Earl B. Hunt considers that it is difficult to conclude whether Cyril Burt's actions were deliberate or rather due to unconscious flaws in the way he proceeded. En cualquier caso, afirma que el daño que este escándalo supuso a la reputación de la ciencia de la genética fue enorme y se tradujo en una gran pérdida de subvenciones para la investigación que, inevitablemente, pospusieron muchos descubrimientos importantes.
- Fletcher, R. (1991). Science, ideology, and the media: The Cyril Burt scandal. Transaction Publishers.
- Gieryn, T.F., Figert, A.E. (1986). Scientists protect their cognitive authority: The status degradation ceremony of sir Cyril Burt. The knowledge society. Springer.
- Jensen, A.R. (1972). Sir Cyril Burt (1883–1971). Psychometrika. Springer.
- Joynson, R. B. (1989). The Burt affair. Taylor & Frances / Routledge.
- Samelson, F. (1992). Rescuing the reputation of Sir Cyril Burt. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)