The Burt Affair

598 Words3 Pages
This paper describes the interplay between research, theory, and personal belief based on the controversial work of British educational psychologist Sir Cyril Burt. During his career, he was considered an influential and esteemed psychologist. However, after his death his reputation became tarnished due to charges of fraudulent research practice. The controversy, known as “The Burt Affair,” refers to his alleged falsification of data to support his theory that heredity influences intelligence more than does environment. This controversy brings up a second question about the importance of research over theory and personal belief. Research rises above both theory and belief because it supports or undermines the theory being tested and may confirm or refute personal beliefs. Sir Cyril Burt’s personal belief that heredity trumps environment is a likely driving factor in the controversy. When a researcher such as Burt has a strong bias, he may compromise his research and integrity. This bias would cause him to manipulate research data to “support” both his personal belief and his theory of inherited intelligence. Burt’s research included intelligence test scores of monozygotic (“identical”) twins who were reared separately. The suspicious consistency of the correlation coefficients for the intelligence test scores of the monozygotic, or identical, twins in his studies (0.770, 0.771, and 0.771 for studies done in 1943, 1955, and 1966 respectively) provides one example of manipulation. High correlation coefficients indicate strong support for his hereditary theory. His critics expected to see a greater degree of variability in his coefficients as the numbers of sets of twins increased. The possible artificial increase of the sample space from 21 sets of twins in his 1955 study to 53 sets of twins in his 1966 study provides another example of manipulation. Investigators
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