The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, September 03, 2007

IQ and the Politics of Science

IQ has been a contentious issue since it was developed in the early part of the twentieth century. The most common reason for contention has been the connection between IQ and genetics.

One of the early pioneers on the matter of IQ and genetics was Cyril Burt. You may have heard of him - and what you may have heard may not be entirely flattering - yet...have you been misinformed?

Cyril Burt was born in 1883 and his heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s. His work pioneered not only the question of genetics in IQ but also the sociological factors involved in poor school achievement and his work called attention to such matters, which seem obvious now, of poverty, overcrowding and the like. At the time, however, it was fresh work.

This is not why he is most famous, however - or infamous, for that matter. His work on the heritability of IQ is what led him into trouble. He published some studies of twins raised apart - and therefore growing up in different environments. If IQ was environmentally determined, one would expect that there would be little correlation, therefore, between their IQs. What his results showed, however, was that the correlation was very high indeed: a correlation of 0.77, in which a correlation of 1.0 would indicate identity of IQs.

This result caused an outcry among his environmental (nurture type) opponents. They were just not willing to accept his results. In due course, in 1973, Leon Kamin, then at Princeton University, cried "fraud" and stated that the fact that his correlation remained unchanged despite moving from 15 pairs of twins in 1943 to 53 pairs of twins in 1966, remaining at 0.77, once rounded off, indicated that the results were fraudulent.

The whole world joined in the ambush with even newspapers as eminent as The Sunday Times in England calling him a fraud and pounding his reputation into the ground. Cyril Burt was destroyed by this.

One curious accusation levelled against Cyril Burt was that his two assistants, referred to in his work, never existed. The charge was that he made up his assistants to lend corroboration to his work - which they also said he made up.

However, in 1989, a re-examination of the case against Burt by Robert B. Johnson, showed that the "evidence" was ill-founded and that it was most certainly not proven.

Tellingly, there have since been five other studies of monozygotic twins raised apart. The average IQ correlation shown in these studies is 0.75. This is remarkably similar to Burt's "fraudulent" results of 0.77. For a "fraud" his work is spot-on: how strange.

The worst part of this case though was what happened immediately after Cyril Burt's death in 1971. Liam Hudson, one of Cyril Burt's greatest enemies and most outspoken opponents rushed around to his house. Now, do you think he went there to express his sorrow? No. I am afraid not. He went there to instruct Burt's secretary-housekeeper to burn Burt's data and papers - which she duly did. Liam Hudson, Burt's opponent, personally oversaw the destruction of as much of Burt's lifework as he could.

This act appals me as much as the burning of the Library of Alexandria by the ignorant Romans.
The question is: why wasn't Liam Hudson sentenced to life in prison? He should have been for destroying the scientific work of a lifetime - but, as far as I am aware, nothing happened to him at all. He should still be in prison - but he never set foot in the place.

The other question is: why would Liam Hudson destroy Burt's work? If he genuinely believed Burt to be wrong about the hereditability of IQ, as he said, publicly, what would he have to fear from Burt's data? Clearly, though he spoke against it, he believed that Burt's data was correct and that IQ was highly heritable - otherwise he would have no motive to destroy the data set laboriously collected over a lifetime. The whole matter is absolutely shameful.

As for those mysterious "non-existent" assistants, both were later located. However, no newspaper, that I know of, published an apology for their accusations that these two people had been nothing but fiction.

This whole case tells us much of the danger of politics infecting science. Science should be pursued for the truth - whatever that is. No-one should try to impose the answer they want onto the world - or the data. Burt's opponents strongly believed that environment was all. Yet, Burt's studies showed IQ to be almost entirely hereditary. Instead of performing experiments of their own to investigate the matter - they set about with ad hominem attacks - to destroy his reputation and then, upon his death, one of them destroyed his lifework and data.

Politics should have no part in science. That which is not purely scientific should not be considered - for when it is, the truth is murdered.

Ultimately, Burt's conclusions have been verified by five other independent studies which all came to the exact same conclusion he had. There seems to be little mileage, therefore, in the idea that he was nothing but a fraud. He had, after all, stated the right answer.

So, the next time you see a scientist - or other seeker of the truth - being publicly vilified, look at who is doing the accusing - and ask why? Is it science or politics that drives them? If it is the latter, then you should have a pretty good idea of where the truth actually lies.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and nine months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and two months, and Tiarnan, nineteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:40 PM 


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