Thursday, 12 May 2016

In what way are Eysenck and Gottfredson alike?


I have very few claims to uniqueness. Casting about for a simulacrum of eminence the best I can do is to say that I was once the basis for a character in a play. But now another minor achievement comes to mind: I am among the relatively few people who have discussed psychological matters with Hans Eysenck and Linda Gottfredson, so I am uniquely placed to set readers a Similaries subtest item as to how these two intelligence researchers resemble each other. This is the sort of abstraction which should be a doddle for contemporary readers, boosted in superficial intellectual accomplishments by free milk, free education and above all freedom from the painful and demanding instances of hard labour which bedevilled our ancestors.

So, it was an unexpected pleasure to find that Linda Gottfredson had taken the trouble to go back to Eysenck’s early work on in intelligence so as to do a little conceptual archaeology.

Gottfredson, in reviewing Eysenck’s work on intelligence, has also reviewed the conceptual, cultural and political issues which have bedevilled the proper evaluation of the evidence on mental ability. She takes us, decade by decade, through the main debates, the advances and the setbacks. She sees Eysenck as someone who simply knew that intelligence was primarily about the biology of the brain, and this fundamental ability radiated into all other human behaviours.

Eysenck on g

There is a great deal of interest in this historical overview, which also serves as a summary of the main findings about intelligence, with a particular emphasis on Gottfredson’s main contribution: what intelligence means in real life. Her summaries come as a surprise even to many practising clinical psychologists.

As regards this essay, here is Gottfredson summing up on Eysenck and his contribution to intelligence research:

He (Eysenck, 1986,pp. 396) persisted despite sometimes fierce and abusive opposition, never answering in kind but always with scientific logic and evidence: “It has always seemed to me that much of what I had to say was so obvious that it should hardly have needed saying.....I feel that I have really acted the part of the child in the fairy-tale of the Emperor's new clothes.”

What Eysenck (1973a, pp. 17) said about the great early 20th-century geneticist, J. B. S. Haldane, applies to him as well: “A great scientist sniffs out the truth even from partial and often insufficient evidence.

How are Eysenck and Gottfredson alike? They do not fear being independent seekers of the truth. Eysenck did it because he was interested in cutting through the nonsense spouted by inferior intellects, whom he relished winding up. He taunted them for his amusement, and for the edification of the intelligent laymen whom they had deluded with their obfuscations. Gottfredson did it because she hated evasion and doggedly advanced the case for the explanatory power of intelligence, particularly in terms of training requirements and occupational demands.

Eysenck sought the battle, enjoying seeing his adversaries agitated and stripped of their weak arguments. Gottfredson did not seek battle, but did not run from it when it came to her.

Brave researchers.

However, although this in no part of a Similarities test, there is an important way in which they differ: in the later part of his career Eysenck became silly, advancing weak causes out of  boredom, or for research funds. Gottfredson has become even wiser, and it is a pleasure to read her thoughtful essay.


  1. Eysenck's paperbacks (Pelican) were a tremendous read at the time. It doesn't seem to me that things have advanced much in the intervening fifty years, in the sense that the evidence still points overwhelmingly in the direction of his having been right on the big issues.

    It's a bit like finding the Higgs Boson: people made a great fuss, but it would have been far more exciting if it hadn't turned up - that would have required a rewrite of Particle Physics. What did happen was more like Amundsen and Scott reaching the South Pole - hell, we knew it was there anyway.

    I suppose the next big advance in IQ is likely to come from genetics. The baby steps so far leave me cold, but the work is (I assume) difficult, and it's never knowable when suddenly a big discovery will be made. It's even more difficult to know whether anyone would have the balls to publish it, or the cunning to drip it out sugar-coated, as I suspect Pinker does sometimes.

    Meantime, I remain grateful to Dr T for his efforts. Hats off, Sir.

    1. Thanks. Big advance recently, with the full version of the James Lee paper now published (first described at Albuquerque conference) which takes the SNPs into the 80 region. That, plus the singleton density measure is changing the field very rapidly.

  2. "In what way are Eysenck and Gottfredson alike?" Or unalike? I imagine that Eysenck knew that it wasn't Edison who invented the light bulb.

    1. Please pardon my poor manners: I should have said that I admired Gottfredson's essay. Hats off to her too.

  3. One of the most curious dead ends in psychology is Eysenck's cortical arousal theory of introversion and extroversion--essentially that extroverts have higher thresholds of arousal so have to make a nuisance of themselves at parties or take up base jumping just to feel normal. It seems such a promising idea, but it went nowhere. Thoughts?

  4. @Rolfe - I think Eysenck was broadly correct, but modern personality researchers don't understand extraversion - they think it has to do with being sociable. But (by Eysenck's understanding) Autists/ Asperger's syndrome individuals are often extreme extraverts: