Open Letter to Prof. Cattell
From Prof. John R. Nesselroade

 
Raymond Bernard Cattell
September 19, 1997


Dear Ray:

     The postponement of the American Psychological Foundation award for your lifetime contributions to the science of psychology has both saddened and angered me.  I was very pleased that Division 5 chose to honor you and others whose contributions to rigor and quantitative methods have been fundamental to the acquisition of whatever scientific respectability the study of behavior has attained.

     As you know from earlier interactions we have had, I do not accept the principal tenets of the  philosophy known as Beyondism.  I believe that evolutionary processes are more basic than human behavioral processes so, consequently, attempts by human beings to intervene in evolutionary processes are of highly doubtful value.  However oriented toward selection a human intervention might be intended, it seems to me that in the larger scheme the intervention can only contribute to the variation and not the selection column of the ledger.

     The fact that I disagree with your Beyondism viewpoint in no way denies the powerful and positive influence you have had on my career.  As a graduate student working in your laboratory during one of its most productive eras I saw the energy and tremendous creativity that you poured into your  science.  I experienced the sense of discovery and wonder as we tried to probe areas of ability, temperament, motivation, and group process using the tools of multivariate analysis that you helped to forge and implement with such insight.  I participated in celebrating the publication of books and articles documenting these advances.  I felt excitement when you worked to found the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology and launch its journal, Multivariate Behavioral Research.  I observed the scholarly exchanges you had with your colleagues regarding the interpretation and implications of empirical findings and marveled at how their resolution often led to further advances.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received my training with a mentor whose work truly mattered in the shaping of our discipline.

     Because it has been implied that you are a zealot, I want to put my perspective, born of experience, on the record.  In the six years I spent in your laboratory you never once talked to me of the Beyondism philosophy even though I believe I was as close to you as any of your graduate students during that decade.  Perhaps you recall, in June of 1967, after my dissertation was accepted by the graduate school, I accompanied you to Boulder, Colorado, where we opened your newly-built house and tried to complete some methodological publications.  Late one evening, sitting on the balcony overlooking the city 5,000 feet below, we had a conversation in which you first told me about your Beyondism ideas and your plans for a book about them.  You may not recall doing so, but several years before you had advised me not to bother reading philosophy because it was  nonsense" and had encouraged me to spend any reading time I had on the methods and substance of psychology.  The aspect of that Boulder conversation I remember most vividly was my sense that you seemed to be reading philosophy after telling me not to.  I also recall the thoughtfulness and balance, as well as the forcefulness of your thinking on these matters. I mention these experiences to counter the notion that you zealously promoted Beyondism.  I do recall seeing once in the outgoing mail that you apparently contributed to Planned Parenthood.  And I remember how some of us were amused--and  flattered--when you told us we should have more children.  But these are the only examples of behavior on your part aimed at influencing the gene pool that I can recall from six years in your laboratory.

     Concerning the matter of intellectual freedom it is my belief that, in the spirit of your fundamental commitment to the methods and practice of empirical science, Beyondism was presented as a set of concepts and ideas for debate and discussion.  I defend your right to speak your own mind for that purpose.  However, in the moment when one shifts from making science to making suggestions for public policy, the rules of evaluation and exchange alter dramatically.  I hope it will be possible to separate the two in this case, but it might not be with the topic so charged with emotion.  It is deeply regrettable that the ideas you consider worthy of debate were formulated and presented in a manner that is offensive and painful to so many.  It is equally regrettable that your daring to put forward untested ideas for debate has led to discounting the lifetime of peer-reviewed, established, and important contributions you have made to psychology's development as a science.

With my warmest regards,

John R. Nesselroade
Hugh Scott Hamilton Professor of Psychology
The University of Virginia
 
 
 
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