Prof. Ralph Mason Dreger 
Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Louisiana State University
and 
Prof. Irwin A. Berg
          Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Dean (Retired), College of Arts & Sciences, Louisiana State University

 

Raymond Bernard Cattell

Raymond Bernard Cattell
(1905-1998)



    Numerous psychologists from all over the world have judged that Raymond B. Cattell was one of the half dozen greatest psychologists of the twentieth century.  On the other hand, few psychologists have engendered greater execration, and none, so far as we know, has been so publicly humiliated by the organization representing American psychology as was he.  What manner of psychologist and what manner of man was this Cattell to receive such diametrically opposite judgments?

    There is little doubt that even Ray Cattell's enemies would grant that he produced more in quantity of scholarly publications than the vast majority of psychologists in this or any century.  They might even concede that his innovative contributions exceed those of all but a very few.  For sheer volume of books (50) from reputable publishers, articles (well over 500) in juried journals, and widely-used measurement instruments (at least 30 standardized tests) with their manuals or handbooks, Cattell's productivity was exceptional.   Although pertinaciously pursuing a single programmatic aim of creating a series of tests for persons from the preschool through adulthood and for groups large and small, questionnaires, life-record, and "objective" tests (i.e., relatively unfakable ones, not only questionnaires), the variety of fields upon which Cattell's research impinges is astounding: educational and developmental, clinical, experimental, social, individual difference, industrial, and statistical and mathematical psychology; biology including genetics; medicine including psychiatry; and scientific methodology.

    A sampling of Cattell's innovative contributions (with his full acknowledgement of others' share in them), some of which have been appropriated by scientists and scholars in disciplines beyond psychology, provides evidence of his creativity (in which area, incidentally, he did considerable research):   r-sub-p, the coefficient of profile similarity (taking account of shape, scatter, and level of profiles of variable scores); P-technique factor analysis (for an occasion-by-variable matrix); the Scree Test (using the curve of latent roots to judge the number of factors); the Procrustes program (for testing an hypothesized factor structure); the Taxonome program (for ascertaining the number and contents of clusters in a data set); the Basic Data Relations Box (the dimensions of experimental designs); the Dynamic Calculus (for assessing interests and motivation); sampling of variables, as opposed to or in conjunction with sampling of persons; group syntality (the "personality" of a group); the personality sphere (the totality of factorial measurements of the personality); fluid and crystallized intelligence (primarily genetically and environmentally determined respectively); state and trait measurement (immediate and long-term conditions); and Multiple Abstract Variance Analysis (MAVA) (with "specification equations" embodying genetic and environmental variables and their interactions, considered by H. J. Eysenck to be Cattell's greatest contribution).

    Various of these (and other) contributions of Cattell's have not withstood the criticisms of qualified scientists, including some who are his enthusiastic supporters.  The fact, however, that dozens of psychologists from the United States and abroad sought his laboratory at the University of Illinois to work collegially or under his supervision attests to the wide influence of his ideas.  Probably more than any other psychologist he introduced psychologists to multivariate methods, especially but not limited to factor analysis.

    Cattell followed a custom that arose from his desire to make psychology more scientific, but that custom also estranged him from some psychologists.  Specifically, he used neologisms (e.g., dissofructance, ergic tension, corticalertia, commention) as the names of variables.  He attempted to emulate the physical sciences, but the neologisms seemed to confuse some people.  Besides, Cattell developed what he called the "Universal Index" of factorial dimensions, with the first elements, UI 1 to UI 16, representing the 16 factors of the 16PF Personality Questionnaire and continuing at least through UI 36 to represent subsequently-discovered dimensions for interest and motivation.  Because not all psychologists are willing to memorize such indexes for the several factors, what Cattell meant to emulate the periodic table as a means of scientific communication proved to be a barrier to communication.

    After all is said, however, about Cattell's scientific and scholarly contributions and the objections taken to his system, they explain only in part the intensity of loyalty and of opposition to him and his research.  His own responses to critiques of his research, at times with successful refutations, are only part and parcel of the advances of any science.  At other times, the vehemence with which his detractors expressed their criticisms and the corresponding vehemence with which he responded provide further explanation for the negative views expressed by a portion of the observers of the Cattellian scene.  To explain further the bipolar phenomenon, we consider R. B. Cattell, the man.

    Raymond Cattell was a gentle man and a gentleman, appellations some of his foes would contest, for as mild as was his personal persona, so fierce was his public one.  As host to guests, he was both courteous and thoughtful, engaging in his converse, often diffident, even hesitant, in expressing his views.  His colleagues freely admitted, as one of them said, "He exploited us for our own good."  For the most part, those who participated in his programmatic research delighted in joining his team, though there seem to have been a few who resented his exploitation.

    A learned man, Cattell was sufficiently fluent in German to translate Kretschmer's The psychology of men of genius, and to give some of his examination questions in both French and German.  Ray's first book was "Under Sail Through Red Devon," an account of his sailing in the waters of Devonshire in a cayak-like, light-weight boat, which could be paddled or sailed.  The book was dedicated to Monica, his first wife, the mother of his son, Hereward ("Herry").  Cattell's knowledge of English literature was awesome.  He and one of the writers, himself well-versed in that literature, challenged each other to identify the title of some item of English literature, at which contest Cattell proved to be somewhat the better.

    Of Cattell's sense of humor it seems that not many of his circle of acquaintance were aware that on occasion he could dissolve in laughter, not just smiles but real "gut-busting" boffos.  Cattell and one of the writers of  this memorial would sometimes sing old London Music Hall songs, all of them a bit bawdy.  During one visit, when asked what a highland fling looked like, Cattell proceeded to demonstrate, much to the delight of a Thai psychologist who was visiting at the time.  Cattell also knew a number of spicy limericks which he would recite in a clear voice when encouraged.

    One friend reported that Cattell spent an hour or more telling of a month he spent living in a stone house that dated back to Anglo-Saxon times.  He said that the walls were nearly four feet thick.  It seemed to his hearer that Cattell found living in that ancient house "a kind of atavistic, mystical, experience."

    One aspect of Cattell's work habits was his intense concentration when he sat down to work.  He seemed to be oblivious of anything else around him.  Then, when he was writing, he produced a finished copy that needed little if any revision.  He seemed to select the precise word immediately.  To be sure, the speed with which he wrote (for he never used a typewriter, word processor, or computer) necessitated a reader's best "Wheel of Fortune" skills to interpret.  As for the quantity of such work, Dennis Child reported that when he (Child) was at the Laboratory of Personality and Ability Testing at the University of Illinois, Cattell would come in with a set of tapes which the typist could not transcribe or others read fast enough before he brought in the next day's set.

    Like some other psychologists, Cattell had scholarly wives who collaborated in his research and writing, namely, A. Karen Schuettler, mother of four of his children and a mathematician, who directed IPAT, a test publishing house she and Cattell established; and Heather Birkett, a clinical psychologist who wrote with him his last book on the 16PF.

    Thus, the man Cattell produced an image of a human and humane, thoughtful, and dedicated scholar of a many-faceted personality who drew to himself a goodly number who held a very high regard for him.

    On the other hand, his public persona sometimes produced an opposite impression, especially when in conflict with those who disagreed with him, exercising on them Saladin's scimitar at times and the Lion-Hearted's broadsword at other times.  Certainly, some of his writings or public utterances were not calculated "to win friends and influence people" in his direction.  The co-editor of one of his major publications had to soften the tone of Cattell's introduction to the volume, else as the co-editor stated, "He would have lost half his potential readers."  As Child, another co-editor, said, teaching was a "'gradgrind'. It was a distraction from the research fires burning within him."  Thus, Cattell did not enjoy the support of undergraduates who would later become psychologists; indeed, he stated that the University of Illinois "shielded" him from teaching, especially undergraduates.

    Inasmuch as Cattell was facile with mathematics and statistics, he fell into the custom that too many mathematics teachers do of expressing disdain for those often otherwise highly intelligent persons who did not (or could not, from their mathemaphobia) find mathematics easy.  Those psychologists who could appreciate his mathematical skills were drawn to him, but those who did not were often repelled.  In other ways as well, Ray Cattell manifested an elitism which may have generated opposition from some persons and support from others who were elitist-inclined.

    A few demographic facts may add to our understanding of Cattell's multidemensional image.  He was born on March 20, 1905 in Staffordshire, England, of Norse, Scottish,  Irish and English ancestry.  His father and one grandfather were independent engineer designers; his mother Mary Fields Cattell.  He was one of three brothers, the others being Cecil and Stanley.  Although Cattell passed the Cambridge University entrance examination with first-class honors, he enrolled at London University at age 16, receiving at age 19 his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and physics, and later, he received his Master of Arts in Education, and his Doctor of Philosophy (for GSR research), and Doctor of Science, all from King's College, the University of London.  He had, among others, Sir Cyril Burt and Charles Spearman as his mentors.  Aside from building on Cattell's mathematical training for the "hard sciences," Burt and Spearman were instrumental in fostering Cattell's strong interest in psychological statistics and, particularly, factor analysis.  He began his teaching career as lecturer in psychology at the University of Exeter in 1927.  Then, from 1932 to 1937, he practiced clinical psychology as director of the city of Leicester Child Guidance Clinic.  In 1937, he was invited by E. L. Thorndike to be a research assistant at Columbia University.  For a time, beginning in 1938, he was employed at Clark University as G. Stanley Hall Professor of Genetic Psychology and then became a lecturer in psychology at Harvard.  After World War II and a period as a civilian consultant to the Adjutant General, War Department, he began his lengthy tenure as Research Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois.  He remained at the University of Illinois until his retirement in 1973, when he first removed to Boulder, Colorado, and then to the University of Hawaii.  Cattell died in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 2, 1998.

    We emphasize that Cattell was not a fascist or racist as some have claimed, but was an elitist.  To be sure, in his formative days as a psychologist, his mentors and just about all white scholars assumed the superiority of the white race.  Cattell even seemed to flirt with, though quickly discarded, some of Hitler's notions about the superiority of the Aryan "race."  These positions lingered on in some of his writings, especially in his over-valuation of the "IQ" and the "g" factor.  They were evidenced in his adopting a religio-philosophical "Beyondism," which appeared to be the culmination of his almost dogmatic faith in evolution.

    Nevertheless, in correspondence with one of the writers of this obituary Cattell eschewed racism; and in the final year of his life he issued a clear public statement denouncing both racism and fascism.  This statement was prompted by the occasion of his being proffered an Award for Lifetime Achievement by the American Psychological Foundation, and, then, having it "postponed" at the last minute because of threats of rioting at the 1997 American Psychological Convention if it were to be presented.  Some of Cattell's prior positions were used, sometimes quite unfairly, to calumniate, even on the world-wide web, this remarkably talented and productive psychologist.

    Fortunately, a host of psychologists from across the world, not only his friends but many who differed from him on scientific and scholarly grounds, rose to his defense upon hearing of the shameful treatment accorded him.  Most if not all of these agreed with the judgment expressed at the beginning of this obituary, that Raymond B. Cattell was one of the half dozen greatest psychologists of the twentieth century.

          Ralph Mason Dreger
          Professor Emeritus of Psychology
          Louisiana State University

          Irwin A. Berg
          Professor Emeritus of Psychology
          Dean (Retired), College of Arts & Sciences
          Louisiana State University
 
 
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