“From Eugenics to Scientometrics”

In the latest issue of Social Studies of Science, 37(5), Benoît Godin discusses the contributions of James McKeen Cattell to the development of quantitative research methods.  His biographical dictionary — fodder for a scientific study of “great men” — was particularly influential.

American Men of Science was a collection of biographical sketches of thousands of men of science in the USA and was published periodically.  It launched, and was used in, the very first systematic quantitative studies on science.  Cattell used two concepts for his statistics: productivity, defined as the number of men of science a nation produces, and performance or merit, defined as scientific contributions to research as judged by peers.  These are the two dimensions that still define measurement of scientific productivity today: quantity and quality. This paper analyzes the emergence of statistics on science and the very first uses to which they were put.  It argues that the measurement of science emerged out of interest in great men, heredity and eugenics, and the contribution of eminent men to civilization.  Among these eminent men were men of science, the population of whom was thought to be in decline and insufficiently appreciated and supported.  Statistics on men of science thus came to be collected to document the case, and to contribute to the advancement of science and the scientific profession.

AHP has previously examined conceptions of giftedness, but this latest contribution provides a useful hook for a more specific bibliography on the histories of Cattell.

James McKeen Cattell.

  • Opton, E. M.  (1971).  Cattell on science and truth.  American Psychologist, 26(11), 1038.

Suggests that J. M. Cattell’s bitterness, documented by M. M. Sokal, should be viewed in political and social context. An anecdote tells how a committee compromised on President Wilson’s request to expel Cattell because he approved of a fellow professor’s sentiment that seemed to cast aspersions on lawyers, merchants, and soldiers.

  • Sokal, M. M.  (1971).  The unpublished autobiography of James McKeen Cattell.  American Psychologist, 26(7), 626-635.
  • Sokal, M. M.  (1997).  Baldwin, Cattell and the Psychological Review: A collaboration and its discontents.  History of the Human Sciences, 10(1), 57-89.

This paper provides a detailed account of the origins of the Psychological Review in 1894, of the policies and practices of its editors (James Mark Baldwin and James McKeen Cattell) during its first decade, and of the public and private disagreements that led them to dissolve their collaboration in 1904. In doing so, it sheds light on the significant roles played by specialized scientific journals in the development of specific scientific specialities, and illustrates the value for historical exploration of (what anthropologists call) a ‘thick description’ of (what historians call) ‘the fine texture of the past.’ It argues that personal factors such as luck and character and temperament often have a greater impact on the way in which science actually evolves than do intellectual interests and concerns, and concludes with an analysis of the overwhelming significance of this episode on the later careers of both Baldwin and Cattell.

  • Webster, D. S.  (1984).  A note on a very early academic quality ranking by James McKeen Cattell.  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 20(2), 180-183.

Describes an early academic quality ranking published in 1910 by the psychologist J. M. Cattell. It is suggested that Cattell wanted to show the 20 institutions where leading American scientists currently worked and to demonstrate that his home institution, Columbia University, had recently declined in scientific strength.

See also:

  • Camic, C. & Xie, Y.  (1994).  The statistical turn in American social science: Columbia University, 1890 to 1915.  American Sociological Review, 59(5), 773-805.

Proposes a sociological approach for understanding the process by which statistical methods (SMs) were originally incorporated into the social sciences in America. Interdisciplinary relations and local institutional conditions in turn-of-the-century America were analyzed to elucidate the adoption and use of statistical methods by J. M. Cattell in psychology, F. Boas in anthropology, F. H. Giddings in sociology, and H. L. Moore in economics. They used SMs to comply with acceptable scientific models and carve out a distinctive mode of statistical analysis to differentiate their own discipline from the others. These 4 were all faculty members at Columbia University which, in order to preserve its edge in the area of statistics, proved to be conducive to the incorporation of SMs into its social sciences.

  • Kuna, D. P.  (1979).  Early advertising applications of the Gale-Cattell order-of-merit method.  Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 15(1), 38-46.

A key method in advertising psychology at the turn of the century was the order-of-merit method developed independently by H. Gale and J. M. Cattell. The use and interpretation of the method varied with the theoretical orientations then popular. Advertising psychologists in the mentalistic tradition used the Gale version and concentrated on the introspections of the S. They regarded the method as one that tapped the reasoning processes underlying advertising. Psychologists trained in the behaviorist approach ignored the introspective evidence and regarded the method as a measure of the stimulus qualities of the ads. Those approaching from the dynamicist viewpoint reinterpreted the method as a means of ascertaining the hierarchy of the basic needs of humans.

  • Whipple, E. M.  (2004).  Eminence Revisited.  History of Psychology, 7(3), 265-296.

J. M. Cattell’s 1903 study of the 1,000 most eminent people of history was repeated using current sources. Of Cattell’s names, 476 recur, and on average these names have higher ranks than those appearing in only Cattell’s list or the new one. Similarities between the 2 lists include the following: highest frequency of names for the century preceding that of the study; dominance of British and French names; and highest frequency of military/government people, with literature 2nd. However, the new list has less scholarship and more art/architecture and music. The new list yields a negative exponential function between the space a person receives in biographical sources and his or her eminence rank.


About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.