In recent years the historical relationship between scientific experts and the state has received increasing scrutiny. Such experts played important roles in the creation and regulation of environmental organizations and functioned as agents dispatched by politicians or bureaucrats to assess health-related problems and concerns raised by the public or the judiciary. But when it came to making public policy, scientists played another role that has received less attention. In addition to acting as advisers and assessors, some scientists were democratically elected members of local and national legislatures. In this essay I draw attention to this phenomenon by examining how liberal politicians and intellectuals used Darwinian cognitive science to conceptualize the education of children in Victorian Britain.
The August 2017 issue of History of Psychology is now available. Articles in this issue discuss psychoanalyst Sandor Rado’s influential views on bisexuality, American attitudes toward psychology, technology, and social engineering in the 20th century, and the difficult reception of behavior therapy in France. Full details below.
“Sandor Rado, American psychoanalysis, and the question of bisexuality,” by Tontonoz, Matthew. Abstract:
The Hungarian-born physician and psychoanalyst Sandor Rado (1890–1972), who practiced for most of his career in the United States, played a central role in shaping American psychoanalysts’ views toward homosexuality. Historians have pointed to Rado’s rejection of Freud’s notion of constitutional bisexuality as the key theoretical maneuver that both pathologized homosexuality and inspired an optimistic approach to its treatment. Yet scholarly analysis of the arguments that Rado made for his rejection of bisexuality is lacking. This article seeks to provide that analysis, by carefully reviewing and evaluating Rado’s arguments by the standards of his own day. Because one of Rado’s main arguments is that bisexuality is an outdated concept according to modern biology, I consider what contemporary biologists had to say on the topic. The work of behavioral endocrinologist Frank Beach (1911–1988) is important in this context and receives significant attention here. Rado ultimately distanced himself from Beach’s behavioral endocrinology, appealing instead to evolutionary discourse to buttress his claim that homosexuality is pathological. This tactic allowed him to refashion psychoanalysis into a moralistic discipline, one with closer ties to a medical school.
The February 2015 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on educational reformers’ promotion of brain sciences in Third Republic France, shifting attention in linguistics to “living” language in Imperial Germany, the cultural psychology of Giambattista Vico, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Confronting the brain in the classroom: Lycée policy and pedagogy in France, 1874–1902,” by Larry McGrath. The abstract reads,
During the influx of neurological research into France from across Europe that took place rapidly in the late 19th century, the philosophy course in lycées (the French equivalent of high schools) was mobilized by education reformers as a means of promulgating the emergent brain sciences and simultaneously steering their cultural resonance. I contend that these linked prongs of philosophy’s public mission under the Third Republic reconciled contradictory pressures to advance the nation’s scientific prowess following its defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 without dropping France’s distinct tradition of 19th-century spiritualism, which extended from Maine de Biran’s philosophical psychology to Victor Cousin’s official eclectic spiritualism. Between 1874 and 1902, the French Ministry of Public Instruction transformed philosophy into a national project designed to guide the reception of experimental psychology generally and neurology in particular. This article features original archival research on philosophy textbooks and students’ course notes that illuminate the cultural and intellectual impact of these sciences in the fin de siècle from inside the classroom. I argue that the scientific turn in the psychology section of the lycée philosophy course reflected and brought about a distinct philosophical movement that I call ‘scientific spiritualism’. While historians have analysed philosophy instruction as a mechanism used by the Third Republic to secularize students, this article sheds new light on lycée philosophy professors’ campaign to promote scientific spiritualism as a means to advance incipient brain research and pare its reductionist implications.
AHP readers may be interested in an article in the most recent issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society. In “Abandoning Evolution: The Forgotten History of Antievolution Activism and the Transformation of American Social Science,” Michael Lienesch (left) describes the interaction of antievolution activists and social scientists in the first half of the twentieth century. The abstract follows below.
From its inception, antievolution activism has been aimed not only at the natural sciences but also, and almost as often, at the social sciences. Although almost entirely overlooked by scholars, this activism played a significant part in the development of American social science in the early twentieth century. Analyzing public writings and private papers of antievolution activists, academic social scientists, and university officials from the 1920s, this essay recalls this forgotten history, showing how antievolution activism contributed to the abandonment of evolutionary theory and the adoption of a set of secular, scientific, and professional characteristics that have come to define much of modern social science.
Also reviewed in this issue of Isis are the English translation of Fernando Vidal’s The Sciences of the Soul: The Early Modern Origins of Psychology (reviewed by John H. Zammito), the Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective edited by Douglas A. Vakoch (reviewed by Jordan Bimm), and Laura Stark’s Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research (reviewed by Susan M. Reverby).
An article by AHP founding editor Jeremy Burman on the history of memes was recently published in the journal Perspectives on Science. Burman’s “The misunderstanding of memes” is currently the journal’s most downloaded article and may, for the moment at least, be downloaded for free from MIT Press here.
In this article, Burman traces how the original meaning of memes became distorted over time. Intended originally to be a mere metaphor, “memes” have come to stand for the notion that ideas spread like viruses. The full title and abstract follows below.
“The misunderstanding of memes: Biography of an unscientific object, 1976–1999,” by Jeremy Trevelyan Burman. The abstract reads,
When the “meme” was introduced in 1976, it was as a metaphor intended to illuminate an evolutionary argument. By the late-1980s, however, we see from its use in major US newspapers that this original meaning had become obscured. The meme became a virus of the mind. (In the UK, this occurred slightly later.) It is also now clear that this becoming involved complex sustained interactions between scholars, journalists, and the letter-writing public. We must therefore read the “meme” through lenses provided by its popularization. The results are in turn suggestive of the processes of meaning-construction in scholarly communication more generally.
For those interested in evolutionary theory, tonight the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will broadcast a “two-hour scripted drama [that] tells the remarkable story behind the unveiling of the most influential scientific theory of all time, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection…. Daunted by looming conflict with the orthodox religious values of his day, he resisted publishing—until a letter from naturalist Alfred Wallace forced his hand. In 1858, Darwin learned that Wallace was ready to publish ideas very similar to his own. In a sickened panic, Darwin grasped his dilemma: To delay publishing any longer would be to condemn his greatest work to obscurity…. But to come forward with his ideas risked the fury of the Church and perhaps a rift with his own devoted wife, Emma…”
The full contents of the short lived journal Evolution: A Journal of Nature, have been made available online by Joe Cain, Professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, at University College London. Evolution was established by American supporters of evolution following the Scopes trial in 1925. The aim of the periodical was to promote the teaching of evolution in American schools, while providing educators with the means of responding to creationist arguments. Reprinted in the fifth issue of the first volume of the journal is a letter of support for the endeavor from psychologist and philosopher John Dewey:
Permit me to offer my congratulations on your periodical, Evolution. They apply both to the idea and its execution. The present state of the public mind and of discussion as well of projected legislation make it highly important that there should be issued statements regarding the various aspects of the evolutionary controversy which can be widely read and understood. You have been fortunate in enlisting as writers persons of unquestioned competency and having a clear style. I am impressed with the fact that the Journal is scientific as well as popular. You are rendering a public service and I wish you every success.
Among the contents of the each issue of the journal are political cartoons, like that pictured to the right. The evolution of the human mind and its distinctness from that of apes is also a periodic topic within the journal’s pages.
Jacy is a second year masters student in the history of psychology at York University. Her thesis, supervised by Chris Green, will look at the historical context in which the “Baldwin Effect” was developed and received. Other interests include the history of biology and the history of evolutionary theory in psychology.