Open Letter From
Prof. Arthur Sweney
(To Raymond Cattell's daughter, Mary Cattell)

 
Raymond Bernard Cattell

 

Dear Mary,

I wish that this letter could have been addressed to your father so I could have expressed to him again the width and depth of my admiration for him and the great disappointment I feel about the failure of the APA to separate his scholarly contributions from sanctimonious disparagement by lesser scientists who took comments out of context. When a "scientific" organization is more concerned about what the lay public considers to be "political correctness" than in real empirically supported scientific findings, that organization should inspect its own values and its right to claim to be representing a community of scientists.

The recognition of Raymond B. Cattell for his extraordinary contributions to behavioral science is long over due. Fifteen years ago I spearheaded an effort to have him more formally recognized for those works for which all of us who know him recognized to be so significant.

He was without exception the one man who made the most major strides in systematizing the behavioral science from all of its facets into a real science based upon empirical, replicable and universal principles. He brought the rigor of his early education in the physical sciences to the knotty puzzles that often confuse more soft minded people who were attracted to psychology for more philosophical and emotional reasons. He wanted comprehensive principles to replace specialized phenomenon or bizarre laboratory demonstrations. He was inclusive in his effort to integrate all of the specialties into the mainstream of psychology as a totality. Everything that was being studied by each other behavioral scientist would fit into some single compartment of his own comprehensive system.

He classified sources of information that could be used to confirm or disconfirm hypotheses. He furthered the use of multivariate statistical methods to measure the significance of complex relationships between variables, traits or states. He organized group behavior, intellectual attributes, personalogical traits, emotional states, and the whole gambit of motivational conditions, which he identified as "dynamic traits". He was never satisfied with "self evident truths". As mentioned by Lord Kelvin, "If something actually did exist it existed in some amount and hence, could be measured."  So measurement was critical to him and hence all of his formulations were based upon his own earlier discoveries or upon the interesting theories of his contemporaries.

I once heard a well recognized measurement specialist say that the only persons that Ray ever noted were himself or some other member past or present of his laboratory. I didn't feel then that the comment deserved a rebuttal. Since then I have realized that to some degree it was the natural outcome of the "programs" of research in which he was involved. His own methods and study results were the most solid bases upon which to validate future studies, and the results of the past ones were the best basis to interpret current outcomes.

While other researchers would be happy to study the most current focus of common interest, Dr. Cattell would continue on his own program slowly inspecting the onion hoping that the removal of each layer would expose the heart of the truth, which he sought. His methods and instruments were clearly enough described that his findings could be replicated by others who wished. The fact that so few tried is not an indication of their lack of value but rather the difficulty of rigor that good behavioral research requires.

My first contact with Dr. Cattell's lab was through Glen Stice. We were both connected with the University (of Illinois) Boys Work Committee. My next contact was made when I was processing demographic data for my thesis on card sorters and Dave Saunders showed me how to do correlations and then the factor analysis that he was doing for Ray. At a later time I was a research assistant at the EE Laboratory and helped develop the vacuum tubes that would be used in the big super computer ILLIAC that became so critical to the research in Cattell's lab. As a group work student and later a community center director, I found his research relevant and practical for application to group dynamics.

Like Ray I was interested in finding the truth about human behavior by replicable measurement. I recognized that as a social worker I was interceding in people lives without really knowing individual difference from a scientific basis. My pursuit of a Ph.D. in psychology took 9 years after my 2 year Masters in Social Work. My interest in measurement prompted me to develop a semi-projective test to measure personality attributes in children. These coincidence of interests with Ray was the reason for my seeking a post-doctoral position at his laboratory at a time that turned out to be composed of both established Ph.D.s and also very talented graduate students.

His publication record was so great that it is hard to exceed. His reputation is probably better recognized abroad than in the USA because of the thoroughness of his research as well as cogency of his formulations. His 16 Personality Factors test has been translated into most European languages and has become a standard for both clinical and industrial assessments. Many of his important concepts are currently being rediscovered and renamed by those less familiar with his own monumental work.

History is not always fair but it usually returns to properly evaluate those that have had the most to do with its direction. Raymond B. Cattell cannot be dismissed by any single allegation no matter how tempting detractors may try to make them. Ray was independent by scientific necessity not by some personality attribute. He did not try to turn his incremental findings into sensationalism. He neither concocted confirmation of his hypotheses nor did he hide an occasional doubt generated by less than strong supporting evidence.

Without question his many works will provide indispensable progress to the field of Behavioral Science. His concepts will never be simplistic nor will their gravity be fully recognized without diligent study. His implicit warning to his readers is "test your assumptions early to keep them from leading you even further from the truth".

With my condolences to you over the loss of your father go my own sense of loss of a mentor and the field's loss of a pioneer whose original trails will some day become highways for our journey towards the truth.

Sincerely,

Arthur Sweney
Emeritus Professor of Psychology
Wichita State University
 
 
 
 
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