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Sir Cyril Lodowic Burt (March 3 1883 – October 10 1971) was a prominent British educational psychologist. He was a member of the London School of Differential Psychology. Some of his work was controversial for its conclusions that genetics substantially influence mental and behavioral traits. After his death, he was famously accused of scientific fraud.

Burt supported eugenics and was a member of the British Eugenics Society. Since he had suggested on radio in 1946 the formation of an organization for people with high IQ scores, he was made honorary president of Mensa in 1960, in a gesture of recognition.


Burt was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Early in Burt’s life he showed a precocious nature, so much so that his father, a physician, often took the young Burt with him on his medical rounds. One of the elder Burt’s more famous patients was Darwin Galton, brother of Francis Galton. The visits the Burts made to the Galton estate not only allowed the young Burt to learn about the work of Francis Galton, but also allowed Burt to meet him on multiple occasions and to be strongly drawn to his ideas — especially his studies in statistics and individual differences, two defining characters of the London School of Psychology whose membership includes both Galton and Burt.

At the age of 11, Burt won a scholarship to Christ's Hospital, where he first developed his appreciation of psychology. Not too long after, he won a classical scholarship to Oxford, where he specialized in philosophy and psychology, the latter under a fairly new faculty member, William McDougall. McDougall, knowing Burt’s interest in Galton’s work, suggested that he focus his senior project on psychometrics (although not then an official discipline), thus giving Burt his initial inquiry into the development and structure of mental tests— an interest that would last the rest of his life. In 1901, McDougall was appointed the secretary of the British Association Committee that planned to carry out, at Galton’s suggestion, a nation-wide survey of physical and mental characteristics. McDougall invited Burt to help him with this project along with J. C. Flugel, William Brown, and later Charles Spearman.

In 1908, Burt took up the post of Lecturer in Psychology and Assistant Lecturer in Physiology at Liverpool University, where he was to work under famed physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington. While at this post, Burt was able to further both his knowledge of how human anatomy and physiology affect human psychology as well as his interest and research into individual differences.

In 1913, Burt took the position of a school psychologist for the London County Council (LCC), which was in charge of all the London schools. This was the first appointment of this kind in the world, or at least in the United Kingdom. Initially, Burt’s LCC appointment was only a part time position, which allowed him to use the rest of his workweek gathering and publishing data. He notably established that girls were equal to boys in general intelligence — a change from contemporary Edwardian beliefs. During his tenure at the LCC, Burt gathered so much data that he was still publishing it long after he retired.

In 1931 he resigned his position at the LCC when he was appointed Professor and Chair of Psychology at University College, London, taking over Spearman's position, thus ending his almost 20 year career as a school psychological practitioner.

While at London, Burt had a large influence on many students, (e.g., Raymond Cattell, Hans Eysenck), and towards the end of his life, Arthur Jensen and Chris Brand [1].

The Burt Affair

Over the course of his career Burt published numerous articles and books on a host of topics ranging from psychometrics to philosophy of science to parapsychology. It is his research in behavior genetics, most notably in studying the heritability of intelligence (as measured in IQ tests) using twin studies that have created the most controversy.

From the late 1970s it was generally accepted that at least a majority of this research was fraudulent, due in large part to research by Oliver Gillie (1976) and Leon Kamin (1974). The possibility of fraud was first brought to the attention of the scientific community when Kamin noticed that Burt's correlation coefficients of Monozygotic and Dizygotic twins' IQ scores were the same to three decimal places, across articles--even when new data were twice added to the sample of twins. Leslie Hearnshaw, a close friend of Burt and his official biographer, concluded after examining the criticisms that most of Burt's data from after World War II were unreliable or fraudulent.

In 1976, London's Sunday Times claimed that two of Burt's collaborators, Margaret Howard and J. Conway, were made up by Burt himself. They based this on the lack of independent articles published by them in scientific journals, and the fact that they only appeared in the historical record as reviewers of Burt's books in Journal of Statistical Psychology when the journal was redacted by Burt. Supporters claim the co-authors have since been located.[2]

Two independent authors, Ronald Fletcher (1991) and Robert Joynson (1989) published books that, while not totally exonerating Burt, criticized the methods and motives of his accusers.

Many of Burt's supporters believe the disrepancies were mostly caused by negligence rather than deliberate deception. In 1995, Cambridge University's Professor of Psychology, Nicholas Mackintosh, edited a volume published by Oxford University Press which found the case against Burt 'not proven' -- the argument was summarized in 'Nature' by Edinburgh psychologist Christopher Brand[3]. Brand especially observed that Burt could have obtained some of his data that came from an unknown source from the detailed 1962 work on monozygotic twins published by James Shields (Cambridge University Press).

IQ critic William H. Tucker concludes in a 1997 article that, "A comparison of his twin sample with that from other well documented studies, however, leaves little doubt that he committed fraud." [4] Racial psychologist J. Philippe Rushton concludes that the disparagement of Burt was conducted for ideological reasons.[5] The debate remains unsettled, but Burt's controversial twin data, such as the IQ correlation between twins, .77, is identical to modern estimates by psychologists and geneticists. For example, the American Psychological Association's 1995 task force on "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns" concluded that within the White population the heritability of IQ is “around .75” (75%) (p. 85), and more recent genetics textbooks give the figure at roughly 80% (Plomin et al. 2001).

Books by Burt

  • Burt, C.L. (1975). The gifted child. New York: Wiley.
  • Burt, C.L. (1962). Mental and scholastic tests (4th ed.). London: Staples.
  • Burt, C.L. (1957). The causes and treatments of backwardness (4th ed.). London: University of London.
  • Burt, C.L. (1940). The factors of the mind: An introduction to factor analysis in psychology. London: University of London.
  • Burt, C.L. (1935). The subnormal mind. London: Oxford University.
  • Burt, C.L. (1946). Intelligence and fertility. London:
  • Burt, C.L. (1925). The young delinquent. London: University of London.

Articles by Burt

  • Burt, C. (1972) The inheritance of general intelligence, American Psychologist 27: 175-90.
  • Burt, C.L. (1971). "Quantitative genetics in psychology", British Journal of Mathematical & Statistical Psychology, 24, 1-21
  • Burt, C. (1966) The genetic determination of differences in intelligence: a study of monozygotic twins reared together and apart, British Journal of Psychology 57: 137-53.
  • Burt, C.L. (1963). Is Intelligence Distributed Normally?.
  • Burt, C.L., & Williams, E.L. (1962). "The influence of motivation on the results of intelligence tests", British Journal of Statistical Psychology, 15, 129-135.
  • Burt, C.L. (1961). "Factor analysis and its neurological basis", British Journal of Statistical Psychology, 14, 53-71.
  • Burt, C.L. (1960). "The mentally subnormal", Medical World, 93, 297-300.
  • Burt, C.L. (1959). "General ability and special aptitudes", Educational Research, 1, 3-16.
  • Burt, C. (1959) The examination at eleven plus, British Journal of Educational Studies 7: 99-117.
  • Burt, C.L., & Gregory, W.L. (1958). "Scientific method in psychology: II", British Journal of Statistical Psychology, 11, 105-128.
  • Burt, C.L. (1958). "Definition and scientific method in psychology", British Journal of Statistical Psychology, 11, 31-69.
  • Burt, C.L. (1958). "The inheritance of mental ability", American Psychologist, 13, 1-15.
  • Burt, C. (1955) The evidence for the concept ofintelligence, British Journal of Educational Psychology

25: 158-77.

  • Burt, C. (1912) The inheritance of mental characters,Eugenics Review 4: 168-200.

Further reading


  • Banks, C., & Broadhurst, P.L. (eds.). (1966). Stephanos: Studies in psychology presented to Cyril Burt. New York: Barnes & Noble.
  • Burt, C.L. (1949). An autobiographical sketch. Occupational Psychology, 23, 9-20.
  • Fancher, R.E. (1985) The intelligence men: Makers of the I.Q. controversy. New York: Norton.
  • Hearnshaw, L. (1979). Cyril Burt: Psychologist. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • (1983) "Sir Cyril Burt". AEP (Association of Educational Psychologists) Journal, 6 (1) [Special issue]
  • Scarr, S. (1994). "Burt, Cyril L.", in R.J. Sternberg (ed.), Encyclopedia of intelligence (Vol. 1, pp. 231-234). New York: Macmillan.

Readings on the Burt Affair

  • Beloff, H. (ed.) (1980) A Balance Sheet on Burt: Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society 33.
  • Clarke, A.M. and Clarke, A.D.B. (1977) Sir Cyril Burt, Bulletin of the British Psychological Society 30: 83-4.
  • Clarke, A.M, and Clarke, A.D.B. (1980) Comments on Professor Hearnshaw's' Balance sheet on Burt'. In: H. Beloff (ed.) A Balance Sheet on Burr: Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society 33: 17-19,
  • Hearnshaw, L.S. (1980) A balance sheet on Burt. In: H. Beloff (ed.) A Balance Sheet on Burt: Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society 33: 17-19.
  • Fletcher, R. (1991). Science, Ideology, and the Media. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction.
  • Fletcher, R. (1987) The doubtful case of Cyril Burt, Social Policy and Administration 21: 40-57.
  • Gould, S.J. (1996). The Mismeasure of Man. (2nd ed.).
  • Gillie, O. (1976, October 24). Crucial data was faked by eminent psychologist. London: Sunday Times.
  • Gillie, O. (1980) Burt: the scandal and the cover-up. In;H. Beloff (ed.) A Balance Sheet on Burt: Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society 33:17-19.
  • Joynson, R.B. (1989). The Burt Affair. New York: Routledge.
  • Kamin, L.J. (1974). The Science and Politics of IQ. Potomac, MD: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Hearnshaw, LS. (1992) Burt Redivivus, Psychologist 5: 168-70.
  • Lamb, K. (1992). "Biased tidings: The media and the Cyril Burt controversy", Mankind Quarterly, 33, 203.
  • Rowe, D., & Plomin, R. (1978). "The Burt controversy: The comparison of Burt's data on IQ with data from other studies", Behavior Genetics, 8, 81-83.
  • Rushton, J.P. (1994). "Victim of scientific hoax (Cyril Burt and the genetic IQ controversy)", Society, 31, 40-44.

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