James Mckeen Cattell Contributions to Psychology

1 January 2017

After completing his doctorate, Cattell spent two years at Cambridge University, where he founded England’s first laboratory in experimental psychology. While at Cambridge, Cattell married Josephine Owen, who became a lifelong partner in his research and later in his editing and publishing duties. Also during his Cambridge years, Cattell’s father helped him to secure a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught for two and a half years. It was during this time that Cattell coined the term “mental testing” to characterize his research (Sokal, 1987).

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Cattell then moved to Columbia University as head of its psychology department and taught there until his dismissal in 1917, a dismissal nominally caused by an anticonscription piece that he published during the first world war, but almost certainly fueled by long-standing antagonism between Cattell and Columbia’s president, Nicholas Murray Butler (Sokal, 1995). Cattell’s eminence in his day is clear; in 1901 Cattell was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, although historian Michael M.

Sokal suggests that this may have been due more to his resurrection of the journal Science than to his scientific research (Sokal, 1980). Cattell is known to psychologists familiar with the history of psychology in the United States not only for his experimental work on reaction time and mental testing but also as one of the founding figures of the APA in 1892 and as its fourth president (1896). Sokal’s numerous publications on Cattell have helped to elucidate his role for general, for Cattell’s influence extended far beyond the confines of psychology.

Indeed, one scientific contemporary eulogized that Cattell “did more than any other man of his generation to bring about the organization of science in America” (Conklin, 1944, p. 154). Edward L. Thorndike similarly recalled that although Cattell had been “the most likely candidate” at the tum of the century for leadership in psychology, “he chose to become both a leader and a servant, and of American science as a whole rather than of only psychology” (Thorndike, 1944, p. 155). Cattell is best remembered for his lifelong services as an editor and publisher.

He edited the first six editions of American Men of Science (now American Men and Women of Science), instituting and maintaining against increasing opposition its system of “starring” the 1,000 most eminent scientists (Sokal, 1995). Among the journals he published and edited were the Psychological Review (with James Mark Baldwin), The American Naturalist, School and Society, Popular Science Monthly, The Scientific Monthly, and his longest and most noteworthy venture, Science. He also helped to found the Archives of Psychology and the Journal of philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods.

Cattell maintained an active interest in psychology throughout his life, and was president of the International Congress of Psychology (1929) as well as one of the founding members, in 1921, of the Psychological Corporation, a business designed to promote applied psychology. As Thorndike put it, even while becoming a broader man of science, Cattell “did not cease to be a psychologist . . . . but his leadership was in psychological affairs rather than in psychological thought and experimentation” (Thorndike, 1944). Cattell and Science

Cattell was central to the story of the AAAS from the turn of the century until his death. Sokal, Kohlstedt, and Lewenstein have detailed that story in an excellent recent publication (Sokal et al. , in press); we simply summarize some of the highlights of Cattell’s AAAS years, as gleaned from their research and our own. As already mentioned, the AAAS was at a critical moment in its history at the turn of the century, as its membership numbers stagnated and attendance at meetings fell off in the face of the rising number of specialist societies that competed for scientists’ closely guarded time and energy.

It both had no official publication, and at the AAAS meeting in 1900, members began grumbling that they were not getting enough for their $3 in dues (Conklin, 1944, p. 153). The journal Science had been founded in 1880, privately published and kept afloat financially first through the generosity of Thomas Alva Edison and subsequently by Alexander Graham Bell and his father-in-law Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Leaders of the scientific community in America perceived a need for a journal that would keep them abreast of developments across the various scientific fields and that would also promote the interests of science for the public.

But the journal had a difficult time in the 1880s and early 1890s for various reasons (Kohlstedt, 1980). Of its first three editors, two were scientific amateurs who failed to gain the respect of scientific researchers. The journal varied in quality from issue to issue, and articles were often derivative of older published sources. The subscription list was never large enough to support the journal, so continuous external backing was needed, and patrons tended to offer more advice than editors wanted, leading to tensions and the resignation of the second editor.

The journal finally sunk in 1894, its last issue published in March of that year (Kohlstedt, 1980). A number of members of the scientific community gathered at an AAAS meeting in that year and pledged their support to keeping the journal alive, even recommending that the AAAS provide it a subsidy if it were revived. One of the journal’s aims had always been to report on the activities of scientific societies, and the proceedings of the AAAS’s annual meetings had been a staple of Science since its founding, but as yet there was no official connection between the journal and the association.

In the fall of 1894, Cattell purchased Science for financial reasons (Sokal et al. , in press). Of all of Science’s early editors, Cattell was without question its most scientifically established and respected. He was a faculty member and department chair at Columbia University, one of the leading research universities in the country, and he had a fine record of publication in the new experimental psychology. Earlier in 1894 he had started editing, with James Mark Baldwin, the Psychological Review.

Cattell was already well-connected in the American scientific community, and he used his new position to strengthen and broaden his network. More than previous editors, he was able to draw on these ties to persuade eminent scientists to contribute articles and information to the journal; its first new issue in January of 1895, for example, featured a lead article by Harvard physicist Simon Newcomb, another by Daniel Coit Gilman, president of The Johns Hopkins University, as well as a number of other presidential addresses and papers by leading scientists (Conklin, 1944).

Within the space of a few short years, Cattell transformed Science into a journal that people wanted to read in order to keep up with the latest advances and gossip in the various fields of science. His connections with a wide range of scientists nationally and internationally enabled Science to “scoop” other American periodicals on a number of exciting scientific developments of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, such as the discovery of X-rays, wireless telegraphy, new chemical elements, the rediscovery of the gene, and the Wright brothers’ early flights at Kitty Hawk (Sokal, 1980).

In addition to regularly featured articles and presidential addresses, he established a regular “Current Notes” section that included information on recent developments in various scientific fields, he included regular reports of local scientific meetings and reviews of scientific journals, he encouraged discussion of the latest scientific controversies in a “Correspondence” section, and he added a “Scientific Notes and News” section that gave professional news of the AAAS members (Sokal et al. in press). The latter section, Sokal suggests, was of special interest to members at a time when the scientific community was relatively small (only about 5,000 scientists in the United States and only about 2,000 AAAS members), and many of its members knew each other. As we will describe below, Dael Wolfie would later find it necessary to transform this section in order to meet the changing needs of a membership whose numbers had exceeded any reasonable sense of the term “community. Even while he was reviving Science and making it a commercially viable enterprise, Cattell sought to link his journal with the AAAS; he quickly arranged to receive the subsidy that had been recommended by the AAAS committee of 1894, and he subsequently worked with the Permanent Secretary (now called the Executive Officer) of the AAAS to make Science the official journal of the AAAS in 1900 (Sokal, 1980).

All members of the AAAS would receive Science without an increase in their $3 dues; Cattell would take a slight loss because individual subscriptions to Science cost $5, but his subscription list grew, which appealed to advertisers. The official linkage worked to the advantage of both Science and the AAAS, even exceeding their hopes. After a number of years of stagnation, within a year membership in the AAAS had nearly doubled, and within the decade it had tripled, hitting 6,000 in 1909 (Sokal et al. in press). Members now felt that they were getting something for their dues, and Science, now the official journal of the largest broadbased scientific society in the United States, had an even greater opportunity than previously to attract the support of leaders of the scientific community and to become the central journal to represent the interests of all the sciences in America.

Cattell had revitalized Science, and its union with the AAAS helped to breathe new life into that organization as it weathered the changes of an increasingly specialized scientific community. HelpingPsychology. com (2010) James McKeen Cattell: Noteworthy Psychologist. Retrieved on January 9, 2011 from http://helpingpsychology. com/? s=James+McKeen+Cattell Plucker, J. A. (Ed. ). (2007). Human intelligence: Historical influences, current controversies, teaching resources. Retrieved January 9, 2011, from http://www. indiana. edu/~intell

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