Science and Ethics: Shockley and Money

Istvan Simon writes: Professor Hilton mentions never thinking about unethical physicists. He is right. I think that there seem to be  very few unethical physicists.  An artist friend of mine who is married to a great mathematician once  made a comment that I thought showed a profound and deep insight.  She said that  most mathematicians were in her opinion passionate and extremely honest people, because searching for the  truth is so essential in mathematics.  Indeed, her wise observation  can be extended to scientists in general. One cannot be dishonest and be a good scientist. The search for the truth requires integrity above all else.

Terrible things happen when scientists have no integrity. An example that comes to my mind is the story of Nobel Laureate  William Shockley. In the 70's Shockley and British psychologist Jensen  were advocating some strange racial theories, based on the observation that Blacks tended to score lower than Whites on IQ tests. Shockley thought that Intelligence is hereditary and depends in large part on genes rather than the environment. He based this contention on some studies by British psychologist Jensen, who published many papers on genes versus the environment based on a clever idea: the study of identical twins reared separately. This brilliant idea is attributed to Cyril Burt. However Burt was discredited, because it turned out that he never bothered to actually find identical twins reared separately, but instead invented the data wholesale , and so all his papers became essentially worthless. Jensen and Shockley's controversial ideas on intelligence, were  based on the same studies, and therefore were equally compromised.

An even worse story with catastrophic consequences to a case of lack of integrity in science, is the story, coincidentally also about the role of the  environment versus heredity in  the determination of sexual identity.  In the 60's American Scientist John Money was considered to be the greatest authority of this subject. Money contended that the environment rather than genetics determined sexual identity. Based on Money's ideas the accepted medical treatment for hermaphrodites was  surgery, in which the sex organs were reformed  arbitrarily, in the way  that seemed best to the surgeon,  and then the child reared as a boy or a girl, depending on the sex  assigned by the operation. The "definitive proof" of Money's theory  was the case of a normal boy, whose penis was accidentally tragically destroyed  in a circumcision. The desperate parents sought the advice of John Money. Based on his theory the boy was made into a girl through surgery, and then raised from infancy as a girl. Money published this case  as a definitive proof of his theories.  Unfortunately, Money, that could be called the  American Lysenko,  had no integrity. For  his papers on this case were a shamble. and untrue.  It took many years for science to undo the damage,  and unmask Money. In the meantime, countless babies were mutilated, believing that to be the best course based on what was believed to be the best science on the subject. The story of  John Money, and how he was finally unmasked, was presented  in the Nova Television series in a program called  "Sex Unknown".

RH: I knew Shockley, who was at Stanford.  He may have been wrong, but he was not unethical.  The nature v. nurture goes on and on. Circumcision and its drawbacks, like sex change, etc, have international  aspects, but there are bigger issues. When he strongly approves or disapproves of something, Istvan uses capitalist initial letters on nouns.  Does Hungarian like German love such capitals?  In any case, I lower cased them for fear that Istvan be denounced as a capitalist.

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004