Giving Science Its Due

James McKeen Cattell

Cattell_James_McKeenOne of the early advocates of using quantitative methods in psychology, James McKeen Cattell studied under William Wundt, the “father” of experimental psychology, in Germany. Cattell, the first professor of psychology in the United States, was interested in the quantitative measurement of intelligence. His goals led him to pursue classic studies looking at differences between individuals’ reaction times during simple mental tasks, such as naming colors. Although Cattell’s “mental tests” have been replaced with more reliable intelligence measures, Cattell was a tireless advocate for experimental psychology and his work helped convince the academic world that psychology was not just a “pseudoscience.” He said that knowing certain things (i.e., what we can remember or someone’s reaction time) are facts of science which must be translated into an understanding of what we can learn from those traits and “disentangle the complex factors of heredity and environment.” To foster his interest in applied psychology, Cattell formed The Psychological Corporation to market psychological tests and related materials to educational, corporate and government clients. Cattell was also known for his work in scientific publishing. He founded the journal Psychological Review, Popular Science Monthly (which later became Popular Science), and from 1894 until his death also owned the preeminent journal Science and established it as the journal of the Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1942, Cattell established the James McKeen Cattell Fund to provide researchers with financial support to extend their university sabbatical to conduct scientific research and promote the dissemination of psychological science. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) established the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award to honor individuals for their lifetime of significant intellectual achievements in applied psychological research and their impact on a critical problem in society at large.