Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men

Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men

by Peter Hegarty


View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Thursday, October 18?   Order by 12:00 PM Eastern and choose Expedited Shipping at checkout.


Gentlemen's Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men by Peter Hegarty

What is the relationship between intelligence and sex? In recent decades, studies of the controversial histories of both intelligence testing and of human sexuality in the United States have been increasingly common—and hotly debated. But rarely have the intersections of these histories been examined. In Gentlemen’s Disagreement, Peter Hegarty enters this historical debate by recalling the debate between Lewis Terman—the intellect who championed the testing of intelligence— and pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and shows how intelligence and sexuality have interacted in American psychology.

Through a fluent discussion of intellectually gifted onanists, unhappily married men, queer geniuses, lonely frontiersmen, religious ascetics, and the two scholars themselves, Hegarty traces the origins of Terman’s complaints about Kinsey’s work to show how the intelligence testing movement was much more concerned with sexuality than we might remember. And, drawing on Foucault, Hegarty reconciles these legendary figures by showing how intelligence and sexuality in early American psychology and sexology were intertwined then and remain so to this day.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226024448
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 07/01/2013
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Peter Hegarty is Reader and Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey.

Read an Excerpt

Gentlemen's Disagreement

Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men

By Peter Hegarty

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-02461-5


A Gentlemen's Disagreement?

Just what facts would have been convincing about the superiority of the method of ordinary interviewing are not clear to us, and therefore the bald statement that Terman's "Data would have been more reliable if they had been obtained by direct interviewing" (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin, p. 31) is all the more galling. It is proper for some toes to be trodden on in a scientific investigation, but a smile in return for a scientific treading is to be hoped for only when evidence is presented. Authority contradicting authority gets us nowhere.

Cochran, Mosteller, and Tukey, Statistical Problems of the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1954, 76)

To my knowledge, Alfred C. Kinsey met Lewis M. Terman face to face only once, on the campus of Stanford University in 1952. It occurred after a talk that Kinsey had given about his sex research. The meeting was brief, perhaps because these two had said so much to each by other means four years earlier. On January 5, 1948, Kinsey had published the best-selling popular science book of a generation, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (SBHM). The reported sexual histories of the 5,300 White men within its 804 pages stayed on the bestseller list for months. At $6.50, SBHM transformed booksellers' imaginations of just how avidly the public might consume science. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, an equally profitable and voluminous book on the sexuality of women, would follow five years later.

Kinsey's sex research is widely interpreted as a moment in what Paul Robinson (1977) called "the modernization of sex": the shift from religious to psycho- medical authority as to how modern sex lives should be conducted. Like Freud, Kinsey is the kind of author whose writings about sex can appear jarring, arresting, or refreshing just as much today as when they were first written. For example, by using the orgasm (or "outlet" as he would term it) as the unit of sexual behavior, Kinsey found that only 87 percent of middle-aged married men's sexual behavior occurred during marital sex; extramarital affairs and masturbation accounted for much of the rest (SBHM, 281). Male homosexuality had been considered a psychopathology that compromised military strength during World War II, and homosexuality among women and men would be codified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952. But Kinsey reported that a full 37 percent of American men had had at least one homosexual experience leading to orgasm since their adolescence. In the same year that the UN Declaration of Human Rights stated that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," Kinsey reported that American farm boys' sexualities were ill-captured by conventional species boundaries. Almost 50 percent had had sex, at least once, with an animal. Generations of scholars have commented upon, used, and critiqued the Kinsey studies. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Kinsey's life and work became the subject of American documentary, feature film, and fictional novel—each of which contributed to making the network of bisexually active swinging researchers around Kinsey in the small Midwestern town of Bloomington, Indiana into something of a modern American myth.

The other party to this meeting—psychologist Lewis M. Terman—celebrated his seventy-third birthday just twelve days after the publication of SBHM in 1948. Terman had retired six years earlier from a long career as chair of the Stanford psychology department. When Terman read Kinsey's book, he was less convinced than the American public, or its press, that Kinsey had achieved a work of scientific genius. Terman worked diligently on a long review of the book, which he submitted unsolicited in May 1948 to Lyle Lanier, the editor of the journal Psychological Bulletin. This leading journal had already published a short positive review of SBHM by the psychologist Carney Landis (1948). Landis had originally submitted a much longer review which he had shortened at Lanier's insistence. Presented with Terman's lengthy critical review, Lanier now feared his editorship being perceived as partisan against Kinsey if he allowed its publication. Terman revised the review by shortening it, and made it appear shorter by presenting a long quotation from Quinn McNemar in smaller type. Lanier accepted Terman's review but reminded Terman that if Landis were to request it, he would allow him to publish his original positive review of Kinsey. To my knowledge, Landis never made this request.

Terman's work was as world-shaping and controversial as Kinsey's. When published in 1916, Terman's "Stanford-Binet" test of children's intelligence became the most successful of several such English-language tests competing for dominance in the United States. Shortly thereafter Terman worked as part of a team of psychologists, led by psychologist Robert M. Yerkes, who tested the IQ of American soldiers en masse during World War I. That army research became a matter of national public discourse in the 1920s, leading Terman to defend IQ tests against criticism in the popular press that the tests were anti-egalitarian and antidemocratic. During the 1920s, as funding for the study of child behavior was more firmly nationalized, Terman developed several group tests that could be used to quickly measure the IQ of vast numbers of American schoolchildren, and he initiated a longitudinal study of high IQ children of unprecedented scope and duration. This study of "gifted children" was a lifelong passion of Terman's, and the data he gathered on gifted children continue to be both mined by research psychologists and debated by historians of psychology today.

As psychologists began to consider how differences in IQ scores both between individuals and between social groups could result from environmental influences, Terman and his colleagues at Stanford came to define the conservative position that individual and racial differences in IQ scores were stable consequences of biological inheritance. Such longstanding debates about IQ are anything but an "academic" issue. In the United States, a person's IQ score can be a matter of life or death; the death penalty cannot be applied, in many states, to prisoners with an IQ lower than 70. However much IQ shapes, saves, and ends American lives, American psychologists lack consensus on the definition of "intelligence," beyond the opinion expressed by Terman's friend E. G. Boring in the early 1920s that "intelligence" is simply whatever intelligence tests measure.

In short, Terman's life and work were not free of controversy, raising the question of why—as an elder statesman in the discipline of psychology—he described his review of Kinsey's book as "without exception, the most difficult I have ever attempted." Terman's review presents a puzzle to the history of sexuality, intelligence, and psychology. One of Kinsey's biographers has called Terman Kinsey's "most determined critic," and while the exchange between these two is mentioned in biographies of each of them, the particular matters that arose between them have not been attended to in the literatures about either. The most detailed published history of Terman's review of Kinsey appears in James Jones's biography Alfred Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. Jones described the review as "vigorous, but gentlemanly" (1997, 589) and Terman as a reviewer who was "aware that he had strong feelings about the book" but who "struggled to keep them from creeping into his writing, a challenge that required several drafts" (588).

However, there is more than a hint of ungentlemanly politics about the review and its aftermath. While Terman is often remembered as a founding father of the IQ testing movement, he also became a dedicated sex researcher in the years between the World Wars, publishing books on the measurement of gendered personalities and marital happiness. Kinsey had reviewed Terman's research very negatively in SBHM. (In contrast, he had praised psychologist Carney Landis's research on the sexuality of disabled women.) Terman's private letters suggest that strong feelings increasingly determined his actions once he learned that his criticisms of Kinsey were shared by others. Terman studied as an undergraduate at Indiana University from 1901–3, where Kinsey worked throughout his academic career. In 1949, Terman brokered his alumnus status to criticize Kinsey to the IU president, Herman Wells. Terman also wrote to psychologist Robert Yerkes whose opinion of Kinsey mattered particularly. Yerkes and Terman were close friends and frequent correspondents from World War I until Yerkes' death in 1956. After World War I, Yerkes chaired the National Research Council's Committee for Research for Problems of Sex (the CRPS). Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, this committee had strenuously avoided controversy by refusing to use Rockefeller Foundation funding to support the research of social hygienists who aimed to conduct what we now call "sex surveys," funding hormonal studies of sex and studies of animal behavior instead. Terman's professional relationship with Yerkes allowed him to become an exception to this rule, and he garnered CRPS funding for research on "masculine" and "feminine" personalities, marital happiness, and the adult sex lives of gifted children.

Yerkes retired from the CRPS in 1947, passing the chairmanship of the committee to George Corner. When matters threatened to become ungentlemanly between Kinsey and Terman, the legitimacy of the CRPS came into question once again. The unparalleled popular success of Kinsey's SBHM had made it obvious that there had been a large national investment in the sex survey. However, the critical review by the venerable psychologist Lewis Terman, in whom the CRPS had also invested, cast doubt on the legitimacy of such research and the legitimacy of the CRPS's definition of "good science." After reading Terman's review of Kinsey, Yerkes wrote to Corner about the need to "safeguard values in accordance with accepted scientific practice," but this matter was not simple. The Terman/Kinsey debate made clear that the two scientists who had been trusted with CRPS grant money could not agree on which scientific values to safeguard and which to question when empirical science was extended to human sexuality.

Why had the CRPS come to invest so heavily in Kinsey in the first place? Robert Yerkes first met Kinsey at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1941, at a time when the kinds of biomedical research projects that the CRPS had been funding were being supported differently and the raison d'être of the CRPS was in question. By 1941, Yerkes needed to invest in a different kind of sex researcher. A few years earlier, Kinsey—an insect biologist by training—had taken his first steps into sex research by teaching a "marriage education" course to his IU students, and had begun to gather his students' "sexual histories," initially with questionnaires and later with one-on-one interviews. Kinsey had presented a paper at the AAAS on diverse sexual histories of men that he recruited on campus, in Indiana's penitentiaries, and in Chicago's gay bars. Kinsey had approached the task of collecting sex histories with an enthusiasm for gathering large samples through tireless fieldwork that he had previously applied only to his insect biology work. His AAAS paper (1941) showed variability in men's histories that would bedevil any attempt to divide men into two clear species of "homosexuals" and "heterosexuals." To Yerkes, Kinsey seemed to be the right scientist for the job of keeping the CRPS in play. Through the war years and after, the relationship between Bloomington and the Rockefeller Foundation thickened. Kinsey's team expanded, and his research came to consume half of the CRPS's annual research funding budget.

Quite apart from their explicit disagreements, Kinsey and Terman were similar in many respects. Like so many other American scientists, both were caught up in the enthusiasm for eugenics in the 1920s. This social movement drew on Darwinian theory in its aim to increase national, racial, or species "fitness," found allies among the IQ testing movement, and led to sterilization laws in many American states. Indeed, both the biology department where Kinsey worked at IU and the psychology department at Stanford that Terman chaired from 1922 until his retirement in 1942 were housed in buildings named Jordan Hall to honor the biologist and eugenicist David Starr Jordan, who had been president of both universities. Curiously, Kinsey—the biologist—adopted quite a behavioral approach to male sexuality, while Terman, the psychologist, argued strongly that intelligence was a matter of biological inheritance. Both suffered from childhood illnesses that have been interpreted as influential on their mature scientific work, including their beliefs about the extent to which biology provides a blueprint for individual destiny. These two men also crossed trails in research; both conducted research on sex offenders in San Quentin, California's oldest prison.

Beyond the specifics of their intersecting lives, Terman's debate with Kinsey has intrigued me because it points to the unstable ways that two ineffable, but often governed, attributes of people, "sexuality" and "intelligence," came to signify each other in the human sciences of the early twentieth century. Both "sexuality" and "intelligence" exemplify the paradox identified by historian Steven Shapin that all attempts to separate "sciences" from "politics" engender sciences that are effective politically to the extent that they are taken to be nonpolitical. My point in drawing Kinsey and Terman together in this book is to make the critical histories of these two constructs speak to each other more explicitly. Indeed, I will argue that silences about the ways intelligence and sexuality have been co-constructed have been constitutive of both concepts. But to avoid introducing a silence over my own stakes in this debate, let me explain how I came to be interested in these two and to write this book.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, prior to an economic boom-and-bust in the Irish knowledge economy, public conversations about Irish intelligence were organized by fears of a brain drain caused by emigration. In 1993, I contributed to brain drain statistics when I took my Irish undergraduate degree in psychology to California to begin a Ph.D. program in the Stanford psychology department that Terman had once chaired. I came out about six months after moving to Stanford, becoming another ordinary person for whom life narratives of migration and the realization of being gay are connected. Being both gay and a foreign student fueled my developing sense of being "other" than "Stanford material," a phrase used freely, and only sometimes with ironic detachment, to describe those who were read as displaying the intellectual attributes that justified their presence. Much like the feminist psychologist Sandra Bem (2001), who was a faculty member there in the 1970s, I experienced the Stanford psychology department as a place where there were only two grades, A+ and F. But Stanford was also an environment where many more bright people needlessly feared the F than their peers might have guessed. People who knew me during my time at Stanford might remember someone who was more often alienated from the institution's norms than anything else.

The early 1990s were an interesting moment to arrive at an American campus as a foreign student, with chest x-rays in hand—the visual evidence that I had brought no infectious diseases with me. This was the era in which terms like "political correctness" gained purchase as a means of silencing debates on campus about inequality about sexuality, gender, and race. My prior knowledge of such inequalities within the United States left me ill equipped for such conversations; one of my first "consciousness-raising" moments after coming out was a tense conversation in which I (now to my shame) argued that a college course that considered queer theory was obviously a case of "political correctness" taken too far. My interests changed in this climate, as I increasingly came to perceive psychology's meta-theoretical commitment to cognitivism as being in tension with the exciting ideas about modern thought that I was absorbing from queer theory and feminist philosophy. From Ireland, I had originally proposed Ph.D. research that would examine how schoolchildren would estimate their capacity to solve math problems. I did not lose interest in studies of people's thinking, or in their importance for growing children. But I ultimately wrote a Ph.D. about the ways that heteronormativity shaped the interpretation of developmental research about sexual identity formation.


Excerpted from Gentlemen's Disagreement by Peter Hegarty. Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1   A Gentlemen’s Disagreement?
2   Why the Gifted Boy Didn’t Masturbate
3   Less Than Ideal Husbands
4   Queer Individuals: Their Nature and Nurture
5   Gentlemen and Horse Traders
6   Ancient Ascetics and Modern Non-Americans
7   Frontier Living, by Figures Alone
8   Normalization Now

Works Cited
Index of Names
General Index

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews