by Val Dusek
[Note by Brian Siano: This article originally appeared in
the November/December 1987 issue of _Science for the People_,
published by the Science Resource Center, 897 Main Street,
Cambridge, MA 02139. I don't even know if the magazine is still
being published; it's a shame, because it regularly dealt with
such topics as toxic wastes, nuclear power, eugenics,
biotechnology, and the like. I have a few back issues, one of
which has a dandy article in the psychological experiments of Dr.
Ewen Cameron conducted in Canada. I wish a local newsstand still
carried it. (BTW, its editorial advisory board includes Stephen
Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin.)
[Since this article appeared, Bouchard _has_ published his
data, although I don't have the specific references for where he
published. This article addresses his public statements prior to
publishing, and raises important questions as to Bouchard's
impartiality over his thesis.
[Val Dusek, at the time of publication, taught philosophy at
the University of New Hampshire.]
For seven years, popular magazines have regaled us with
tales of Oskar and Jack, a pair of twins, one raised in Nazi
Germany, the other raised as a Jew in Trinidad, who both think it
funny to sneeze in elevators and always flush a toilet before
using it. We have also been told about Bridget and Dorothy,
British twins who each wore seven rings.
These anecdotes issue from scientists undertaking a massive
study of identical twins. The study, conducted by Thomas Bouchard
and others at the University of Minnesota, is said to show that
I.Q., personality traits, and virtually every other mental
attribute or behavior is heritable, or capable of being
During the past year, lengthy articles have appeared in U.S.
News and World Report (a cover story), Discover, and Science.
Shorter pieces have appeared in Time, U.S. News and World Report,
the New York Times, and other magazines and newspapers. (1)
The Minnesota Twins Study's "latest bombshell" (as U.S. News
calls it) purports to show that traits such as shyness,
political conservatism, dedication to hard work, orderliness,
and intimacy are to a great extent heritable, and that
extraversion, conformity, creativity, optimism, and cautiousness
are more determined by heredity than by environment.
Despite all the media coverage, the scientific data and
methods of analysis upon which these conclusions are based have
not yet been published in a refereed scientific journal. A
December 1986 article in the New York Times and one in the
January 12, 1987 issue of Time referred to results "submitted"
and "being reviewed" by professional journals. However, in the
August 7, 1987 issue of Science, no reference is made to any
article having been submitted; it is said only that "the group
recently has submitted a paper."
This seems like a minor anomaly until one realizes that for
the last seven years, Bouchard has been releasing announcements
to the media regarding the Minnesota Twins Study and its results.
The news section of Science has several times enthusiastically
quoted Bouchard. Also since 1980, articles have appeared in
Science 80, Newsweek, The New York Times, the New York Times
Sunday Magazine, People, the New Orleans States-Item, the
Washington Post, and elsewhere. (2)
In these articles, traits from political conservatism to
toilet flushing have been claimed to be heritable. Bouchard has
declared his results "devastating" to feminists. (3) Opponents
have been termed "ideological." (4) U.S. News stated, "Unable to
hold back the swelling tide of evidence for the importance of
genes, supporters of the nurture side try to fight back with
This public trumpeting of 'science' without data is perhaps
the most extreme recent example of popular media releases without
scientific publication. Given the popular interest in Bouchard's
alleged results and their purported policy impact for child
rearing, social welfare programs, the criminal justice system,
and the schools, this situation raises questions of ethics and
responsibility. These questions relate to not only Bouchard and
the Minnesota Twin Study group in releasing these so-far
unverifiable claims. They also relate to the journalists who
uncritically convey the study's claims and the members of the
relevant subdisciplines within the scientific community who have
not raised critical notice concerning the twins study and its
Doctrines of hereditary I.Q., race differences in I.Q., sex
differences in math ability, the sociobiology of aggression and
sex roles, and other aspects of biological determinism have
flooded the media. In these media presentations, hereditarians
play a double game. On the one hand, they claim to be 'pure
scientists,' above the political battle. On the other hand, they
are not shy in hyping their doctrines to the popular press, and
have never, to my knowledge, criticized a favorable presentation
of sociobiological doctrine, no matter how vulgar and distorted
it may be.
The biological determinists often present themselves as
persecuted Galileos of science. But they do not hesitate to make
policy pronouncements on such topics as the inferiority of black
intelligence, the inability of women to pursue careers in science
and the law, the ineffectiveness of attempts to educate the
disadvantaged, or the 'naturalness' of female depression, rape,
capitalism, and war. (6) However, biological determinists tend to
claim that their own views are purely scientific, while their
opponents' views are purely ideological.
Bouchard, his co-workers, and supporters follow this
pattern. According to Science, "Bouchard wants to keep his study
free from politics." But in the same article, Bouchard is also
quoted as saying that his German twins are "devastating to the
feminist contention that children's personalities are shaped
differently according to the sex of those who rear them, since
Oskar was raised by women and Jack by men." (3) Thus, in a sample
of one pair of twins, Bouchard is willing to draw conclusions
concerning child rearing and sexual politics.
Many biological determinists portray themselves as liberals
who were brought by the 'harsh facts' of biology to hold
conservative doctrines. Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, psychologist
of inherited criminality Sanford Mednick, and others have made
Bouchard is no exception. Despite his discipleship to the
scientific racist Arthur Jensen at Berkeley, Bouchard claims to
have been engaged in "political activism in the radical
sixties." (7) Bouchard also presents himself as having stumbled
"almost casually" in 1979 into an interest in twins through
reading about a pair of reunited twins. (8)
In fact, Bouchard had already published research and review
articles years before on the heritability of I.Q. From this work
and that of his mentor, Jensen, Bouchard must have realized the
centrality of studies of twins reared apart for the I.Q. debate.
This importance greatly increased after Cyril Burt's data, a
major basis for Jensen's claims concerning black/white I.Q.
differences, was discredited as fraudulent. (9,10) Inferences
Despite the claims concerning hard evidence, large samples,
and the appeal to the biological sciences, what we find in
statements by Bouchard and in material released to the media from
the Minnesota Twin Study are anecdotes and amazing stories. What
is striking about the anecdotal material is its similarity to the
sort of evidence often offered as proof for astrology or
extrasensory perception (ESP).
Striking coincidences are reported as supposed grounds for
belief in the phenomenon itself. In literature about astrology
and ESP, cases where forecasts came true or where thought of a
friend was immediately followed by a phone call from that friend
are offered as evidence. The cases where forecasts failed or
where a thought of someone is not followed by a phone call from
that person are forgotten or left unmentioned.
Bouchard's coincidence anecdotes are of a similar nature:
we are told about the similarities (seven rings on fingers,
sneezing in elevators) but not about the differences. But some of
the similarities are physical ones that are to be expected in
identical twins. Other behavioral similarities are not all that
Two twins living east and west of the Mississippi turn out
later to live on opposite sides of the river in Louisiana. Even
if "the mighty Mississippi divided" the twins, the fact that they
both wear cowboy hats and like hunting is not that unusual for
two working-class men in the same region of Louisiana.11
Oskar and Jack, the Nazi and Jew -- superficially the most
spectacular case of twins reared apart -- both had less
isolation from each other and less different environments than
the media stories reveal. They were raised by their own relatives
in two German households. One of these households emigrated to
Trinidad. Bouchard himself admits that their household
environments were more similar than their Nazi-vs.-Jew image
suggests. In fact, the two men met briefly during the 1950s in
Germany, and their wives kept up correspondence since that
Bouchard notes that one function of the media publicity
about spectacular coincidences is to recruit more pairs of twins.
But such pairs may wish to exaggerate similarities of behavior or
wear identical dress to receive publicity and scientific approval
for themselves. This sort of recruitment bias has occurred in
some earlier twin studies.
Some of the coincidences recalled can have nothing to do
with the twins' genetics, such as twins being adopted by
families which had adoptive brothers with the same name or the
twins themselves being given the same name by their adoptive
Even the language of twin study reportage is similar to
that concerning the occult. One of Bouchard's co-workers says
that they were still "bewitched by the seven rings." (13)
Discover magazine's front cover introduces us to "The Eerie World
of Reunited Twins."
While admitting that "Genes do not cause fires," one popular
book entitled Twins: Nature's Amazing Mystery moves easily
between enthusiastic reports of Bouchard's coincidences and
discussions of telepathic communication between twins and
synchronous events such as fires in the lives of distant twins.
(15) The anecdotes that Bouchard relates would seem more at home
on the pages of the National Enquirer than in those of Science.
It is ironic that Bouchard, in his reviews of the critics of
the twin studies, dismisses their work as ad hoc and
unscientific. (14) In reviewing Howard Gardner's criticism of
I.Q. tests, Bouchard says. "This book is primarily an opinion
piece, a collection of anecdotes... Gardner's scheme is not,
however, a theory in the rigorous (or even the non-rigorous)
scientific sense." (14) This remark is particularly ironic since
all that Bouchard has so far released are anecdotes of strange
coincidences that "struck" him.
Given that the largest study of identical twins reared
apart fraudulent by even Burt's students and admirers, and that
earlier studies of twins are replete with tester and surveyor
bias,15 it would seem especially desirable that Bouchard and the
Minnesota group open to public scientific scrutiny their data and
experimental design. However, all we have in the popular reports
are assertions of the heritable nature of various traits and
anecdotes concerning a few of the twin pairs.
The only paper in a refereed journal which makes use of the
Minnesota Twin Study data is a study of homosexuality in twins
reared apart. (16) This study relies on the huge data base of six
pairs of twins -- four pairs of females and two pairs of males.
Both members of one of the male pairs are gay. Only one member of
the other male pair is gay. Of the four pairs of female twins,
only one member each is lesbian or bisexual and one member each
From these results, Bouchard and McGue conclude that male
homosexuality has a strong heritable component, while lesbianism
does not. That such a grand conclusion can be drawn from this
sample of two gay male twins is even more mind-boggling than some
of the coincidences that Bouchard relates.
The Science review of earlier I.Q. correlation studies 11
and the study on the heritability of homosexuality are the only
articles in peer-reviewed journals closely relevant to or based
upon the twin study material.
A central feature of science is its public and critical
nature. Scientific data, unlike the lore and traditions of some
religious cults or such esoteric practices as alchemy, are made
publicly available in journals whose contents are reviewed,
evaluated, and published by members of the scientific community.
Peer review is meant to subject articles to critical scrutiny
prior to being accepted as worthy of publication. Despite the
fact that peer review does not always function to ideal
effectiveness, it is better than outright cronyism or nepotism.
Once the scientific article has been deemed worthy of
publication by a group of fellow scientists, the publicly
available account of data and methods is available to the entire
scientific community for further examination and criticism.
Methods of data collection, sources of sample populations,
statistical techniques. and the logic by which conclusions are
drawn can be carefully analyzed and criticized by other
The failure of Bouchard and his colleagues in the Minnesota
Twin Study to participate in the peer review process is an
extreme example of circumventing the scientific process and using
the media for public relations. But scientists in competitive
fields such as high-energy physics, genetic engineering and
medicine have also announced their discoveries to the press
before they are published in the organs of the scientific
community. Editors of the New England Journal of Medicine and
Physical Review Letters have complained about this practice, (17)
and have tried to discipline scientists who publish in the
popular press before their work is refereed by other scientists
through refusal of publication in their journals.
For seven years, Bouchard and the Minnesota group have been
announcing their 'conclusions' concerning the heritable nature of
personality traits. They have been relating anecdotes of
coincidences to convince the general public that subtle
characteristics such as "beringedness" (wearing rings) have
heritable predispositions and that complex behaviors, such as
double toilet-flushing, sneezing in elevators, and naming one's
dog Toy, are relatively independent of upbringing and
Most recently, the Minnesota group has released a list of
group's representatives have also expounded on such topics as the
heritable nature of Chuck Yeager's bravery (although Yeager is
not known to be a subject of their survey). (18)
It is possible that Bouchard's survey is exhaustive and his
logic impeccable. But as long as the Minnesota Twin Study does
not publish its data and the methodological basis for its
conclusions in a peer review journal, we cannot tell. To
investigate the background, upbringing, and circumstances of
recruitment for the twins involved in Bouchard's research, a
book-length study would first have to be released. The Discover
article promises such a book by 1989, but by the time critical
evaluations are published by scientists, a decade of media
coverage will have made its impression.
The media anecdotes about "eerie" and "freakish"
coincidences that "struck" Bouchard must remain on a par with
tales about astrology and ESP. And Bouchard's data and methods
must remain in that limbo in which Cyril Burt's imaginary
assistants and unverifiable data existed.
1. "The Eerie World of Reunited Twins," Discover, September
1987; "How Genes Shape Personality," U.S. News and World Report,
April 13, 1987; "The Genetics of Personality," Science, vol. 237,
1987; "Exploring the Traits of Twins," Time, Jan 12, 1987;
"Genes: Little Things that Mean a Lot," U.S. News and World
Report, Dec. 15, 1986; "Major Personality Study Finds that Traits
Are Mostly Inherited," The New York Times, Dec. 1, 1986.
2. "Twins Reunited," Science 80, Nov. 1980; "Identical Twins
Reared Apart," Science, vol. 207, 1980; "Twins, Nazi and Jew,"
Newsweek, Dec. 3, 1979; "Twins Reared Apart, a Living Lab," New
York Times Sunday Magazine, Dec. 9, 1979; "Two Ohio Strangers
Find They're Twins at 39 -- and a Boon to Psychologists," People,
May 7, 1979; "The Twins," States-Item, Feb. 25-29, 1980; "Me,
Myself, and Us: Twins," Science Digest, Nov./Dec. 1980.
3. op. cit. Science, vol, 207, 1980.
4. Bouchard's coworker David Lykken quoted describing Leon
Kamin as one of the "psychologists who object to genetic research
on ideological grounds" and "do not understand its true
implications." U.S. News, Dec. 15, 1986.
5. op. cit. U.S. News, April 13, 1987.
6. For a sample of the history and criticism of biological
determinist doctrines, see: Biology as a Social Weapon, the Ann
Arbor Science for the People Editorial Collective; The Mismeasure
of Man by Stephen Jay Gould; Not In Our Genes, by R. C. Lewontin,
Steven C. Rose, and Leon Kamin; Biology As Destiny, Science for
the People Sociobiology Study Group.
7. op. cit Science 80, November 1980.
8. op. cit Discover, Sept. 1987.
9. L.S. Hearnshaw, Cyril Burt, Psychologist, 1979. Hearnshaw,
eulogist at Burt's funeral and "official" biographer of Burt, was
only reluctantly led to his conclusions that Burt invented both
data and research assistants. Leon Kamin (The Science and
Politics of I.Q., 1974) had already raised doubts about Burt's
Interestingly, the only person who by 1980 still seemed to
have doubts that Burt's data were fraudulent was Science
journalist Constance Holden, author of three articles in praise
of Bouchard (Science 80, Nov 1980, and Science, vol. 207, 1980,
to cite two).
10. A look at Bouchard's previous publications in psychology
does not increase one's trust in the so-far-unpublished twin
data. Bouchard and McGue's "Familial Studies of Intelligence: A
Review," (Science, vol 212, 1981) reviews previous studies of
correlations of I.Q. among relatives, omitting Burt's discredited
studies. This article is obviously meant to show that despite the
loss of Burt's supposed data, there is a large body of work on
which hereditarians can base their assertions.
The survey has many faults. One is that Bouchard and McGue
do not mention or bother to deal with the faults already found
in the early studies that they resurrect (dating back to the
1920s, and largely from the 1930s and 40s). Many of these studies
were biased in their methodology and reported as "separated from
birth" twins who actually lived next door to one another,
attended the same school, played together, and had frequent
These studies are also vitiated by neglecting to correct for
the age bias in I.Q. tests. Despite the fact that I.Q. is
supposedly corrected for age, the I.Q. tests used in these
studies show I.Q. rising with age. Thus, part of the weaker
correlation between nontwin siblings than between twins arises
from the fact that twins are exactly the same age, while other
siblings may differ in age.
Finally, Bouchard and McGue simply pooled the samples from
very different tests and from tests which gave extraordinarily
divergent results. For instance, one test of siblings gave an
I.Q. correlation of 10 percent, while another test gave a
correlation of 90 percent. Bouchard and McGue simply averaged the
two to give a correlation of 50 percent. Given the radically
opposite results of the two surveys, it is likely that they were
performed with radically different biases and methodologies. They
could not have been randomly sampling two subpopulations of the
same homogeneous population of data -- a basic requirement for
drawing valid statistical inference.
11. Cassil, Kay. Twins: Nature's Amazing Mystery. 1982.
12. Ibid. p. 180. Also, op. cit Discover, Sept. 1987.
13. Op. cit. Cassil, p. 134-5, 158-164, 189.
14. Bouchard, Review of Howard Gardner's "The Intelligence
Controversy."American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 95, 1987.
15. Kamin, Leon. The Science and Politics of I.Q. 1974.
16. Eckert, Bouchard, Bohlen, and Heston, "Homosexuality in
Monozygotic Twins Reared Apart," British Journal of Psychiatry,
vol. 148, 1986.
17. "Gene Cloning by Press Conference," New England Journal of
Medicine, March 27, 1980: New York Times article, Nov. 18, 1974.
18. U.S. News, Dec. 15, 1986, and Time, Jan. 12, 1987. David
Lykken is the source of the claim about Chuck Yeager.
Sidebar: "Financing Racist Research"
The first New York Times report about the Minnesota Twin
study quoted Bouchard as saying, "I'm going to beg, borrow, and
steal" to pursue the twin study. In fact, Bouchard has solicited
money from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation with racist and radical
right-wing connections. the University of Minnesota has received
grants from the fund for Bouchard's twin study. Butthe Pioneer
Fund is best known for its support of research purpoting the
inferiority of blacks.
Once headed by directors such as the Chairman of the House
Committee on UnAmerican Activities, Representative Francis E.
Walter, and Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland, the fund has
long subsidized research and publication of the works of
scientific racists, including William Shockley and Arthur Jensen,
Jensen served on the scientific advisory board of the German Neo-
Nazi journal Newe Anthropologie. (SeeBarry Mehler's article "The
New Eugenics" in the May/June 1983 issue of _Science for the
The Pioneer Fund financed the work of Roger Pearson, quthor
of _Eugenics and Race_. Pearson also helped organize the 1978
World Anti-Communist League meeting in Washington, D.C. The
League has united old European Nazis with leaders of Third World
Bouchard, in his grant application to the Pioneer Fund,
noted that the National Science Foundation has repeatedly refused
funding for his study and has made numerous criticisms of his
method. Bouchard has claimed that the NSF and the National
Institutes of Health are packed with left liberals who deny him
funds on ideological grounds.
[Additional Commentary by Brian Siano: In fairness to the
Pioneer Fund, they also provided some funding for _The Atomic
Cafe_, a savagely funny documentary about the ridiculous claims
on the harmlessness of nuclear war circulated in the 1950s. It's
hard to call this film 'right wing.'
[As for the comments on the World Anti-Communist League,
they're certainly true; the WACL was even condemned by the John
Birch society as being too fanatical. A good resource on this
organization (which has numbered Roberto D'Aubuisson, Rev. Sun
Myung Moon, Ferdinand Marcos and John Singlaub as its members) is
_Inside The League_, by Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson.
[Roger Pearson deserves a study by himself. Many of his
books (some still sold my the American Nazi Party) argue classic
racist themes, mainly against the dilution of the white race's
genetic stock through intermarriage with blacks and Jews. _Inside
the League_ provides a quick thumbnail study of Pearson's views