Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Young Delinquent

I found a wonderful book today, written by Cyril Burt. Written in 1925, "The Young Delinquent" is packed full of the latest cutting edge research on criminal behaviour in the young.

It also has some very helpful photographs to show the reader what these ne'er-do-wells look like:

This young man was clearly a bad sort. The lack of a cravat and cigarette holder single him out as a member of the criminal classes.

As for this brazen hussy, I can only hope that she was taken in hand by member of the clergy and shown the path to righteousness. But what makes a sweet, rosy-cheeked child turn into a hardened recidivist?

Sir Cyril researched the subject of criminal behaviour in the young for many years and codified his research into a sociological equivalent of the Periodic Table:

If you click to enlarge, you'll see that some of the contributing factors include illegitimacy, incorrigibility and being Belgian. On another page, Burt devaites from the received wisdom of contemporary criminology and blames delinquency on "Excessive local facilities for amusement".

85 years on, it all seems patently ridiculous. However in 1925, Cyril Burt's apparently exhaustive research, backed up with pseudo-scientific tables and photographic evidence, must have seemed pretty impressive.

You only have to look at this lad to know that he's going to be trouble:

These two girls have been sent to a reform school, but has it done them any good?

Yes and no.

It's interesting to see that people were fretting over the same issues nearly a century ago, looking for easy answers to complicated questions.

As for Mr Burt, he went on to become Sir Cyril and was recognised as one of the leading educational psychologists of his day. There is an interesting article about him here.

In the meantime, we should avoid exposing Belgians to an excess of leisure facilities, otherwise all hell might break loose.


Martin H. said...

Is the chap in the penultimate picture, going to give you an eyeful of water from that flower in his lapel?

Funny, if you look at old film footage from way back, there's always a gaggle of lads jostling for position in front of the camera. I've even seen a sly two fingers raised, 1910 style.

Nice post. Beware the Belgians.

JRSM said...

These are fascinating extracts. I'm tempted to put up the periodic table in my office.

Have you turned up any good eugenics books in your job? I bet there'd be some frightening things in there, too.

MikeP said...

Brilliant! Top picture reminds me of an illustration in Scouting for Boys, visible here:

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Priceless - I am examining my family tree for suspect signs of Belgianness as we speak.

What a very kind article on his life, considering the loopiness of his ideas in retrospect.

It seems Eugenics were all the rage in his heyday though.

Steerforth said...

James - sadly I come across remarkably few eugenics titles. I have one at home - The Racial Elements of European History by Hans Gunther, which is utterly mad, featuring photos of strong, handsome "Nordic" types and comparing them unfavourably with swarthy Latins and Fagin-like Jews.

A lot of books of this type must have been published, so what has happened to them?

Martin - I like the idea of the flower squirting water!

Mike - thanks for the link. The smoking boy looks like the "missing link".

Laura - I'm sure that there's a little bit of Belgian in all of us ;)

The Poet Laura-eate said...

What is most amusing of all is how the main proponents of eugenics often couldn't have looked less like their pontificatins of the perfect specimin and are invariably always decribed as 'difficult' or 'challenging' characters to boot.

Take that nice Mr Hitler for example...

Anonymous said...

There were two professors at Harvard in the 1990's who published a very l-o-o-o-n-g very seriously intended book caled "The Bell Curve" in which they pontifcated that IQ was linked to race: Asians were at the top, caucasians came next, and the poor black Africans -- well, don't ask don't tell. Needless to say the book caused a firestorm of criticism. It was particularly damning coming from two professors at such a (supposedly) learned place. I read most of the book (util my eyes glazed over and I couldn't take any more). It seems to have fallen by the wayside though copies can still be obtained on Amazon. My recommendation? Save your money. Canadian Chickadee

Anonymous said...

Here is some information on the book, The Bell Curve, by Hernstein & Murray. The info is taken from Wikipedia.

The Bell Curve

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) (ISBN 0-02-914673-9) is a controversial, best-selling 1994 book that Charles Murray wrote with the late Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein. Its central point is that intelligence is a better predictor of many factors including financial income, job performance, unwed pregnancy, and crime than one's parents' socio-economic status or education level. Also, the book argued that those with high intelligence (the "cognitive elite") are becoming separated from the general population of those with average and below-average intelligence, and that this was a dangerous social trend.
Much of the controversy erupted from Chapters 13 and 14, where the authors write about the enduring differences in race and intelligence and discuss implications of that difference. The authors were reported throughout the popular press as arguing that these IQ differences are genetic, although they state no position on the issue in the book, and write in the introduction to Chapter 13 that "The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved."
The book's title comes from the bell end-shaped normal distribution of IQ scores. The normal distribution is the limiting distribution of a random quantity which is the sum of smaller, independent random phenomena. The message in the title is that IQ scores are normally distributed because a person's intelligence is the sum of many small random variations in genetic and environmental factors.
Shortly after publication, large numbers of people rallied both to criticize and defend the book. Some critics denounced the book and its authors as supporting scientific racism. A number of books were written in response, to criticize The Bell Curve. Those books included a revised edition of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man as well as The Bell Curve Debate, which contains essays that respond to the controversial issues raised in The Bell Curve. Arthur S. Goldberger and Charles F. Manski critique the empirical methods used to justify the book's hypotheses.[18] They criticize the authors and the publisher for circumventing the peer review process that serious scientific books must undergo to demonstrate the scientific merit of the research.

lapsangsouchong said...

Further to what Anonymous said, Stephen Jay Gould's book actually contains a whole chapter entitled "The Real Error of Cyril Burt"--it's the 'key' chapter, too.

Steerforth said...

Thank you all for adding a more erudite note to this post. Yes, I remember The Bell Curve and the controversy that greeted its publication.

At the time, I recall that some people depicted the authors as bravely defying the dogma of political correctness, but their thesis was flawed: even the best IQ tests are loaded with cultural references that favour white, middle class participants.

I'm in two minds. I'm repulsed by the concept of eugenics, but I think it's disingenuous to imply that we're all equal.

Steerforth said...

And I realise that my last comment was a very inadequate response.