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BIOGRAPHY 21.2 Charles E. Spearman (1863 -1945)

Charles Edward Spearman was born in London, to parents of some eminence. He became an officer in the regular army because, he said, this offered him more leisure and freedom to study than did other professions. He served as an officer in the Burmese and Boer Wars, then resigned to study psychology. Rather late in life, he took a position as a professor of psychology at University College, London. Above all, he is now known for two major contributions: (1) his work on factor analysis and (2) the development of a rational basis for determining the concept of general intelligence and for validating intelligence testing. These interests also forced him to study statistical methods and led to the development of the rank-correlation coefficient with which his name is now associated eponymously.

In a nutshell, Spearman's theory of intelligence states that any cognitive performance is a function of two factors: a general ability common to most cognitive performances and an ability specific to a given test. He showed that it was possible to determine this general factor objectively. This possibility gave a theoretical basis to intelligence testing that was missing from the empirical approaches of Binet and Wechsler, whose work ultimately led, as Spearman foresaw, to the cynical view that "intelligence is what intelligence tests measure."

Spearman's contributions have been further developed and have led to multiple factor analysis and multivariate experimental design (assessing the simultaneous effects of many variables); indeed, they have revolutionized many fields besides psychology.

Source: International Encyclopedia of Statistics, vol. 2 (New York: The Free Press, 1978), pp. 1036-1039.


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