Bettelheim's Test Revisited

In an autobiographical account, Ben Wright (RMT 2(3):25-32) elaborates on how his early "career led to an identity confusion." After pursuing a PhD in physics doing almost nothing but measuring, Ben decided to seek out something livelier, more human. He explored possibilities in English and history, but wound up in the 1950s in psychology, and consulted doing factor analyses for Chicago marketing firms. In Ben's account, the contrast between the stable, interpretable results of measurement in physics and the unstable, uninterpretable results of factor analysis made him feel "like a crook." After some time in this awkward position, he met Georg Rasch, and joked that he could then "stop going to the psychoanalyst to have [his] schizophrenia mended week by week."

Ben does not mention them in his account, but his work in psychology included considerable time with Bruno Bettelheim. Their two co-authored publications focus on extending the lesson of identity development learned from autistic children into the domain of professional identity development. These publications, his book Hero, Villain, Saint (Wright & Yonke, Peter Lang Publishing, 1989), and the course on the psychology of becoming a teacher, that Ben taught for many years, explore the ways in which professionals emerge as independent thinkers and actors from a process that includes a decisive break with a key mentor.

In Ben's (RMT 2(3): 27) own account, he made an ineffectual step in this direction in 1964 when he contradicted Rasch by incorporating an item discrimination parameter into software he was writing with Bruce Choppin. He made a cleaner break a few years later with the development of the JMLE (UCON) estimation algorithm, which Rasch also opposed but which retained a connection with parameter separation and sufficient statistics in a way that the earlier 2p program did not. In Wright's own words, his UCON work

"was an important point in our [Ben and Rasch's] relationship because at that moment he and I separated a little bit. Up until then, as far as he was concerned, I was doing everything exactly the way he told me. But UCON was a new something that I did on my own, not to his liking, which seemed to me plainly convenient, practical and useful. So it was a point in our work where I was becoming myself, in spite of, indeed, against his wishes. We continued to be good friends. But from that summer of 1967, there was that bit of difference between us." (1981 Interview of Ben Wright by David Andrich,

By taking this step, Ben took responsibility for advancing his own ideas and innovations in a direction not specifically foreseen or supported by his teacher. As Ben already well knew from his work with Bettelheim, this meant he had completed a significant stage in the development of his own identity as a professional. His explicit awareness of the importance of this step raises the question as to whether he might have tried deliberately to provoke others into taking it.

Something that has rarely, if ever, been appreciated about Ben is his way of alternating between, on the one hand, improved access to measurement and, on the other, provocations to measure better and think more clearly. Rasch's models abstract information about individuals, but also integrate that information with that of the populations to which they belong. Similarly, Wright simultaneously supported the professional development of both individuals and populations by making measurement more accessible, and by provoking others into overtly testing and asserting the validity of their own measurement innovations and contributions.

In my own case, for instance, I had the great fortune of discovering on my first day in Ben's classroom concepts and tools that I had previously thought I was going to have to invent. But this revelation of open access to what I recognized to be of great value was soon (within 2 or 3 weeks) countered by Ben's flat dismissal of my approach to the language of measurement theory. That really made me mad, so I wrote an impassioned paper explaining my position, and Ben warmly embraced my point of view, adding with it respect for pushing back at him in an assertion of my independent identity.

A question we need to raise is how we as individuals and as a field are now to respond to the access and provocations of Ben's work. How have others historically risen to the challenge of Ben's one-two punch? How have some failed to rise to the task, or even failed to recognize that there was one? And, with the fairly recent realization of the vital role in measurement played by metrological networks of instruments traceable to reference standard metrics, we can now also articulate the question as to the extent to which Ben's combination of access and provocation reaches beyond the development of individual professional identities to the development of professions' identities.

After all, to what extent is psychology, sociology, or any other -ology actually fulfilling its mission as an effective manner of expressing a particular field of meanings if its logos remains blatantly dependent on the particular persons and phrasings of the questions and answers embodying the conversation? In other words, to what extent does a field of study actually have a professional identity if its objects and subjects are not clearly expressed and distinct from those of other fields? There are many expressions of the opinion that fields of study are as scientific as they are mathematical, but mathematical means quantitative far less than it implies a rigorous independence of figure (numeric, geometric, metaphoric, dramatic) from meaning. Rasch's separability theorem provides the basis for tests of that independence, and thereby becomes the basis for the development of professions' identities.

Does not Ben's work amount to a repetition and extension of Socrates' similarly simultaneously enacted roles of midwife and gadfly? And in the same way that, first, harmonic and geometric studies, and later, the modern sciences, emerged from Socrates' tests of ideas as hypotheses, so, too, today we are witnessing the conception and birth of new forms of understanding relevant to mathematical structures accessible in large part to the inspiration and perspiration of Benjamin Drake Wright.

A conference scheduled for April 25-27, 2003, at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, immediately after AERA, will present further elaborations on these themes. See the call for presentation proposals elsewhere in this issue of RMT for more information.

William Fisher

Bettelheim's Test Revisited. Fisher WP. … 16:3 p.886-7

Bettelheim's Test Revisited. Fisher WP. … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2002, 16:3 p.886-7

Rasch Publications
Rasch Measurement Transactions (free, online) Rasch Measurement research papers (free, online) Probabilistic Models for Some Intelligence and Attainment Tests, Georg Rasch Applying the Rasch Model 3rd. Ed., Bond & Fox Best Test Design, Wright & Stone
Rating Scale Analysis, Wright & Masters Introduction to Rasch Measurement, E. Smith & R. Smith Introduction to Many-Facet Rasch Measurement, Thomas Eckes Invariant Measurement: Using Rasch Models in the Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences, George Engelhard, Jr. Statistical Analyses for Language Testers, Rita Green
Rasch Models: Foundations, Recent Developments, and Applications, Fischer & Molenaar Journal of Applied Measurement Rasch models for measurement, David Andrich Constructing Measures, Mark Wilson Rasch Analysis in the Human Sciences, Boone, Stave, Yale
in Spanish: Análisis de Rasch para todos, Agustín Tristán Mediciones, Posicionamientos y Diagnósticos Competitivos, Juan Ramón Oreja Rodríguez

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