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Lee Willerman and eugenics

Lee Willerman (26 July 1939—10 January 1997) was an American psychology professor and eugenicist known for his work on twin studies. He was dissertation advisor and mentor for gender critical psychologist J. Michael Bailey, who has published work on eugenic ideologies.


Willerman was born in and grew up in Chicago. Willerman received BA and MA degrees from Roosevelt University in 1961 and 1964 respectively, and his Ph.D. from Wayne State University in 1967. After a three-year stint at National Institutes of Health, Willerman completed a post-doctoral year at the University of Michigan in the Department of Human Genetics. In 1971 he took a position at University of Texas at Austin, where he remained until his death.


In 1974, Willerman joined the American Eugenics Society, and his work over the remainder of his life involved eugenics-themed hypotheses. His first study examined IQ and birth weight differences between identical twins, finding that the twin who had been heavier at birth tended to be higher in IQ. Willerman worked with Joseph M. Horn and John C. Loehlin on a major study of adoptive families, the Texas Adoption Project. Much of his work involved psychometrics and research into neuroanatomical predictors of intelligence.

Interracial offspring of white mothers obtained significantly higher IQ scores at 4 years of age than interracial offspring of Negro mothers, suggesting that environmental factors play an important role in the lower intellectual performance of Negro children.

Willerman (1970)

He also had a hypothesis that tangled capillaries in fingernail beds were evidence for a likelihood of schizophrenia, because similar capillaries in the brain were “allowing free radicals to leak into the brain.”

Eugenicists and hereditarians have long recognized the value of twin studies because they provide a natural control for experiments. Among the most notorious proponents of twin studies was Nazi Josef Mengele, who carried out experiments on 1,500 sets of twins, only 200 of these twins survived. Bailey’s initial work on twins led to several papers on the heritability of homosexuality.

Willerman and J. Michael Bailey

Willerman seems to have been a father figure for Bailey, shaping his thinking and setting him on the career path he followed:

My advisor, Lee Willerman, was a much better role model. Lee was one of the most intellectually and personally delightful people I’ve ever met, and he led me to discover a love of individual differences·IQ, sex differences, psychopathology, behavior genetics, etc. And he taught me the human sexuality course when I learned about an interesting theory of sexual orientation, which I investigated for my dissertation. The theory involved maternal prenatal stress, and I found no evidence for it. However, I loved the research area, and have stayed there, more or less.

Bailey has since published eugenic articles:

  • stating it is “morally acceptable” to screen for and abort gay fetuses: “selection for heterosexuality may benefit parents and children and is unlikely to cause significant harm.”
  • arguing that “offering sex offenders the opportunity to be castrated in return for a reduced sentence is not ethically problematic coercion.”


Willerman L, Naylor AF, Myrianthopoulos NC (1970). Intellectual Development of Children from Interracial Matings. Science Vol 170, Issue 3964 pp. 1329-1331

Willerman L, Naylor AF, Myrianthopoulos NC (1974). Intellectual development of children from interracial matings: Performance in infancy and at 4 years. Behavior Genetics volume 4, pages83–90 (1974)

Bailey JM (2003). Personal information. via his Northwestern University website. [archive]

Faulkner LR, Durbin JR Lee Willerman obituary via University of Texas at Austin.

Loehlin JC, Horn JM, Schultz R, Raz N, Bailey JM (1997). Lee Willerman (1939-1997). Intelligence, 1997, 24, 323-328.

Twin studies via

Freeman, Karen (January 31, 1997) Lee Willerman, 57, Authority On Genes’ Role in Intelligence. New York Times


Wikipedia (