Twins Reunited

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Wouldn’t it be nice (scientifically speaking) if you could deliberately separate twins at birth and then secretly follow up their development? But of course, you couldn’t possibly do that…or could you?

Update: You can listen to them being interviewed on Talk of the Nation.


  1. Wow, what an asshole this Neubauer guy must be. 
    Some people really do see fellow humans as cattle.

  2. There really are people who believe that it’s somehow bad to be a twin – or, perhaps that it’s bad to be raised as a twin. I have no idea whether Neubauer believed that. The behaviour of academics is usually explicable by what they see as being in their own immediate self-interest; just like other people, but often with an added layer of whining, hypocritical, sanctimonious, self-regarding self-justification.

  3. Mind you, I wonder what current adoptive practices will look like, 35 years hence.

  4. Pesumably it was the mother who decided to give the children up for adoption in the first place. It was then the adoption agency, in consultation with Neubauer and another ‘expert’, who decided to place them separately. Of course, it might not always be possible to find adoptive parents to take both twins together.

  5. Lots of twins given up for adoption were separated. Just because a study was performed on this pair, why should it suddenly become a tragedy? 
    “Nature intended us to be raised together” Presumably Nature also ‘intended’ them to be raised by their birth parents, but that wasn’t in the cards.

  6. Wow, what an asshole this Neubauer guy must be. 
    I got the impression that it was “policy” to separate twins for adoption, and that he merely took advantage of it. (I’m pretty sure, before the 1970s or so in the US, that it was normal policy to separate siblings who were adopted). Most of the references have a passive voice (“were separated”), so it’s hard to tell who did the separating or made that decision. I can see how the twins would be PO’d about it, though, but I think the main issue wasn’t separation, which probably happened absent any studies, so much as the lack of informed consent about being studied. 
    Here’s an abstract:  
    “The first of the companion papers presented here offers the first in-depth historical overview of Dr. Peter Neubauer’s controversial study of infant identical twins separated at birth, launched in the 1950s. The author, Dr. Lawrence Perlman, was a research assistant on the project while earning his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from New York University.” (login needed to access the actual paper).  
    Here’s something funny from the London Review of Books: 
    During the Sixties, in New York City, twins put up for adoption were separated and used for psychological studies under the direction of Peter Neubauer, who never told either them or their parents that they were twins, or that they were being studied. In our day, the political bias has resurfaced in the racist hypotheses and conclusions of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray?s The Bell Curve. One of the twins in Neubauer?s study later remarked, ?This is nightmarish, Nazi shit,? while the psychiatrist involved in the study confessed: ?In those days we were playing God.? Satan, I?d say, while we?re waxing mythological.

  7. If you follow the link at the foot of the (1998) LRB article quoted above, there is a letter from Neubauer that states quite specifically that the decision to separate the twins was made by the adoption agency and that he only after the event decided to exploit the research possibilities.

  8. Some adoption agencies did have a policy of separating twins, but I don’t know how common it was. In Newman et al’s 1930s study of separated twins there is actually a case where a wealthy woman wanted to adopt both twins, but the agency refused to allow it.

  9. My identical twin is probably thinking that the real crime is locking the results of the research up for another 60 years.

  10. Interesting that a researcher with leanings towards nature is blamed for a policy instituted by people who tended to believe in nurture.

  11. Now a non-ethical comment: 
    Does anyone else find it odd how in the child pictures the two somehow look switched? Except for the hair, Elyse at age 11 looks to me more like Paula as an adult, and vice versa.

  12. LRB article quoted above, there is a letter from Neubauer that states quite specifically that the decision to separate the twins was made by the adoption agency and that he only after the event decided to exploit the research possibilities. 
    I don’t doubt that’s quite true – and it turns out the that parents were aware that a study was going on, too, but just didn’t know what it was about…which is not uncommon is psych studies.  
    (I didn’t finish the LRB article because it was so lame, and missed Neubauer’s letter there). 
    This NPR article says: “Bernstein says she had hoped Neubauer would apologize for separating the twins. Instead, he showed no remorse and offered no apology.” 
    The media presentation of this incident smells like a typical case of Journalists’ Logic: “Mengele studied twins, therefore anyone who studies twins is evil,” probably compounded by hype for the book.