Part I is the fascinating story of Philippe Rushton’s early days, his first flirtations with Darwinism, his leftist period, and his first inklings of how genes influence human traits.
From January to June, 1981, Rushton was a Visiting Scholar at the Berkeley Institute of Human Development. Officially, he was the guest of fellow altruism researcher Paul Mussen, but Mussen was away in China most of the time.
I sequestered myself in his vacant office to pursue my interests without interruption. I immersed myself in the literature on behavioral genetics, human sociobiology, and group differences and worked as intensely as at any other time in my life.
One important discovery was a then-new article on human origins in Science in which C. Owen Lovejoy applied E. O. Wilson’s r-K spectrum to various human ancestors from Australopithecus afarensis down to Homo sapiens. “It may have been Lovejoy’s paper that first opened my eyes to an r-K approach to race differences,” he later wrote.
Rushton also met relatively independent-minded scholars such as Jack and Jeanne Block “who studied sex differences and were annoyed by feminists and social learning theorists who tried to obscure their existence.” But he soon learned there were limits to how far from blank-slate orthodoxy his newfound colleagues were willing to stray. Although “many of the Institute’s distinguished members had acquired international reputations documenting the early emergence of personality traits,” none of them seemed interested in taking the next step and searching for genetic causes. “The reason was elementary,” writes Rushton: “At Berkeley, any discussion of behavior genetics was just a short hop, skip, and a jump away from Arthur Jensen’s politically incorrect research on Black-White differences.”
Rushton once recounted to me that at least one Berkeley colleague explicitly warned him against Jensen; he smiled politely and shortly thereafter dropped in on the great educational psychologist to ask for guidance on the hereditarian literature.
Over several lunches at one of his favorite Indian restaurants in Berkeley, Jensen sketched out his views, helpfully answered my barrage of questions, and provided copies of his reprints. [Regarding Black-White IQ differences] his conclusion had been only that since twin and adoption studies showed that intelligence was highly heritable within a race, it was a reasonable hypothesis that the average IQ differences between the races was also partly heritable. He firmly believed that the genetic race hypothesis must be investigated. Any topic that had so large an impact on education and society should not be avoided merely for ideological or practical reasons. I came out of our meeting profoundly influenced by Jensen and determined to read the relevant literature and come to grips with the whole controversy.
Since the earliest days of mental testing, psychometricians have found that people’s scores on tests of the most diverse mental abilities correlate positively. As early as 1904, British psychologist Charles Spearman hypothesized that there must be some general ability underlying all mental operations; he called this the “general intelligence factor,” now commonly abbreviated as g. Much of Jensen’s career was devoted to elaborating Spearman’s hypothesis and testing it empirically. In a democratic age, as Rushton observes, many people resist the idea of general intelligence in favor of the notion that there exist many different but equally valid kinds of intelligence. Thanks largely to Jensen’s work, however, “the evidence for g is the most established finding in psychology; it is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.”
Rushton went back to Jensen’s Harvard Educational Review article of 1969 and read Jensen’s three follow-up books. He also studied Jensen’s critics, including Leon Kamin. He eventually concluded that Jensen was right, while “Kamin and the critics were at best factually wrong, at worst willfully evasive.” If IQ tests were unfair to blacks, they would underpredict black academic and work performance; in fact, they (slightly) overpredict it. Jensen consistently found that the black-white gap was largest on the most abstract, g-loaded tests (tests that come as close as possible to testing this underlying general intelligence); a culture-only explanatory model would predict the opposite.
Eventually, Jensen demonstrated that general intelligence reflects the neural efficiency of the brain as measured, e.g., by reaction times:
Jensen showed that a test’s g loading is the best predictor of biological measures such as heritability coefficients, inbreeding depression scores, brain evoked potentials, brain pH levels, brain glucose metabolism, as well as nerve conduction velocity and reaction time measures. These correlations argue strongly for the heritable and biological, as opposed to the mere statistical reality of g.
Rushton noticed that Jensen’s books referred to plenty of racial differences besides intelligence:
Black babies are born a week earlier than White babies yet are more mature as measured by bone development, muscular strength and motor coordination. When two-week old African babies are placed in a sitting position they are better able to keep their heads up and backs straight. White babies often need six to eight weeks to do these things. Jensen also reported evidence of the earlier eruption of permanent teeth [in Black children] and the greater maturity of brain wave patterns. East Asian infants, on the other hand, are less motorically reactive and mature more slowly than Whites. East Asian children often do not walk until 13 months, whereas walking starts at 12 months for White children and 11 months for Black children. Based on these converging lines of evidence, Jensen suggested that “the three racial groups are on a developmental continuum on which the Caucasian group is more or less intermediate.”
This last quote suggests that Jensen was already halfway to formulating the theory that would make Rushton famous. It is not altogether clear what he meant by “developmental continuum,” but Jensen does not seem to have made the connection with Life History Theory or E. O. Wilson’s r-K spectrum of reproductive strategies.
Genetic Similarity Theory
Back in Canada, Rushton received a three-week visit from Robin Russell, an old friend from his British student days who shared Rushton’s interest in sociobiology. In the course of several long, intense discussions, the two explored the possibility of extending William Hamilton’s ideas about inclusive fitness to include genetic similarity not derived from direct kinship.
Hamilton had provided a mathematically precise solution to the problem of altruism, based on the idea that everyone inherits half his genes from either parent. The scope of his theory is well-illustrated by a possibly apocryphal quote attributed to British biologist J. B. S. Haldane: “I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.” The idea is based on the calculation that we share 50 percent of our genes with siblings and 12.5 percent with first cousins.
Hamilton’s formula may solve the problem of altruism in the case of close relatives, but the fraction of shared genetic heritage quickly sinks as kinship becomes more distant. When British nationalists suggested Hamilton’s idea might provide a justification for ethnocentrism, Richard Dawkins rejected the idea, citing the following example: Queen Elizabeth II is known to be a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, but their degree of direct kinship after 900 years is so small that probably not even a single gene has been passed down uninterruptedly from one to the other. In a similar vein, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers observed: “for large political groups like the United States of America, degrees of relatedness between virtually all members are nearly zero.” This widespread unwillingness to consider the claims of ethnic kinship may have been motivated by biologists’ reluctance to appear “racist.”
Rushton and Russell remained unconvinced. Men routinely sacrifice their lives for nations of millions, only the tiniest fraction of whom can be accounted for by applying Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness. The prominence of ethnic conflict in multiethnic states also seems to argue for the existence of some mechanism of identification with more distant kin; Rushton told Robin Russell about the ethnic solidarity he had seen at Berkeley, where Blacks, Jews, and Hispanics routinely band together to promote their group interests.
Of course, some part of ethnic identification may be “socially learned,” including common languages and religious and cultural practices. Still, given the ubiquity and frequent intensity of ethnic identification, an inborn mechanism for detecting more indirect or distant kinship cannot be dismissed out of hand.
During most of history, human mate choice has been heavily constrained by geography. The result has been the emergence of extended families peculiar to specific regions — races and nations — that are inbred to some extent, so that the genetic resemblance of members does not necessarily depend on direct kinship. Rushton and Russell reasoned that if altruism could evolve among close relatives, then it should be able to do so for genetically similar others in general, thereby allowing altruistic behavior to evolve well beyond the immediate family. People could maximize fitness by marrying people similar to themselves, helping the most similar of their neighbors, and engaging in ethnic favoritism (i.e., nepotism). They called this extension of Hamilton’s idea “genetic similarity theory.”
When they published the theory in 1984, most readers were critical. Dawkins and Hamilton did not even respond to queries. “Surely,” he writes, “it was obvious that people were also altruistic to non-kin such as spouses, friends, neighbors and fellow ethnics?”
Rushton eventually found six supporting lines of empirical evidence in favor of genetic similarity theory: 1) people prefer and trust those who look like themselves; 2) spouses and close friends assort most on more heritable traits; 3) twin and adoption studies find that genes rather than upbringing cause people to prefer similarity; 4) spouses and close friends assort on blood groups; 5) grief is greater following the death of a more similar co-twin or child; and 6) compared with total world genetic variance, random members of any one population are as closely related as half-siblings. Rushton also found evidence that organisms tend to avoid maladaptively similar mates—a kind of “incest avoidance” through genetic recognition.
Through assortative mating and other cultural practices, [he writes,] the selfish gene’s capacity to replicate itself in combination with those clusters of other genes with which it works well may be extended for hundreds of generations, not merely three.
Frank Salter integrated Luigi Cavalli-Sforza’s calculations of genetic distance into the theoretical framework of his fascinating book On Genetic Interests (2003), demonstrating that as genetic distances between populations increase, kinship coefficients within populations become greater. Two English people are only as genetically similar as third cousins when compared to Danes, but compared to Chinese, they are as similar as half-siblings; compared to sub-Saharan Africans, they are the equivalent of full siblings. Rushton concludes:
Rather than being a mere poor relation of family nepotism, ethnic nepotism is virtually a proxy for it. People have many more co-ethnics than they do relatives. The aggregate of genes they share with their fellow-ethnics dwarfs those they share with their families.
The British nationalists dismissed by Dawkins were onto something, and fear of the political implications may be what kept researchers from perceiving this for so long. Ironically, Rushton later found evidence that Hamilton himself had been thinking along the lines of genetic similarity theory early in his career, but later backed off, dismissing his youthful speculations as “wild oats.”
Developing the r-K Theory of Race
After meeting Jensen, Rushton began to review the international literature on racial differences in personality and temperament, family structure, crime, fertility, and longevity.
Several studies had shown that compared to East Asians and Whites, Blacks were less inhibited, more aggressive and more outgoing. The same picture emerged regardless of the age of the subjects, the trait studied, or the specific measurement used. East Asians averaged higher in cautiousness and lower in aggression, dominance, impulsivity, and displays of masculinity than Europeans, and both were less than Africans.
Ever since Walter Mischel’s famous 1960 study demonstrating the tendency of Black Caribbean children to prefer a small candy bar today to a larger one next week, blacks have been observed to focus more strongly on immediate gratification than whites:
African Americans spend significantly more than Whites of the same income level on depreciable products. Although the Black unemployment rate is double or more than the one for Whites, Blacks spend more on clothes, electronics and furniture. Detroit, which is 80 percent Black, is the world’s No. 1 market for Cognac. [Controlling for income,] Whites save nearly 20 percent more each month for retirement. One third of African Americans earning $100,000 a year had less than $5000 in retirement savings.
Rushton also discovered that the races differed in average brain size in the same direction that they differed in IQ. Like most people at this time, he assumed the notion of a correlation between brain size and intelligence was an obsolete theory that had been refuted by Stephen Jay Gould. In fact, when the most accurate modern methods are used (MRI imaging in vivo), the correlation rises to as high as .44. Eventually Rushton came to a key realization: the enormous mass of research carried out by evolutionists in the early 20th century — which by the 1980s lay moldering unread in university libraries and archives — had never been refuted; it had merely passed out of fashion, or been deliberately suppressed.
In 1983, Rushton spent a sabbatical year at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, where he got the chance to work with Hans Eysenck, then serving his last year as head of the department of psychology. During this time, Rushton conducted a twin study that found altruism to be 50 percent heritable and entirely independent of twins’ shared upbringing. This result surprised him:
I thought that altruism would be different from other social traits because parents would feel a strong responsibility to socialize their children properly. If their child was repeatedly getting into fights and never shared toys with others, I assumed parents would exert special effort to modify the child’s behavior.
He also made an important advance in r-K theory by discovering that dizygotic twinning in mothers is associated with an r life-history strategy: both twins and mother display lower than average IQ, faster maturation, less restrained sexual behavior, and a shorter-than-average lifespan. The usual three-way racial pattern also held good, with blacks most likely to have dizygotic twins and Asians least likely.
London was changing in those years. The media were careful to treat immigration as an unalloyed blessing, but occasionally hard data slipped out. For example, the Daily Telegraph of March 24, 1983 reported that Afro-Caribbean people made up 13 percent of London’s population but accounted for 50 percent the crime. A deputy commissioner of police told Rushton that if there were no blacks in London, the police budget could be cut by half.
Looking into crime statistics, Rushton learned that blacks assault whites about 60 times as often as whites assault blacks. US Dept. of Justice statistics for 1987 showed that whereas over 97 percent of white criminals victimize fellow whites, 67 percent of black criminals also victimize whites. He learned that criminology journals would not accept papers on race differences. When he got some of the same material published elsewhere, however, the same journals that had turned him down were happy to publish articles critical of him.
But there were also indications that longstanding hostility toward behavior genetics and evolutionary thinking was diminishing in the 1980s:
One sign of the times was Sandra Scarr’s presidential address to the Behavior Genetics Association in 1986. She declared that “the war is largely over. The mainstream of psychology has joined our tributary, and we are in danger of being swallowed up in a flood of approval.”
Prof. Scarr was careful, however, not to carry her theoretical approach into the realm of human racial differences.
So, for that matter, was Rushton at this point, at least in public. He made his first presentation on extending r-K theory in May 1984, but limited his remarks to individual differences; the feedback was encouraging. The following year, he gave another such talk at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Los Angeles:
A press conference had been scheduled to follow the session. One journalist, who seemed to recognize the broader implications of what I had described, asked rather aggressively each of the other participants what they thought of my ideas. The other panelists spoke favorably. [Robert] Plomin, in particular, said this was exactly the sort of integrative theorizing needed in psychology.
By this time, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which had hitherto supported Rushton’s research, was growing suspicious of the new direction his interests were taking, and turned down a grant request. Twin researcher Tom Bouchard told him about the Pioneer Fund, a research fund unconstrained by egalitarian preconceptions, and in 1985 Rushton applied for and received his first grant from Pioneer.
In the summer of 1986 Rushton began researching racial differences in sexuality with Anthony F. Bogaert, then still an undergraduate.
Bogaert was interested in studying human sexuality and curious about whether racial differences in sexual behavior would show the same three-way pattern I had documented for other traits. I hired him to help me review the literature. Bogaert spent most days in the library going through the journals and one afternoon a week we’d meet to go over what he had uncovered.
They found much of the literature on race differences “surreal.” A 1972 review article in the Psychological Bulletin, e.g., reported that 10 out of 12 studies indicated children in Africa matured earlier than those in Europe — before dismissing all ten studies in favor of two which found “no difference.” The Sex Atlas (1978) assured its readers that there was no relation between race and penis size — a statement clearly belied by the photographs in the book itself. Other researchers reported that there were no race differences in sexual behavior based on analysis of the same data sets in which Rushton and Bogaert were finding very strong differences! Seeing so many authorities arrayed against them, they checked and rechecked every step of their own research until they were satisfied that they had gotten it right — and that the supposed authorities had been blinded by egalitarian prejudice.
It took many months before we were able to withstand the counter-claims, many of which came to look silly as we found the predicted three-way racial pattern emerged repeatedly from each new analysis. At our weekly meetings we identified new variables to investigate, additional surveys to examine, and more archival data sets to analyze. Then we held our breath, waiting to see if the three-way pattern would replicate. It always did.
Rushton and Bogaert found, for example, that blacks had more sexual partners than whites, more frequent intercourse, a younger age at first intercourse, and a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases. East Asians were at the other extreme. Their research eventually resulted in three co-authored articles.
Tempests in academic teapots
At the September 1986 International Twin Conference in Amsterdam, Rushton for the first time unveiled one small corner of his developing theory of racial differences by demonstrating that r-K theory could account for racial rates of dizygotic twinning. The facts in question were well-known to this particular audience, and no explosion followed, but five participants co-authored a rejoinder to Rushton’s presentation which he found “obfuscating and superficial.”
At the annual meeting of the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (ISSID) in Toronto in June 1987, however, Rushton got a clearer sense of the trouble ahead. His conference talk on general race differences that fit the r-K pattern, based on a paper still in press, was part of a symposium which also included Danish psychologist Helmuth Nyborg, who was independently studying the applications of r-K theory.
About 100 people were in attendance and listened intently to our presentations. In the following discussion, however, several leading members of the Society rose, one after the other, to denounce our views as “unconvincing”, “premature”, “unwarranted”, “over speculative”, and “capable of promoting racial injustice.” It was this last concern that seemed to be the true source of their anger. What most surprised Helmuth and me was that the criticisms came from some of the most eminent members of our Society, whose own reputations derived from their research on gene-based biological foundations of behavior. When the session ended, they circled around [journal editor] Eysenck demanding to know why he had accepted it [the Rushton paper that was still in press] without first consulting them. As members of the journal’s editorial board, they argued they had the right to examine beforehand anything as controversial as a paper on race differences, which might bring the Society into disrepute.
After the conference — and apparently before publication of Rushton’s paper — Nathan Brody, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University, circulated an open letter charging that Rushton’s application of r-K theory was unconvincing because of his data’s “correlation with social privilege.” He concluded that given the “potential for misuse of these ideas I think that their publication is premature and unwarranted at this time.” Rushton responded by questioning how Brody could have reached such firm conclusions before examining the data and accused him of wanting to censor scientific truth if it conflicted with “social justice.”
After the offending article was published — with critical responses and a reply from Rushton — the President of ISSID, Gordon Claridge, circulated a “letter of censure” to the entire membership to distance himself and ISSID from Rushton’s views. He deplored the publication of Rushton’s paper in the society’s journal, characterizing it as “blatant propagandist material” that would “reinforce the worst of racial stereotypes.” Another barrage of letters followed, and “the debate escalated to the point that it threatened to split the society apart.” But tempers cooled once everyone had had his say, and the controversy did not escape its academic confines — yet. Rushton received a message of support from E. O. Wilson, who wrote: “I suffered repeatedly from such moralism after the publication of Sociobiology.”
Lee Ellis, a sociologist at Minot State University in North Dakota, also contacted Rushton with his own observations on the correlation between criminal behavior and a less K-selected reproductive strategy in humans. In November 1987, Ellis arranged a symposium on r-K theory at a meeting of the American Society for Criminology in Montreal, where he and Rushton spoke. The meeting ended up being overshadowed by a local news story: a black youth was shot by a white policeman as the conference was underway:
Hard stares rained down on me as I made my way to the almost deserted room for our presentation. One of the very few to attend was an aggressive journalist who demanded to know if we would make a statement on the shooting. We declined to comment on the grounds of “no information.” The media and several left-wing members of the American Society for Criminology, however, felt no such hesitation. In their eyes, the White policeman was to blame, even though none of us had made any investigation of the case. Nevertheless, a resolution condemning racism was duly proposed, passed, and recorded.
Rushton witnessed a similar example of ideological blindness at a 1988 conference of the International Society for Research on Aggression: “At the business meeting several grandiose resolutions were passed connected to the ‘Seville Statement on Violence’ which a group of left-wing scientists had put together at a [previous] conference in Spain.” That statement had declared: “It is hereby resolved that . . . the causes of violence are not in biology.” Rushton called it “worthy of Lysenko,” and noted that “the preposterousness of their wording [was] matched only by the dearth of scientific data to support it.”
By the beginning of 1989, Rushton had compiled racial averages for 60 different physical and behavioral traits. On all of them, blacks fell at one extreme and East Asians at the other, with whites intermediate but often closer to East Asians:
Any doubts on my part that the application of r-K theory to racial differences was correct had long since dissipated. I felt optimistic about the future. Research was moving forward on several fronts. Half a dozen students were working with me either on Genetic Similarity Theory or on [r-K] Theory and several faculty colleagues were collaborating with it in one form or another. I had actively studied race differences for eight years, published refereed articles in scientific journals on the topic for four and a half years, and amassed and re-analyzed numerous sets of data. I had discussed the research with seasoned colleagues and saw not a glimpse of an Achilles heel.
Public indifference to academic debate had protected Rushton for several years; but after his presentation on race and r-K theory at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in January 1989, he went home to such headlines as “Theory ‘Racist’: Prof. Has Scholars Boiling” (Toronto Star) and “Canadian Professor Provokes Uproar with Racial Theories” (Globe and Mail). Local television coverage juxtaposed photos of him with archival footage of Nazi stormtroopers, while cartoonists caricatured him in KKK robes or talking on the telephone with a delighted Adolf Hitler. The Communist Party of Canada joined in, telling the Toronto Star: “There are well-established procedures for the dismissal of tenured staff.”
Two weeks after the AAAS conference, the premier of Ontario publicly declared Rushton’s theories “morally offensive to the way Ontario thinks.” He told reporters that he had telephoned the president of Rushton’s university to urge Rushton be fired in order “to send a signal” that his views are “highly offensive.” (The premier was careful to note his support for “academic freedom,” however.)
When the university declined to fire Rushton, the premier asked the attorney-general of Ontario to investigate whether he had violated the Canadian criminal code, which specifies: “Everyone who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, willfully promotes hatred against any identifiable groups is guilty of an indictable offense.” How much hatred could be stirred up by Rushton’s data on differential rates of dizygotic twinning? If he had been found guilty, he could have been jailed for two years.
David Suzuki, a popular science presenter with solid credentials as a geneticist, challenged Rushton to a public debate. It took place February 8, 1989 in front of 2,000 spectators and was later televised across Canada. “This isn’t science,” Suzuki thundered to the audience. “His grants should be revoked and his position terminated at this university.” Suzuki’s failure to offer any rational argument or empirical evidence against Rushton’s theories did not go unnoted even by his ideological comrades.
Denunciations of Rushton were now appearing almost daily in newspapers. Headlines included: “Research Errors Destroy Claim of Paper on Racial Differences,” “Race Superiority Theory Exploded Long Ago,” and “Rushton’s Crime Theories Have No Basis in Fact.” Genetic similarity theory was interpreted as a call for “racial purity” — an expression Rushton had never used. Criminologists professed to be “alarmed” by Rushton’s use of statistics on black overrepresentation among criminals, calling crime statistics “a shot in the dark.” One week later, a new set of statistics was published supporting Rushton’s thesis, with the result that Toronto police were ordered to stop collecting racial statistics altogether.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation devoted an hour-long radio program to Rushton. Brief clips of his AAAS presentation were followed by segments three or four times as long in which scientists denounced his claims as “completely erroneous” and “laughable.” As Rushton put it: “the show left the impression that not a single expert agreed with anything I had to say.” Two weeks later, CBC television ran a 20-minute investigative report in a similar spirit. Editing and voiceovers removed Rushton’s caveats that the race differences he had identified were often quite small and could not be generalized to individuals.
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith compared Rushton’s academic position to having a witchdoctor on a faculty of medicine, and joined the calls for his dismissal — simultaneously declaring their support for “academic freedom.”
The Toronto Star continued its campaign against Rushton throughout the month of March. On the 9th, it published a lead editorial headlined “A Weak Reaction to Academic Fraud.” On the 26th, Easter Sunday, another editorial proclaimed Rushton’s ideas “the antithesis of Christ’s teaching.” On the 30th, it ran an article headlined “Rushton’s Research Should Be Stopped, Colleague Tells Group.” Rushton responded by hiring a lawyer who issued notices against the Star under the Libel and Slander Act; the smear campaign promptly stopped.
Rushton appeared on three American television shows to defend his research. A colleague later claimed he had “exceeded the bounds” of expected behavior by doing so. As Rushton notes, this is “a totally new idea which few scholars who regularly appear on television have heard of.” Many viewers have spoken of the powerful impression these shows left, particularly of the stark contrast between Rushton’s calm demeanor and the emotion-laden outbursts of his critics. Jared Taylor is one; he has told me how deeply impressed he was by Rushton’s poise and mastery of the facts. Hostile viewers must surely have been shocked to find that Rushton was a scholar and a gentleman, hardly the Klansman they had been led to expect. Perhaps the most valuable lesson of his memoirs is how he had earned such serenity: Years of meticulous and continually evolving research had overcome self-doubts far more challenging than anything his enemies had to offer.
The public firestorm and demonstrations that followed Rushton’s January 1989 talk went on for more than two years, occasionally bringing the work of his entire department to a halt and terrifying the secretaries. Rushton begins his story with a full account of the entire period, but this is perhaps an appropriate place to end this summary of his manuscript; the rest of his career is a matter of public record.
The full account of Rushton’s racial studies were published in 1995 as the book Race, Evolution, and Behavior, and are now a permanent part of the scientific record. To the end of his life, Rushton continued to defend and refine his ideas. He spoke at six American Renaissance conferences, always to appreciative crowds. He will be remembered and admired long after his critics are forgotten.