J. Philippe Rushton: A Life History Perspective
Thomas Edward Press, 2018
182 pages, $19.89 paper, free in Kindle
Ed Dutton has produced a significant critical study of the life and work of psychologist J. Philippe Rushton (1943–2012). As most readers of this site are aware, Rushton is famous for extending r-K Life History theory—originally developed for understanding animal behavior—to the three major races of mankind. As explained in his book Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1994), Black Africans have a faster (more “r”) “Life History Strategy” than the other races: they mature more quickly, do the least long-term planning, tend to produce a lot of offspring, but do not invest heavily in them. East Asians have the slowest (most “K”) strategy, with a late onset of sexual activity, more long-term planning, lower total fertility and a high-investment parenting style. Europeans are in between, but usually much closer to Asians than Africans. Higher intelligence tends to correlate with a slower life history.
Dutton’s study has two principle aims: to demonstrate that Rushton himself followed a fast life history strategy, and to assess his work in the light of biographical information and subsequent research. We shall begin with Dutton’s account Rushton’s family background and life, based upon his own genealogical research, interviews with many who knew Rushton, and access to Rushton’s unpublished autobiography.
Dutton’s research indicated that Rushton was not, as he believed, descended from the inventor Samuel Crompton. Moreover, his family history reveals a certain tendency to migration and out-marriage: his parents moved from the greater Manchester area to the southern coast of England, and his French name reflects his mother’s illegitimate birth to a French woman and a British soldier during World War I (the couple moved to England after the war, married, and had further children). Dutton argues that migration and out-marriage are consistent with the profile of “smart r-strategists.”
In 1948, Rushton’s family migrated to Durban, South Africa, where his father worked as a building contractor. In his autobiography, he mentions having an Afrikaner girlfriend during this period. Given that he was only eight when the family returned to England, this may not have been a terribly torrid romance, but Dutton notes that an early interest in girls is certainly characteristic of an r-strategist.
According to Rushton’s third wife, Elizabeth Weiss, “Phil mentioned that his parents left South Africa due to his father’s affair with the neighbor’s wife”—further evidence, according to Dutton, of r-strategizing in Rushton’s family background.
After four years in Bournemouth, England, the family moved once again, this time to Canada. Rushton’s interest in psychology began when he was fifteen; he was especially attracted to the work of Hans Eysenck. He also became interested in politics in his teens, joining the Social Credit Party of Canada, a small right-wing populist party. Writes Dutton:
Rushton recalls that he felt surrounded by anti-White and anti-Western views during this period. He sent off for reprints of old and by then ‘forbidden’ academic articles from the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics. This introduced him to the work of sometime Columbia University Professor of Psychology Henry Garrett (1894–1973), who argued that there were substantial black-white intelligence differences in the USA and that these could be explained by evolutionary processes.
At seventeen, Rushton became bored with school, dropped out, and took a book-keeping job with the Canadian Railway. He married a young girl named Nina Sack; in their wedding photo she is heavily pregnant. Their son Stephen was born in 1962, the year Rushton turned nineteen. The following year, the marriage ended; according to Weiss, this was because Rushton had begun a new relationship. He retained custody of his son, however, which Dutton speculates may have been due to the mother’s extreme youth.
[For] understanding the psychology of Rushton, this series of events is extremely important. All the behaviors which Rushton has displayed—dropping out of school, marrying young, having a child young, having an affair—are predicted by low IQ. But he manifestly had a very high IQ, so, instead, these reflect a fast Life History Strategy, and specifically low Conscientiousness. Rushton was ‘living for the now’, following his impulses, with little regard for the future.
Rushton and his new girlfriend moved to London in early 1963, where Rushton worked as a bus conductor. The couple never married but had a daughter in 1965. Rushton realized he needed a better-paying job, so he completed his A-levels via correspondence course. (A-levels are the British educational qualification required for admission to university.) During this period, however, his girlfriend returned to Canada, taking their daughter with her.
Rushton remained in London, raising his son on his own. In 1967, he entered Birkbeck College, graduating in 1970 with a First Class Degree in psychology. The former high school dropout now proceeded directly to doctoral studies at the London School of Economics, completing his dissertation on the subject of altruism in children in 1973, the year he turned thirty.
At some point during these years, Rushton made the acquaintance of law student Felicity Hammerton, with whom he vacationed in Italy, Greece and Israel. Following Rushton’s death, Hammerton wrote: “He definitely was the love of my life, but as I had trained to be a lawyer in England and he wanted to go back to Canada, romance ended and friendship sustained.” She used an inheritance from her grandfather to move Rushton and his son from “an appalling room in the East End” to the exclusive Holborn neighborhood of London. Rushton even persuaded her to leave her name off the lease, although she was paying the rent. This generosity would cost her when Rushton moved back to Canada and she had no legal standing in relation to the apartment. On the other hand, Hammerton reports that Rushton was generous with a love child of hers by another man: “appalled by the inhumanity shown by [the boy’s father,] Phil gave him time and love.”
During Rushton’s final year of graduate study, Hans Eysenck came to speak at the London School of Economics about how advances in electroencephalography could allow the recording of brainwaves correlated with IQ. Two years previously, Eysenck had published a book in which he accepted the genetic basis for racial differences in IQ.
A large group of protestors were in the audience shouting, ‘No Free Speech for Fascists!,’ and just as Eysenck began to speak, one of them pulled away his microphone, leading to uproar, the podium crashing down, and a scuffle in which Eysenck was punched in the face. ‘Adrenaline-pumping,’ Rushton clambered to the front. Believing Eysenck was under the pile of students fighting on the floor, he ‘pull(ed) people up and push(ed) them to one side,’ leading to Rushton himself being attacked by ‘Maoist’ activists. After this, he recalled that he had to go for a long walk in order to calm down.
Rushton did a year’s post-doctoral work at Oxford before returning to Canada in 1974. In 1977 he was appointed to a position at the University of Western Ontario, and in 1980 published a book, Altruism, Socialization, and Society, based on his doctoral research. Primarily relying on social learning theory, the study contained nothing especially politically incorrect.
But then Rushton spent a crucial six months at Berkeley, working with Arthur Jensen.
It was while Rushton was at Berkeley that he became a convinced evolutionary psychologist, accepting that humans are an advanced form of ape and much of their behavior is genetic and a result of evolution. In the same period Rushton also became convinced that both Jensen and Hans Eysenck were correct in concluding that there were genuine race differences in intelligence. It was also around this time that Rushton began exploring the possibility of race differences in [Life History Strategy].
In early 1983, Rushton returned to London to work with Eysenck. He recalled learning at this time that Blacks, who then constituted thirteen percent of London’s population, were responsible for fifty percent of the city’s crime. A deputy commissioner for the London Police told him that without Blacks in the city, the police budget could be cut by half.
He returned to Canada in June, 1983 and was granted tenure at the University of Western Ontario in 1985. At some point during the 1980s, he met and married Serpil Kocabıyık, a Turkish graduate student in mathematics. Dutton was apparently unable to learn much about this second marriage.
As early as 1984, Rushton applied to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a grant to study the possible application of r-K Life History theory to the races of mankind. Although they had previously supported his research, this application was turned down. Rushton then went to the Pioneer Fund, which awarded him a grant. He first publicly revealed his new theory before a small, hostile audience in 1987. The following year he also published two short pieces on racial differences in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Then, on January 19, 1989, Rushton (in Dutton’s words) “threw a grenade into the world of human biology.” Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, he gave a presentation entitled “Evolutionary biology and heritable traits (with reference to Oriental-White-Black difference).” It was widely reported in the press, and Rushton was
subjected to a year-long campaign calling for him to be fired from the University of Western Ontario. Newspapers published cartoons depicting him in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan. Ontario’s premier declared Rushton’s research ‘morally offensive to the way Ontario thinks’ [and] also called for Rushton to be fired. Left-wing campaigners scrawled ‘Racists (sic) pig lives here’ on his office door. A police investigation occurred to see whether there was evidence to prosecute Rushton (and possibly jail him for 2 years) for inciting racial hatred. This culminated in the Attorney-General of Ontario declaring that Rushton was ‘loony but not criminal.’ Rushton’s dean gave him an ‘unsatisfactory’ rating on his annual performance review, on the grounds of his ‘insensitivity,’ which Rushton successfully appealed against. His university lectures had to be videotaped and watched by students in private to avoid protestors turning his classes into riots.
The man who had occasioned all this outrage seemed to being enjoying it. Rushton even agreed to appear on popular American television shows such as Geraldo and Donahue, where he preserved his dignity as academic “anti-racist” activist Berry Mehler fumed and fussed.
‘I do enjoy intellectual excitement,’ Rushton once said. This quip is very telling. It has been said of Eysenck himself that, ‘he is attracted to the new and glittering areas to satisfy his exceptional need for intellectual stimulation. He is nothing short of being an intellectual sensation seeker,’ and that remark seems to have originally been made about Rushton by American psychologist Marvin Zuckerman. Fast LH strategists are essentially adrenaline junkies. They are evolved to enjoy risk, because in an unstable ecology you can only survive by taking risks. High in testosterone, they are also highly status-driven and it seems fairly obvious that if you are able to provoke people to intense fury or upset them, you have power over them. It renders you the centre of attention, it may provide you with a group of countercultural supporters; it is a means of attaining status.
As Dutton notes, most academics are content to offer slight tweaks to the generally accepted theories of their time. But those whom posterity remembers “are highly original thinkers who—because original ideas always upset the status quo—weathered venomous attacks, social ostracism and much more besides. They attain the highest status, while their careerist colleagues—who likely had much easier lives—are forgotten.”
In 1994, as part of his research, Rushton paid 150 customers of the Eaton Mall in Toronto—one third white, one third black and one third East Asian—to fill out a survey that included questions about penis size, thereby attracting more unfavorable attention. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in October, 1994, Rushton mentioned that penis size seems to correlate inversely with brain size: ‘It’s a trade-off; more brain or more penis. You can’t have everything!’ Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center and academic intellectual-ethnic activists such as Richard Lewontin, this has become perhaps the best-known finding of Rushton’s entire scientific career—even cited in his obituary in the Globe and Mail (Toronto). (This study was replicated by Richard Lynn; see here.)
In 1995, Rushton published his most important book: Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective. It offered data for the three major racial groups across sixty different physical and behavioral variables, consistently finding the fastest life history for Black Africans and the slowest for East Asians, with White Europeans in the middle. Rushton’s book received some less-than-rational criticism, of which my favorite example comes from the pen of a certain David Barash: “Bad science and virulent racial prejudice drip like pus from nearly every page of this despicable book.” But Rushton’s work was positively reviewed by Linda Gottfredson, Arthur Jensen, and Richard Lynn, among others. As Dutton explains, the book was a paradigmatic example of good science:
Rushton had brought together a very large amount of disparate data and presented a theory which seemed to neatly explain all of it. In doing so, he had complied with two fundamental goals of science: hypothesizing a unitary theory to explain a very large amount of data in the simplest way, and unifying separate fields of thought; in this case social science and biology.
In 1999, Rushton brought out a “special abridged edition” of Race, Evolution, and Behavior that summarized the results of the larger work in the style of a popular scientific magazine article. He arranged for 40,000 copies of this booklet to be sent, unsolicited, to various academic psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists, provoking (as he doubtless intended) a strong backlash. The publisher, Transaction Books—a reputable academic publisher then run by Irving Louis Horowitz and his wife, issued an apology and refused to have anything further to do with Rushton. As a result, in the following year he published both a “2nd special abridged edition” and a 3rd edition of the unabridged work through the Charles Darwin Research Institute, his own creation.
In 1997, Rushton met graduate student Elizabeth Weiss—half-Jewish, half-German, and thirty years his junior—at a Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference. The following year, he filed for divorce from his second wife. He and Weiss were married the day the divorce was granted, in 2000.
According to Weiss, during their relationship, Rushton was very concerned it would be revealed that he had fathered a half-black child out of wedlock through an affair he had engaged in with a married black woman. ‘Phil told me that this son looked like him and he had behavioural issues,’ explains Weiss, ‘but that the mother did not leave her husband and, thus, the child’s last name was not Rushton.’
Dutton comments: “Obviously, cuckolding another man—passing on your genes while someone else does the investment—is an extreme r-strategy, as is attraction to those who are strongly genetically different from yourself.” One wonders whether this affair of Rushton’s might not improve his reputation in an age when disliking blacks is considered a more serious moral failing than adultery.
Weiss also recalls that “one of Rushton’s ex-girlfriends, who spoke with an English accent, got in touch, remonstrating about the fact that he had ‘forced her’ to have an abortion, decades earlier. She left multiple phone messages on our machine.”
In 2001, Rushton’s estranged daughter Katherine tracked him down and got back in touch.
Weiss felt Rushton became obsessed with his daughter and assisted her in various ways which, for Weiss, put pressure on their relationship. In 2003, ‘We got into a huge argument, in which he threw me off a chair, and I left and had him served with divorce papers. After I filed, he emptied out our bank account (which is actually not allowed).’ Rushton attempted to use academic grant money, claims Weiss, to pay for the divorce.
In his later years Rushton suffered from Addison’s Disease, whose
symptoms include mania, confusion, anxiety, concentration problems, depression and even psychosis. It has been found by some researchers that cortisol deficiency is associated with emotionally flat and callous behaviour. In addition, severe stress can be very problematic for sufferers of Addison’s because they can’t produce enough cortisol to deal with it. The result is a collapse in blood pressure which tends to lead to feelings of intense fear and emotional distress.
The illness worsened over time, and Dutton believes it affected his work from about 2010, “at least the papers he authored alone.”
Rushton served as director of the Pioneer Fund from 2002. In August, 2012, a few weeks before his death, he transferred half of the Pioneer Fund’s money, about 1.9 million in American dollars, to his own Charles Darwin Research Institute. He apparently did not consult with a lawyer before taking this action, which was illegal under the American law governing trusts. Upon his death, he left control of the Institute with his son Stephen, who changed its name and used the money—donated for the specific purpose of supporting scientific research—to establish a scholarship fund at the university where he teaches.
The Pioneer Fund still legally exists, with Richard Lynn having succeeded Rushton as director, but it no longer has enough money to support scientific research. Lynn comments:
We would have hoped and expected that Phil would have left the Pioneer Fund funds in the hands of people who . . . would use these to further the causes in which he believed and for which they were donated. So, in the end, Phil let us all down and betrayed the trust placed in him. He was in very poor health at this time and perhaps he did not have a full understanding of what he was doing.
* * *
Rushton’s table ranking the three major races according to some sixty variables is, as Dutton writes, “astonishingly consistent,” revealing no exceptions to the pattern which forms his central thesis. Dutton also found that the same pattern holds for some variables Rushton did not examine, including “age at menopause” and “senility.”
However, Dutton also found evidence that Rushton incorrectly reported the data on testicle size, ignoring at least two sources which indicated that not only East Asians, but also Africans, have smaller testicles than whites. In a coauthored paper from 1987, Rushton even blithely dismissed the evidence that Africans have smaller testicles than Europeans as “contrary to the general trend.”
Dutton also produces evidence that Rushton misstates the case for a correlation between general intelligence (g) and slow life history (K). Such a correlation does indeed exist when species or subspecies are compared, but not when comparing individuals:
British evolutionary psychologist Michael Woodley (2011) conducted a meta-analysis of the relationship between g and K [in individual humans]. He found that there was no relationship between the two. Only one study found a positive and statistically significant relationship for both sexes and it was led by Rushton. Another study found this, but only for one sex. An analysis of Woodley’s meta-analysis has demonstrated that both of these studies are outliers, differing significantly from the other studies of the same relationship.
Another questionable aspect of Race, Evolution, and Behavior was its limitation to just three races. Although there is no unequivocal number of distinct human races, Dutton argues that, at a minimum, Australian Aborigines and Amerindians ought to have been included as well: Amerindians, e.g., are nearly as genetically distinct from Northeast Asians as are Europeans. Such an extension of Rushton’s study would have revealed further anomalies, however:
Rushton himself concedes that Native Americans are seemingly higher in Conscientiousness and lower in Extraversion than Europeans. Lynn finds that Native Americans are higher in psychopathic personality—in this context meaning very low Agreeableness—than African Americans. Native American life expectancy is about a year lower than that of African Americans.
In other words, Amerindians exhibit higher K than Europeans according to some measures, but lower K than Africans according to others.
Even within the framework of Rushton’s three-race model, East Asians are more often a poor fit than one would gather from reading his book. Neuroticism, e.g., is a form of ‘mental instability,’ so on the basis of Rushton’s theory we would expect Northeast Asians to be lowest in it. In fact, they are highest in it, and Africans are lowest
The reason for this appears to be the importance of social anxiety – a trait which comes under the umbrella of Neuroticism – in high K societies. In such societies, in their harsh ecology, you are more likely to survive if you can form a highly cooperative group and you will die quickly if you are cast out of this group. So it pays to be socially anxious.
Another anomaly is that Asians have been greatly outdone by Europeans on measures of cultural achievement despite their higher average intelligence. Dutton cites a Japanese scholar who attributes this to Asians’ high levels of social anxiety, which allows them to develop cooperative groups, but also “renders them very low in inquisitiveness, openness to new ideas, curiosity . . . indeed any behavioural tendency that might ‘rock the boat.’”
Negative ethnocentrism, or distrust of foreigners, is another area where Asians fail to match the pattern predicted by Rushton’s theory. One would expect that K-strategists, being more trusting, would be the less hostile to foreigners. However, Northeast Asians are more negatively ethnocentric than either Africans or Europeans.
Is there any way of accounting for these counterexamples to Rushton’s theory? Michael Woodley and his colleagues have argued that as a race or species adopts a slower Life History Strategy, the traits that make up that strategy will correlate less closely with one another. In Dutton’s words:
Under conditions of intense selection—of the kind experienced by Northeast Asians—you end up with a very high-K group and thus extreme specialization and a weak relationship between K traits. So, we would expect them to be less K than Europeans on some measures. It is likely that, in a very harsh ecology, a group which was highly cooperative but also hostile to outsiders (breeding with whom would only be maladaptive because the children would be less adapted to the harsh ecology) would have been more likely to survive. Foreigners also potentially undermine community trust, particularly crucial for extreme K-strategists.
So the anomalies Dutton reports are by no means beyond the possibility of evolutionary explanation, but Rushton neglected to mention them altogether. Dutton considers this cherry-picking of the evidence on Rushton’s part, whether conscious or unconscious.
* * *
Dutton occasionally overstates his case: e.g., when describing Rushton as a “pathological liar.” The examples of Rushton’s dishonesty he cites appear motivated either by bias in favor of his theory or a desire to conceal the less creditable aspects of his personal life or family history. Other false statements are probably mere failures of memory.
The search for evidence to support his theses may also bias Dutton’s interpretation of particular facts. He describes Rushton’s mention of his supposed family connection to inventor Samuel Crompton, e.g., as bragging in order to support his view that Rushton was a narcissist. But Rushton may just as well have mentioned it because he thought a famous ancestor the only feature of his family history likely to interest readers.
In response to ideological attacks on him, Rushton once remarked:
It may be worth recalling the words of the deeply pious Blaise Pascal when faced with the Copernican hypothesis: “If the earth moves, a decree from Rome cannot stop it.” Readers may fervently wish that genetically based differences in behavior did not exist, but the data show otherwise.
For Dutton, this is further evidence of narcissism: “By implicitly comparing himself to Pascal and his theory to that of Copernicus, Rushton is presenting himself as a genius, a brave scientific dissident and a profound thinker.” Yet the gist of the remark would seem to be the comparison of his critics’ irrationality with the Roman Curia’s attempt to settle an objective argument with a decree, and the quote from Pascal is entirely apt.
These and other examples of tendentious interpretation are perhaps an inevitable hazard of any attempt to establish a psychological profile from a multitude of facts not especially important in themselves. Dutton foresees that he will be accused of base motives in attacking a great and courageous scientist, but the highlights I have assembled in this review are enough to show that his study does make a significant contribution to our better understanding of both Rushton and the matters he investigated.