Race, Evolution, and Behavior Summary 1

Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective

by J. Philippe Rushton

New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1995, 334 pp.


Reviewed by FSU Professor Glayde Whitney

in Contemporary Psychology, December 1996, pp. 1189-1191.

The Return of Racial Science

* The Theory

* The History

* The Reception

* The Pity

* References

If the mavens of Politically Correct could enforce an Index Librorum Prohibitorum, then you would not be allowed to read this book. Serious scientific considerations of similarities and differences among the living races of humankind have been in eclipse for most of a century. With Race, Evolution and Behavior author Rushton goes a good distance toward reinstating objective scientific rationality to this important and sensitive area of investigation. Here within a single cover are considered topics of race with regard to intelligence, aggression and criminality, sexual behavior, parenting behaviors, personality, rates of maturation, sexually transmitted diseases, social stability, brain size, differential rates of twinning, pharmaceutical reactions, and much more, along with genes and evolution. Rushton reports that for over 60 variables he has found the same pattern among races: "people of east Asian ancestry (Mongoloids, Orientals) and people of African ancestry (Negroids, blacks) define opposite ends of the spectrum with people of European ancestry (Caucasoids, whites) falling intermediately," (p xiii). Although there is much variability among individuals within each broad racial category, the average differences between them are consistent indirection across diverse physical, behavioral, and social variables.

The Theory

To theoretically account for the consistent pattern of differences across races for so many disparate variables requires a high-level, broad conceptual framework. Rushton proposes a "gene-based evolutionary theory" that utilizes concepts from population biology. The r - K scale of reproductive strategy has been widely used in many sociobiological applications. The symbol "r" initially denoted "intrinsic rate of increase", while "K" is the symbol for "carrying capacity of the environment" (MacArthur and Wilson, 1967). The individuals of populations which have been r-selected tend to mature rapidly and reproduce at a young age. The emphasis is on maximization of number of offspring with less resources devoted to the care of each individual offspring. The species which are r-selected often exist at population densities that are well below the theoretical carrying capacity of their environment; they experience high rates of death due to unpredictable causes (disease, local famine). The r evolutionary strategy has been to throw out lots of kids in the likelihood that some might survive in a capricious world.

Individuals which are K strategists tend to live in more predictable environments and they mature more slowly. Rather than high rates of reproduction, there is delayed reproduction and considerable resources are devoted to caring for the smaller number of offspring which are produced. The K evolutionary strategy has been to produce far fewer kids and to carefully nurture each one through the most difficult times in a predictable world (think winter blizzard). K-selected species tend to have more stable and complex social structure than do r-selected species.

In order to emphasize that all humans tend to be K-selected in comparison to many other species, Rushton has referred to his theory as "Differential K Theory". Essentially, the proposal is that African populations, evolving with a tropical abundance of both food and diseases, are relatively less K-selected. Relative that is, to Mongoloid populations which were more K- selected in the harsh environments encountered during the last Glacial epoch, or which are experienced today in cold climates. There is a positive Darwinian selective advantage favoring more forward planning, sexual restraint , parental nurturing, family stability, and social structure in order to successfully raise children across hard cold winters.

The History

On many of the variables that are considered, the racial differences are not large and Rushton emphasizes "the indisputable fact that much more research is needed. Objective hypothesis testing about racial differences in behavior has been much neglected over the past 60 years and knowledge is not as advanced as it ought to be" (p. xv). In view of the near taboo on race as a causal variable in the social sciences, it is interesting to consider how much do we know and since when have we known it. The answers to these two questions, as given in the chapter "race and racism in history", as well as throughout the book, will likely surprise many psychologists and social scientists educated in the last 60 years. We knew a lot about race differences and we knew it prior to the early decades of the twentieth century.

Indeed, some of the race differences only now being investigated (re-investigated) have been known and have been stable with regard to direction of average differences since the first recorded contacts among the races. One example is the case of brain size. Well known to Broca and other 19th century scientists, then lost in a fog of misspeak and obfuscation and only now reemerging as a stable and potentially important difference between races. The context of progressive, socialistic, or communistic environmentalist-egalitarianism in which the study of race differences went from being respectable science to ideologically suppressed evil is a fascinating study in itself (Degler, 1991; Pearson, 1991). The widespread abhorrence of wartime excesses fed a mid- century frenzied denial of the legitimacy of racial science from which we are just now emerging. It is in large part this history of denial and demonization which marks Rushton's book as a landmark volume.

The Reception

It will come as no surprise to learn that Rushton's work, although well written and very readable, has not been greeted with universal acclamation. Indeed. He has probably suffered as much controversy and abuse stemming from his professional activity as any modern psychologist in the "free world". Following a 1989 invited presentation of Differential K Theory at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a firestorm of controversy arose. Although not widely reported in the United States, an academic, governmental, and media circus played out in Canada. The Premier of Ontario (analogous to a state governor) called for the University to fire him. The Premier also asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate whether he had violated the federal criminal code of Canada. A leading Toronto newspaper kept a steady stream of scurrilous editorials flowing until threatened with a lawsuit, upon which they desisted. Canadian television news programs propagandized and demonized Rushton's appearance with the insertion of Nazi flim clips, as did Connie Chung of CBS's "eye-to-eye" infamy.

On the academic front the institution of tenure saved Rushton's position at University, but not without cost. His annual performance rating suddenly went to "unsatisfactory" (as at most places a first step in laying the paper trail to eventual dismissal) until legally challenged, at which point his rating, as one of the most prolific researchers in his unit, went back to the customary high level.

One of the most ignominious events involved a covey of influential members of the Behavior Genetics Association (BGA). Because of their field of research, investigators of behavior genetics (even mousers and fruit fly devotees) have not been immune from Nazi name-calling and attacks on their academic credibility. Accordingly, the BGA had long established a "public and professional affairs committee" to issue the occasional "official statement" in support of attacked members. In a totally unprecedented turn-about that committee was requested to disavow, on behalf of the BGA, the member-in-good-standing Rushton and his research. When the committee refused, the afore mentioned covey took it upon themselves to circulate widely a statement throwing Rushton to the wolves. None of the attacks involved data or rational theory. Rather they were emotional attacks on Rushton's "repugnant" insensitivity.

In the face of tenure protection, a move was instigated to criminalize Rushton because of his research. In what has been called "the worst attack on freedom of speech ever perpetrated in Ontario", the Ontario Human Rights Commission investigated for four years and then unceremoniously dropped the case (Leishman, 1995).

It is not just the political left that has trouble acknowledging the legitimacy and importance of racial science. Irving Horowitz (1995), Rushton's publisher, has written an interesting account of the refusal of a leading conservative publication to accept paid advertisements which announced the availability of Race, Evolution, and Behavior.

The Pity

More is the pity of these emotional rejections of racial science, since it is often members of the "protected groups" which suffer because of ideologically enforced politically correct ignorance. As an example, it has been quite unacceptable to discuss race differences in testosterone levels, although this taboo is crumbling since it was noted that the hormone difference might be causal to the substantial race difference inmortality due to prostate cancer. In the U.S. the epidemic of murders of young black males by young black males has reached such levels that even the most ideologically committed can no longer deny reality.

The remarkable resistance to racial science in our times has led to comparisons with the Inquisition of Rome active during the Renaissance. It is probably not the case that Pope Paul V and Cardinal Bellarmin were evil men. They were quite well educated for their time and probably sincerely concerned for the welfare of their society. Their duty was to prevent the destruction of society that must surely follow if the heresies were allowed. Now the Copernican heliocentric theory could be tolerated; it was after all only a theory and Copernicus was dead. Kepler's mathematical calculations could be tolerated; they were after all quite mathematical and not likely to arouse the curiosity of the common man. But Galileo Galilei went too far. He said it was true. Come, look through his telescope. Not just a theory but real observable data. Not in the past but here and now. Truth from which who knew what evil might follow. Galileo Galilei was arrested and forced to recant. Astronomy and the physical sciences had their Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo a few centuries ago; society and the welfare of humanity is the better for it today. In a directly analogous fashion, Psychology and the social sciences have today their Darwin, Galton, and Rushton. Discipulus est prioris posterior dies [Publius Syrus].


Degler,C.N. (1991) In search of human nature: The decline and revival of Darwinism in American social thought. New York: Oxford University Press.

Horowitz, I.L. (1995) The Rushton file: Racial comparisons and media passions. Society, 32, 2, 7-17.

Leishman, G. (1995) Shoddy attack on free speech is over. The London Free Press (Ontario), Dec. 2, opinion page.

MacArthur, R.H., & Wilson, E.O. (1967) The theory of island biogeography. Monographs in Population Biology, 1. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Pearson, R. (1991) Race, intelligence and bias in academe. Washington DC: Scott-Townsend Publishers.

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