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r/K Selection Theory: A Response to Anonymous Conservative

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JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson


2800 words

I knew the article about r/K selection would stir a bit of debate. Anonymous Conservative has replied to both articles that were published the other day. However, he seems confused. He doesn’t talk about r/K selection theory in terms of density-dependence/independence. That’s what r/K theory was based on before it was discredited for age-specific mortality (Reznick et al, 2002). The theory was discredited decades ago. This article will be a response to him. How can you use age-specific mortality for your theory?

Combining all African and all European populations probably dulls the degree to which certain populations are r and K.

Combining the ethnies of all three populations makes no sense if you’re attempting to infer how behavior X evolved in ecosystem Y using r/K selection theory. To conduct such a study, you would need to study the races in the ecosystem that the selection was hypothesized to have occurred. r/K selection is—as I’ve already brought up—proven false. I will get to that below.

If r/K selection did apply to humans, then since Africans have been in their habitat—according to Rushton—for 140ky and Mongoloids have been in their habitat for 40ky, then Africans would have had more opportunity to approach the environmental carrying capacity while Mongoloids who migrated into novel environments (cold weather, as mentioned above) would experience r-selected traits since they are in a novel environment (r pressure) and facing cold weather (another r pressure). Per Rushton’s own arguments—along with how r/K theory was really used—Africans are K and Mongoloids are r.

Take the most r populations in Africa and you would also see highly obvious differences deviating from normal human behavior.

Which populations in Africa are ‘the most r’? What is ‘normal human behavior’?

Goal number one should be to get people forced to acknowledge that some humans are exhibiting the r-strategy compared to others.

If this were the case, then Mongoloids would be r while Africans would be K—if r/K selection theory weren’t discredited and if human races qualified as local populations. This, of course, comes from Rushton own words, who asserts that Mongoloids have cold-weather adaptations. So if Mongoloids have cold-weather adaptations and cold weather is an agent of r-selection as described previously, then Mongoloids are r-selected. This argument comes straight from Rushton’s own theory. Furthermore, Africans would be K-selected since endemic disease is an agent of K-selection. This is simple enough to understand, especially if you read a few papers on r/K selection.

I get the impression the author is a pot-stirrer ginning up debate, which I can respect. But I would counter that I think this argument requires a slightly more complex view on a few points, and it seeks to cite the established literature on r/K a little too much.

Citing papers is what’s needed when discussing scientific matters. If your arguments are not backed by scientific papers then your argument is pretty much moot.

Most of the literature on r/K is incredibly shallow in its analyses. I suspect nobody really cared about the theory on an emotional level, so nobody really bothered to look too closely at it, or tried to understand why some arguments would seemingly violate simple common sense. One person would assert things that would make no sense in certain contexts, and nobody would ever try to highlight the complexity required for a fuller understanding of the issue. It is either that, or the more powerful minds gravitated somewhere else in the sciences with more practical application.


This looks pretty clear-cut to me. r/K selection theory has been extensively tested and falsified. Of course people cared about it, it dominated biology and ecology literature for about twenty years after Pianka’s (1970) paper where he proposed his now debunked ‘r/K continuum’. As I have said, Pianka gave no experimental rationale on why he chose the traits he did for the continuum (Graves, 2002: 135). This is simple enough to understand on its own.

As an example, the author cites papers that say drought is an r-selective pressure. Drought can be r or K, depending on the abilities of the organisms confronted with it. Mice will die in a drought, and have short enough life cycles to reproduce in the wet periods following it. So with mice, after the drought, there will be free resources and that makes drought a huge r-selection pressure.

But suppose you have an organism with the intelligence to envision how to survive the drought, and which thinks in terms of long time frames. Now that drought will cull the relatively r-selected individuals who are designed to exploit a glut with no thought of the future, while favoring those who planned for the drought and stockpiled water, or organized a way to acquire it. Is the drought still an r-selective pressure? Being human, with a high IQ and an ability to plan for the future changes a lot of these rules.

Drought is an agent of r-selection. How about earthquakes and volcanic eruptions? Are those agents of K-selection as well if you can ‘plan for the future changes’? Provide references for your assertion or your claim is unfounded.

On the issue of colder climates being K, the author cites research which makes the case that cold climates kill back the population in the winter, and then allow explosive growth in the summer, and thus are r-selecting.

This will be true in things like insects with short lifespans and no ability to plan for the winter. But in humans, this will favor those who can defer pleasures in the summer, looking forward to the winter and sacrificing by setting aside resources to get themselves through the colder period. It will also favor groups which can work together in pursuit of common goals.

You don’t get it. Mongoloids being r-selected is straight from Rushton. He asserts that they have cold-adaptations. Cold adaptations are due to cold weather. Cold weather is an agent of r-selection (temperature extreme). If cold weather is an agent of r-selection and Mongoloids further migrated into a novel environment (another agent of r-selection), then, per Rushton’s own words, Mongoloids are r-selected. Conversely, Rushton describes endemic disease and drought in Africa (without references), but let’s assume it’s true. As described above, drought is an agent of r (see the table from Anderson above) while endemic disease is an agent of K-selection.

Endemic (native) disease is an agent of K-selection. Since the disease is constant, then the population under that agent of K-selection can prepare ahead for disease. Indeed, in Africa, measures can be taken to reduce the number of those infected with malaria, such as mothers shielding their babies from mosquitoes, to even herbal remedies which have been in use for thousands of years (Wilcox and Bodecker, 2004). If endemic disease is constant (and it is) and Africans are under that constant pressure, then they will be K-selected.

Do groups not work together in Africa to reach common goals? In the Pleistocene as well? Citations? Think before you write (and cite), because hunting bands in our species began with Homo erectus. The capacity for endurance running evolved in erectus which can be seen with the beginnings of our modern pelvis as well as the evolution of the gluteus maximus (Lieberman et al, 2006). So how can you assert that working together to reach common goals only occurred where it was cold—as if tropical environments don’t have their own challenges which require foresight and planning? Think about human evolution and how modern human cognition evolved in Africa.

This will be true of most hardships to some degree. Where they kill back the population massively and randomly, and then allow explosive regrowth, they are r-pressures. But where they are challenges that select for those who can prepare and overcome them, they will tend to favor K, even if they may, strictly by the numbers, appear to be r.

How can you prepare and overcome a violent winter storm, volcanic eruption, earthquake, and drought (which vary wildly)? At a certain point, you can be the smartest one around but one would still succumb to the elements.

He also speaks of aggression. There the question is, is aggression borne of a competitive psychology that embraces risk innately because it evolved to embrace risk in a competitive environment where resources are scarce, or is aggression an opportunistic seizure of free resources from the weak and helpless.

A criminal who sees an old lady and pushes her to the ground to steal her purse is not the same as a Marine who proceeds to selflessly storm enemy lines and kill fifteen men with his bare hands simply to try and save his fellow Marines in battle. The criminal will seek out the weak and vulnerable to victimize safely for personal gain, while the Marine would find that in conflict with his nature. The Marine will sacrifice himself for his group and nothing more, while the criminal would view that as pointless and stupid. Those are two vastly different forms of aggression.

Aggression and violence can be principled and daring, or opportunistic and cowardly. Each is driven by a different psychology, and you can see this difference extend to sexual drive, promiscuity, and even rearing investments. I think there needs to be a difference cited there. One aggressive psychology is r and one is K. One is designed to take free resources in a world with no consequences, while the other is programmed to fight with anyone to try and get a share of scarce resources, because if they didn’t they would starve.

I speak of aggression in regards to testosterone and Richard Lynn’s claims that gonadotropin levels and testosterone lend further support for Rushton’s theory. However, I’ve falsified Ross et al (1986) numerous times. Further, the correlation between testosterone and physical aggression is a pitiful .08  (Archer, Graham-Kevan, and Lowe 2005). The point is that testosterone is not related to aggression, nor crime. Furthermore, the time of day that crime is committed at the highest rates for teens (3 pm) and adults (10 pm) discredit the testosterone-causing-crime theory since testosterone levels are highest at 8 am and lower at 8 pm. You did not address my arguments on testosterone—try again.

Then there is disease. Disease can be r or K, depending on epidemiology. If a disease is sexually transmitted, it is going to take out those with a high sex drive, promiscuity, and reduced disgust. That doesn’t means the disease is K-selecting, so much as it preferentially kills those with an r-selected psychology, and fosters the rise of K.

What about if a disease is endemic? Endemic disease (Rushton’s assertion) is an agent of K, this is not up for discussion. Endemic disease reduces carrying capacity and thusly is an agent of K-selection.

This is simple enough to understand, especially if you understand r/K selection theory.

On the other hand, if a disease infects and kills randomly, such as one transmitted by mosquito, then it will open up free resources by killing the population back below the carrying capacity. That will favor the rise of the r-selected psychologies.


I have found the vast majority are written by individuals looking to create quick rules of thumb for much more complex variables that can only be looked at in the context of the mechanisms they are a part of. In many cases, I see authors claiming something is always r or K, when the truth is they are more often the opposite for reasons which the authors seem strangely blind to.

The vast majority of what was written about r/K in its heyday was written by biologists and ecologists. Why reduce a complex biological system interacting with its almost equally complex environment down to a discredited theory? It doesn’t make sense to reduce what organisms do to some ‘simple model’ when the real world—and by proxy ecological theories—are much more complex than a ‘simple model’.

r and K are simple adaptation to either free or limited resource availabilities. To understand how the environment affects the evolution of r and K psychologies, you have to understand that those adaptations to free or limited resources imbue certain psychological predispositions. Once imbued, all other selective pressures have to be examined with an eye to how they either confer advantage or disadvantage on those who express those psychological traits.

r/K selection theory is based on density-dependence and density-independence. As a matter of fact, searching for ‘density-dependent‘ brings up no hits and for ‘density-independent‘, the only hit is for your response to my article. Which makes me believe that you don’t understand r/K selection theory since it’s based on density-dependence and density-independence. It’s also impossible to predict which life history traits will be favored by selection unless you know which particular ecological factors influence life history traits as well as needing a model as to how they function (Anderson, 1991). Rushton did neither, and so he was wrong with his application of r/K to human races.

A sexually transmitted disease that savages a population will open up resource availability and reduce the population well below the carrying capacity, and thus could be mistaken for an r-selecting pressure. But if it wipes out every promiscuous r-strategist, and leaves behind only the monogamous K-strategists, then it is not an r-selective pressure at all. It is favoring the K-psychology, even as from a raw numerical standpoint it would appear an r-pressure.

Which STD? Which population(s)? Source? Even then, STDs such as chancroid (in the US and Europe) were endemic in the early 20th century (Aral, Fenton, and Holmes, 2007). Which populations are you describing? An event like that would be part of the density-dependence aspect of what r/K described. The population would dip and then go right back to environmental carrying capacity (K).

It is necessary—for a K-selected history—to have some sort of density-dependent pressure. Density-dependent pressures are things such as endemic disease in Africa—which is necessary for a K-selected history since density-dependent natural selection occurs at or close to the environmental carrying capacity (Anderson, 1991: 58).  If you truly understood r/K selection theory, you’d understand how it’s based on density dependence. You’d understand that ‘r’ and ‘K’ are not adjectives.

(Indeed, I suspect a golden age in the context of human history will be found to often be such an unusual circumstance, where a population is K-ified, even as it is placed in an r-selected environment of free resource availability. The opposite, an r-ified population placed in a grossly overpopulated environment of shortage will be found to reliably be Hell on earth. Guess which one we have coming.)

You should learn about what r/K selection really is (it is density-dependent selection).

The complete absence of that type of detailed understanding of the effects of selective pressures in the literature about r/K Selection Theory is why I don’t waste extensive time here quoting the source texts on the subject. Most seem strangely shallow in their analyses.

It is detailed, see the table above. Where does alpha-selection fit into your theory? Are conservatives alpha-selected? Not speaking about alpha-selection throws a wrench into the theory. The r/K continuum doesn’t even exist!

I am amused to see the author mention r/K Selection Theory has been linked to ideology, without any mention of where. My greatest hope has always been that r/K Theory would become so ever present in the dialog that nobody would remember where it first arose. When that happens, r/K will be everywhere, and nobody will have any idea who to blame.

Well, the ‘one’s to blame’ would be the originators of the theory, MacArthur and Wilson. But r/K selection is a dead concept in biology and population ecology. Don’t worry, r/K selection is dead and isn’t coming back. I’ve shown how it’s a discredited model.

In regards to r/K being falsified, when the theory was tested, key life history variables did not conform to the predictions of the theory (Graves, 2002: 137). People should stop pushing discredited theories.

By the way, in regards to the one comment that was left, why breakdown complex biological interactions with the environment into something so simple? Can you explain to me how and why complex biological systems interacting with their environment can be broken down ‘simply’? You, as well, have no idea what r/K selection is either.

Anonymous Conservative should try to be aware of his political biases. That much is clear. Although, now I know what will happen. We will see a case of the backfire effect where these corrections will increase his misconceptions of r/K selection theory (Nyhan and Reifler, 2012). Everyone should try keep this quote in mind at all times:

When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.Bertrand Russel, 1959



  1. Afrosapiens 🇫🇷🇪🇺 says:

    In case Anonymous Conservative comes here:

    I am amused to see the author mention r/K Selection Theory has been linked to ideology, without any mention of where.

    We were referring to you, but since you’re not a peer reviewed scholar who publishes papers in journals we wouldn’t link to a blog whose sole purpose is to sell a book and spread theories that are mere baseless opinion.

    Anyway, fill me in:

    Are pro-life conservative pro-r-selection?

    Are rednecks r-selected conservatives, because their behaviors “deviate from normal human” ones as you put it in my opinion?

    What are normal human behaviors?

    Which are the mosr r-selected African populations that deviate so much from the norm?

    Who is r- and who is K- in countries that have no conservative/liberal divide?

    What about people with mixed leanings or those who change ideology in their lifetime?

    On what basis do you define r/K if not on the basic principles of ecology?

    Who are you?

    Are you trying to create a conservative-supremacist ideology so that all of your enemies can be lumped into a single sub-human category?

    Does your book sell well?


    • RaceRealist says:

      Too long didn’t read, if you’re talking about r/K selection and not taking about density-dependence, you’re talking about it in the wrong way. It’s that simple yet no one seems to be able to grasp this…


    • RaceRealist says:

      Thank you for the article. I was actually ruminating on conservative and liberal birth rates along with IQ. They don’t follow what r and K selection supposedly say for intelligence and birth rates. Liberals have few kids, conservatives more. I’ve read they are equal in IQ recently, however. If that’s not the case though, liberals constantly are shown to be more intelligent than conservatives. That’s another wrench in his ‘theory’.

      It’s literally a joke. It’s all to sell books. He won’t admit he’s wrong even after he’s shown how wrong he is. The backfire effect will occur.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Afrosapiens 🇫🇷🇪🇺 says:

      I haven’t read it in detail, tell you my thoughts on it later on.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think the premise of the article you linked to depends on how liberal and conservative are defined and which classes they are applied to. For instance, I was born into a family of political liberals who personally behave according to conservative sexual mores (this is actually a norm it seems among upper middle-class whites). Most people in my extended family did not have many kids, and I suppose that all this could be regarded as a K-selected phenomenon. On the other hand, the entire basis of r/K selection theory is rather shaky as it seems to be an oversimplification of a variety of complex phenomena, as elaborated on in the article above. Therefore, I am now reluctant to use it all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • RaceRealist says:

      Most people in my extended family did not have many kids, and I suppose that all this could be regarded as a K-selected phenomenon. On the other hand, the entire basis of r/K selection theory is rather shaky as it seems to be an oversimplification of a variety of complex phenomena, as elaborated on in the article above. Therefore, I am now reluctant to use it all.

      It is shaky because it’s wrong—especially in application to humans, and fertility is negatively correlated with intelligence; it’s not an ‘r/K’ phenomenon.

      I don’t see AC conceding though; he’ll still push the same old discredited bullshit because he has a financial incentive to do so. Implying he doesn’t care about truth, only $$$.


  2. dnarby says:

    Doesn’t appear discredited here as being discredited, simply fallen out of favor.

    That said, AC seems to want to smash everything political to fit the theory.

    It seems some organisms would by nature have to be exclusively r or K (e.g. fruit flies vs. whales). Some might be able to use both as the environment dictates (humans). To me it explains a little, but not nearly as much as AC would claim.

    Environmental pressures seem to better explain political behavior of populations better (e.g. high-trust pro-social cultures and races evolve from dangerous conditions requiring high group cooperation and cohesiveness).

    That said, I can’t help but wonder if he has a point regarding amygdela development and political orientation.


    • RaceRealist says:

      simply fallen out of favor.

      Age-specific mortality tells us more than r/K selection. Even then, as documented, if it did apply to humans and if humans were local populations, Rushton reversed it in his application to humans.

      That said, AC seems to want to smash everything political to fit the theory.

      Of course he wants to. He’s an idealogue, pushing a discredited theory.

      It seems some organisms would by nature have to be exclusively r or K (e.g. fruit flies vs. whales). Some might be able to use both as the environment dictates (humans). To me it explains a little, but not nearly as much as AC would claim.

      Animals differ in how many offspring they have and the amount of parental care shown. It doesn’t explain anything about humans, human races (and liberals and conservatives) are not local populations. AC won’t admit this because he has a book to sell.

      We also have this:

      It appears that the original HKSS items are best represented as four distinct but related dimensions, and do not represent a unidimensional construct. This conclusion is reinforced by relationships between HKSS total scores and life history measures: The significant correlations that were found were contrary to the predictions made by the Differential K literature (Figueredo et al., 2013; Rushton, 1985). We found that high K scores were related to earlier sexual debut and unrelated to either pubertal onset or number of sexual partners. This suggests that the HKSS does not reflect an underlying “K dimension.”

      Psychometrics and Life History Strategy: The Structure and Validity of the High K Strategy Scale

      AC is done. His ‘theory’ is done.

      Environmental pressures seem to better explain political behavior of populations better (e.g. high-trust pro-social cultures and races evolve from dangerous conditions requiring high group cooperation and cohesiveness).

      Whatever the case may be, r/K selection doesn’t explain it.

      Conservatives have more children and are more likely to be less intelligent. Liberals are have fewer children and are more intelligent. So right there—the two biggest factors in the theory—don’t fall on the lines that AC would like.

      What does that say about his ‘theory’?

      That said, I can’t help but wonder if he has a point regarding amygdela development and political orientation.

      Here is a good article:

      So—for liberals to make a case for an idea or cause, they come armed with data, research studies, and experts. They are convinced of an idea if all the data checks out–basically they assign meaning and value to ideas that fit within the scientific method, because that’s their primary thinking style. Emotion doesn’t play as big of a role in validation. Not to say that liberals are unfeeling, but just more likely to set emotion aside when judging an idea initially, and factor it in later. Checks out scientifically = valuable. Liberals can get just as emotionally attached to an idea, but it’s usually not the primary trigger for acceptance of an idea.

      Conservatives would be less likely to assign value primarily using the scientific method. Remember, their thinking style leads primarily with emotion. In order for them to find an idea valuable, it has to be meaningful for them personally. It needs to trigger empathy. Meaning, they need some kind of emotional attachment to it, such as family, or a group of individuals they are close to in some way.

      Your Brain on Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Liberals and Conservatives

      What is his point on amygdala growth and political orientation? I see that he says that liberals are “brain damaged“, so is he implying that a large ACC is “brain damage”?


  3. […] should have been, and that the theory itself is discredited: see RaceRealist’s recent blog post for […]


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