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What Rushton Got Wrong

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Charles Darwin

Denis Noble

JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson



1700 words

JP Rushton’s career was pretty much nothing but peddling bullshit. In the beginning of his career, he was a social learning theorist. He published a book Altruism, Socialization, and Society (Rushton, 1980). I bought the book a few years back when I was still a hardcore Rushton defender to see what he wrote about before he started pushing IQ and evolutionary theories about human races and I thought it was pretty good. In any case, Rushton got a lot wrong. So much so, that his career was, in my opinion, wasted peddling bullshit. Rushton was shown to be wrong time and time again on r/K theory and cold winter theory; Rushton was shown to be wrong time and time again on his crime theorizing; and Rushton’s and Jensen’s papers on the causes of the black-white IQ gap rest on a misunderstanding of heritability. In this piece, I will cover those three subjects.

Recently, two new papers have appeared that have a bone to pick with Rushton: One by Flynn (2019) and the other by Cernovsky and Litman (2019). Flynn discusses Rushton’s claims on the method of correlated vectors, his cold winter theory (that Asians and Europeans were subjected to harsher climates which led to higher levels of intelligence and therefore IQ) and his misuse of regression to the mean. He also discussed how the black-white IQ gap is environmental in nature (which is the logical position to hold, since IQ tests are tests of middle-class knowledge and skills (Richardson, 2002) and they are not construct valid).

Cold Winters Theory

Rushton theorized that, due to exposure to harsher environments, that Europeans and East Asians evolved to be more intelligent than Africans who stayed in the, what I assume to be, less harsh environments of Africa (Rushton, 1985). This is Rushton’s “Differential K theory.” Flynn (2019) writes that he “can supply an evolutionary scenario for almost any pattern of current IQ scores.” And of course, one can do that with any evolutionary adaptive hypothesis.

Even Frost (2019) admits that “there is no unified evolutionary theory of human intelligence, other than the general theory of evolution by natural selection.” But since “natural selection” is not a mechanism (Fodor, 2008; Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010), then it cannot explain the evolution of intelligence differences, nevermind the fact that, mostly, these claims are pushed by differences in non-construct valid IQ test scores.

In any case, Rushton’s theory is a just-so story.

r/K selection

Judith Anderson (1991) refuted Rushton’s hypothesis on ecological grounds. Rushton asserted that Africans were r-selected whereas Asians and Europeans were more K-selected. Rushton, however, did not even use alpha-selection, which is selection for competitive ability. So r- and K selection is based on density-independence and density-dependence. K-selection is expected to favor genotypes that persist at high densities—increasing K—whereas r-selection is expected to favor genotypes that increase more quickly at low densities—increasing r. Alpha-selection can also occur at high or low population densities but is more likely in high densities. Though alpha-selection “favours genotypes that, owing to their negative effects on others, often reduce the growth rate and the maximum population size” (Anderson, 1991: 52). I further discussed the huge flaws with Rushton’s r/K model here. So Rushton’s theory fails on those grounds, along with many others.


When it came to race, Rushton was a lumper, not a splitter. What I mean by these terms is simple: lumpers lump together Native Americans with East Asians and Pacific Islanders with Africans while splitters split them into further divisions. Why was Rushton a lumper? Because it fit more with his theory, of course. I remember back when I was a Rushton-ist, and I was, too, a lumper, that to explain away the low IQs of Native Americans—and in turn their achievements—was that they still had their intelligence from the cold winters and that’s when they did their achievements. Then, as they spent more time in hotter climates, they became dumber. In any case, there is no justification for lumping Native Americans with East Asians. Looking through Rushton’s book, he gives no justification for his lumping, so I can only assume that it is bias on his part. Now I will justify the claim that splitting is better than lumping. (Rushton also gave no definition of race, and according to Cernovsky and Litman (2019: 54), Rushton “failed to provide any scientific definition of race …

Race is both a social and biological construct. I can justify the claim that Natives and East Asians are distinct races in one way here: ask both groups if the other is the same race. What do you think the answer will be? Now, onto genetics.

Spencer (2014) discusses the results from Tishkoff et al (2009), saying that when they added 134 ethnic groups to the ones found in the HDGP sample of 52, the K=5 partition clustered Caucasians, Mongoloids, and three distinct sets of Africans. Mongoloids, in this case, being East Asians, Native Americans, and Oceanians. But Tishkoff et al oversampled African ethnic groups. This, though, does not undercut my argument: of course when you oversample ethnic groups you will get the result of Tishkoff et al (2009) and since Africans were oversampled, the populations more genetically similar were grouped into the same cluster, which, of course, does not mean they are the same race.

Census racial discourse is just national racial discourse. The census uses defers to the OMB to define race. How does the OMB define race? The OMB defines “race” as “sets of” populations. Race in US racial discourse designates a set of population groups, thus, race is a particular, not a kind.

I can then invoke Hardimon’s (2017) argument for the existence of minimalist races:

1 There are differences in patterns of visible physical features which correspond to geographic ancestry.
2 These patterns are exhibited between real groups.
3 These groups that exhibit these physical patterns by geographic ancestry satisfy conditions of minimalist race.
C Race exists.

Now we can say:

1 If Native Americans and East Asians are phenotypically distinct, then they are different races.
2 Native Americans and East Asians are phenotypically distinct.
C Therefore Native Americans and East Asians are different races.


Rushton arbitrarily excluded data that did not fit his theory. How dishonest. Cernovsky and Litman (2019) write:

When Rushton presented crime statistics derived from 2 Interpol Yearbooks as allegedly supporting his thesis that Negroids are more crime inclined than Caucasoids, he arbitrarily excluded disconfirmatory data sets. When all data from the same two Interpol Yearbooks are re-calculated, most of the statistically significant trends in the data are in the direction opposite to Rushton’s beliefs: Negroids had lower crime rates than Caucasoids with respect to sexual offenses, rapes, theft, and violent theft or robbery, with most correlation coefficients exceeding .60. While we do not place much credence in such Interpol statistics as they only reproduce information provided by government officials of different countries, our re-analysis indicated that Rushton excluded data that would discredit his theory.

Further throwing a wrench into Rushton’s assertions is his claim that Mongoloids constitutes both East Asians and Native Americans. Well, Central America has some of the highest crime rates in the world—even higher than in some African countries. What is the ad-hoc justification for explaining away this anomaly if they truly are the same race? If they are the same race, why is the crime rate so much higher in Central America? Surely, Rushton’s defenders would claim something along the lines of recent evolution towards X, Y, and Z. But then I would say, then on what basis are they the same race? No matter what Rushton’s defenders say, they are boxed into a corner.


Lastly, Rushton and Jensen (2005) argued, on the basis of heritability estimates, and twin studies, that the black-white IQ gap is largely genetic in nature. But there are a few problems. They rely largely on a slew of trans-racial adoption studies, all of which have been called into question (Thomas, 2017). IQ tests, furthermore, are not construct valid (Richardson and Norgate, 2015; Richardson, 2017). Heritability estimates also fail. This is because, in non-controlled environments these stats do not tell us much, if anything (Moore and Shenk, 2016). Likewise, Guo (2000: 299) concurs, writing “it can be argued that the term ‘heritability’, which carries a strong conviction or connotation of something ‘heritable’ in everyday sense, is no longer suitable for use in human genetics and its use should be discontinued.” (For more arguments against heritability, read Behavior Genetics and the Fallacy of Nature vs Nurture.)

Rushton and Jensen (2005) also relied on the use of twin studies, however, all of the assumptions that researchers use to attempt to immunize their arguments from refutation are circular and ad hoc; they also agree that MZs experience more similar environments than DZs, too (Joseph et al, 2014; Joseph, 2016, see a summary here; Richardson, 2017). In any case, the fact that G and E interact means that heritability estimates are, in effect, useless in humans. Farm animals are bred in highly controlled environments; humans are not. Thus, we cannot—and should not—accept the results of twin studies; they cannot tell us whether or not genes are responsible for any behavioral trait.


There was a lot that Rushton got wrong. His cold winters theory is a just-so story; East Asians and Native Americans are not the same race; heritability estimates are not a measure of how much genes have to do with phenotypic variation within or between groups; IQ tests are not construct valid; r/K selection theory was slayed as early as 1991 and then again in 2002 (Graves, 2002); twin studies are not informative when it comes to how much genes influence traits, they only measure environmental similarity; and finally, Rushton omitted data that did not fit his hypothesis on racial differences in crime.

It’s sad to think that one can spend a career—about 25 years—spewing nothing but pseudoscience. One of the only things I agree with him on is that races are real—but when it comes to the nuances, I disagree with him, because there are five races, not three. Rushton got a lot wrong, and I do not know why anyone would defend him, even when these glaring errors are pointed out. (For a good look into Rushton’s lies, see Dutton’s (2018) book J. Philippe Rushton: A Life History Perspective and my mini-review on the book.)


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