I recently received this email:
I noticed in a recent podcast that when describing your initial engagement with the human biodiversity literature, you said something to the effect that you “didn’t like Rushton much.” Was it problems in Rushton’s empirical claims or method that spurred your dislike? Or something else?
I ask because I’m curious about Rushton’s status among human biodiversity scholars today. Are his findings on the whole generally seen as accurate (whatever the errors) or more often dismissed as inaccurate?
It appears I haven’t written much about Rushton on the blog. There’s this post about the origins of cold winters theory, this one about genetic evidence of polygyny by race, this post noting one of his papers got censored. I apparently forgot to include Rushton in the list of persons to rate in the 2022 reader survey, so we can’t see whether his fans are different from those of, say, Lynn or Jensen. Anecdotally they are. Here’s my reply email, edited somewhat.
My issues with Rushton are:
He wasted a lot of research funding. He took over the pioneer fund, then transferred most of the money to his own new organization. Charles Darwin Research Institute. Then he died and left this money to his son. This son is also an academic, and instead of returning the money, he squandered it. This was probably like 1M research funding lost. Rushton as you might know was an extreme R selected person, lots of marriages, children out of wedlock etc. Ironic! I think Dutton covered this poor behavior of his in his biography of Rushton. I haven’t read it but there’s a video summary on Youtube.
I think he also spent a good chunk of money sending out expensive copies of his own book to random academics, but I don’t recall the details. This would be the full length versions of his book Race, Evolution, Behavior.
His big book’s thesis is based on a dubious aggregation of data for the Caucasian group. At times he includes the central Asian Caucasians (Iranians, Arabs, North Indians etc), at others leaving them out. Seems selective. Caucasian is not really a good genetic category for the purposes of his theory. Very heterogeneous.
He spearheaded an incorrect version of using Jensen’s method of correlated vectors on item level data (Rushton & Skuy 2000, Rushton et al 2002). When other researchers with technical expertise told him about his error (Wicherts & Johnson 2009), he didn’t learn, but doubled down (Rushton & Jensen 2010). His bad example later led Jan te Nijenhuis to do a bunch more of these uninterpretable studies, also doubling down when criticized. After some years I have managed to convince Jan of this error, but this was a silly and unnecessary issue. It’s ironic when hereditarians themselves suffer from this kind of political bias in their own mistakes, but at least the error was recognized within about 10 years. No real conclusions were changed because of this though, so in that sense the error wasn’t so consequential. I’ve done some newer studies using the correct version of this method and it works fine.
That’s all I can think of for now. I’ve never met Rushton, who died in 2012, same year as Jensen. I have also not met Jensen. I started publishing on the topic in late 2013.
Based on that recent survey of evolutionary psychologists, it seems Rushton’s general application of r/K theory to humans is now well-accepted, just it has been renamed to life history theory. People usually avoid the race-level version of this and focus on within ethnic comparisons, say criminals and non-criminals.
I think Rushton is very popular online because he’s so blunt in his presentation of race differences, but less popular among the elites who are aware of the above issues and dislike the crudeness of the big three-way model. In particular the first is extremely bad for his reputation in my opinion. This was an even bigger tragedy than when Gregory Cochran similarly abused some 600k of funding from Ron Unz. With friends like these…