Before I ever met John Philippe Rushton I saw him on the Geraldo Rivera television program. It was in 1989, shortly after his ground-breaking work on race differences first began to get international attention. One of the guests was that weasel Barry Mehler of Ferris State University, who has tried to make a career of denouncing scientists if he doesn’t like their research.
Prof. Mehler could hardly control himself. “I am trained in unmasking academic racism,” he shouted, “and you are a racist!” Phil smiled and replied quietly, “I am an academic.”
Another guest was a black man named Charles King, whose understanding of science was even spottier than Prof. Mehler’s. “Are you saying I am your inferior?” he thundered. “No,” replied Phil, “I am saying we are different.” The program was a tour de force of reasonable explanations and unflappable manners on the one hand, and fulmination on the other.
I met Phil not long after that impressive performance, and through many years of friendship until his death two days ago, the qualities I saw on that program always impressed me. Phil had an intense desire to know the truth, to understand our species in all its complexity. He was also polite to a fault, even in the face of the vilest provocation. But it is as a man of science that he will be remembered—a great thinker in the distinguished lineage of Francis Galton, Charles Spearman, and Arthur Jensen. In a sane world, Canada would recognize him as the national treasure he was.
John Philippe Rushton was born in 1943 in Bournemouth, England, and received a Ph.D. in 1973 from the London School of Economics for work in the development of altruism in children. In 1974 he emigrated to Canada, and in 1977 he took a post at the University of Western Ontario, where he became a full professor in 1985.
Phil’s first important scientific contributions grew out of his studies of altruism in children. During a sabbatical year he spent in Berkeley, California, in 1981, he could not help noticing that in a multi-racial society, people care most about their own group. Hispanics supported recognition of Spanish as an official language, Jews were interested in what was happening in Israel, and blacks associated with and supported each other. This led Phil to develop Genetic Similarity Theory, according to which people are most altruistic towards those to whom they are biologically close, and less altruistic and even hostile to those who are biologically distant. He studied how people sense genetic similarity, and the consequences this has for society.
During this period he began to investigate race differences—in particular race differences in intelligence and brain size—but broadened his research to include all physiological and behavioral race differences. This led to his ground-breaking application of r-K theory to human races—and, of course, to his demonization.
Phil’s crucial insight was to realize that different races show consistent patterns that reflect different reproductive strategies. At one extreme are East Asians, who are the most intelligent, have the largest brains, show the most sexual restraint, develop most slowly, live the longest, and are most law-abiding. This is consistent with having few children but taking very good care of them. At the other extreme are black Africans, whose behavior is consistent with less investment in larger numbers of children. On virtually every scale of r-K behavior (that is, on a scale of high-investment versus low-investment child-rearing), whites fall somewhere between Asians and blacks. Phil meticulously documented and argued this theory in his brilliant 1995 book, Race, Evolution, and Behavior.
Phil had been publishing his ideas well before this, however, and in 1989, the Toronto Star started a campaign to have him fired from his job at the University of Western Ontario. The paper accused him of “racism,” and noted that “there are well established procedures for the dismissal of tenured staff.” The rest of the media joined in a chorus howling for Phil’s scalp. In February that year, Premier David Peterson of Ontario telephoned the president of the University of Western Ontario demanding that Phil be fired.
Thugs disrupted Phil’s classes, and shouted abuse at him whenever he walked by. Once he found “Racists pig live here” [sic] scrawled on the door of his office. In March 1989, the Attorney General of Ontario began a police investigation to see whether Phil had broken laws banning the promotion of “hatred against any identifiable group.” A finding of guilt could have meant up to two years in prison, but eight months later, the Attorney General announced that Phil’s theories were “loony but not criminal.”
The University of Western Ontario could find no legal way to fire Phil, so it barred him from the classroom and ordered him to record lectures on video tape for students to watch in private. Phil managed to persuade a faculty grievance committee that this was absurd. When he resumed classroom teaching—amid much media whooping and student protest—thugs repeatedly disrupted his courses and even assaulted him. Through it all, Phil never lost his temper, never threw a punch—and, most importantly, never backed down. Over the years, his enemies gradually retreated to a baffled state of relative silence, while Phil continued to publish top-flight research on race differences.
As Phil moved into forbidden territory, his funding disappeared, and he asked the Pioneer Fund for help. Harry Weyher, who had been running the fund since 1958, gave Phil the support that made his best work possible. After a close and fruitful association with the fund, it was natural that Phil himself should become president of the fund on Weyher’s death in 2002. For 10 years, Phil continued Pioneer’s quiet but invaluable grants in support of race-related research.
Phil also had a close association with American Renaissance. He spoke at no fewer than six AR conferences, and was invariably the main attraction. The first time he spoke, in 1996, a fascinated audience kept him on his feet for more than an hour past the scheduled end of his talk. Phil answered question after question with his trademark combination of patience, erudition, and charm. Afterwards, he told me his legs were aching, but that it was a pleasure to speak to such a well-informed group.
Phil had agreed to speak at the conference we held in February this year, but he withdrew, saying he feared his health would not allow him to travel. I knew he had been in and out of the hospital with Addison’s disease, which attacks the immune system, but I hardly expected him to leave us so soon. Phil always had ideas for research; I grieve to think he will never be able to do that work.
Whatever Phil’s enemies may say of him—and we know exactly what they will say—those of us who had the great privilege of his friendship know that he was first and always a seeker of the truth. It was the quality of the data he cared about, not whether they fit his or anyone else’s theories.
And, of course, it was precisely because he pursued the truth that he was hated. Those who have never been slandered in the press, never been denounced by “scholars,” never assaulted by “anti-racists,” or never shunned by colleagues do not know the courage it takes to endure it year after year. Phil Rushton steered a straight course through the hurricane, and he did it with unparalleled dignity. He was as principled as a man as he was brilliant as a scientist, and our world is greatly diminished without him.
Below is the classic 1989 debate between Phil Rushton and Canadian zoologist David Suzuki on race and genetics.