October 7, 2012

A tribute to J.P. Rushton: "Jensen's bulldog"

James Thompson of University College London recently wrote of J.P. Rushton, who died last week:
Phil Rushton is tough minded, and has needed to be. Scholarly enquiry often leads to surprising answers, and expounding unpopular views is no project for the faint hearted. His key achievement has been to gather together what would otherwise have been a rag tag of disparate findings and bind them into a coherent pattern of r-K evolutionary strategies. His approach is one more example of an Eysenkian gesamtkunstwerk, to which those of hereditarian persuasion seem drawn, in which an over-arching theory provides a sweet symphony that brings order to chaos. This has given the debate about behavioural differences between genetic groups a new rationale, and for that alone Rushton deserves praise. 
In terms of his approach to the data he has shown doggedness in tracking down evidence and arguing his case. His 2005 review with Jensen sets out the hereditarian case as thoroughly and forcefully as has ever been achieved, and must be considered his shared magnum opus. In the best sense of the term he has been Jensen’s bulldog, taking on all comers with dogged persistence. 

(T.H. Huxley was known as "Darwin's bulldog.")
Jensen and Rushton were able to draw together the main points of a complex argument and also retain the sense of challenge and flexibility as they invited their critics to grasp the gauntlet they had thrown down. By proposing to identify the 10 major fields of contention, and by rating their own progress in each of them they challenged others to reply. 
What is most notable about Rushton is his intellectual resilience. He can grasp the big picture, and can assemble evidence in its favour. He has the capacity to understand the implications of individual findings, and to track down confirmatory or dis-confirmatory consequences. He can also link together entirely disparate publication networks, such as looking at cousin marriage in Japan to illuminate group differences in America. At every stage of discovery he believes he has done enough to convince his critics, but finds that the goal posts have been moved yet again. He has had to pick his way through a maze of imprecise hypotheses, as his critics reply to his specific proposals with a general portmanteau complaint that “these effects could be due to any number of things”.  As he himself has observed, the hard-line environmentalist position is not progressive. It does not deign to specify environmental effects in any rigorous way, but tends to multiply ad hoc objections and demand standards never yet achieved in social science. It would be enough to discourage the strongest of constitutions, but despite reverses Rushton pushes on, tracking down weak arguments, studying the implications of research results so as to take them to further levels of examination,  gathering new evidence, and as a consequence leaving well-constructed cairns of evidence along the trail-ways of exploration for other researchers to follow.

A reader has dug up some 1970s pictures of Rushton with a bass guitarist's head of hair.

Visitation will be Tuesday, funeral Wednesday in London, Ontario, Canada (not London, England, which had me momentarily confused since Rushton was a leading light of the London School descending intellectually from Darwin and Galton), Details here.


Anonymous said...

The wikipedia entry for Professor Rushton needs to be brought into better accord with known facts. It
lists a handful of scientists, the
late Hans Eysenck, as one, who supported Rushton (against the slander that his work was merely "racism masquerading as science" In fact, at the time in the early 90's that he was under PC assault at the University of Western Ontario, a few dozen scholars from around the world--including such obscure names as
E. O. Wilson--wrote Letters for the purpose of making a compendium of supporting letters as an exhibit in his defense. Not a meres handful--but quite a substantial number. And the vast majority of them had never sought nor received a dime of support from the Pioneer Fund. Rushton himself later wrote that when he presented the assembled letters to one of his main detractors, she screamed and yelled to the point her spittle was on his shirt. The assembled letters were of pivotal importance. It is obsence that wikpedia can suggest that he was supported by a mere handful of persons collectively forming some small "cult". This is a distortion worthy of the old Soviet Pravda.

Aaron in Israel said...

"Jensen's bulldog" is actually pretty insulting if you think about it (Darwin/Huxley).

Speaking of Jensen, he was the one who noticed the rank orderings of Asian > white > black in a lot of those traits and suggested to Rushton that it would be an interesting subject to research. Apparently this is typical of Jensen's generosity. I think the r-K hypothesis was Rushton's, though.

Aaron in Israel said...

Unfortunately, Rushton himself was responsible for a lot of the unfair criticism he received. That's because of both scientific and rhetorical mistakes he made.

He emphasized in REB that aggregation was crucial for his method. Unfortunately, he justified it in a weird way, basically by citing the use of aggregation in personality testing. His critics jumped on that, attacking his use of aggregation on various grounds. Reading some of that criticism, I concluded that the critics were right and Rushton was wrong.

Finally, Michael Levin pointed out very simply that aggregation by any criterion at all is justified for an investigation like this, as long as the criterion is chosen a priori. So Rushton's use of aggregation was justified, though his support of it was invalid. If he'd used Levin's argument, he could have avoided a major scientific criticism of REB.

The other main criticism is valid, I think. That is, Rushton didn't carry out a real meta-analysis. Rather, he just cherry-picked data that supported his hypothesis. Rushton didn't really defend himself from that charge, so it's probably true. He just challenged anyone to show a study contradicting the racial rank ordering he found. I'm not aware of anyone doing that, so he's got a good point. But his methodology was really shoddy, which justifiably cast doubt on his whole argument.

Like many research psychologists, Rushton apparently had no social skills. The mass-mailing of the abridged REB is a case in point. That's what Harpending was referring to when he wrote that Rushton had "more balls than brains."

I first heard of Rushton when he was on Geraldo Rivera's show, though I didn't catch his name or know who he was. He came across horribly. I was convinced that his opponent was right, that Rushton just used old, discredited data (which wasn't true).

I watched part of the debate with Suzuki that took place in Canada. Rushton started out well, describing his scientific findings in very nerdy, objective language. But then he suggested really silly-sounding experiments that people could do on their own, and it was over. The audience, which had been polite till then, just started laughing at him. He came across as a kooky pseudo-scientist. That was entirely his fault.

San Franciscan non-monk said...

Hey Anonymous 10/7/12 8:50,

So go to Wikipedia and edit it.

Steve Sailer said...

""Jensen's bulldog" is actually pretty insulting if you think about it (Darwin/Huxley)."


Auntie Analogue said...

I watched the entire Rushton-Suzuki debate and it wasn't really a debate. Rushton presented empirical data while Suzuki did nothing more than quote a single scientific work and mostly spouted political rhetoric and invective that roused what sounded like most of the audience to cheer his bloviation. Also, most of the questions posed by audience members were not questions, had nothing to do with empiricism, but were instead political accusations, slogans, or would-be diatribes.

Gilbert Ratchet said...

Where do you think the University of Western _Ontario_ is located?

Aaron in Israel said...

I think it's insulting to call Rushton "Jensen's bulldog" because Huxley was a propagandist for Darwinism. He didn't make significant scientific contributions to Darwinian theory itself, or if he did, that's not why he was called Darwin's bulldog. Whatever you think of the scientific quality of Rushton's contributions, he did contribute significantly, for instance in his so-called meta-analysis of brain capacity and IQ studies, and in his principle components analysis of Flynn Effect data.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot that Rushton replaced Roger Glover in Deep Purple for a brief period in the early 70's. Ah, youth.

Aaron in Israel said...

Agreed with Auntie Analogue that it wasn't really a debate, not the part I saw anyway.

Rushton's problem was that he chose himself to defend his theories. Not only was he the worst debater I've ever seen, but he really didn't understand the basic concepts that he used in his research. Someone like Michael Levin, who does understand the basic concepts, would have torn Suzuki apart.

Silver said...

I watched part of the debate with Suzuki that took place in Canada. Rushton started out well, describing his scientific findings in very nerdy, objective language.

Aaron you are incredible. His "nerdy" objective language. Of all the possible objections! That may well be the most aggressively dumb remark you've yet made around here. It's quite clear to me you have a problem both with (a) serious racial research and (b) white people who are white and like it. If either of those is not true I think the onus should be on you to prove it.

Anonymous said...

Silver -
"Started out well", I think, means Aaron liked Rushton's nerdy tone. It was after that that it took a turn for the worse, in Aaron's opinion. (Myself, I know I can't watch the thing and be objective, because I loathe Suzuki. I could never be fair to someone who nauseates me, or properly judge his nerdy opponent.)

Mike Steinberg said...

***He came across horribly.***

I wonder if someone will upload that to YouTube? The first time I saw Rushton was in 2006 on a tv news segment about research showing a slight average male/female on psychometric tests.

I was actually surprised at how well he came across. He seemed like a nice guy with a sense of humour too.

He was also channel 4 documentary by by Farai Chideya on NPR in relation to the James Watson controversy.

The other time I saw him on tv was being interviewed for a Channel 4 documentary by Rageh Omaar. I think he was sipping a coke and came across as quite down to earth and reasonable.

TGGP said...

I mentioned it in a previous thread, but I'd like to reiterate that Rushton made some misleading at best and arguably dishonest claims. It's unfortunate he's dead, otherwise maybe I could have emailed him and asked what studies he was relying on (but abjectly failed to cite). I think it is incumbent upon those who believe in human biodiversity to criticize folks like Rushton or Lynn when they fall short of scientific standards, even if they have the right enemies.

Anonymous said...

Rushton seemed to attribute racial differences to man moving into colder climates. Negroes became Caucasians who tehn split into Asiatics

Recent research has revealed that all non-Africans are part Neaderthal, which can explain some of the racial differences, not the cold weather.

Anonymous said...

Criticisms that Rushton didn't understand the concepts he was using and that he was "arguably dishonest" seem somehow to have eluded the 45 outstanding academic figures who wrote letters supporting his academic freedom and scientific merit back in the 1990 time frame. Understanding in science often has its ragged edges and its holes and the use of data is an onging point of disputation in science. But the basic slander against him (ammplified by the media) was of "racism masquerading as science". It was, and remains, utterly without basis. The quality of Rushton's work (at the time not at all concerned with race or evolved differences among races ) came to the attention of R. J. Herrnstein as editor in chief of PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN in the time frame of 1975-76, only several months after Rushton had completed his PhD. Herrnstein remarks in his April 05, 1990 letter of the manifest intellectual excellence in Rushton's work and how unusual it is for a newly minted PhD to be publishing in the prestigious PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN. Funny that Rushton's supposed lack of understnding of the concepts he was using and his "arguable" dishonesty all eluded the PC vigilantes until until until he got invovled courageously with studying "The Great Taboo".

TGGP said...

Again, I think Rushton merited academic freedom and I would not disregard all his work as worthless. But he did have real shortcomings which should not be ignored.