Racism masquerading as science

*Trigger warning for extreme racism*

A peer-reviewed journal by the name of “Personality and Individual Differences”, published a paper in March 2012 titled, “Do pigmentation and the melanocortin system modulate aggression and sexuality in humans as they do in other animals?” (full paper available at link), by two psychologists.  The psychology bit is important, because the paper is essentially looking at biology, and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of qualification in biology that the two authors of the paper have.

I strongly caution you regarding the racism in this paper.  It is abhorrent and awful.  The commentary below delves a bit into who the authors are, my WTF in relation to the contents of the paper, and how fucked up the whole thing is.  The paper is a hard read, and this whole post may be triggering.

One of the authors is J. Philippe Rushton, who has been widely described as racist:

Jean Philippe Rushton (born December 3, 1943) is a Canadian psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario who is most widely known for his work on racial group differences, such as research on race and intelligence, race and crime, and the application of r/K selection theory to humans in his book Race, Evolution and Behavior (1995). His work has been heavily criticised by the scientific community, and it has been widely described as racist, as has the Pioneer Fund, the research foundation he has been head of since 2002.

The other author of the paper, Donald I. Templer, has spoken at American Renaissance, a racialist organisation.  Templer’s talk covered:

Psychologist Donald Templer followed with a scathing and hilarious attack on the blindness of his profession. He has been fascinated by group differences ever since he was a child, and this interest has shaped his academic career. He says denying group differences in ability is costly because it puts unqualified blacks in positions of authority. Whites are twenty times more likely than blacks to have IQs of 130 or above, and these are the people who should be decision-makers.

“There are too many psychologists who poison the minds of their students,” said Prof. Templer. By refusing to acknowledge innate intelligence differences, psychologists encourage white guilt that weakens a psychologist’s capacity to deal with the social problems that blacks pose. Also, it is absurd to blame test bias for low IQ scores. “If blacks score low on an intelligence test,” said Prof. Templer, “I would say that constitutes powerful evidence for its validity.” Many psychologists enjoy giving racial sensitivity training, but it would be much more useful if they treated white guilt. Many psychologists recommend psychological therapy for black prisoners, but Prof. Templer disagrees: “They need 60 hours a week of work therapy. That would give them less time for manufacturing alcohol and weapons, trafficking drugs, and giving each other AIDS.”

Prof. Templer was just as scathing about the grievances of blacks against whites. Many claim high incarceration rates are genocide because they prevent blacks from having children. In Prof. Templer’s view, “the reduced procreation of criminals of all colors is a beneficial side effect of incarceration… If imprisoning criminals is genocide, then I am for genocide.” If Americans are serious about deterring crime, they should farm criminals out to Third World and Communist countries “that have real prisons and real punishment.” (from here)

So, upfront we know that the authors of the study definitely have an angle they’re going to pursue.  We can’t rely on this study to not be looking for the answers that they aim for.  This is important as part of the study is a meta-analysis, and there is no demonstration that in their study they considered data that did not tie in with their own biases/theory.

So, the introduction of the essay starts initially simply enough describing why animals and humans have different hair, skin, cuticle, feather and eye colours.  It then moves into a description of how darker pigmented animals are more aggressive and sexually active than lighter pigmented animals – you can see where this is going already.  And then BANG!  “In humans, darker skin also correlates with lower IQ (Rushton & Jensen, 2005)”, yes for no reason whatsoever, some direct racism with a quote from one of his own papers. I think if you’re going to make such a claim, especially in the introduction, you’d want a million other papers backing up your point.  There ends the introduction with that lovely comment and self citation.

So onto the body of the paper, and where you’d hope that things would start to make a bit more sense.  The paper starts off with a study of over 40 vertebrate species where pigmentation plays a role in aggression and sexual activity, because clearly as humans are also vertebrate animals, we’d be just the same as lions, sheep, deer, four species of fish, four species of reptile, a toad, and 36 species of birds.  Notice that there isn’t a single monkey or ape in that list.  No close relatives of humans where you could look at behaviour in the wild and perhaps match it to humans (also problematic since humans really are individually their own species and you don’t compare sparrows and eagles to look at similar behaviours).  Another study of a tortoise displayed behavioural traits based on pigmentation.  And if you placed darker pigmented baby animals with lighter pigmented ones (darked maned lions for example), they were still more aggressive than their lighter pigmented relatives/adopted family.

You can really see where this is going can’t you.

They do include a caution from one of the other authors they’ve cited for this study, but they seem to mention it and then completely ignore it:

However, Ducrest et al. (2008) cautioned, because of genetic mutations, melanin-based coloration may not exhibit these traits consistently across human populations.

The authors then completely get wrong one of my favourite biological studies and mangle it beyond recognition.  This is the study on the domestication of silver foxes in the former USSR.  Yes it was a study that saw the destruction of thousands of kits that didn’t pass the grade and was rather brutal, but it was a fast track demonstration of evolution and domestication.  The study is described in detail in this blog post.

So according to the authors of this paper, it was the domestication of these foxes, with the reduced aggression that went along with it, that changed the pigmentation of their fur, despite the fact that they were already called silver foxes, and despite their wild colouration being:

Silver foxes display a great deal of pelt variation: some are completely black, save for the white tail tip, while others are bluish-grey, and others may have a cinereous colour on the sides. (Wikipedia)

(cinereous – ashen grey)

So really, this paragraph in their study doesn’t prove anything, so we’ll move right along.  Really, when it comes to domestication of any animal, it’s generally a case of neoteny (thanks to James for remembering that word).

Neoteny, also called juvenilization, is one of the two ways by which pedomorphism can arise. Pedomorphism is the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in juveniles, and is a subject studied in the field of developmental biology. In neoteny, the physiological (or somatic) development of an animal or organism is slowed or delayed. In contrast, in progenesis, sexual development occurs faster. Both processes result in pedomorphism. Ultimately this process results in the retention, in the adults of a species, of juvenile physical characteristics well into maturity and pedogenesis (paedogenesis), the reproduction in a neotenized state.

Neoteny is one of three dimensions of heterochrony, or the change in timing of developmental events: acceleration (faster) vs. neoteny (slower), hypermorphosis (further) vs. progenesis (not as far), and predisplacement (begins earlier) vs. postdisplacement (begins later).


Domestication has involved selection for behavioral characteristics that characterize young animals so, since “behavior is rooted in biology”, domestication has resulted in an array of similar neotenous physical traits having arisen in various domesticated animals. Such neotenous physical traits in domesticated animals such as dogs, pigs, cats, and recently foxes are floppy ears, changes in reproductive cycle, curly tails, piebald coloration, fewer or shortened vertebra, large eyes, rounded forehead, large ears and shortened muzzle. (Wikipedia)

Let’s now move into where the comparison with random non-relatives of humans means that the authors can be as racist as they possibly want to be.  They’ve attempted to convince you that dark pigmented animals are more aggressive and sexually active than light pigmented animals, and now they apply this directly to humans.  The same humans who are self aware, and are strongly influenced by their environment and social conditioning.  The same humans who are great and/or horrible to each other.  The same humans who do amazing things, build amazing nations, discover amazing things, and who are incredible capable.

Anyway, the paper proposes:

A first examination of whether melanin based pigmentation plays a role in human aggression and sexuality (as seen in non-human animals), is to compare people of African descent with those of European descent and observe whether darker skinned individuals average higher levels of aggression and sexuality (with violent crime the main indicator of aggression). Internationally, we found Blacks are over-represented in crime statistics relative to Whites and Asians. … Since victims’ surveys tell a similar story, the differences in arrest statistics cannot just be attributed to police prejudice.

There is no discussion of institutional racism and how that would affect incarceration rates. There is also no discussion of whether the crime statistics were for certain types of crimes, and also no discussion of how non-white people are sentenced for longer periods than whites in Western nations.  There is also no citation for the “victims’ surveys” as to where, when or how that data was considered.  There is no attempt here to demonstrate rigorous studies, but to push an agenda that the authors have.

The authors quote Richard Lynn, another author who has been accused of racism and who has written in support of eugenics.  Lynn is also on the board of the Pioneer Fund with Rushton.

Later they detail how in African and Caribbean nations there is higher rate of violent crime than in Western or Asian nations, with no detail on how effective judicial systems and support for the rule of law makes that possible in some nations and not in others.

Then the authors detail how black people report themselves as having more sex and feeling less guilty about it, as if feeling guilty about having sex is something that is inherently natural and right with the world.  The authors also point out that the percentage of HIV/AIDS suffers in the US is disproportionately black, and then go on to state that the white/black divide for sub-Saharan Africa in relation to HIV/AIDS is also disproportionally black despite those nations having small white populations.  The authors make no comments on other reasons why HIV/AIDS is at the alarming percentage it is in developing nations, and how organisation such as the Catholic church have added to the problem by telling people that condom use will give you AIDS.

The authors then touch on Rushton’s r/K selection theory in relation to race.  Wikipedia describes the theory and it’s issues as follows:

Rushton’s book Race, Evolution, and Behavior (1995) uses r/K selection theory to explain how East Asians consistently average high, blacks low, and whites in the middle on an evolutionary scale of characteristics indicative of nurturing behavior. He first published this theory in 1984. Rushton argues that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants. He theorizes that r/K selection theory explains these differences. Rushton’s application of r/K selection theory to explain differences among racial groups has been widely criticised. One of his many critics is the evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves, who has done extensive testing of the r/K selection theory with species of drosophila flies. Graves argues that not only is r/K selection theory considered to be virtually useless when applied to human life history evolution, but Rushton does not apply the theory correctly, and displays a lack of understanding of evolutionary theory in general. Graves also says that Rushton misrepresented the sources for the biological data he gathered in support of his hypothesis, and that much of his social science data was collected by dubious means. Other scholars have argued against Rushton’s hypothesis on the basis that the concept of race is not supported by genetic evidence about the diversity of human populations, and that his research is based on folk taxonomies.

Just when I thought the paper couldn’t get any more racist, it delves into an incredibly nasty bucket of racism at this point, suggesting that Africans produce more children but care less for them, while Asians have less children and care more for them, with Europeans somewhere in the middle.  It also goes on to suggest that white imperialism is due to the superior nature of being white.

Overall, this essay is poorly constructed (who introduces a new theory in their conclusion?), incredibly racist, incredibly biased, and I can’t believe it’s been published at all.  If anyone tries to use it to support their own racism, or to claim that they aren’t at all racist, but those of African descent are just inferior, tell them to fuck off, and/or point to the incredible racism of the authors.  I’m now going to have a shower after delving into that bucket of disgusting.

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4 thoughts on “Racism masquerading as science”

  1. Hi – I stumbled upon this blog post whilst trying to find someone as equally appalled as myself by this latest Rushton article. I’m a Psychology undergraduate, so I like to think I have some grounding in a lot of the research on intelligence, IQ and racial differences. Whilst I think many of your criticism of this paper are valid, and indeed many of them I would agree on, I think it’s important to establish that one of your first points of contention –

    “And then BANG! “In humans, darker skin also correlates with lower IQ (Rushton & Jensen, 2005)”, yes for no reason whatsoever, some direct racism with a quote from one of his own papers. I think if you’re going to make such a claim, especially in the introduction”

    isn’t well-founded – the gap between white and black populations on tests of IQ is one that is widely supported in the research literature. The problem with this is, the facts don’t speak for themselves – some researchers, such as Jensen, use this observable fact as evidence of genetic differences between racial groups accounting for these differences. I think it’s important to understand that it is this sort of misuse and misrepresentation of what the data can tell us, that is the cornerstone that Rushton’s racist agenda relies upon.

    Apart from that, I’m glad you took the time to pick apart this paper and the rather ridiculous conclusions it draws from very weak data.

    n.b. I don’t know if it’s of interest, but this latest ‘summary’ article by some of the most eminent intelligence researchers gives a good overview of what Psychology believes are the ‘knowns’ of intelligence – http://scottbarrykaufman.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Nisbett-et-al.-2012.pdf

  2. I, among others I believe, was hoping to find someone else who would comment on this article after I had finsihed reading it. Luckily, I found one. I’ll just go through my arguments against it.

    First, they say the following:

    “In the US, Taylor and Whitney (1999) analyzed the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics and National Crime Victimization Surveys from the US Department of Justice and found that since record keeping began at the turn of the century and throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, African Americans engaged in proportionately more acts of violence than other groups. Since victims’ surveys tell a similar story, the differences in arrest statistics cannot just be attributed to police prejudice.”

    Apparently, the authors introduce the possibility of prejudice into their argument, but then assume no prejudice rests on the side of the victims. It is as if racism in the late 1900s of the USA has been completely discounted when assessing the validity of the legal system. Such data would be fine if we could assume the U.S. legal system was unbiased, particularly during this time, but it wasn’t. Further, as stated above, while such correlations may be a fact, not taking the social context into account can be harmful.

    Then, one of my favorite quotes from the article is the following:

    “Lynn (2002) reviewed the literature on psychopathy in childhood and adolescence and found that Blacks averaged the highest rates including diagnosis with childhood conduct disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), being suspended or excluded from school, scoring low on tests of moral understanding, failing to live up to financial obligations such as paying back student loans, poor work commitment, recklessness (e.g., having traffic accidents), maintaining monogamous relationships, being responsible parents, engaging in domestic violence, and needing hospitalization for injuries sustained through altercations”

    In terms of producing a good scientific argument, here is an example of poorly used evidence. Their hypothesis is that skin pigmentation does correlate with aggression and sexuality, yet they use ADHD, tests for “moral understanding” (this should require clarification as that is morality in itself is subjective), not paying back student loans and being irresponsible parents as evidence to support their hypothesis. Without any clarification, non of this can be used to mean that people of a given color are necessarily violent. The evidence needs clarification particularly with the last piece of evidence concrening hospitalization, for the fact of correlation itself completely disregards the content of what caused the person to be hospitalized. Without any clarification, I see no difference between doing what the authors did here and explaining racial lynchings in the early 20th century as a result of black aggression, which is completely absured.

    Then, they describe a few correlations between increased sexuality and the race of the people doing it. People of African descent and Black people are explained to be more sexually active than those of non-African descent/ White People. At one point, they make the following statement:

    “Race predicted sexual behavior better than did socioeconomic status. Kinsey’s Black sample was college educated (from 1938 to 1963) and came from a middle class background (parentally intact, with high educational level) while one of the White samples was non-college educated and were lower on the same parental indices. Mixed-race (Black–White) adolescents reported an intermediate number of sexual partners compared to the two parental populations, even after controlling for socio-economic status (Rowe, 2002).”

    This statement, I do not understand. It seems they are assuming we would argue that poor people are more likely to be sexual than wealthy people and so, instead of using 2 variables and a control as they should have (contrasting wealthy blacks to wealthy whites and contrasting poor blacks to poor whites), they contrast poor whites to wealthy blacks. As scientists, the obvious question should remain: is it that wealthy people are more sexual or that black people are more sexual? Without proper controls, how can we make judgement.

    Then, if not to make their argument even worse, they add the following:

    “African descended people are over-represented in rates of sexually transmitted diseases [STDs] such as syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, and HIV/AIDS (US Centers for Disease Control, 2009). Of the more than one million people living in the US with HIV/AIDS in 2007, almost half (46%) were Black. The Black–White difference in HIV/AIDS is found worldwide with high levels in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Botswana (24.8%), South Africa (17.8%), Zambia (14.6%) and Zimbabwe (14.3%) (CIA World Factbook, 2010). The Black Caribbean is also disproportionately represented, despite limited recent contact between Africa and the Caribbean Islands. In the Caribbean, the rates approximate as high as they were in sub-Saharan Africa 20 years ago, for example, the Bahamas (3.1%), Haiti (1.9%), and Jamaica (1.7%).”

    And yet, unless I am mistaken, many of these nations have historically been exploited by Europeans and so remain as some of the poorest nations to this day. Of course, I don’t have scientific data to proove that. So, what I would suggest to the authors is to look across every income divide in every nation they are listing, determine if African descendent people have the majority of STDs in each income bracket and then determine if their is an inequality in distribution of STD suppressants or sex education. But, of course, they didn’t bother being thurough.

    They discuss their Life History Theory concerning the correlation and heritabiltiy of certain human traits and how, WITHOUT A SOURCE, Africans maximize their reproductivity while Asians maximize their parental care.

    However, what is more disturbing is thier conclusion:

    “The correlations between human pigmentation, aggression, and sexuality (and IQ), is further supported by the anthropological and sociological research on “pigmentocracies” (Lynn & Vanhanen, 2006). A pigmentocracy is a society in which status hierarchies are based largely on skin color, with lighter skin denoting higher status and darker skin lower status. Although these are typically explained by the legacy of slavery and imperialism, and although cultural and environmental factors undoubtedly play a substantial role (Rushton & Jensen, 2005), we have focused on genetic pleiotropy to explain the much less known relationship between skin color and behavior.”

    How exactly, in a scientific manner, can these authors believe they have distinguished between the genetic-racial factors and social factors of behavior. Their hypothesis is the following: “In many species, melanin-based coloration is found to be pleiotropically linked to behavior. We review animal studies that have found darker pigmented individuals average higher amounts of aggression and sexual activity than lighter pigmented individuals. We hypothesize that similar relationships between pigmentation, aggression, and sexuality occur in humans”

    Here is what the article is : First, using the data presented in the article, the authors HAVE only established a correlation, not a causation, which can be used to support (however out of context) that the phenotype for darker pigmentation is necessarily associated with violence and sexuality in humans.
    Second, the data never differentiate between social and gentic facotrs in behavior and so the above part of their conclusion is, essentially, useless. In essence, we still don’t know if we are dealing with social or genetic factors from these data alone. The only attempts to resolve this are when the authors poorly use their controls (as mentioned above) or when they take global data into account. From this we can more easily discount national explanations, but that is all.
    Third, and perhaps this is a non scientific argument, but I still will make it. I do not understand why we are still perfoming scientific analyses to show that one race or color of people is, essentially, more predisposed to be destructive than another. What possible application can this have other than to make assumptions about individuals and group them accordingly? If their goal is to determine the reason for the correlations that exist in society and then stop violence (I don’t know any good application of understanding correlations of race-sex), there are two possibilites:

    1) you determine that black people are naturally violent and so need to be segregated in some form (either physical barriers or differential education) and thus disregard individual rights, as the 1/5 peaceful black people will be ignored.

    2) You determine that black people are not naturally violent and so you work on educating people equally against violence, providing for people equally, protecting individual rights and not assuming one human being is significantly different from another.

    It seems an obvious choice. The first method was already attempted in the USA, it failed and resulted in more violence and hatred than could be explained by natural genetic differences. I therefore suggest to anyone who is interested in a positive world not to even consider the genetic explanation for racial correlations in human behavior. I mean, where the heck does that leave bi-racial people anyway.

  3. Interesting post. The cross-species comparison seems incorrect and doesn’t apply that well to humans. That said, there is no reason to expect the reproductive pay-off for male aggressiveness, or any other trait, is identical across different cultures and environments. For instance, where you have state control, greater population density, greater demands for paternal investment you might get selection against it.

    “….The archetypes in the literature of anthropology of dad hunter-gatherers are !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa; the archetypes of labor intensive farmers are east Asians; and the archetypes of local anarchy are Indians of lowland South America like the Yanomamo. It is probably no accident that two of the best known ethnographies of the twentieth century are titled “The Harmless People,” about the !Kung who have few or no 7R alleles, and “The Fierce People,” about the Yanomamo with a high frequency of 7R.

    Our hypothesis suggests that the absence of 7R in East Asia is recent, consequent to the establishment of powerful polities that allowed population growth and forced agricultural intensification. It is of interest in this context that 2R alleles in China are probably derived from 7R alleles by recombination, suggesting that the loss of 7R is indeed recent.

    Besides lowland South America, another well known region with local anarchy and female farming is highland New Guinea. Our model of the dynamics of 7R predict that the frequency is very high in those populations. Because they have been there for tens of thousands of years and they have not moved, the Chen et al. (2) model predicts a low frequency of 7R there. This is a natural test to distinguish the two hypotheses. A 7R frequency of 0.25 was reported (2) for a sample from New Guinea, but it is not reported even in the original source of the data whether it was from a highland or coastal population.

    In some societies 7R allele may lower fitness even when rare, as is probably the case in East Asia and among the !Kung Bushmen. In such populations it would stay rare even in the presence of gene flow from neighboring populations, even from neighbors with a social system that favors 7R alleles. Neutral genes would show no sharp boundary between the two populations, whereas alleles affecting behavior should show a sharp spatial gradient. This is likely to be the case with the 7R allele because some adjacent populations have very different 7R frequencies.”


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