J. Philippe Rushton. February 8, 1989 (source)
I first heard about J. Philippe Rushton in the mid-1980s. My mother would leave newspaper clippings about him on my desk, thinking I might be interested. I didn’t know what to think. Wasn’t she a Christian fundamentalist? And why would I be interested?
A few years later, in October 1988, I actually got to meet him. This was at the founding conference in Ann Arbor,Michigan, of what would become the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES).I remember talking to him briefly—something about career opportunities in psychology. I also attended his talk on “r/K reproductive strategies and the evolution of health, longevity and personality.” He was the only one there who broached the topic of psychological differences within the human species. Everybody else, including myself, held to the line that there was only one human nature and that it had assumed its present form back in the Pleistocene on the African savannah.
The following January, Rushton delivered an expanded paper on the same theme at the annual AAAS meeting in San Francisco. That paper was widely reported in the press. And the shit hit the fan. The premier of Ontario, David Peterson, called on the University of Western Ontario to fire him. When the university refused, the Attorney General ordered the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate Rushton. I couldn’t believe this sort of thing was happening in my country and in “the free world.” But I said nothing, not even to close friends. I was a typical Canadian, I guess.
After several months, the investigation was dropped … because no crime had been committed. He had weathered the storm, and survived. He and a few others who had stood by him.
His defiance may have inspired other academics to come out of the closet. By the mid-1990s, a sort of “Prague Spring” was under way. I remember attending a talk by Vincent Sarich about “the reality of human differences.” This was at the 1996 HBES meeting in Chicago, and his talk was the high point of the meeting. This was also the time when The Bell Curve came out, and when Internet discussion groups made their debut. It now became possible to discuss this topic on a level playing field, without threats or intimidation. And time and again the “no difference” side got creamed.
Maybe they weren’t used to level playing fields. It was nonetheless flabbergasting to see prominent antiracist scholars, like C. Loring Brace, being reduced to silence when confronted with contrary evidence.
The Prague Spring didn’t last long. There would never be a second edition of The Bell Curve, although it sold very well. Another book on the same topic was spiked by its publisher at the last minute. For that matter, no mainstream publishing house would ever again allow anything on that topic.
It’s now a decade and a half later. With Rushton’s death, the next spring seems far away.