Elsevier journal to retract 2012 paper widely derided as racist

An article claiming that skin pigmentation is related to aggression and sexuality in humans will be retracted, Elsevier announced today.

The study, “Do pigmentation and the melanocortin system modulate aggression and sexuality in humans as they do in other animals?” was published online in Personality and Individual Differences, an Elsevier journal, on March 15, 2012.

The study’s authors, John Rushton and Donald Templer, both deceased, hypothesized that skin color was related to aggression and sexuality in humans. It has been cited just nine times in eight years, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Part of the abstract says:

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.

A Medium post critiqued the study back in November 2019:

While I understand that this article proposes a hypothesis without presenting original data, there are nonetheless a number of issues that should have precluded its publication. These include a misrepresentation of research on pleiotropy, misrepresentation of the authors’ sources, cherry-picked citations which misrepresent the state of the literature, and no disclosure of the authors’ conflict-of-interest. Far from being a simple hypothesis, this article is a source of misinformation, which is being weaponized by White supremacists. For these reasons, I believe Elsevier should investigate the publication decision process behind this paper and a formal Editorial Expression of Concern should be written.

The post also notes that 

In support of their hypothesis that people with darker pigment are more aggressive, Rushton and Templer cite Lynn (2002), who proposes that Black people are more psychopathic than White people. However, the findings of Lynn (2002) have been thoroughly refuted.

Lynn lost his emeritus status for his views on race and intelligence in 2018.

Rushton has also credited Hans Eysenck — who co-founded Personality and Individual Differences and whose work has come under serious scrutiny — for inspiring his interest in psychology.

After being forwarded the Medium post earlier this month, Retraction Watch contacted Elsevier about the concerns raised in the critique one week ago today. Around the same time, a petition with more than 1,000 signatures was sent to Elsevier.

The company did not respond to us, but posted the retraction announcement today

Personality and Individual Differences has taken the decision to retract the review article Rushton, J.P., Templer, D.I. (2012). Do pigmentation and the melanocortin system modulate aggression and sexuality in humans as they do in other animals? Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 4-8. This retraction comes after a thorough review of the published article, the sources cited within the article, and critical comments from readers. The retraction notice is currently being finalized and will appear in the journal imminently.

The news was cheered by at least a few Twitter users:

The editor of the journal, Donald Saklofske, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Retraction Watch. Saklofske joined the psychology department of the University of Western Ontario — where Rushton was on faculty — in 2012, the same year as the paper was published and the same year that Rushton died.

Update, 1700 UTC, 6/18/20: Saklofske told Retraction Watch that

this retraction decision followed a lengthy and detail investigation of the Rushton & Templer (2012) article that began last year following expressions of concern.  We were also  addressing another complex issue which required our full and immediate attention,  but Elsevier did publish a note on Twitter last fall that we were also in the process of examining the Rushton/Templer paper. 

The other complex issue, Saklofske said, was the three expressions of concern the journal published about Eysenck’s work earlier this year.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at [email protected].

8 thoughts on “Elsevier journal to retract 2012 paper widely derided as racist”

  1. THAT Rushton … I’m more used to hearing him as Philippe. Paper like that should never have been accepted in the first place.

  2. Both authors passed away times ago, I don’t agree with the definition of retraction (this action implies that the original authors asked for removal), but instead a cancellation. Regardless of the content, I fear there is a wave of cleansing unorthodox (or non-mainstream) views going on in some parts of the academic world, sparked by the recent events. Articles/essays/publications in general which are not well received (not fake/false, that is completely another story) should remain anyway, so others are able to answer and refute wrong or misrepresented propositions.

  3. When are the campaigns for retracting “The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins” and “Glaciers, Gender, and Science” getting started?

  4. Censorship in science was the last thing I expected. Even though I don’t like the motivation behind this publication, this is still a scientific study, and was in the literature for eight whole years. If the claimed results are wrong, then there must be at least one article refuting this one.

  5. It’s just an opinion-based review, no “scientific study”. No need for “at least one article refuting this”.

    1. Opinion-based review is not a blog post. It is an article published in a SSCI journal. So, we should either question the credibility of the journal, or you cannot claim “opinion-based review.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.