Psychology journal retracts two articles for being “unethical, scientifically flawed, and based on racist ideas and agenda”

A psychology journal has retracted a pair of decades-old articles by a now-deceased psychologist with noxious views about race and intelligence after the editors concluded that his work was “unethical, scientifically flawed, and based on racist ideas and agenda.”

The author, J. Philippe Rushton, was affiliated with the University of Western Ontario, where he was notorious for publishing highly questionable studies that promoted tropes of white supremacy, including that Blacks are less intelligent than whites and 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.

Rushton died in 2012, but not before he became solidly involved with Far Right causes. According to his Wikipedia page: 

From 2002 until his death, he served as the head of the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded in 1937 to promote Eugenics, which worked actively with the Nazi party to promote theories of racial superiority and inferiority, and has been described as racist and white supremacist and designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Earlier this year, Western Ontario disavowed their former faculty member, stating

In addition to ethical concerns about the nature and funding of his research, Rushton’s work is deeply flawed from a scientific standpoint.  Crucially, Rushton’s works linking race and intelligence are based on an incorrect assumption that fuels systemic racism, the notion that racialized groups are concordant with patterns of human ancestry and genetic population structure.  …

Despite its deeply flawed assumptions and methodologies, Rushton’s work and other so-called “race science” (currently under the pseudonym of “race realism”) continues to be misused by white supremacists and promoted by eugenic organizations.  Thus, Rushton’s legacy shows that the impact of flawed science lingers on, even after qualified scholars have condemned its scientific integrity.  Academic freedom and freedom of expression are critical to free scientific inquiry.  However, the notion of academic freedom is disrespected and abused when it is used to promote the dissemination of racist and discriminatory concepts.  Scientists have an obligation to society to speak loudly and actively in opposition of such abuse.

That followed the retraction in June of a paper by Rushton and Donald Templer linking skin pigmentation to aggression.

The new retractions involve articles Rushton wrote in response to work in Psychological Reports by Zack Cernovsky, another psychologist at Western Ontario who frequently took issue with his former faculty-mate’s views and results. Per the notice

The following articles have been retracted from Psychological Reports:

Rushton, J. P. (1990). Race, brain size, and intelligence: A reply to Cernovsky, Psychological Reports, 66, 659–666

Rushton, J. P. (1991). Race, brain size, and intelligence: Another reply to Cernovsky, Psychological Reports, 68, 500–502.

This retraction is following a review that found that the research was unethical, scientifically flawed, and based on racist ideas and agenda. Specifically, these publications authored by Philippe Rushton on the subject of intelligence and race has been rejected based on the following findings:– A better understanding of the human genome (Yudell et al., 2016)

 –An inappropriately applied ecological theory that explain differences between species’ reproductive strategies to humans (Allen et al., 1992; Anderson, 1991)

 – A misuse of population genetic measures and misconceptions about heritability (Bailey, 1997)

 – Ignoring alternative explanations or evidence that did not support the racist theories being presented (Cain & Vanderwolf, 1990)

 – Rushton’s findings have not been able to be replicated (Peregrine, Ember, & Ember, 2003)

Together, the retracted papers have been cited only about a dozen times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Cernovsky told us he was “astonished when the otherwise reputable journal, the Psychological Reports, published Rushton’s articles in 1990 and 1991.” 

I felt very discouraged after the same editor also subsequently re-published an older article of Rushton in 1992 as a “Contribution to the History of Psychology.”  Rushton’s articles have been instrumental (via subtle academic discrimination) in excluding talented blacks students from graduating from universities, and preventing those who graduated from being employed according to their credentials and skills.  It is a great success that there was the retraction of Rushton’s articles from 1990 and 1991.  It will reduce some of the future harm.

The retractions fit into a trend of journals retracting scientifically flawed work deemed racist and sexist.

Cernovsky also called on the journal in an email to editors to retract the “blatantly pseudoscientific” 1992 paper by Rushton titled “Contributions to the history of psychology: XC. Evolutionary biology and heritable traits (with reference to oriental-white-black differences): The 1989 AAAS paper.” He forwarded us a message from editor in chief Cory Scherer in which Scherer said the journal would work on adding the third paper to the retraction.

The abstract from that article reads: 

Genetic distance estimates calculated from DNA sequencing indicate that in years since emergence from the ancestral hominid line, Mongoloids = 41,000, Caucasoids = 110,000, and Negroids = 200,000. Data also show that this succession is matched by numerous other differences such that Mongoloids > Caucasoids > Negroids in brain size and intelligence (cranial capacity = 1448, 1408, 1334 cm3; brain weight = 1351, 1336, 1286 gm.; millions of excess neurons = 8900, 8650, 8550; IQ = 107, 100, 85); maturational delay (age to walk alone, age of first intercourse, age of death); sexual restraint (ovulation rate, intercourse frequencies, sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS); quiescent temperament (aggressiveness, anxiety, sociability); and social organization (law abidingness, marital stability, mental health). This pattern is ordered by a theory of r/K reproductive strategies in which Mongoloids are posited to be more K-selected than Caucasoids and especially more than Negroids. (K-selected reproductive strategies emphasize parental care and are to be contrasted with r-selected strategies which emphasize fecundity, the bioenergetic trade-off between which is postulated to underlie cross-species differences in brain size, speed of maturation, reproductive effort, and longevity.) It is suggested that this pattern came about because the ice ages exerted greater selection pressures on the later emerging populations to produce larger brains, longer lives, and more K-like behavior. One theoretical possibility is that evolution is progressive and that some populations are more “advanced” than others. Predictions are made concerning economic projections and the spread of AIDS.

Earlier this year, Psychological Reports subjected 25 papers by Hans Eysenck to expressions of concern.

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 team@retractionwatch.com.

45 thoughts on “Psychology journal retracts two articles for being “unethical, scientifically flawed, and based on racist ideas and agenda””

    1. Acknowledging differences in races are genetically based is not racism. My god, what is wrong with you people. The politically correct culture is harming science and scientific investigation because it may hurt people’s feelings. Nature and evolution doesn’t give a flying fuck about your feelings. The world is turning into an Orwellian dystopia.

      1. It’s a scientific consensus among modern geneticists that race isn’t even a meaningful biological category; there were multiple statistical flaws in Rushton’s publications, evidence of fraud, and several failed attempts at replication.

        Sorry facts just don’t care about your racist preconceptions, there is no “acknowledgement” here just made up bullshit.

        1. “The Inequality Taboo,” by Charles Murray, Commentary, September 2005

          The Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin originated the idea of race as a social construct in 1972, arguing that the genetic differences across races were so trivial that no scientist working exclusively with genetic data
          would sort people into hlacks, whites, or Asians. In
          his words, “racial classification is now seen to be of
          virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance.”

          Lewontin’s position, which quickly became a tenet
          of political correctness, carried with it a potential
          means of being falsified. If he was correct, then a statistical analysis of genetic markers would not produce clusters corresponding to common racial labels.

          In the last few years, that test has become feasible, and now we know that Lewontin was wrong.

          Several analyses have confirmed the genetic reality
          of group identities going under the label of race or
          ethnicity. In the most recent, published this year,
          all but five of the 3,636 subjects fell into the cluster
          of genetic markers corresponding to their self identified ethnic group. When a statistical procedure, blind to physical characteristics and working
          exclusively with genetic information, classifies 99.9
          percent of the individuals in a large sample in the
          same way they classify themselves, it is hard to
          argue that race is imaginary.

    2. Even if it turned out a certain race had a better/worse score on an IQ test, the answer should be: so what? Who cares? It shouldn’t matter what someone’s IQ is–hence it shouldn’t offend us if it turned out a certain race scored as this or that (not that I think the evidence is in favour of racial differences in IQ, or suchlike, but this is a hypothetical).

      1. For a century IQ tests have proven their ability in predicting academic and economic success, and other desirable life outcomes.

  1. Yeah, a little late. I remember when this asshat (Rushton) was at his zenith and the journals did nothing. Eight years after he dies we finally get a journal to take a stand.

    Not only is it too late now, it’s inappropriate. This retroactive sanitization of the scientific record is so Orwellian it makes me want to wretch.

    1. As long as the text of the article isn’t deleted, which is extremely bad practice when it happens, these retractions are mainly an admission that the journal got it wrong. It’s not Orwellian, it’s an apology.

      1. George Orwell would support Professor J. Philippe Rushton. Rushton has been denounced. He has never been disproved. The failure of no Head Start and No Child Left Behind to close the race gap provides impressive evidence in support of Rushton’s assertions.

  2. Retraction based on ideological concerns, scientific community in the west is turning into a joke unfortunately.

  3. @Fourth stage: Please keep in mind that publications can occur for these very same reasons (= ideological concerns), too! Peer-review and editorial decisions are NOT a fail-safe process; it does not always automatically lead to separating the wheat from the chaff (I’m speaking as editor and reviewer here). The outcome of this process is decidedly NOT sacrosanct but open to further discussion. Hence the importance of post-publication review, when the larger audience of readers can chime in and point out flaws that authors, editors, and reviewers may have overlooked (or did not want to see).

    The peer-review process is a diagnostic process, and like any diagnostic process it is imperfect and generates false positives (i.e., papers that should not have been published, because they are scientifically unsound) and false negatives. regarding the latter — think about it from the other side: how many perfectly good papers that would have deserved to be published have vanished in editorial decision-making processes leading to a reject verdict, and no one clamors about those. We may not be able to save those, because we never get to see many of them. But we may be able to fix the other error category, the false positives, by officially retracting unsound papers AND leave their text body accessible for the curious and historically inclined.

    1. The choice of papers that are reviewed and then retracted is determined entirely by ideological concerns. It would not be difficult to find thousands of papers in the social sciences that are methodologically flawed or don’t replicate. But none of them will receive the same treatment as Rishton. If they were honest, the editors involved in the retraction would admit the political motivations.

      1. They did admit it. Did you read the article?

        “Rushton’s articles have been instrumental (via subtle academic discrimination) in excluding talented blacks students from graduating from universities, and preventing those who graduated from being employed according to their credentials and skills.”

        There is a strong interest in retracting papers like this that the scientific community largely shares.

        1. The claim that Rushton’s assertions excluded talented blacks from graduating from universities needed to be documented. It was not.

      2. It’s an inevitable consequence of the rise of scientist as a white collar normie career combined with the community collectively getting tricked into thinking peer review wasn’t a total sham. “How well does this conform to your peers’ likes and preconceptions?” Somehow we decided that the system by which cliques of high school girls determine what fashion is hot or not is the gold standard of epistemology.

      3. Agreed, and this is an important point to make. Articles generally get retracted in two stages:
        1. There are significant scientific problems in the article that somehow get noticed after publication, and those issues are brought to the attention of the editor of the publishing journal
        2. If there is enough evidence that these problems undermine the scientific value of the publication, the editor issues a retraction

        The key is the “somehow get noticed” part.

        Articles are NOT retracted because they are politically incorrect. Articles get noticed because they are politically incorrect, which motivates people to look for significant scientific problems that could lead to the article’s retraction. For example, in this case, the significant scientific problem is Rushton conflating race with genotypes, which is now understood to be false.

        There are indeed thousands (millions?) of published articles that have significant scientific problems that, if noticed and scrutinized, could lead to their being retracted. But the vast majority go unnoticed.

        So, articles are not retracted BECAUSE their content is politically incorrect. Rather, politically incorrect articles are more likely to be noticed and scrutinized for scientific problems, and if found, they are then retracted. It’s probably also the case that an editor is more motivated to actually retract a scientifically flawed article when its content is politically incorrect.

        So, the key point is that articles don’t get retracted JUST for being politically incorrect; they also have to be scientifically flawed. Just like articles that make extraordinary claims, or those that have a very high profile (e.g., articles about COVID-19 treatments), articles that are politically incorrect are going to be highly scrutinized and people will be motivated to find flaws. So, if you are going to write a politically incorrect article, you better make sure it’s scientifically sound, because if it’s not, it’s going to get ripped to shreds. In an ideal world, all articles would receive this same high level of scrutiny, but in the real world where resources are limited, this is how it works.

        1. But you do agree that scrutinizing only articles you disagree with ideologically creates severe publication bias, right?
          As as result you cannot meaningfully appeal to things like “a lot of published research indicates” and so on to decide “what science supports”

          1. Yes, this would be one of the many sources of publication bias. But it’s hard to say that it’s a negative effect. Every topic/field would be better off if more (all) papers with serious scientific problems were retracted.

            Like with speeding….almost everyone breaks the speed limit, many people almost all of the time. Very rarely do people receive speeding tickets. And people who drive flashy cars (or red cars) are more likely to get speeding tickets because they are more salient, more noticeable. So is there bias in who gets speeding tickets? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that people in flashy/red cars shouldn’t get tickets when they get caught speeding. And even though it’s unfair, if you are going to get a flashy/red car, then you need to be more cautious. That’s just how it is.

      1. “Ignoring alternative explanations or evidence that did not support the racist theories being presented (Cain & Vanderwolf, 1990)”. Seems a bit of shaky logic. At what point do papers get retracted for ignoring alternate explanations or evidence that support racist therories! It seems fairly standard practice to present an arguement with evidence the author believes supports it. Which is just what the papers quoted in opposition to this did!
        “the notion that racialized groups are concordant with patterns of human ancestry and genetic population structure. …” If differences between people aren’t the result of patterns of ancestry what are they the result of? I personally think that the term race is fairly meaningless, but then so is the term species, I share ancestors with everything and everybody that lives on the planet. The term species is just a convienient way of grouping different related groups into discrete entities so is the term race

        1. The problem is that Rushton essentially wrote the same article for years, and never responded to his critics when they made myriad and supported criticisms of his data (and omitting data), conclusions, lack of alternate explanations, etc. After the first couple of papers, he was no longer engaging in science, but in advocacy. If he wanted to publish in the Pioneer Foundation journal, fine, but it wasn’t science or scholarship anymore, and should not have been in scientific journals.

          1. Anyone who thinks Professor J. Philippe Rushton did not answer his critics should watch the video of his debate with Professor David Suzuki at the University of Western Ontario, February 8, 1989.

            Professor Rushton was polite, almost apologetic, and very professorial. Professor Suzuki was disheveled, rude, and emotional. After refuting none of Rushton’s factual assertions Suzuki demanded that Rushton be fired, and that his books and articles be destroyed. This not the way to settle scientific disputes.

            Although the crowd was against Rushton, virtually all of the comments supported him.

      2. It’s hard for us to know…commentaries/replies to other articles, like these were, are often only reviewed by an editor, and not sent out for peer review. But if I had to guess, I’d say probably not.

    2. This sentiment requires an extremely malleable definition of “scientifically unsound.”. Everything you said would make sense if Rushton was accused of faking data. However, the actual reasons given for redaction are closer to “we think he got it wrong.”. As I’m sure you know (as a purported editor) it is not normal for decades-old papers to be retracted because results do not replicate, or if the theory advanced is not accepted by the broader scientific community. If that was the case, the vast majority of papers published would be redacted.

  4. I don’t have much to add about the retraction itself, but I have a comment about the quote from Rushton’s Wikipedia article. Specifically this part: “he served as the head of the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded in 1937 to promote Eugenics, which worked actively with the Nazi party to promote theories of racial superiority and inferiority”.

    It’s extremely unlikely that the Pioneer Fund worked actively with the Nazi Party. Although it was founded in 1937, the Pioneer Fund didn’t become influential until the 1950s, so the idea that it could’ve established a working relationship with the Nazi Party before 1945 is very far-fetched.

    That sentence of the Wikipedia article is cited to Angela Saini’s Superior: The Return of Race Science. I have that book, and the book does not support this sentence. What Saini’s book says that during WWII the Pioneer Fund’s founder distributed a Nazi-produced film about eugenics in the United States, but it does not say that he or the Pioneer Fund ever established any actual relationship with the Nazi Party. (The relevant part of the book is pages 101-102.)

    Someone else appears to have already noticed that this part of the Wikipedia article was misrepresenting its source, and tried to correct it: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=J._Philippe_Rushton&type=revision&diff=997280161&oldid=996503575 However, their edit correcting the misrepresentation was undone a few hours later.

    You should be more careful about trusting Wikipedia for anything related to race and intelligence. Misrepresented sources are commonplace in articles related to this topic, and attempts to correct the misrepresentations tend to get undone very quickly, as happened in this case.

  5. What a farce. If assuming that racial groups are formed by common ancestry is so flawed, then how are they formed? Are there many white couples out there birthing black children or vice versa? Then I have some bad news for those “fathers”. There is a mountain of evidence which suggests that this original study had it correct, especially now many years later.

  6. I just want to note the rather weird capitalization — with undertones of racial supremacy or, more probably, patronization — used in the words “Black” and “white” in the blog post above.

      1. Oh, I agree that such double standards are accepted by the highest authorities. I just don’t think that makes them any less weird.

        The explanation given by the Associated Press is clearly based on the sort of corporate diversity training provided by professional activists, and it seems to me that it can only give strength to divisive racial politics of all kinds. (It seems hard for organizations to support black nationalism while suppressing white nationalism, since they’re two sides of the same coin.) The idea that African Americans share a single history and culture is clearly wrong (and, in some ways, offensive, since it implies that black cultures are inherently less diverse), especially since it includes “those in the African diaspora and within Africa” who will often have very little in common except melanin counts and, in a minority of cases, recent shared ancestry.

  7. I find it interesting that Rushton is accused of being a white supremacist when his published work clearly shows his opinion was that people of Asian descent had higher IQs and had more of the characteristics he deemed to be more civilised.

    1. Dear Adam Marcus, as already mentioned above, why black people deserve a capitalization when denoted as “Blacks” while white people do not?

      Especially in a post that is clearly denouncing racism? Please clarify this point.

        1. Thank you for the link.

          The explanation, and in particular the sentence: “White people generally do not share the same history and culture”, is simply abhorrent and soaked with ignorance. Among the other things it seems to imply that all other groups of people that deserve the capitalization, such as Black and Asian Americans, are a monolithic group, ignoring the huge cultural and ethnic diversity and multifaceted history of Africa and Asia.

          1. I don’t disagree with your concerns, but it does seem disingenuous to ignore the fact that the AP goes to quite some length to address the issue.

            Firstly, the full sentence you partially quoted is “White people generally do not share the same history and culture, or the experience of being discriminated against because of skin color” – which rather changes the emphasis they’re placing on the capitalized-B.

            Secondly, the latter paragraphs mention additional concerns AP has about the capital-w “White” terminology – potential perceptual links/validation of white supremacy groups; pros and cons of “default” color status; utility of drawing white people into the discussion.

            Thirdly, the AP is very, very clear that this is an evolving issue and, while they think this is the correct interpretation _now_, they are closely following the larger discussion and will re-evaluate periodically. This type of clarity should be recognized and applauded at the very least.

            Disagree with what the Style Guide says? That’s reasonable. Slam them by strongly implying their decision is careless or based on flimsy evidence when they go to great lengths to show their work? That’s….disingenuous…..at best, eh?

    2. Because he believed white people were intellectualy superior to black people. I don’t know about the details of his beliefs, but the “Asian>White>Black” model is sometimes used by racists to support a “Goldilocks” racial hierarchy. It goes something like this iirc: Asians are smart but emotionally/socially “cold”, less physically active, and have smaller penises (i think Rushton published at least one article about whether penis size correlated with intelligence.). Black people aren’t smart, especially Black people from Africa, but they are more physically active, more naturally athletic/strong and supposedly have bigger penises and more sex (see Rushton’s “r/K” stuff, quoted above). But *whiiite* people have the best of both worlds (smart but emotionally intelligent and physically strong, with bigger penises than asian men and so on and so forth). This bowl of porridge is too hot, this bowl of porridge is too cold, but this bowl is just right…and then this model is used by some to claim western civilizations and white people are inherently superior to other civilizations and that colonization and imperialism by western countries is justified as a result. I encountered this in person at least once from a very angry guy on Soulseeker. So while I don’t know what Rushton’s personal views were, his work is used to justify white supremacy.

  8. I would prefer not to reject any hypothesis out of hand, even if I do not like it personally. From the scientific point of view, the crux is: what is the evidence in support of the hypothesis? My issue with Rushton’s work was his lack of scientific rigor, and his complete disregard for criticism of his work (generally dismissed as “nitpicking”). How did he manage to get some many inferior papers published? One reason was that Rushton was a member of a group of people who fancied (fancy) themselves “race-realists” and “hard -nosed scientists”, who were (are) not be swayed by “PC nonsense”, etc. I guess this group formed a natural pool of reviewers. Two glowing reviews + one ciritical is enough for most editors to accept (esp as most editor do not have the time to formulate a well-informed opinion). Most people in this group, like Rushton, lack scientific rigor (or even scientific relevant scientific knowledge concerning genetics, psychometrics, structural equation modeling, differential item functioning), and are largely impervious to criticism.

    1. I’d be interested in hearing more about flaws in the scientific rigor of his work. Racialists love to claim that because his work is rejected on face value for being racist that real science is ignored.

  9. As a cognitively superior Asian, I noticed that Rushton’s work actually undermines his own White Supremacy. Since his articles showed an Asian > European > African hierarchy of intelligence and other desirable traits like law abidingness it is clearly an argument for White Mediocrity, not White Supremacy.

    Of course, it’s only natural that a cognitively mediocre person would present data showing his position in the racial hierarchy is decidedly ordinary and conclude that his race should be on top. This kind of defective thinking is normal for members of White Mediocrity movement. It takes a cognitively superior race to see that the more logical conclusion is Asian Supremacism.

    /s

  10. I agree with @Fourth stage here. This is really embarrassing. @Aaron wrote that:

    ‘articles are not retracted BECAUSE their content is politically incorrect. Rather, politically incorrect articles are more likely to be noticed and scrutinized for scientific problems’.

    Yet Psychological Reports specifically describes how the racist implications of the papers were part of their critique of Rushton’s work, not just something that attracted their attention. To borrow @Aaron’s car analogy, nobody would find it acceptable that the redness of the car be used to support the fine for speeding.

    Elsevier’s retraction notice for the 2012 article in Personality and Individual Differences states that:

    ‘the authors should have been aware of a literature showing that black-white differences in the best-available measure of psychopathy are negligible (Skeem et al., 2004). They instead relied on an analysis by Lynn (2002) which has been extensively criticized (Skeem, Edens, Sanford, & Colwell, 2003; Zuckerman, 2003).’

    This is despite the fact that the Lynn (2002) article remains published and unretracted in Personality and Individual Differences – the very same journal! Critique of an article is not tantamount to negating its value, and to suggest that it is unacceptable to cite an article that has been criticised is yet another worrying regression in academic standards.

    It is also pretty cowardly for the University to criticise him now that he’s passed away, nothing stopped them from doing something while he was alive.

    All in all, cowardice and nonsense from beginning to end. The correct way of dealing with such things is to publish corrections or rebuttals, not to whitewash the record.

  11. It deserves a retraction simply because people will use this ‘science’ to support racist beliefs. People need to know when they’re doing their literature reviews that this is bunk…hopefully people just know that. But, if there is a large RETRACTION on the publication, those who fact check racists will see that and have a stronger argument against this. The end. Perhaps a overhaul of many journals should find studies that are outdated and retract them or put some sort of notice on them so these old shitty ideas can die out.

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.