Race, Science, and Anthropology

Fri, 4 Nov 1994 16:20:07 CST

It has been three weeks since Phil Rushton's post initiated a most active
thread on Anthro-l. More than 10 responses a day have been posted, over
300 in all. Although the majority of the posts have been from a small
number of list members (<10 have posted >50%), more than 50 of the 750
or so members have sent posts. None of us likes what Rushton has to say;
I think it is fair to state that every single post was negative.

But no one, NO ONE, has made a single specific challenge of Rushton's
evidence. He has published more than 100 articles in refereed journals, six
books, was a J.S. Guggenheim fellow, is a fellow of the AAAS, etc. and yet

NO ONE has cited anything from his work. Has anyone on Anthro-l read
anything by Rushton?

Maybe we do not have to. Rushton is a racist. Therefore he must be
wrong. Right?

Let me state my intentions here, lest misunderstandings run rampant. I
am not arguing in support of Rushton or his ideas. I am arguing for a
more scientific review. Let the data speak.

Our arguments against Rushton may be summed up as follows: Race is
not a valid biological category. The connections from genes to neural
structures to "intelligence" are not documented. Correlations are not
causes, and require much more exploration. The study of biological
differences among "races" is a racist enterprise, hence Rushton's work
must be biased. Rushton could be part of a republican party campaign

The one bit of empirical evidence presented as falsification of Rushton's
claims is that Neandertals had 25% more cranial capacity than
anatomically modern humans. Someone ran off with my Klein, but on
checking a few other sources, I could find no evidence for such a figure.
According to Wolpoff (1982: 308), for Near Eastern Neandertals, "With the
increase in body size comes an average cranial capacity increase (from
1537 to 1556cc). However, relative to body size, the cranial capacity of the
later sample is smaller... Trinkhaus and Shipman (1993:418) state
"Neandertals had brains as large and apparently as complex as ours..." It
is possible that Neandertals had larger brains, on average, than
anatomically modern humans. But 25% seems a substantial overestimate. Such
claims make us look uninformed and eager to manipulate data to support our
position. The same criticism we slam Rushton with.

I think Sherwin Hicks has a valid beef that anthropology is ineffective in
countering Rushton's work via "scientific" means. In my opinion we
(Anthro-l) have flopped miserably. The best critique I have seen is by
Kim Hill (U New Mexico) posted on the Hbes-l. I will repost it for those of
you that still have an interest in arguing with Rushton on scientific
grounds. I leave it to others to identify what "soundbites" have the most
political impact.

On reading Rushton's book, I found the data unconvincing. There is lots
of it, and most of it is from reputable, unbiased (?) sources (WHO, etc.),
but there is nearly always a problem with uncontrolled variables or
alternative explanations, some of which Rushton acknowledges. I am not
a particularly astute critic of the type of analyses he presents (I
recommend Hill's commentary). However, the theoretical explanation for
race differences seems weak at best. Rushton posits that humans living in
cold, inhospitable climes were selected for high intelligence and intensive
parental care. He likens this to "K" vs. "r" selection. But he does not offer

any evidence of what benefits intelligence conveys in a cold climate.
Indeed, the hypothesis is out of touch with current theory on the evolution
of intelligence, which, in my opinion, makes for a much better thread than
the Rushton race stuff. Richard Alexander (1989, "The evolution of the
human psyche," in the Human Revolution, P. Mellars and C. Stringer,
eds., PUP) proposes that intelligence evolved in the context of social
competition. It is likely that such selection would be more intense in areas
that are "demographic pumps" (i.e., relatively rapid population growth),
and not the inhospitable extremes. Why was Africa the place where
intelligence (i.e., homninids) evolved in the first place? Why don't other
species exhibit an intelligence/latitude cline? In my opinion the theoretical
basis for the supposed evidence in Rushton's book is seriously flawed.

Mark Flinn