James Thompson of University College London recently wrote of J.P. Rushton, who died last week:
Phil Rushton is tough minded, and has needed to be. Scholarly enquiry often leads to surprising answers, and expounding unpopular views is no project for the faint hearted. His key achievement has been to gather together what would otherwise have been a rag tag of disparate findings and bind them into a coherent pattern of r-K evolutionary strategies. His approach is one more example of an Eysenkian gesamtkunstwerk, to which those of hereditarian persuasion seem drawn, in which an over-arching theory provides a sweet symphony that brings order to chaos. This has given the debate about behavioural differences between genetic groups a new rationale, and for that alone Rushton deserves praise.
In terms of his approach to the data he has shown doggedness in tracking down evidence and arguing his case. His 2005 review with Jensen sets out the hereditarian case as thoroughly and forcefully as has ever been achieved, and must be considered his shared magnum opus. In the best sense of the term he has been Jensen’s bulldog, taking on all comers with dogged persistence.
(T.H. Huxley was known as "Darwin's bulldog.")
Jensen and Rushton were able to draw together the main points of a complex argument and also retain the sense of challenge and flexibility as they invited their critics to grasp the gauntlet they had thrown down. By proposing to identify the 10 major fields of contention, and by rating their own progress in each of them they challenged others to reply.
What is most notable about Rushton is his intellectual resilience. He can grasp the big picture, and can assemble evidence in its favour. He has the capacity to understand the implications of individual findings, and to track down confirmatory or dis-confirmatory consequences. He can also link together entirely disparate publication networks, such as looking at cousin marriage in Japan to illuminate group differences in America. At every stage of discovery he believes he has done enough to convince his critics, but finds that the goal posts have been moved yet again. He has had to pick his way through a maze of imprecise hypotheses, as his critics reply to his specific proposals with a general portmanteau complaint that “these effects could be due to any number of things”. As he himself has observed, the hard-line environmentalist position is not progressive. It does not deign to specify environmental effects in any rigorous way, but tends to multiply ad hoc objections and demand standards never yet achieved in social science. It would be enough to discourage the strongest of constitutions, but despite reverses Rushton pushes on, tracking down weak arguments, studying the implications of research results so as to take them to further levels of examination, gathering new evidence, and as a consequence leaving well-constructed cairns of evidence along the trail-ways of exploration for other researchers to follow.
A reader has dug up some 1970s pictures of Rushton with a bass guitarist's head of hair.
Visitation will be Tuesday, funeral Wednesday in London, Ontario, Canada (not London, England, which had me momentarily confused since Rushton was a leading light of the London School descending intellectually from Darwin and Galton), Details here.