Can I really be the only BPS member seeking retraction of racist science from British Psychological Society journals?


Here I discuss one of the most disgusting and offensive articles ever to appear in print:

J. Philippe Rushton (1990): “Race Differences, r/K theory, and a Reply to Flynn,” The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, Vol. 3, 5 (May): 195-98.

In spite of the furore created by this publication 30 years ago, this article remains published on the website of the British Psychological Society – here (May, 1990).

I find it difficult to understand how a professional body can maintain its position as a non-racist organisation while having these overtly racist publications on its website. Can I really be the only BPS member seeking retraction of racist science from British Psychological Society journals?

There is nothing covert about Rushton’s repugnant paper, which was given full approval by the editors of The Psychologist.  It  is one of the most blatant statements of undiluted racist science one could ever find in the 20th Century.

To restore as much of the dwindling faith in the BPS among its minority BAME and anti-racist members as possible, Rushton’s article should be retracted with a full public apology by the the Society.

“Expanding the data base”

Rushton attempted to justify his expanding racist science project in the following terms:

“Although the psychological study of race has focussed for over 70 years on the differences between blacks and whites in the United States, mainly on intelligence, where whites have been scoring consistently about 1 standard deviation higher than blacks, the explanation remains controversial...” [What an understatement that is!]

“My [i.e. Rushton’s] research broadened the data base on race by (a) including Mongoloid samples (one-third of the world’s population), (b) including other Negroid samples (most black people live in post-colonial Africa), and (c) considering variables in addition to IQ. I concluded that the racial group differences in intelligence are to be observed worldwide, in Africa and Asia, as well as in Europe and North America and that they are paralleled by more than 50 other variables including brain size, maturation rate, personality and temperament, sexuality, and social organisation (Lynn, 1987; Rushton, 1988a, 1988b; but see Zuckerman & Brody, 1988).

Such a network of evidence allows more chance of finding powerful theories than do single items. The central question is: Why should Caucasian populations average so consistently between Negroid and Mongoloid populations on so many variables? While socialisation obviously plays a significant role in achievement, sexuality, and social organisation, other observations such as the speed of physical maturation, morphology, and the production of gametes (indexed by the production of dizygotic two-egg twins in which the rate per 1,000 among Mongoloids is 4, among Caucasoids 8, and among Negroids, 16) imply the presence of evolutionary and therefore genetic influences. It is not simply IQ score differences that require explanation.”

“r/K evolutionary theory”

Rushton continues his diatribe: “The racial pattern is ordered by a theory from animal evolution in which r/K reproductive strategies are applied to human differences and in which Mongoloids are posited to be more K-selected than Caucasoids and Negroids. K-selected reproductive strategics emphasise parental care and are to be contrasted with r-selected strategies which emphasise fecundity, the bioenergetic tradeoff between which underlies cross-species differences in brain size, speed of maturation, reproductive effort, and longevity (Rushton, 1985, following Wilson, 1975). In studies of dandelions, fish, flies, milkweed bugs, and field mice, many of the covariant r/K traits are also found within species and to be genetic in origin. There is no reason why such analyses should not be applied to human differences. One analysis for example, contrasted within the Caucasoid population, the characteristics of the mothers of dizygotic twins who, because they produce more than one egg at a time can be considered to represent the r-strategy, with the mothers of singletons representing the K-strategy. As expected, the former were found to have a lower age of menarche, a shorter menstrual cycle, a higher number of marriages, a higher rate of coitus, a greater fecundity, more wasted pregnancies, an earlier menopause, and an earlier mortality (Rushton, 1987). Although the fit is not perfect, no other theory currently comes closer to explaining the known facts about racial group differences. Moreover, the data provided in Table 1 may be used to decide between reconstructions of human evolution. Data from molecular biology (blood group, serum protein, mtDNA and nuclear DNA) as well as the paleontological data, suggests a recent single-origin for the emergence of modern humans instead of older multi-regional origins (Stringer & Andrews, 1988; Simons, 1989). An African beginning is envisaged, perhaps even as recently as 140,000 to 290,000 years ago with an African-non African split perhaps only 110,000 years ago, then a European-Asian split about 41,000 years ago. Thus the sequence in which the races emerged in earth history parallels the phased linearity of the suite of r/K characters shown in Table 1. This parallel is not readily predictable from the multiregional origin models based on long periods of separation, in which no consistent pattern of character appearance is expected.”

The infamous Table 1: full of stereotypes but totally lacking in scientific evidence

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What were the editors thinking?

Unsurprisingly, the publication in The Psychologist of Rushton’s non-peer reviewed paper created a storm of controversy. In July 1990: the magazine’s Editors apologised, but remained in post. Glynis Breakwell and Graham Davey, Honorary Editors of The Psychologist, replied as follows:

“The article by Rushton, for which the Honorary Editors took pre-publication responsibility, was not reviewed by independent referees, but was published as a reply to the earlier critical article by Flynn. In order to provide a balanced coverage of this topic, the Honorary Editors also arranged for a further reply to the Rushton article to be published in the same issue. Although the majority of the material in the Rushton article had been published previously in journals elsewhere, the Honorary Editors admit that it was a serious error that the article was not submitted for independent review. Among other things, the process would have subjected the table in the paper to greater critical scrutiny. The Honorary Editors agree that the scientific content of the table is below the standard which is required by The Psychologist and regret its publication. Publication of an article in The Psychologist does not constitute an endorsement by the Society of the views expressed by the author, and this disclaimer appears in every issue of The Psychologist. However, both the Honorary Editors and the Psychologist Editorial Committee have acted on the concerns expressed by members of the Society over this issue (including some members of Council), and have introduced an explicit policy for dealing with academic articles published in The Psychologist. In the future, all academic articles (and replies) appearing in The Psychologist will have been reviewed by at least two independent referees, and any articles that are signalled by reviewers as likely to cause offence will be published only with the consent of the Managing Editor and the Psychologist Editorial Committee. The Honorary Editors deeply regret any offence that this series of articles may have caused to some members. We hope that having made editorial procedures explicit, The Psychologist can continue to provide members with a forum for the discussion of controversial issues in contemporary psychology.”

The BPS President, Peter Morris,  forgave the unforgivable:

“As President, on behalf of Council, I welcome the frank and positive response by the Honorary Editors published above. I wish to express my confidence in them, the Editorial Committee and the new procedures that they have introduced.”

What a derogation of any reasonable expectation of the duty of a President that was.

October, 1990: Hans J Eysenck defends Rushton

As if matters could not get any worse, Hans J Eysenck could not resist the opportunity to leap in to defend Rushton, and while so doing, the Pioneer Fund, and one of the most welcoming journals to racist science, his own journal Personality and Individual Differences, in one foul swoop:

“In your July issue you have published a letter by a group of psychologists from Manchester University, concerned with your decision to publish a paper by Professor J. P. Rushton. In this letter they quote a report which appeared in the Independent on Sunday on 4 March, stating that Rushton’s research was funded by the Pioneer Fund, which was accused, on the basis of hearsay evidence and contrary to the facts, of “having known links with extreme right-wing activists and members of the American Nazi party”. The letter goes on to state that I have received grants from the Pioneer Fund, and that I am Editor of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and they go on to say: ‘In the circumstances, we have instructed the University Library to cancel our subscription to Personality and Individual Differences, and have written to Professor Eysenck and to the publishers, Pergamon Press, informing them of our decision.” (No such letter has in fact been received.)

I find this curious in the extreme. The authors of this letter apparently believed implicitly the account published in a newspaper. They made no effort to contact me or the Pioneer Fund to discover whether there was any truth in the allegation. They misquote, in a totally misleading fashion, the charter of the Pioneer Foundation. According to their letter, this says that it will help research into “problems of race betterment”; the charter says ” … problems of human race betterment”; the omission makes the sentence suggest a totally inappropriate preoccuption with racial problems. They did not enquire what the research was that the Pioneer Fund had subsidised, (it was in fact concerned with the psychophysiology of intelligence and personality, and with the universality of the three major dimensions of personality in a number of different countries). They never mention that when I applied for these grants, there had been no suggestion even, however false, of the accusations now made against the Fund. They thus proceeded to deprive staff and students of the psychology department of the services of one of the most cited and influential journals of personality research in the world. This surely is McCarthyism carried ad absurdum! What, one might ask, have the fundraising efforts of an individual to do with the quality of a journal he is editing? “Sentence first, verdict afterwards”, as Alice remarked in another famous Wonderland.

The writers of the letter may be interested to learn that the journal has been accused of being unfair to Rushton. A well-known evolutionary ecologist has stated, in a letter: “I have read the published commentaries on Dr Rushton’s theory, e.g. that by Zuckerman and Brody in Personality and Individual Differences. These commentaries range from scientifically bad to awful, with the aforementioned one the worst.” (This letter is one of 45 letters by known experts in the fields covered by Rushton’s paper, supporting his scientific integrity, and protesting the persecution he suffered from enemies of academic freedom. This testimony by experts should be seen against the allegations in letters published by you, written largely by non-experts, students, etc.) In our Journal, we try to maintain the cherised scientific tradition of objectivity, and of giving critics a chance to voice their criticisms. We do demand better evidence than uncorroborated and slanted newspaper reports which apparently constitute sufficient 450 evidence for the members of the Manchester University psychologists who so hastily decided to cancel the subscription to Personality and Individual Differences. For readers who are interested in what the President of the Pioneer Fund has to say in reply to the insinuations by the Independent on Sunday, they may write to me to obtain a letter written in answer and signed by a number of recipients of grants from that Fund, (the Independent on Sunday refused to print it; it has since printed a very much shortened version). This may serve to give the other side. Wild accusations without foundation in fact were one of the foundations of the evil Nazi creed; so was the politicisation of all human activities, including science. It seems a pity to see such trends emerge here!

Hans J Eysenck, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of London, Editor-in-Chief of Personality and Individual Differences

It’s a small world. The journal that Hans J Eysenck founded, recently retracted an article by…

yes, you guessed it, J Phillipe Rushton.

Personality and Individual Differences Retracts Rushton and Templer Article

I quote from the journal’s statement:

“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.”

It is to this journal’s discredit that it chose not to retract dozens of articles by Hans J Eysenck found to be unsafe by King’s College London.  But that is another story,  to be taken up later.

If Eysenck’s own journal, can take down Rushton’s filth, is it not long overdue that the British Psychological Society does the same?

The CEO of the BPS, recently claimed: “If we really want to positively influence psychology, to encourage it to be the diverse profession that it needs to be, then we have to get our own house in order first.”

A golden opportunity exists here for the British Psychological Society to ‘get its house in order’ by retracting all racist science articles from its journals.

It’s never too late to do the right thing: to retract, say sorry, and move on.

The British Psychological Society as institutionally racist


I write this as a member of the British Psychological Society.

For more years that I care to remember, I have been on the brink of resigning from what I consider to be a racist society.  The only reason to remain as a member has been the belief that one can exert more influence as a member than by leaving.

This post was originally published on 30 June 2020 online on The Psychologist website:

How to explain the ‘deafening silence’ concerning #BlackLivesMatter within the British Psychological Society?

One possibility to consider is that, as a mirror to British culture itself, the British Psychological Society is institutionally racist.

Apparently, the majority of the non-BAME membership has been dumb-struck by #BlackLivesMatter; we do not know what to say or do. Wearing the blinkers of ‘colour-blindness’, we are unprepared and untrained to deal with the deeply embedded racist concepts and practices instilled by our training and textbooks of yesteryear. Yet we tacitly know the meaning and the harm of our silence, which is to make matters far, far worse, providing deeper offence and confirmation that as an organisation, we are systemically racist.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. (Martin Luther King).

Our complicity as ‘white’ people in passively accepting the status quo, offering political-correctness but lacking any authentic actions of solidarity with our BAME colleagues is nothing less than shameful. Unless and until the non-BAME membership of the Society fully and uncompromisingly implements a transformative anti-racist policy at all levels of practice, nothing will ever change. Tinkering around the edges with reports, committees and warm words from the President, however well-intentioned, will achieve nothing.

Racism is not ‘their’ problem, the problem for the other, it is our problem, a problem for all of us, for the Society as a whole.

Racism is cultural

Racism is as old as the Society itself. The problem is cultural. It goes back to the foundation of Empire and colonial power. In a review of racism and psychology, Richards (1997) discussed periodic resurgences of racialist/racist psychology projects, often developed by minority groups with formidable financial and political connections who ‘maintain a certain level of representation in the journals under the “academic freedom rubric”’ (1997, p. 262). Richards observed that, in contrast to sociology, professional psychological associations such as the BPS ‘have been chronically incapable of taking an unambiguous stand lest they be seen to be engaged in a witch hunt’ (1997, p. 262). As a result, the public image of psychology has been of a discipline in collusion with racism.

One example, the ‘race and IQ’ issue, with its scientific-racism origins and culturally biased methodologies, has been a central theme in psychology’s struggles with cultural differences and the empty concept of ‘race’. While its traditional theoretical and applied remit has been in the field of education, this school of thought periodically branches out into other areas. The topic of national differences in ‘intelligence’ and health suggests that development and health in poor nations appear to be its new target.

The Society must retract all of its racist publications

The racist underbelly of the Society is revealed by the appearance of essentialist, racist works in its peer-reviewed journals. As the statues of slavers fall, BPS publications by historically racist psychologists such as Charles Spearman and William McDougall should be retracted, as should any recent examples such as the publication by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa (2006) an Associate Professor of Management at the London School of Economics proposing that the human brain: ‘has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment’ (2006, p. 625).

According to Kanazawa, people from poorer, less egalitarian countries (e.g. sub-Saharan African countries) have problems living in the modern world because they are less intelligent than people in richer, more egalitarian countries.

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 15.14.24.pngAccording to Kanazawa’s article published in 2006 in a BPS journal, Africans are less intelligent than whites

Given the complexity of contemporary society and the relative sophistication of the social sciences today compared to the 19th century, it is breathtakingly offensive that this simplistic racist view can be held, peer-reviewed, published and promoted by a supposedly reputable journal of the BPS, the British Journal of Health Psychology, in the 21st century (Marks, 2007).

I discuss another racist science article in a BPS journal here.

What kind of signal do such racist publications send out about the values and culture of the BPS?

Kanazawa’s (2006)  article, which is based on essentialist racist assumptions and a flawed methodology, does a disservice to science and psychology and should be retracted.

One question that needs to be answered is: why was this offensive article allowed to pass through peer review to appear in a BPS academic journal in the first place?  Similarly, why are psychologists such as Spearman that are known to have been racist/eugenicist celebrated by the Society in named awards and lectures? Why are BAME psychologists treated with such disrespect as was evident in the recent incident at a clinical psychology training conference including an actual hate crime (see: A culture of silence and denial by Dr Kimberly Sham Ku and Dr Abdullah Mia write, with a response from British Psychological Society Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa –

These are just a few of the many questions that require answers. Is the British Psychological Society up to the task?  I remain to be convinced, but – as they say – ‘hope springs eternal’.

Kanazawa, S. (2006). Mind the gap … in intelligence: Reexamining the relationship between inequality and health. British Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 623–642.

Marks, D. F. (2007). Literacy not intelligence moderates the relationships between economic development, income inequality, and health. British Journal of Health Psychology, 12(2), 179-184.

Richards, G. (1997). ‘Race’, racism and psychology: Towards a reflexive history. London: Routledge.

Progress – somebody is listening at last

Two days later, from a talk at the BPS annual conference by Sarb Bajwa, the CEO of the BPS, the Psychologist tweeted this:

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A member asked me yesterday about the lack of BAME speakers and delegates at the conference, and I was challenged by a member of my own team who asked me whether I thought that the BPS is an institutionally racist organisation.

My immediate reaction was to issue an emphatic denial of this, and to try to claim that the lack of diversity in the speakers is a function of the lack of diversity within the profession as a whole.

However, that raised a troubling question for me.

Surely, it is the role of the BPS to speak up on behalf of the profession? To just deny our own challenges with racism doesn’t move us forward.

I then took some time to reflect a little on my colleague’s question, and I want to share those reflections with you.

It is interesting that, as a profession, psychology is predominantly white and female. This is not reflected in leadership positions across the profession, which are disproportionately white and male. We do not talk about that enough.

But, when it comes to ethnicity, as an organisation, we haven’t talked enough, and we definitely haven’t done enough.

I recall meeting with some fantastic clinical psychology trainees in February this year. A black trainee had the courage to speak up and say that they would not attend a BPS event because they felt unwelcome.

That is not an organisation that I would want to be a part of.

I reflect now on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the BAME community. As an Asian, I can say that this does not surprise me in the slightest. What surprises me is that people are surprised.

I am also old enough to remember the Macpherson inquiry in 1999, which accused the police force of institutional racism.

The report described institutional racism as a “form of collective behaviour, a workplace culture supported by a structural status quo.”

That description makes me reflect on our own committees and working groups, our governance structures and everything within the BPS that seems to be built to aid the structural status quo.

I also reflect on the fact that many of our members are angry and frustrated. They feel that their voice is not heard and that they do not trust us.

So, what if my colleague was to ask me again? Are we institutionally racist? I think my answer would be that, if it feels like we are, then we probably are.

I think it is time to admit that we have been deaf to the pleas of our members and slow to address their concerns. We have ignored them and we have consistently failed to take action on this issue.

In order to move forward and be the truly representative organisation we want to be then I think we have to admit our mistakes.

I do want to thank our President David Murphy for his work in establishing the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce, and I look forward to working with the new chair, Nasreen Fazal-Short.

We will do everything in our power to make sure that the taskforce does not run in isolation, and it becomes an integral part of our day-to-day work.

Addressing our historic lack of action around race and equality will take time, but there are a number of things that we can do now:

  • Benchmark ourselves against other professional bodies [WHY NOT LEAD INSTEAD OF FOLLOW?]
  • Use The Psychologist to explore our own professional history and biases [I HAVE BEEN DOING THAT FOR 30 YEARS Racist science in British Psychological Society journals should be retracted AND IT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD, I CAN ASSURE YOU OF THAT] 
  • Commit to run a survey with clinical psychology trainees on BAME trainees’ experiences of racism [DELAY TACTICS – WE ALREADY HAVE THE COMMENTS FROM MULTIPLE TRAINEES – AND NOT ONLY IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY]
  • Embed and integrate issues around diversity and inclusion in all our day-to-day work by making this one of the central planks in our forthcoming strategy [ IMPLEMENT AN ANTI-RACIST POLICY AT ROOT AND BRANCH]

I am not saying that this can be fixed overnight. It can’t.

But, perhaps, the most important first step is admitting that we haven’t spoken up when we should have and we haven’t acted when we needed to. Especially when you, our members, told us that we needed to. For too long we have been on the wrong side of this issue.

If we really want to positively influence psychology, to encourage it to be the diverse profession that it needs to be, then we have to get our own house in order first.

Watch this space as I continue to monitor this issue.