The Hereditarian Hypothesis and Scientific Racism

Posted by Kevin Bird on December 18, 2019

It is difficult to understand how this debate about the role of genetics in the Black-white IQ score gap has persisted in the mainstream and academic discourse given the low quality of evidence in favor of substantial genetic cause and the methodological and conceptual mistakes made by the main proponents of the genetic hypothesis. However, the persistence of the debate is more understandable if we stop thinking about the genetic hypothesis as a good faith scientific venture, and rather as a concerted effort to inject and distribute fringe ideas into the mainstream. This may seem to be a hefty accusation, but I intend to defend it.

Both the old (Arthur Jensen, J. Philippe Rushton, Richard Lynn), and the new (Emil Kirkegaard, Davide Piffer, and John Fuerst) keepers of the flame of scientifc racism have received funding and worked in further capacities with the Pioneer Fund or directly related organizations. The Pioneer fund was founded in 1937 by the white supremacist Wickliffe Draper. Since its creation, the Pioneer Fund has been directly involved with the dissemination of Nazi propaganda films and works calling for the maintenance of racial purity, and funding political opposition to school integration, civil rights policy, and immigration (Saini, 2019; Tucker, 2002). In addition, the organization has funded scientists to produce and disseminate research supporting racial superiority, racial purity, segregation, and restricted immigration (Tucker, 2002). Draper was also known for providing personal gifts to his beneficiaries, often through tax-exempt nonprofit intermediaries and for wanting his “gifts spent in such manner as to check upon their value”; often contingent upon tangible results (Tucker, 2002).

It was at Stanford in 1966-67 when Arthur Jensen was writing his infamous Harvard Educational Review article that he was influenced by conversations with William Shockley (funded by the Pioneer Fund) toward a genetic explanation for racial IQ disparities. Shockley later used Pioneer Fund money to disseminate Jensen’s article to members of the National Academy of Science, politicians, and journalists in an effort to persuade the National Academy of Science to adopt his position that racial differences in intelligence were genetic in origin (Tucker, 2002). While Jensen often feigned being apolitical he not only prompted segregationists to write letters supportive of his hypotheses to the Harvard Education Review and the New York Times Magazine, but testified to the Congressional Subcommittee on Education against the Education Emergency Act, designed to provide funding to schools currently integrating, based on his belief desegregation harmed black students due to their genetic inferiority (Tucker, 2002). Jensen remained on the Pioneer Fund dole for more than 30 years, receiving more than 2 million dollars adjusting for inflation between 1972 and 2002 (Tucker, 2002; Saini, 2019) and consistently speaking out against affirmative action on the basis that the genetically lower intellectual ability of Black people should result in their underrepresentation in higher education (Tucker, 2002).

Likewise, Richard Lynn and J. Phillipe Rushton along with other academics received a total of 5 million dollars (adjusted for inflation) to produce research on racial differences. Lynn also served as the editor of Mankind Quarterly, a journal “dealing with race and heredity” supported by Draper and the Pioneer Fund to provide a publishing venue for work aligning with Pioneer Fund goals of supporting racism, as mainstream journals increasingly saw their work as illegitimate (Tucker 2002; Saini, 2019). Rushton spoke frequently at conferences organized by American Renaissance, another organization supported by the Pioneer Fund which has been widely characterized as white supremacist and antisemitic (Saini, 2019), and Lynn has publicly stated at an American Renaissance conference that immigration should be reduced to zero (Tucker, 2002).

In 2002, Rushton became president of the Pioneer Fund after the passing of Harry Weyher Jr. During his time as president, Rushton continued disbursing research funding for race science, until 2012 when tax documents show that The Pioneer Fund funneled ~1.5 million dollars into Rushton’s own nonprofit organization, the Charles Darwin Research Institute, and ~1.2 million dollars into Richard Lynn’s organization, the Ulster Institute for Social Research (Jedidiah Carlson, Personal Communication). It is at the Ulster Institute for Social Research that Mankind Quarterly is currently published (Saini, 2019). The Ulster Institute is also where Emil Kirkegaard, Davide Piffer, and John Fuerst have been employed for various lengths of time as research associates, co-authoring several papers with Richard Lynn in mainstream journals, Mankind Quarterly, and the OpenPsych journals founded by Kirkegaard and Piffer. The OpenPsych journals have no formal review process, are mainly reviewed by the small circle of Pioneer Fund associated researchers (Saini, 2019), and are not indexed in any bibliometric databases, but are used to disseminate work by Kirkegaard and others not fit for legitimate venues. Kirkegaard is also the current owner of the Mankind Quarterly web domain (Jedidiah Carlson, personal communications).

Either due to pre-existing alignment with Pioneer Fund ideals or motivation from consistent funding, these scientists have undertaken a strongly political and ideological cause that has taken them far from mainstream science, and frequently outside of science altogether. They regularly coauthor together, they review each others books, they disproportionately cite their own or each other’s work. It is an insular, and self-sustaining scientific community that eschews methodological and conceptual standards and largely ignores substantial criticisms. Given this historical context, it is now more understandable how the debate over genetic contribution to the Black-white IQ gap has persisted: because there is an intentional and concerted effort to keep it alive that is not beholden to standards and practices of mainstream science.

Despite this concerted effort to spread scientific racism, there is reason to be optimistic. Over the last decade the Pioneer Fund appears to have emptied most of its accounts and is at a low level of activity, and the Ulster Institute is similarly operating on slim budgets (Saini, 2019). The Pioneer fund has not directly funded a research grant since 2016 (in the amount of $30,000 to Aurelio Figueredo at the University of Arizona), though the most recent tax documents indicate that the organization continues to bring in tens of thousands of dollars from the sale of stock holdings and personal contributions from Secretary/Treasurer Edward Miller.The Charles Darwin Institute after Rushton’s death has also been renamed “The JSP Educational Foundation” and stopped its research endeavors (Jedidiah Carlson, personal communication). Instead of Nobel Laureates and respected tenure track faculty, the new generation of race scientists on the Pioneer Fund dole are untrained post-graduates. While the campaign to promote scientific racism is losing ground in academic venues, it is still lively in online communities under monikers like “Human Biodiversity” and “Race Realism” (Saini, 2019).

Fortunately scientists’ contributions can help clarify misconceptions, correct mistaken claims, and shift public perceptions. Careful, responsible data analyses like those in Martin et al. (2017) and Freese et al. (2019) can prevent the spread of shoddy race science, clearly written explainers like Rosenberg et al. (2019) and Coop (2019) help educate non-specialists in interpretation and understanding of the latest genetic work, and community statements from societies like the American Society of Human Genetics (“ASHG Denounces Attempts to Link Genetics and Racial Supremacy,” 2018) and American Association of Physical Anthropologists (Fuentes et al., 2019) help clarify the scientific consensus position. A concerted effort from the scientific mainstream can curb the spread of scientific racism and ensure that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

ASHG Denounces Attempts to Link Genetics and Racial Supremacy. (2018). American Journal of Human Genetics, 103(5), 636.

Coop, G. (2019). Reading tea leaves? Polygenic scores and differences in traits among groups. arXiv preprint arXiv:1909.00892.

Fuentes, A., Ackermann, R. R., Athreya, S., Bolnick, D., Lasisi, T., Lee, S.-H., … Nelson, R. (2019). AAPA Statement on Race and Racism. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 169(3), 400–402.

Freese, J., Domingue, B., Trejo, S., Sicinski, K., & Herd, P. (2019). Problems with a Causal Interpretation of Polygenic Score Differences between Jewish and non-Jewish Respondents in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study.

Martin, A. R., Gignoux, C. R., Walters, R. K., Wojcik, G. L., Neale, B. M., Gravel, S., … & Kenny, E. E. (2017). Human demographic history impacts genetic risk prediction across diverse populations. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 100(4), 635-649.

Rosenberg, N. A., Edge, M. D., Pritchard, J. K., & Feldman, M. W. (2018). Interpreting polygenic scores, polygenic adaptation, and human phenotypic differences. Evolution, medicine, and public health, 2019(1), 26-34.

Saini, A. (2019). Superior: The Return of Race Science.

Tucker, W. H. (2002). The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund. U of Nebraska Press.