This Lunch with Jan Wong column was originally published on Sept. 23, 2000.
Philippe Rushton looks just like Steve Martin. Indeed, the resemblance is so uncanny that the psychologist caused a minor uproar earlier at a private Toronto club.
"They thought I was some kind of movie star," says Rushton, 56, who is famous in his own right, or infamous rather, for his views on race. A decade ago, he endured death threats, pickets and course boycotts at the University of Western Ontario. Now he's merely shunned.
For this: positing a racial sandwich of sexuality, crime and intelligence with Asians on top, whites in the middle and blacks on the bottom. According to Rushton's research, Asians have the biggest brains, the smallest genitals and the least testosterone. Hence, they have the highest IQ scores and the least promiscuity. Blacks, he says, have the smallest brains, the biggest genitals and the most testosterone. Hence, they have the lowest IQ scores and commit the most rapes and murders.
Since I'm supposed to be one of those really smart Asians, I thought it would be fun to invite a white guy like him to lunch. He, being of middling intelligence and unlimited paranoia, assumed the e-mail was a prank.
At a pre-lunch photo shoot, Rushton remains wary, even prickly. He made short shrift of our photographer, a blond Aryan. Perhaps The Globe and Mail should have sent a master-race Asian, like Fred Lum, instead.
Afterward, Rushton is charming. By his choice, we're dining at the Royal Canadian Military Institute, surrounded by toy soldiers, real guns and paintings of the Boer War. The waiters wear white gloves and scowls. Cellphones and backpacks are forbidden. So is conducting any business over lunch, a ban circumvented by tucking a notebook beneath a napkin.
"I'm really not political," says Rushton, sipping tap water instead of wine. "People always think that I'm gearing all my research toward this policy-that-I-don't-want-to-say."
He's more interested in why white men can't jump. Or why Asians never win the 100-metre sprint at the Olympics and blacks always do. "And not just black, but the blue-black, the purple-black." His theory: smaller brains mean a smaller pelvis (in the mother), narrower hips and a more efficient stride. In swimming, he adds, blacks are limited by smaller chest cavities and heavier skeletons.
"What's interesting to me is not one variable, but the fact that you find it over and over again. It just cries out to be examined."
He says he's found racial differences in fertility. Blacks have 16 two-egg twins per 1,000 births, compared with eight among whites and four among Asians. Penis size varies, too, he says. Rushton cites World Health Organization guidelines, which specify 49-mm-width condoms for Asia, 52-mm for North America and Europe and 53-mm for Africa. Then there's the IQ-test differential. On average, he found, Asians score one to 11 points higher than white, who, in turn, score six to seven points higher than blacks.
"Even though you know you're playing with fire, you can't ignore it," says Rushton. "You know deep-rooted evolutionary explanations have to be involved."
Alas, brains aren't on the menu. Rushton orders calf's liver, preceded by a bowl of potato-leek soup. He's a slim man, just under six feet, in a navy blazer, grey flannels and polished black loafers. His ancestry is white: three-fourths English, one-fourth French, hence "Philippe," which he pronounces "Philip."
Rushton's head appears to be medium-sized. In the interests of science, I produce a fluorescent orange, 25-foot-long tape measure, a loan from The Globe's maintenance department. "I'm not going to let you measure my head," says Rushton, horrified. Nor will he disclose his own IQ, which he has tested at least half a dozen times. "Let's just say it's commensurate with being a university professor."
Well, then, how about he measure his penis? A six-inch plastic ruler is proffered. "No, my goodness," he gasps, as the waiter sets down his soup.
Rushton, who was born in Bournemouth, England, immigrated with his parents to Toronto in 1956. (His father was a scenic artist at the CBC.) He took his first IQ test as a teenager at Toronto's Forest Hill Collegiate, which, as is normal, wouldn't disclose the results. The same thing happened at the University of London, where he was studying for a PhD in social psychology.
So he contacted Mensa, the high-IQ society. He took two more tests, met its criteria of ranking in the top 2 per cent of the population, but never joined. "I'm not really a joiner," says Rushton, who once marched on the U.S. Embassy in London to protest against the Vietnam War.
In the 1970s, he returned to Canada in search of work. After teaching for a few years at York University and the University of Toronto, he joined the University of Western Ontario in 1977. He became a full professor in 1985.
In 1989, he went public at a major science conference with his racial-sandwich theory. Rushton was immediately trashed on Geraldo. The then-premier of Ontario, David Peterson, called for his dismissal. The Ontario Human Rights Commission launched a probe, as did the Ontario Provincial Police.
"Ian Scott [then Ontario attorney general] concluded my theories were loony, but not criminal." Rushton's critics tried to stage boycotts, but his enrolment never suffered. "People would sign up even more. I was a celebrity of some kind."
He hasn't taught, though, in several years, liberated by $80,000-a-year grants from the Pioneer Fund, a controversial U.S. foundation that funded eugenics experiments in the 1940s and now supports research into the roots of intelligence. To avoid further brushes with Canadian hate laws, Rushton set up his own Charles Darwin Institute in Port Huron, Mich. Through it, he self-published his incendiary work, Race, Evolution and Behaviour,with help from the Pioneer Fund and "anonymous benefactors."
Rushton is big on anonymity. "In the world we live in, the forces of political correctness are still very strong. I'm used to it now. But I don't want friends or family members to suffer." He allows he has one younger brother, "in insurance in Toronto" and a son "in his thirties." He also admits to being married for the third time. His previous two marriages ended in divorce.
You wonder what he sought in a mate: great sex, great conversation or maybe just a good genetic match? Rushton would rather not say. But when you point out that his whole life is about race research, he concedes, "I heard rumours that I'd have girlfriends, variously black or Asian."
He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He's beginning to get an inkling of what it's like to have one's life examined through the prism of race. "They're all white," he finally concedes, of his three wives.
So who's smarter, his latest wife, who is an anthropologist, or him? "Let's just say she's my better half," he says.
Which brings us to a glaring contradiction in his research. Women's brains, it turns out, are proportionally smaller than men's, even accounting for differences in body size. Yet women score the same as men on IQ tests. "I tried everything I could to make that sex difference disappear," he says, calling the data "a nuisance" and an "anomaly." (Some anomaly, considering women comprise half the population.)
Lunch has taken more than two hours. The dining room is deserted. The waiter is still scowling. Rushton wants to know if I consider him a racist.
"My job is simply to describe race as it really is, not what people wish was there," he says plaintively. "I don't want to treat anyone badly, or treat them as members of a group all the same. No race has a monopoly on virtue or vice."