The emergency department at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario.
Credits: DEREK RUTTAN/ The London Free Press /QMI AGENCY
LONDON, Ont. — Western University psychology professor John Philippe Rushton, whose research about racial differences caused a firestorm of controversy, has died of cancer.
Rushton was thrust under the national spotlight in the late 1980s for his research on differences between racial groups based on brain and penis size. According to his research, East Asians scored high and blacks lower for intelligence and sexual restraint. Whites scored in the middle.
Rushton’s conclusions were denounced by many at the time as racist, although some academics came to his defence.
Student protesters took to the streets of London after his research was published, demanding the university fire him.
The Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto police conducted an extensive investigation after groups demanded criminal charges be laid.
Police decided no charges were warranted and the province's attorney general concurred, saying Rushton’s theories on racial superiority were “loony but not criminal.”
Still, then-premier David Peterson called for Rushton’s dismissal.
Western took disciplinary action against Rushton, throwing the university into the centre of an international debate over academic freedom.
In an annual performance review, the university branded Rushton’s scientific work as “unsatisfactory” and denied him a routine pay increase. They warned that another poor rating could justify dismissal proceedings.
Rushton’s lawyer, John Judson, accused Western of buckling in the face of a witch hunt and out of fear of losing financial backing.
Rushton was stripped of his right to use Western students as research subjects after distributing unauthorized questionnaires about sexual performance, penis size and how far the student subjects could ejaculate.
Rushton’s theories caught the attention of U.S. television networks. He appeared on the Geraldo show in 1989 and was booed by the audience. In 1990 he was a guest on the Phil Donahue show, where the audience also lashed out at his conclusions.
But he stuck by his conclusions.
In a 1990 interview with the London Free Press, a year after his theories were published, Rushton said he was taken aback by the intensity of the debate.
“I don’t know how long a scientific truth can be kept down. If I’m right, ultimately posterity will come to the conclusion that I am right. I just plug away and hope eventually that’s what is going to happen.”
Rushton died Tuesday at Victoria Hospital. His funeral is scheduled Oct. 10 in London.