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Missing the Boat: NPR & the Pioneer Fund

On Oct. 23, Farai Chideya interviewed for NPR’s “News & Notes” program J. Philippe Rushton, a professor at the University of Western Ontario who heads the Pioneer Fund, which Chideya incorrectly referred to as the Pioneer Group (that error is still in NPR’s website promo today).

The topic, “Race and Intelligence: Is There a Link?” was selected in the aftermath of DNA pioneer and Nobel Prize winner James Watson’s recent statement that Watson was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.” (Met with a firestorm of academic criticism, Watson later said that race does not control IQ differences, but he did not retract his earlier comments).

Getting the Pioneer Fund’s name wrong wasn’t the only thing problematic about Chideya’s interview. Chideya also failed to mention several key facts about Rushton and the fund. Started in 1937 by textile magnate Wycliffe Draper, the Pioneer Fund’s original mandate was to pursue “race betterment” by promoting the genetic stock of those “deemed to be descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states prior to the adoption of the Constitution.” Today, it still funds extremely controversial studies of race and intelligence, as well as eugenics, the “science” of breeding superior human beings. Pioneer, which has been listed as a hate group for many years by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has funded many of the leading Anglo-American race scientists of the last several decades as well as anti-immigration groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Rushton, who has been investigated for allegedly violating Canadian hate-speech laws, first courted controversy in 1989 when he published work focusing on the sexual characteristics of different races. His findings: Blacks have larger genitals, breasts and buttocks — characteristics that Rushton alleges have an inverse relationship to brain size and, thus, intelligence. Rushton has personally received over $1 million in Pioneer funds for his work. Rushton also has been ridiculed and attacked as a racist by many leading scholars, including Stanford population biologist Mark Feldman, who described one of his main books as “laughable.” University of Washington psychology professor David Barash wrote that “bad science and virulent racial prejudice drip like pus” from the same book.

This isn’t the first time that Rushton has been quoted by a gullible reporter. In 2006, CNN’s medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, put Rushton on the air to discuss a Rushton study supposedly proving that males, on average, are smarter than women. As in the recent NPR report, no mention was made of Rushton’s background or that of his Pioneer Fund.

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