During an international trade conference in Seattle that I attended a few years ago I met a Chinese journalist who, after learning that I was Jewish, remarked that “Jews are very smart. Kissinger. Rockefellers. Good with numbers. Make a lot of money.”

I wanted to respond that he had just met a Jewish guy who was not good with numbers. But then I figured that he was trying to give me a compliment. So I didn’t even correct him about confusing the Rockefellers with the Rothschilds. (Or since the Rockefellers were Kissinger’s patrons, he probably assumed that they were also Jewish).

I would have said something if the Chinese journalist had employed an ugly stereotype of Jews. Indeed, as Andy Rooney used to day,“did you ever notice” that we celebrate the nice things said about a national, ethnic, racial, or gender group, like that women are more cooperative than men, that black men can dance, that Italians have a ear for music. But then we condemn as bigotry anyone who uses any broad-brush negative generalizations about these groups.

That is the way civilized people should behave. When our friends introduce us to their newborn with an “Isn’t he cute?” we won’t respond with a “That is some ugly baby.” And my guess is that no one would accuse us of succumbing to the pressure of political correctness.

Indeed, it is not polite and may be considered brutally abusive to single out for ridicule an individual who fails to measure up to our standards of beauty and intelligence, while it’s considered quite appropriate to congratulate those who score high on these individual characteristics—for example, “You really lost weight,” as opposed to “You really look fat.”

So I believe it’s quite fitting to play by the same rules when referring to the many collective identities in our midst not because it’s politically correct but because it’s the civilized thing to do, especially if you live in a society comprised of many racial, ethnic and religious groups.

This brings me to the recent debate over Jason Richwine’s doctoral dissertation in which he explained that Hispanics are documented to have lower IQs than whites. Forget not being polite: Richwine was accused of being a racist. And even if we assume that Richwine was operating on solid scientific grounds (which he probably was since he received his doctorate from Harvard University and not from the University of Phoenix), should we not accuse Richwine of needlessly stigmatizing an ethnic community, which is not the right thing to do in a civilized society like ours?

But then I don’t hear a lot of accusations of racism after scientists issue a study that demonstrates that members certain ethnic and racial groups are susceptible to certain diseases, like Ashkenazi Jewish women who are at high risk of getting breast cancer. Those kinds of scientific advances that do single out certain groups and that suggest that they are not like the rest of us, health-wise, are regarded in fact as a good thing. After all, we would thank our physician for warning us that we are overweight (fat) and would not compare him to the boorish punk who yelled “fatso” at us.

While there has always been a debate about whether social science, including economics, should be considered akin to a “hard” science like physics, the fact is that studies in sociology and anthropology, preferably conducted by academics in Ivy League institutions, have provided the scientific basis for public policies that singled out specific racial groups for special treatments like affirmative action.

Hence, policy makers have operated under the assumption that social scientists not only have the right to conduct research (in accordance with accepted scientific rules of conduct) that measures the social and economic performance of certain ethnic and racial groups, but that we should encourage this kind of research and take it seriously when proposing policies to deal with social-economic problems. So I found it somewhat hypocritical that Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve and similar scientific research that aimed to prove that human intelligence, including racial differences in intelligence, may be a better predictor of one’s social and economic status than one’s environment were castigated as “racist.”

That doesn’t mean, of course, that if some Harvard Ph.D. student proves that short men earn less and get fewer dates than tall men, we should attach any significance from a scientific or policy perspective to these findings—which is why when anyone comes up with results from that kind of “research,” it gets the attention it deserves from the monologues of late-night television comedians. And we would certainly be surprised to learn that this was a subject approved for a doctoral dissertation at Harvard. But then, no one has proposed public programs to assist vertically challenged men.

Hispanics, however, constitute the majority of the 11 million or so illegal immigrants, whose absorption into American society would be a huge plus according to advocates of a liberalized approach to immigration. They are therefore central to the debate over a major policy issue. This suggests that we should welcome any scientific study that examines the economic and social-cultural background of members of this group, including their IQ. (Although it should be noted that IQ in itself should not be the most critical thing determining our position on immigration reform and that these findings certainly don’t help to decide what we should do about the current population of illegal immigrants.)

I do, however, have a problem with the use of the term “Hispanics,” as it could include immigrants from, say, Spain and Argentina (which is a home to immigrants from Italy, Ireland, and Germany) or for that matter Sepharadic Jews like Judah Benjamin, the secretary of state of the Confederacy, and Benjamin Cardozo, who probably should be considered to be the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

In fact, since on my mother’s side I belong to a Jewish family that had been expelled from Spain in 1492, I discovered when applying for a job in academia awhile ago that for the purposes of affirmative action programs, I was considered to be, well, Hispanic. So based on Richwine’s findings I could have a very high IQ (as a Jew) or a low one (as an Hispanic), not to mention the fact that being born in West Asia (Israel) may qualify me as an Asian-American.

Or consider the complex ethnic/racial/religious profile of former Republican Senator from Virginia George Allen whose mom, like Barack Obama’s dad, was born in Africa. And, hey, she is also a Sepharadic Jew, which means that if he ever ran for president, Allen could end up being the second African-American and the first Jew and Hispanic to occupy the White House.

This of course sounds and is silly. But you could make the same argument about the entire multicultural agenda and the race/ethnic/gender-based affirmative-action programs that have been promoted by America’s political left and that insist on pursing public policies based on our alleged membership in this or that collective community (which would require academic institutions to give preference in their employment policies to an “Hispanic” like myself). The same people then stigmatize as bigots and racists those on the political right who apply such categories in doing research and discussing public policy.

The preferred (classical) liberal approach to public policy, including to immigration, would be to dismiss such divisions into ethnic and racial groups like Latinos and African-Americans and be blind to the ethnic, racial, and religious origins of individuals who want to become Americans.

What we should do is encourage talented, successful, hard-working and, yes, intelligent people to come to this country irrespective of color, creed or national origin and take part and compete in what is a marketplace of ideas—including the freedom to conduct scientific research on race and IQ.

And since such research demonstrates that immigrants from China and India have a higher IQ than whites, we might find that a merit-based immigration policy would actually end up changing the racial makeup of America by reducing the percentage of whites in the country and hasten the coming of the day when a white family moves next door and their Asian-American neighbors complain, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.