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Race/IQ: The Jason Richwine Affair

Amid the fury over the ex-Heritage staffer's work the question to ask is: was he right?
iq test

Amid loud cries of “Witch! Witch! Burn the Witch!” an enraged throng of ideological activists and media pundits late last week besieged the fortress-like DC headquarters of the conservative Heritage Foundation, demanding the person of one Jason Richwine, Ph.D., employed there as a senior policy analyst. The High Lords of Heritage, deeply concerned about any possible threat to their million-dollar salaries, quickly submitted, though they waited until late Friday, the dead-zone period of national news coverage, before announcing that young Dr. Richwine had been expelled into the Outer Darkness.

Only a week earlier, Richwine had reached a pinnacle of his career, listed as co-author of a widely trumpeted Heritage research study demonstrating that Congressional passage of proposed immigration reform legislation would cost American taxpayers some six trillion dollars…or perhaps the figure was six quadrillion dollars.

But then some enterprising journalist discovered the dreadful evidence of Richwine’s horrific heresy, namely that his 2009 doctoral dissertation at the Harvard Kennedy School had focused on the very low IQs of those racial groups providing most of our current immigrants, with his conclusion being that such inflows must be halted lest American society be dumbified into disaster. Taken together Race and IQ constitute an exceptionally volatile mix in modern American society, and ignited by a six trillion dollar spark, the resulting explosion blew Richwine out of his comfortable DC employment.

Now it seems to me that Heritage’s reaction was a bit difficult to justify. After all, the title of Richwine’s dissertation had been “IQ and Immigration Policy” perhaps providing some slight hint that his topic had something to do with IQ and immigration policy. So the inescapable conclusion is that Heritage was perfectly willing to employ someone with Richwine’s racial views but only so long as the media and the public remained unaware. Last week the media found out, hence exit young Richwine.

However, the behavior of Richwine’s mob of media-tormenters seems just as reprehensible. Glancing over a few of the multitude of denunciatory columns I see little sign of any serious attempt to rebut rather than merely vilify poor Richwine. His attackers seem horrified that anyone might dare believe such heretical notions, rather than whether those beliefs are correct or incorrect. This absurd situation has certainly been noted by Richwine’s own legion of determined defenders, with blogger Steve Sailer citing this case as a perfect example of the recent American tendency to “speak power to truth.”

But in the famous words of Talleyrand, the approach followed by Richwine’s critics “was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.” When a Harvard Ph.D. makes extremely controversial claims about race and intelligence and the main response is to lynch the messenger rather than dispassionately refute the message, the natural conclusion of reasonable onlookers is that Richwine may have been “politically incorrect” but he was factually correct. For example, David Weigel’s lengthy discussion in Slate seems to imply this perspective, and how can anyone blame him? If race and IQ constitute the sort of intellectual pornography never to be candidly discussed in respectable company then the primary sources of information and opinion become small brown-paper-wrapper websites, whose opinions on such ideologically-charged topics may or may not be wholly reliable.

I suspect that Weigel is merely one of many prominent journalists and media pundits who draw important portions of their world view from furtively exploring the nether regions of the Internet. After all, our reigning academic orthodoxy has insisted for decades that “race does not exist,” a scientific claim roughly equivalent to declaring that “gravity does not exist.” Hence, many younger journalists have come to doubt this palpable absurdity, and may often seek transgressive truths by reading the perspectives of various racialist bloggers, who unfortunately are often just as ignorant and mistaken as their orthodox opponents. The Washington Post and Slate.com are sister publications and there was the amusing spectacle of bloggers David Weigel and Jennifer Rubin taking diametrically opposite positions on the Richwine controversy, although neither apparently has the scientific or quantitative background necessary to evaluate the actual issues under dispute.


Having thus sketched the political atmospherics of the Richwine Affair, including the bad and self-damaging behavior of so many participants on all sides of the controversy, I should also discuss the substantive issues, namely whether Richwine’s views are right or wrong, and also my impression of the general quality of his scholarship in advocating them. My own background is in the hard sciences, and I prefer determining reality based on evidence and quantitative data rather than from ideological first principles. Personally, I’m less interested in whether Richwine’s views are “incorrect” than whether or not they are correct.

My first substantial encounter with Richwine came in early 2010 when I published a major article arguing that Hispanic crime rates in America were roughly similar to those of whites of the same age, a claim that naturally ignited a firestorm of hostility from various rightwingers. Although most of the attacks were merely vituperative, Richwine had recently undertaken major research on exactly that same topic and had come to polar opposite conclusions, so he soon became my strongest analytical opponent, resulting in a long series of very productive exchanges. Although he confined his critique to just one of the three or four major pillars of my case, he initially made some effective points. But after several rounds of debate and the discovery of additional evidence from California, I think most impartial observers concluded that my analysis was almost entirely correct. I urge all interested parties to read my original article and the series of lengthy exchanges with Richwine and others, and then formulate their own conclusions.

Richwine’s behavior during this lengthy debate was exemplary and the exchanges proved very useful in extending my own analysis.  And later that year we were both invited to reprise our arguments in a public debate at a major anti-immigrationist conference, where I met him for the first time.

As I mentioned earlier, an unfortunate consequence of Richwine’s intellectual martyrdom may be the widespread assumption among uninformed journalists that his various theories were probably correct, and indeed Weigel states that Richwine “demolished” my own analysis of Hispanic crime. But that is Weigel’s own error and I tend to doubt that he either read my article or the subsequent exchanges with Richwine before making such an erroneous claim. Perhaps the current controversy surrounding these racial issues may prompt the major media to more carefully compare my own arguments with those of my opponents, carefully weigh the evidence, and then bring the important conclusions to much wider public attention.

With regard to Richwine’s IQ arguments, last year I published a major 7,500 word article on exactly the same topic of Race/IQ, arguing that there was overwhelming evidence that the IQs of various ethnic groups were far more malleable and environmentally influenced than is widely believed by many of those interested in the topic. Once again, this article provoked a vast outpouring of angry commentary from various rightwing bloggers and pundits, probably the most uniformly hostile reaction I’ve ever received to anything I’d written. I responded to my multitude of critics in a long series of columns, totaling perhaps another 15,000 words. By the time the debate wound down, I think the accumulated evidence in favor of my position was absolutely decisive, and several of my strongest early opponents privately told me so, though I’m sure many of my angriest critics will never admit that.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media timorously avoided this explosive subject and almost entirely ignored the many tens of thousands of words produced during the long debate. Once again, perhaps the current Richwine controversy will provide the media a second opportunity to objectively review the topic and bring the important facts to a wider audience.

Richwine himself had not participated in last year’s heated Race/IQ debate and at the time I was only vaguely aware of some of his previous work on that topic. But the question of Mexican-American IQ was an important focus of my own analysis and taken together with some additional evidence that came out during the course of the debate, I would argue that the conclusions Richwine formed in his doctoral dissertation are almost certainly incorrect.

Obviously, it would be absurd for me to attempt to summarize nearly 25,000 words of my arguments in just a few sentences, and I urge all interested parties to read my material and decide for themselves whether my arguments are persuasive. But after quickly reviewing major sections of Richwine’s controversial doctoral dissertation, I would like to make a few important points.

First, he argues that the large IQ deficit of impoverished Hispanic immigrants is likely to inflict a long-term social disaster upon American society. However, it is well known that nearly all previous immigrant groups—southern and eastern Europeans—who came here in poverty similarly scored very low on IQ tests in the decades after their arrival, with results that were sometimes far below those of today’s Mexican immigrants. Yet after a generation or two their tested intelligence had almost invariably converged close to the American mean. Evidence of the past does not necessarily predict the future, but such a strong historical pattern should leave us cautious about assuming it will not continue.

In fact, Richwine specifically discusses the famous study by Carl Brigham, who concluded on the basis of the tests taken by WWI recruits that southern and eastern Europeans were drastically inferior in innate mental ability to America’s mostly northwestern European population and argued that their continuing immigration would produce a national disaster. Richwine rather cavalierly dismisses this historical analysis as having been based on poor testing methods and probably motivated by a belief in “bizarre…racial categories.” But Brigham was a highly regarded psychometrician and his careful research was widely accepted by nearly all the leading experts of that time. Having carefully read his book, I cannot find any serious fault with his methods nor any indications of unscientific bias on his part. Brigham may have been mistaken in his conclusions, but they seem to have been based on the best evidence and theory of his day.

Furthermore, Richwine chooses to ignore a vast amount of additional evidence from that same period, much of which was collected in Clifford Kirkpatrick’s important 1926 academic monograph “Intelligence and Migration.” Kirkpatrick provides page after page of separate studies demonstrating that during the 1920s the tested IQs of American schoolchildren of Greek, Slavic, Italian, and Portuguese ancestry were usually in the 75-85 range, and that Jewish schoolchildren sometimes performed just as poorly. These results are hardly obscure since they have been cited for decades by Thomas Sowell, and I think it is a serious scholarly lapse for Richwine to have essentially ignored them. Perhaps he simply believes that all IQ experts of a century ago were frauds and their empirical work should be dismissed, but if so, he should explicitly make that argument. Otherwise, we must accept that southern and eastern European immigrant groups had very low IQs a century ago and have average ones today, which is an extremely important finding. In fact, I have demonstrated that there is overwhelming evidence that various other group IQs have risen rapidly over time, and I also provided some strong indications that this exact process is already occurring among today’s Hispanic immigrants.

On another matter, Richwine must be aware that Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck rank as two of the greatest figures in twentieth century psychometrics. Yet decades ago both these scholars reviewed the structural evidence of Mexican-American IQs, and reached conclusions almost identical to my own, namely that the acknowledged gaps to white intelligence scores were largely perhaps almost entirely due to environmental factors and would steadily disappear as the population became more affluent and acculturated. Scientists should not argue from authority and Jensen and Eysenck might certainly have been mistaken, but it seems unreasonable for Richwine to never mention their contrary analysis.

Richwine’s doctoral work was performed at Harvard’s Kennedy School for Public Policy, which is separate from the main graduate school containing academic disciplines such as evolutionary biology, psychology, and sociology. The typical Kennedy School graduate receives a Masters Degree in Public Administration, and is often a mid-career government official, seeking to burnish his academic credentials. The three faculty members who evaluated Richwine’s dissertation—George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jencks—are noted social scientists, but with the possible exception of Jencks, who was apparently a late addition, none seems to have a strong background in IQ issues; otherwise, they surely would have brought the facts I have cited above to Richwine’s attention and required him to properly address them. And once the media mob began baying for blood, Richwine’s advisors immediately backpedaled on any familiarity with IQ issues and quickly disassociated themselves from the dissertation they themselves had approved.

Again, the fault is less Richwine’s or that of his advisors than the totally taboo nature of the topic in question. Even given the best of intentions and effort it is difficult to undertake solid research in a subject that few are willing to discuss in public and one in which there exists such widespread misinformation.

Several months ago a prominent liberal academic with whom I’ve become a bit friendly was horrified by my article speculating on the Social Darwinist roots of Chinese success, pointing out that my analysis so sharply deviated from the established description of reality promoted by Stephen Jay Gould. He also mentioned that several of his friends wondered why I seemed so “obsessed” with race.  I would argue that racial issues are an interesting and important subject, especially in a country as racially diverse as our own, but another factor behind my focus has been what I see as a dangerous vacuum of calm and reasonably informed discussion.  After all, if I don’t write about Hispanic crime, I shudder to think who else will.

Perhaps our major media might use the opportunity of this current controversy to begin covering racial subjects in a manner more substantive and thoughtful than just quoting endless exchange of smears and slurs. If so, then the intellectual martyrdom of Dr. Jason Richwine may have served a useful purpose.