Last week, a coauthor of the Heritage Foundation’s shoddy immigration report, Jason Richwine, resigned after it emerged that his PhD dissertation argued that Latinos and blacks were genetically intellectual inferior to white people. Monday morning, the flagship conservative journal National Review published a piece arguing that Richwine’s work was legitimate academic inquiry and that Heritage should have defended the dissertation rather than distancing itself from it.
The piece, authored by deputy managing editor Robert VerBruggen, argues that Richwine’s dissertation was “most certainly competently executed,” and that Richwine’s research on IQ helps support “much of the actual data” in giving “reason for concern” about “Hispanic assimilation.” That makes it wrong to call Richwine’s dissertation racist, in VerBruggen’s view:
These sorts of debates are resolved by having scholars take different views, conduct research, and make their case, confident that their current and future “educational institutions” will not punish them for doing so. Indeed, today genome research is progressing at a rapid clip, with scientists worldwide making fascinating discoveries almost constantly. (Soon, I hope, this work will render the research Richwine cites, much of which is decades old, obsolete.) The Left would like to cut this process off, expelling from polite society — with the help of a conservative think tank in this case — any researcher who dares to defend the hereditarian view.
The Left’s labeling of Richwine’s argument as “racist” is especially dangerous. In modern America it is axiomatic that “racism,” whatever it is, is wrong — and this is a good thing. It therefore is a mistake to define racism to include falsifiable hypotheses in addition to racial hatred. If Richwine’s view is racist, what are we to do if it turns out to be correct?
VerBruggen’s standard for racism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The hypothesis that “rich Jews control the media” is “falsifiable” in VerBruggen’s sense, as it’s a claim about what is true in the world, but it’s unquestionably anti-Semitic to assert it. Ditto with the claim that “black people are on-average lazier” or “Asians are on-average sneakier” — these are racist claims, rooted in centuries of pernicious stereotyping, yet they are legitimate subjects for academic inquiry by VerBruggen’s lights.
Moreover, VerBruggen’s claim that Richwine’s dissertation is good research is disputed by independent experts. “I am stunned by the lack of rigor and intellectual depth evinced by Richwine’s dissertation,” wrote Diego von Vacano, a political scientist who studies race and Hispanic identity. “Such shoddy work should not easily pass at the doctoral level — or any level for that matter.” Dan Drezner, a professor of international relations who reviewed Richwine’s research, wrote that “key terms are poorly defined, auxiliary assumptions abound, and the literature I’m familiar with that is cited as authoritative is, well, not good.”
These criticisms are not hard to substantiate. Richwine’s dissertation fails to sufficiently define “Hispanic” or “black” or explain how either such genetically diverse, socially defined groupings can meaningfully track the genetically-inherited components of IQ. He dismisses the idea that entrenched poverty and racism could stymie Hispanic acheivement by citing the success of Asian immigrants in the United States, skating over the gulf in differences between both different Asian immigrant groups at different times and “Asians” and “Hispanics” in some broader sense. He doesn’t respond to the wealth of academic criticism of current intelligence testing metrics. And Richwine takes much of the data on IQ as face-value reliable, a claim that’s dubious for several reasons.
VerBruggen’s insistence that bad research linking race and IQ is simply the truth plays into a longstanding conservative tradition, wherein conservatives defend race and IQ research that provides support for their policy preferences. In this case, Richwine’s dissertation makes the case for limiting immigration to high IQ individuals, a position that VerBruggen appears compelled by and one that tracks well with the general conservative preference for “high-skill” immigration. Richwine explicitly draws a line between “high IQ immigration” and “high skill immigration” in the dissertation.
National Review’s editors wrote that “the Heritage analysis [Richwine coauthored] is the best available” analysis of the cost of the immigration bill.