Jason Richwine and the censoring of unpalatable academic research

Published by Daily Mail

Jason RichwineJason Richwine PhD was a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation from March 2010 to 9th May 2013. That was the day he resigned, following the media furore which greeted some remarks made by the Washington Post about his 2009 doctoral research, which apparently suggested that recent immigrants into the US score lower than US-born whites on many different types of IQ tests.

Dr Richwine is not a likely racist: he has no political agenda to manipulate US immigration policy. Indeed, by all accounts, he is a credible statistician and qualitative researcher with a string of highly-respected fiscal research papers to his name.

But the doctoral statistical analysis he carried out suggested a real cognitive gap between Latinos and non-Latino whites. This was unpalatable to the political and media elite, so he had to go.

The Heritage Foundation describes itself as a research and educational institution – a think tank – ‘whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense’.

But they did nothing to guard their employee from the tsunami of allegations of ‘bigotry’, ‘extremism’ or ‘conspiracy’ which drowned all attempts to engage in reasoned discourse. These are the tried-and-tested insults hurled liberally by deeply unpleasant individuals, infuriated pressure groups or outraged lefty media types, followed swiftly by demands for retraction and apology, if not dismissal. They invite no intelligent riposte: ‘bigot’ and ‘conspiracy theorist’ are designed to shut down all rational debate, with the triumphant slanderer skipping like a euphoric child that they have managed to isolate their target and dominate the narrative.

We’ve see it in this country so many times – people’s perfectly reasonable concerns invariably shot down by a hostile political class. If you question the theological precepts of the Qur’an or the wisdom of emerging Muslim ghettos, you’re an ‘Islamophobe’; if you believe marriage to be about a union of one man and one woman, you’re a ‘homophobe’; express a reasoned concern about immigration, you’re a ‘xenophobe’; oppose deeper EU integration, you’re a ‘Europhobe’. If you are any of these, in the final analysis, you are a ‘bigot’.

This is what now passes for political discourse in a liberal democracy. The facts don’t get a look-in if the analysis is politically inconvenient. If your religious, moral or political views do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy, you will be ostracised, discredited and humiliated. You might even be dismissed from your job, as your employer comes under increasing pressure from the Twitter hordes to disassociate from your views.

Perhaps we have to put up with this in the social world of politics. But academia?

If a mainstream policy analyst can be rebranded overnight as a ‘bigoted extremist’, simply for submitting a thesis entitled ‘IQ and Immigration Policy’ which, necessarily, deals with sensitive topics, what hope is there for the future of contentious evidence-based research?

Anyone can excise a few choice quotations from a larger thesis and toss them around to discredit the author. God knows, I’ve been a victim of that myself over the years, and there’s no reasoning with those who prefer to believe the disinformation and caricature presented by one’s opponents. So Dr Richwine suddenly found himself labelled an advocate of eugenics and racism, and a pedlar of pseudo-science and extremism.

So what is actually in the dissertation?

One controversial sentence has gone half-way round the world: ‘No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.’

Appalling racism, intolerance, bigotry and xenophobia, I’m sure you will agree. The wonder is that Dr Richwine is not a member of the Klu Klux Klan. In the UK, the media and political class would unite to categorise him with the BNP. Nigel Farage might just tolerate such a view within UKIP, but not before feeling obliged to announce a thorough internal inquiry.

Yet, in context, Dr Richwine plainly established that there are indeed IQ differences between ethnic groups, and that this is scientifically uncontroversial. He tells us: ‘Such differences are revealed by tabulations of test scores and calculations of arithmetic means. Their existence is no more debatable than the widely publicized ethnic differences in SAT scores. What the differences mean and what causes them are the interesting issues, which I discuss at length.’

This research is methodologically sound, ethically justified and empirically valid. It is, quite literally, ‘difficult to argue against’ because ‘the assertion that IQ differences will persist over generations does not rely on assumptions of genetic transmission, but rather on observational data from past immigrant waves’. So, history, sociology and statistical analysis combine to corroborate genetic biology: ‘The IQ differences have been persistent – for whatever reason – and nothing is happening to the education or socialization of the current generation of Hispanics that gives reason to expect a break with past experience.’

Perhaps Dr Richwine has a particular jaundiced view of Hispanics – I mean, why single out that particular persecuted and maligned community from all the various immigrant groups?

The simple reason is that a research dissertation has to have a focus: if it is too broad, you end up handling so much data that nothing can be analysed in depth. And the largest portion of the post-1965 immigration wave has come from Latin America, so this was not unreasonably his chosen research field.

Dr Richwine elaborates: ‘There is absolutely no racial or ethnic agenda in my dissertation. Nothing in it suggests that any groups are “inferior” to any others, nor is there any call to base immigration policy on ethnicity. In fact, I argue for individual IQ selection as a way to identify bright people who do not have access to a university education in their home countries.

‘I realize that IQ selection rubs some people the wrong way, but it can hardly be called “extremist.” Canada and Australia intentionally favor highly educated immigrants. My proposal is based on the same principle they use (pick skilled immigrants), but it offers a much better chance for disadvantaged people to be selected.’

And this where it gets interesting, for any country which permits mass immigration has to bear with a multiplicity of socio-economic outcomes. Certainly, few would argue with an immigration policy based on economic necessity. But the moment you begin to formulate one based on academic qualification (medicine, for example), then research carried out by academics such as Dr Richwine become a mine of valuable information upon which political policy may be justifiably based.

But the political and media elite are not concerned with evidence or truth: they seek only to propagate an ideology. Dr Richwine recounts: ‘They wanted only to use my work to embarrass the Heritage Foundation and, by extension, all opponents of amnesty. It’s a familiar formula for “gotcha” journalism: Uncover an “extremist” associated with a mainstream organization, then demand to know how the organization could possibly associate itself with him. Keep turning up the pressure, hour after hour, with “shocking” new revelations.’

Even students at Harvard, which awarded Jason Richwine his PhD, are using the same strategy of harassment and attrition to discredit this research. Not, you understand, in a peer-reviewed academic journal, but by circulating an open letter signed (currently) by 24 minority student groups (including, bizarrely, LGBTQ societies). And it contains this astonishing sentence: ‘Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.’

So, even if research is academically valid, authoritative and credible, it may transgress a higher ethic – that of causing offence to vocal minority groups. As Dr Richwine asserts: ‘It would be difficult to find a more explicit embrace of censorship.’

If Harvard is forced to reject all scholarship which might offend some minority group or other, there is no longer any intellectual freedom. Evidence is systematically discredited and truth is suppressed. The capitulation of the Heritage Foundation is shocking, and their brand is tarnished by their feebleness. But if Harvard bows to this absurd petition, then it must follow that Dr Richwine’s academic supervisors collaborated in ‘racism’ ‘pseudo-science’ and ‘racial superiority’: Harvard must dismiss Professor George J. Borjas, Professor Richard Zeckhauser and Professor Christopher Jencks who all certified the thesis ‘worthy of acceptance’.

Indeed, I’m unsure as to why the petition launched by the 24 minority ethnic and sexual-orientation groups is targeting the student rather than his distinguished tutors in political economic and social policy. Could it possibly be because he worked for a conservative think tank and has spent three years irritating the hell out of Democrat lawmakers, employee unions, public sector workers, proponents of same-sex marriage, and those who favour an immigration amnesty?

Should we expect Oxford or Cambridge to disallow doctoral research into (say) the socio-economic effects of same-sex marriage, or the theo-political consequences of mass Muslim immigration, for fear that the researcher might uncover the unpalatable truth that politicians, media and academics have conspired for decades to deceive us – just as they have done about the euro and EU integration? God forbid that anyone might propose research into global warming, and find it’s a scam.

Should those who research into public policy now be screened and assessed to increase the likelihood of conformity to the zeitgeist, in order to ensure that their findings may be validated not by a process of objective academic rigour, but by the uniform acclamation of the political elite and the media thought-police?

  • Peter Brown

    It gets worse, I heard tell that Doctor Richwine does not believe in global warming either.

  • Peter holland

    I find this article very disturbing.
    That, in America of all places, vilification of academically sound research is discredited because the findings are opposite to the minority interests of a section of society
    I would expect it here because academia is blinded to the ideology of social subjugation of the indigenous population with total disregard to the consequences.

  • John

    Maybe one should not dismiss this man as a racist outright, but a suspicion of racism is perfectly reasonable in this context. Out of all the subjects a grad student could choose from, who would chose one which provides valediction for discriminating along racial lines? Racists, of course.
    Not only that, but the dissertation itself is rather flawed – according to Daniel Drazer, a political scientist at Tufts, much of the work cited as authoritative is “not good” and no one has cited it in the 4 years since it has appeared.

  • Utar Efson

    @John – no it is not ‘reasonable’ to suspect racism. That prejudice is an example of the fallacies of well poisoning and ad hominem.
    The correct measure of the value of Richwine’s thesis is to demonstrate its objective failure(s) or by repeating the experimental aspects, falsify the thesis.
    Anything else will have a chilling effect on research

  • Matthew

    @John, firstly, why would Drazer, as a political scientist, be a better judge of what is and isnt good data (and you dont trouble yourself with any specifics of the alleged shortcomings of his sources) than Richwine himself, who has a degree in Mathematics and expertise in quantitative analysis? Or, for that matter, the three Harvard academics who awarded him a doctorate on the basis of that paper?
    Secondly, why ought the suspicion of racism hang over anyone who discusses race and IQ in terms of American politics? Affirmative action, which baqsically assumes racial equality in all capabilities, is rife in America, particularly in academic institutions, so racial variation in IQ (which is a fairly good predictor of academic ability) is a perfectly legitimate area of interest for a grad student. It is also relevant to immigration policy, because since 1965, America’s immigration policy has created radical demographic change. Therefore, the question of race and IQ is relevant to any discussion about the impact of such a policy.
    On top of that, Richwine didnt advocate racial discrimination, he advocated individuals being judged as individuals, but with their IQ being part of the assessment.
    Finally, arguments stand on their merits, not on the merits of the person making them. Even if Richwine had a shrine to Hitler in his basement, it wouldnt make his arguments any less valid.

  • ahieuk

    There are several valid criticisms about Richwine’s dissertation. One of the most important being his definition of “Hispanic”. And since this is the basis of his ideas, you would have thought he might well have had a water-tight definition. He does not. He simply gives a rambling and factually-challenged definition of the term.
    That there is such a fuss being made just shows that you have to be extremely careful when drawing conclusions based on “race”. Jason Richwine wasn’t.

  • Paul

    @Matthew, the suspicion of racism hangs over him because his paper fails to acknowledge the 20+ years of evidence that shows there is no link between race and IQ. This research has shown that IQ is related to academic achievement and opportunity. IQ disparity is therefore due to difference in socioeconomic backgrounds. The reason for the racial differences is due to the disproportionate number of minorities from poorer backgrounds and their subsequent lack of educational opportunities. The idea of racial IQ differences has been thoroughly debunked and it is right that there should be outrage that this anachronistic view is still being espoused in main stream research.

  • Tim Hayes

    This is a disturbing article. Jason got what he deserved, and Harvard did not. Jason trying to play the victim card is a joke and outright shameful. He did his thesis on an old model/ theory that has been discredited no ago.

  • Barry

    It is the “phobia” phenomenon that has given us the useless political class we have today. Those clones who make it impossible to make any distinction between the LIBLABCONS, bereft of empathy with an electorate who they seem to despise and an heritage they seem to wilfully betray. Midgets on the tailcoats of giants!