"We destroy people with the inappropriate tools we use to study them" – Ray Birdwhistell
Jason Richwine has emerged to defend himself in a National Review editorial. As you might expect, Richwine contextualizes his dissertation as an exercise in scientific fortitude and paints himself as a heroic seeker of truth. For example, he sums up the past month this way:
The furor will soon pass. Mercifully, the media are starting to forget about me. But a certain amount of long-term damage to political discourse has been done. Every researcher who writes on public policy over the next few years will have a fresh and vivid memory of how easy it is to get in trouble with the media’s thought police, and how easy it is to become an instant pariah. Researchers will feel even more compelled to suppress unpopular evidence and arguments that should be part of an open discussion. This is certainly not the way science should be conducted, and it’s not the way our politics should be either.
That last sentence packs a wallop. Per Richwine, his persecution was due to political posturing by those who seek to block the truth about immigration, while his research was a heroic exercise in value-free science. Apparently at the Kennedy School, Max Weber is not on the reading list. Perhaps next year they can shoehorn him in between Murray and Herrnstein. Or, at the very least, screen the film version of Arrowsmith.
In any case, Richwine’s argument rests on his unexamined and mutable deployment of the category “hispanic.” Though often referring to it as a socially constructed ethnic category, Richwine never fails to deploy the category in his analysis, as biologically determined and determining. This sloppiness in Richwine’s use of his primary analytical term has not gone unnoticed.
There is a petition making the rounds, which opposes Richwine’s claims of disinterest by arguing that Richwine’s dissertation is not science exactly because Richwine conflates his analytical categories in the interest of politics. They pull no punches:
Richwine’s dissertation is problematic for three reasons: 1) it is part of a tradition of scientific racism; 2) it is based on discredited ideas of intelligence testing; and 3) it relies on an unscientific relationship between racialized categories and genetic makeup. Ideas of racial inferiority have been used justify slavery, forced sterilizations, the Holocaust, and all forms of contemporary racism and sexism. These ideas have no place in 21st century social science because of their historical use to justify genocide and mass sterilization and their lack of scientific rigor.
Richwine makes a connection between the genetic makeup of Hispanics and their I.Q. However, there is no genetic basis for racialized differences. And, Hispanic is an ethnic category made up of people of every racialized category. A Hispanic is a person with roots in Latin America who lives in the United States. Their ancestry could include people from any continent. The claim that Hispanics share a genetic makeup that could differentiate them from white Americans is not debatable; it is untenable.
Further on they note:
As academics, we find it appalling that, in 2009, three professors at Harvard University were willing to guide and approve a dissertation in this academic tradition. There are three central problems with Richwine’s work that should not pass muster in any dissertation committee: 1) the argument that I.Q. scores are an indication of innate intelligence; and 2) the assertion that I.Q. is a genetic trait; and 3) the presumption that Hispanics, as a group, share a genetic makeup. All these ideas have been discredited and all are linked to an unfortunate history of scientific racism.
They end the letter with:
Dean Ellwood at Harvard Kennedy School takes the position that this dissertation is part of an academic debate. We are not against academic freedom. However, there is no academic debate on whether or not Hispanics as a group are less intelligent than native-born whites. There are debates on whether or not Hispanic is a pan-ethnic, ethnic, or racialized category. There are debates on how and whether or why we should measure intelligence. There are debates on the extent to which intelligence is a heritable trait. But, there are no debates on whether or not Latino immigrants have the intellectual caliber to be part of the United States. Those kinds of debates happen in nativist and white supremacist circles, which have no place in academia, which prizes arguments and debates based on valid constructs and scientific evidence.
One curious note about the letter (which is linked above as a Google Doc) is that it seems to have no author. The first time I saw the letter posted to a blog it read “we are a group of 76 scholars (and counting)”, the next time it read 287 scholars, then 1000 scholars and today it reads 1200 scholars.