Jason Richwine, Scientist?

“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.

9 Responses to “Jason Richwine, Scientist?”

  1. dad says:

    ok, i get to live in a country made of white people and you get to live in a country that used to be whites and now has let in millions of mexicans. deal? which do you think will do better?

  2. Let’s see: Hispanics have made a mark in sports, on the Supreme Court, as the Surgeon General of the USA; the first admiral of the US Navy; served as astronauts, Nobel Prize winners in literature, etc.

  3. dad says:

    you’re right, without tens of millions of uneducated, non-english speaking, low skill, low IQ, high fertility hispanics we’d just never make it. we need more! we’ll start with wherever you live first, right?

  4. Tony says:

    @dad. I don’t quite understand your question, which strikes me as a bit racist.

    I’ve never lived in a “white” country–assuming there is such a thing, I think it must be in Belarus or Moldova where I have never been. I have lived in multi-cutural places like California, Germany (where I am currently), and Thailand. I like all three for different reason. I’m not sure that one or the other has done better or worse.

    Come to think of it, I shouldn’t pick on Belarus. I had a two students from Belarus last semester. They thought that their government was somewhat strange, but also considered it a nice place to live, even after lived in Germany and Lithuania. One of them wrote a great paper about gender and stereotypes in Belarusian advertising.

    Anyway, I guess besides being concerned about the racism implied in your comment, I also have a tough time knowing what makes a place to live “better” or “worse.”

  5. dad says:

    Well, is Mexico better or worse than Sweden?

  6. Tony says:

    @dad. Countries are not “better” or “worse” than each other. Indeed, Sweden is richer than Mexico, but it is also pretty multicultural, just like the US.

    According to Wikipedia, 27% of Swedes have a foreign background (see below). If I were Swedish, I imagine that Sweden would be “better” for me, and if I were Mexican, Mexico would be better for me–it depends on what you call home.

    As of 2011, a Statistics Sweden study showed that around 27% or 2,000,000 inhabitants of Sweden had full or partial foreign background.[165][166][167] Of these inhabitants; 1,427,296 persons living in Sweden were born abroad. In addition, 430,253 persons were born in Sweden to two parents born abroad and another 666,723 persons had one parent born abroad (with the other parent born in Sweden). Thus, with the total population in 2011 being 9,482,855, roughly 15% of the population was born abroad, 4.5% of the population was born in Sweden to two parents born abroad, and another 7% was born in Sweden to one parent born abroad. Around 26.5% of the Swedish population is, at least partly, of foreign descent.[165]

  7. dad says:

    k, i’ll live in sweden and you can live in mexico.
    I do notice you are in Germany right now and not Congo;)

  8. Tony says:

    Our German landlords spend about 5 months per year in South Africa–they prefer the weather there! The world is much more mobile than it has ever been before–and there is a lot of diversity of places that are easy and comfortable to live in if you have money–and this is not really related to race.

    We’ll be in Thailand in July–another nice place, with lots of European and American retirees on extended visas. For whatever reason they prefer it to their home countries.

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