Frequently Asked Questions about the Jason Richwine Brouhaha

May 15, 2013

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Frequently Asked Questions about the Jason Richwine Brouhaha

Q. What’s the single most horrible thing that former Heritage Foundation analyst Dr. Jason Richwine wrote in his 2009 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation IQ and Immigration Policy?
A. Presumably, the following widely quoted sentence that was featured in Dylan Matthews’s original Washington Post story:

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.

Q. Why does that sentence get so many people so angry?
A. Because, while it’s easy to point and sputter, it is difficult to argue against.

Everybody has that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach that Richwine is telling the obvious truth, which doesn’t make him popular. He had to be crushed pour encourager les autres.

Q. But it would be depressing if this were true!
A. Indeed, it is. But the social sciences are supposed to help us make better decisions about the future, not to slather us in schmaltz. Back in 2002, I conducted an interview with Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker during his book tour promoting The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. I asked him if we aren’t all better off if people believe that we are not constrained by our biology and so can achieve any future we choose. Pinker replied:

People are surely better off with the truth. Oddly enough, everyone agrees with this when it comes to the arts. Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, “Give us schmaltz!” They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.

Q. But what about “Give us your tired, your poor?” What about “America is a nation of immigrants?” What about “Ariel Castro’s American Dream?”
A. Schmaltz.

Q. How can America survive without these sacred myths?
A. America survived fine for a couple of hundred years without the current schmaltz. When I was a boy in the 1960s, we had different schmaltz. The national myths then were all about cowboys and settlers, not immigrants.

The contents of the national myths serve to demonstrate current ethnic power. The descendants of Ellis Island-era immigrants are on top now, so they’ve rewritten history to make their ancestors sound central. This post-hoc score-settling is no doubt fun, but it’s obviously a stupid way to decide immigration policy.

Q. So what are the facts about Hispanics?
A. Hispanics average lower in IQ and in other kinds of test scores, such as SATs, GREs, school achievement tests, and military enlistment tests. Hispanics also average lower in real-world accomplishments that correlate with test scores. Moreover, they have been underperforming for as far back as records go, with little evidence of much change. That’s why they’ve received affirmative action for over four decades.

“The social sciences are supposed to help us make better decisions about the future, not to slather us in schmaltz.”

Q. Why does IQ matter for immigration policy?
A. Because IQ correlates with lots of good things, such as paying more in taxes than you consume in welfare.

Q. But only Nazis want better people!
A. Every institution in the United States of America—except the United States of America—strives for better human capital. Elite colleges, for example, use IQ-style tests to reject huge numbers of applicants.

Similarly, both Canada and Australia have immigration policies designed to make life better for current citizens by selecting the smartest, hardest-working applicants (much like American colleges do). Not surprisingly, the children of their immigrants score higher on the international PISA test than do the children of natives. As Richwine notoriously noted, this isn’t true for America, although it easily could be.

Q. Who cares about test scores besides the Ivy League?
A. The military. A disproportionate number of Hispanics don’t qualify to enlist. A 2009 RAND Corporation report for National Defense Research Institute, Military Enlistment of Hispanic Youth: Obstacles and Opportunities found that “Hispanics are underrepresented among military recruits.”

A major reason for this is that to get into the military these days, you have to score on the Pentagon’s entrance exam (the AFQT) at least at the 31st percentile (what the Pentagon calls Category IIIB). RAND reported:

Only 36 percent of young Hispanic high school graduates would score in AFQT Category IIIB or above, compared with 68 percent of white high school graduates. A key implication of this result is that increasing the high school graduation rate among Hispanic youth may not lead to comparable increases in enlistment eligibility.

Q. Is the AFQT an IQ test?
A. It resembles the SAT more than does a culture-free IQ test such as the otherworldly Raven’s Progressive Matrices. That’s because the military has no use for recruits who are naturally bright but who don’t speak English or are illiterate. But performance on the AFQT correlates very strongly with standard IQ tests; so military psychometricians consider the AFQT scores to be virtually synonymous with IQ scores.

Q. Why are IQ tests evil, while the school achievement tests mandated by the Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind Act are good?
A. Spin. In terms of who scores well on them, there’s not much difference. Most tests, no matter what their purpose, correlate surprisingly well. As Johns Hopkins sociologist Robert Gordon has said, life is an IQ test.

Q. Are IQ tests biased against Hispanics?
A. Probably a little less than these more socially acceptable tests.

Obviously, language can be a big issue. If you can’t read English, you won’t do well on the SAT, but you might do well on the Raven’s IQ.

On the other hand, we don’t see much of the pattern among Hispanics that is very clear among Asians: higher math than verbal scores.

In one sense, IQ tests have been very good for Hispanic immigrants. Hispanics tend to do better on IQ tests than they do in school, probably because they tend to come from cultures that are apathetic about education. Hispanics average higher than African Americans on IQ tests, yet they have been less ambitious about getting higher education, with higher high-school dropout rates than blacks. IQ testing has repeatedly demonstrated that Mexican Americans should get more serious about education, which is a valuable lesson.

Q. Does the rank order of how groups perform on cognitive tests ever change?
A. Sure. When I first got interested in the social sciences in 1972, the usual rank order of cognitive performance was Oriental, then Caucasian, Chicano, and black. Now, it’s Asian, then white, Latino, and African-American. So everything is different.

Q. Who is Christopher Jencks?
A. He’s one of the three Harvard professors who approved Richwine’s dissertation. Jencks is perhaps the most distinguished left-of-center American social scientist of my lifetime.

I’ve been following the science of test scores since Jencks published Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America in 1972 when I was 13. Jencks concluded his meta-analysis with a call for socialism:

As long as egalitarians assume that public policy cannot contribute to economic equality directly but must proceed by ingenious manipulations of marginal institutions like the schools, progress will remain glacial. If we want to move beyond this tradition, we will have to establish political control over the economic institutions that shape our society. This is what other countries usually call socialism. Anything less will end in the same disappointment as the reforms of the 1960s.

My letter to the editor was published in the March 16, 1973 edition of National Review:

Having read Ernest van den Haag’s article on Christopher Jencks, I am reminded of an old psychiatry joke: A psychotic (egalitarian, in this little morality story) says, “All people are equal, and I’ll fight anyone who says I’m wrong.” A neurotic (Jencks) says, “People aren’t equal, and I just can’t stand it.”

Q. But how can test-givers tell who is Hispanic?
A. They just ask them. It’s called “self-identification.”

Q. But is that scientific?
A. It’s good enough for government work. The government spends billions to count Hispanics, and it’s all done just by letting anybody check whether or not they are Hispanic.

Q. But how do we know that Hispanic test scores won’t suddenly change?
A. Well, I’ve been following this question for over 40 years. Jencks has been following it longer. So far, they haven’t. Maybe you are right, or maybe Professor Jencks is right. Personally, I’d rather bet the country on Jencks’s assessment of the evidence.

Q. But if Hispanics are an ethnicity, not a race, how can we know that the next generation of Hispanic immigrants won’t be very different?
A. I could imagine one event that would drive up new Hispanic immigrants’ children’s test scores substantially: another revolution in Mexico. If rich white Mexicans, like the world’s richest man Carlos Slim, had to flee for their lives from Mexico, the next generation of Mexican newcomers might be a lot like the prosperous Cubans who arrived in Miami after Fidel.

But the way immigration from Mexico has been working since the end of the last revolution almost a century ago is via family chain migration. New immigrants tend to belong to the extended families of old immigrants.

Q. But that’s genetic determinism!
A. Actually, it’s both nature and nurture. If, say, a young fellow from Sinaloa moves in with his uncle in East LA, the newcomer shares a lot, genetically and culturally, with the old-timer.

Q. But are you saying that Mexican immigrants don’t assimilate?
A. No. There are big statistical differences in years of education between the immigrants and their children. After that second generation, though, progress slows. The biggest study so far of Mexican Americans (by Chicano sociologists Vilma Ortiz and Edward Telles) didn’t find additional educational improvement in the third, fourth, or fifth generations. Their findings fit my experience of daily life in Southern California over the last half-century.

Q. But Mexicans never lived in America until just recently, so how can anybody know anything about Mexican Americans?
A. In California, there were 415,113 Hispanics in 1940 and 2,738,513 in 1970. Some of them were even world-famous. When I was born in 1958, the greatest tennis player in America was Pancho Gonzales, a cholo from South-Central Los Angeles.

Q. But what about all the high-achieving Hispanics?
A. What about them? Where are they?

There are more Hispanics in America (over 50 million) that there are in Spain, yet the number of high achievers is strikingly low.

Think about it. There are 14.5 million Hispanics in the state of California. Where are they in Hollywood? Where are they in Silicon Valley?

There are perhaps four million Latinos in Los Angeles County, yet few are distinguished in the entertainment industry other than those who first became famous in their own countries’ movie industries, such as Salma Hayek. Last year I looked through the last couple of thousand Oscar nominations, both in the glamor and technical categories. At that point, there hadn’t been a Mexican-American nominee (in the sense of having spent some formative years in America) since Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver back in the 1980s.

Similarly, where are the Mexican-American tech tycoons of Silicon Valley? The Hispanic share of the workforce in Silicon Valley is tiny and declining. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame recently launched a pro-Gang of Eight immigration lobby funded by three dozen tech heavyweights, none of them Hispanic.

Q. But doesn’t the GOP have to pass amnesty and purge all its realists to get this Richwine thing behind it so it can win the Hispanic vote?
A. That conventional wisdom is 180 degrees backwards of standard human psychology. People respect strength and integrity. Publicly bullying a scholar for telling the truth just encourages them to bully you.

Why in the world would the Latino-American media stop recirculating allegations that some Republicans believe Latino-Americans have a lower average IQ? What’s in it for them? The American Establishment is demanding racial resentment from Hispanics, and some Conquistador-Americans will make sure to supply it.

Of course, why would the demand for purges end just because amnesty is passed? Instead, the passage of amnesty will be seen as validation for redoubling the witch hunts for anybody who notices that Hispanics, on average, aren’t as smart as whites. Since Hispanics certainly don’t perform as if they were as smart as whites, some poor bastards will continue to notice that fact, which will then lead to more manufactured outrage and demands for purges. Lather, rinse, and repeat…forever.

Q. But aren’t Hispanics shooting up in terms of educational attainment?
A. Back during the Bush Bubble, it was common for Latinos to drop out of high school to work construction. Since jobs disappeared a half-decade ago, more have been hanging around high school long enough to graduate and start community college. However, SAT scores have barely budged—last year the College Board announced that only 23 percent of Hispanics who took the SAT scored high enough to have a good chance of graduating from a four-year college.

But one long-term change for the good in social policy was the abolition of most bilingual education in California by Ron Unz’s Proposition 227 in 1998. It largely stopped California public schools refusing to teach in English at just the age when they can most easily learn a second language. Today, most Mexican high-school students in California speak English with their friends. Thus, there is very little demand in Los Angeles for Hollywood blockbusters dubbed into Spanish. Kids these days want to hear Robert Downey Jr. in English.

In general, the recession appears to have somewhat improved Hispanic behavior versus the disastrous Bush years: fewer dropouts, less illegal immigration, and lower birthrates. Perhaps Latinos have turned a corner permanently? The test will come if the economy ever recovers.

Q. How can Hispanics raise their IQs?
A. The most likely way is by raising their children better. And the most likely way for them to raise their children better is by having fewer children so they can concentrate more parental energy and resources per child. The one group that is raising test scores is the Asians, and we have Amy Chua’s testimony on how they do it: Tiger Mothering. Asians have low fertility and they concentrate enormous effort on their small number of kids. Maybe if Latinos try having fewer children, in a generation a Yale Law professor named Amy Chavez will write Battle Hymn of the Jaguar Mother.

Unfortunately, the 1986 amnesty set off a vast baby boom among ex-illegals, driving the foreign-born Latina total fertility rate up from 3.2 in 1987 to 4.4 in 1991, with dire effects on California schools.

Q. Would the proposed new amnesty do the same as the last amnesty?
A. Why take the chance?

Q. Is there a fund where I can donate to help Jason Richwine and his wife pay for disposable diapers and the like for their two small children?
A. Not that I know of, but I’ll publicize it if a legitimate one gets started.


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