Jason Richwine Dissertation Advisor

On Tuesday, ThinkProgress ran a story by Zack Beauchamp on Dr. Jason Richwine’s graduate dissertation on Hispanic IQ and immigration titled “The Inside Story Of The Harvard Dissertation That Became Too Racist For Heritage.” Thursday night, Dr. Richwine reached out to provide his side of the story. What follows is Richwine’s letter and Beauchamp’s response.

Jason Richwine writes:

This may disappoint some people, but there is no fascinating inside story of how I was awarded a PhD. The simple, boring explanation is that my dissertation is a solid piece of research. The “errors and omissions” that Zack Beauchamp claims to have uncovered exist only in a caricature of my dissertation. He knocks down a lot of straw men, but he doesn’t land any blows on my actual work.

Two factual corrections: First, my wife is not an immigrant. Second, I took the normal five years to complete my degree, not four, so readers can forget all that innuendo about sacrificing quality and depth for the sake of rushing.

Now for the substantive critiques. The extent to which self-identified Hispanics share a common genetic heritage is not important to my argument. As I explain on pages 76 and 77, the average IQ difference between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites should be of concern because it is persistent over generations. Whether that persistence is due to genetics, environment, culture, or some other factor does not change the fact that the difference exists. It would be necessary to explore the biological basis for Hispanic identity only if my argument depended on a genetic transmission of IQ differences. It doesn’t.

I understand that Professor von Vacano has written extensively on the topic of Hispanic identity. And I also understand that scholars have a tendency to think their own specialty is hugely relevant to what everyone else studies. But, in reality, a long discussion of Professor von Vacano’s research interest would add little value to my dissertation.

I’m a bit bewildered by the rest of the critiques because they aren’t really critiques at all. The environment’s role in shaping IQ, the limits of IQ as a predictor of individual success, and the importance of non-cognitive abilities are all mentioned in my dissertation, sometimes in considerable detail. It’s difficult not to conclude that Beauchamp has intentionally ignored or downplayed my coverage of these issues in order to falsely portray my work as “sloppy.”

Take, for example, my conclusion regarding attempts to raise IQ. Beauchamp eventually acknowledges that I’m correct — that is, it is very difficult and perhaps impossible to permanently and substantially raise IQ through intervention programs. However, in what is supposed to be a devastating rebuttal of me, Beauchamp says these programs may still provide non-cognitive benefits. Strange — that sounds a lot like me! Page 70, footnote 20 of my dissertation:

This is not to say that Head Start or any other intervention inherently lacks value. Some programs may help children make non-cognitive gains in educational achievement and reduce their chances of committing crimes. These programs should be evaluated, using proper cost-benefit analysis, with all their strengths in mind, even if IQ enhancement is not one of them.

Or how about page 84:

When comparing individuals, the effect of IQ differences is often small. A large number of personality attributes, many of which are unrelated to IQ, affect a person’s ability to succeed in life. For that reason, an individual’s IQ score is merely a probability of future success, not a prediction from a crystal ball. For example, a person’s IQ affects his likelihood of completing college, but some college graduates are not very smart. Betting that an individual person with an IQ of 100 will complete more years of schooling than a person with an IQ of 95 is a risky gamble. The less intelligent person may be a very hard worker, while the smarter person could be lazy and unmotivated.

Does this look like the writing of, in Beauchamp’s words, an “IQ fundamentalist” who thinks IQ is “an almost-perfect guide to someone’s prospects for success in life”?

IQ is not the only important human trait — not by a long shot. Nevertheless, it remains an important predictor, on average, of many socioeconomic outcomes we care about. There can be no denying this. I continue:

However, if presented with two groups of 100 random Americans, one group with average IQ 95, the other group at 100, it is a virtual certainty that the smarter group will have higher educational attainment. In this way, IQ scores can be thought of as individual probabilities that aggregate into certainties in large groups.

That’s the crux of the issue.

The general claim that I ignored contrary evidence simply can’t be supported by a fair reading of the text. For example, much is made of my prominent citation of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. But I also discussed two major critiques of that book. On pages 82 and 83 of the dissertation, I even draw this conclusion: “It appears that Herrnstein and Murray’s critics have succeeded in establishing a larger role for the environment, without proving a lesser role for [IQ].” Is that something that a blind follower of Charles Murray would write?

Beauchamp seems to have decided a priori that my dissertation is one-sided, then viewed the entire work through that mental filter. He says I was “forced to concede” that environmental deprivation can adversely affect IQ. I did include environmental influences in my long discussion of what factors impact IQ differences, as any careful scholar would. Why Beauchamp characterizes this as a forced concession is not clear.

Regarding the quality of the datasets, that’s discussed in depth in chapter 2. The samples vary in size, but they all yield results pointing in the same direction. Furthermore, Beauchamp seems to think I haven’t noticed the critiques of Lynn and Vanhanen’s national IQ data. See pages 27 and 28 for a full discussion, in which I cite eight different academic references on that topic.

I could go on, but I’m already getting repetitive. Beauchamp ignores what’s actually in my dissertation so that he can say it’s full of omissions.

Substantive issues aside, another disappointing element in the article is the treatment of the quote from Christopher Jencks, who was my third committee member. The article uses the quote to imply that I ignored important parts of Jencks’ critique of my dissertation.

That never happened. In reality, my interaction with Professor Jencks was as normal as the rest of the process I followed in producing my dissertation. Like my other advisors, he gave me extensive written comments and suggestions. I revised the dissertation accordingly. I then sent Professor Jencks a 33-page document that detailed exactly how I revised the text in response to every single concern that he had expressed. In no case did I ignore a comment or fail to make revisions as I thought appropriate.

In response, Professor Jencks wrote to me in an email: “I think you have done a thorough and conscientious job of dealing with my comments, criticisms, and suggestions, and I am happy to approve it as it stands.” This didn’t mean he agreed with everything. He went on to say that he continued to be concerned with my use of ethnic categories like “Asian” and “Hispanic,” which he believes are inappropriately broad when talking about culture, and he felt that I left too little room for the differential effects of IQ on culture within ethnic groups. “That said,” he concluded, “I’m not asking for more revisions, just making suggestions for you to think about in the future.”

May I suggest that this is a completely normal situation in PhD programs? It would be a rare committee indeed if every member agreed with every data interpretation and policy judgment in the dissertation that they approved. My interactions with all my dissertation advisors, including Professor Jencks as the third reader, followed normal protocol from beginning to end.

Here is the truth about my dissertation: It’s a careful empirical analysis, firmly grounded in the mainstream of psychological science, vetted by a team of respected scholars, well researched, fully sourced, and a valuable contribution to policy discussions. I know, I know — what a boring reason to be awarded a PhD!

Beauchamp responds:

My thanks to Dr. Richwine for the factual clarifications. If only his treatment of my article, and his own dissertation, had been so forthright.

On the issue of his incomplete definition of the term “Hispanic,” Richwine suggests the only thing that matters is that the persistence of low Hispanic IQ on tests over generations. As it happens, I addressed this potential rebuttal at length in my original piece. The reason the definition matters, even if some pattern can be shown inside a group, is that it’s impossible to identify what that pattern means about the group and whether that pattern will continue unless you know what makes that group unique. As I put it:

Why do definitions matter if Richwine succeeds in showing a deep, persistent difference between so-called “Hispanics” and “whites?” Aside from the fact that it makes it impossible to figure out the scope of the dissertation (are Mexicans of largely European descent likely to have low IQs? What about African-descendent Brazilians?)…Without a proper definition of what he means when he says Hispanic, we have no way of evaluating the role that immigrants’ “Hispanicness” — whether that means shared genes, culture, or national background — plays in determining their IQ. Put differently, in order to know whether and how being Hispanic matters for IQ, we need to know what it means to be Hispanic. That, in turn, makes it impossible to evaluate how meaningful Richwine’s conclusions about the persistence of the IQ gap are or how they apply to any particular group of immigrants.

The purportedly exculpatory email from Professor Jencks he provides makes this point for me. In Richwine’s own summary, Jencks “continued to be concerned with my use of ethnic categories like ‘Asian’ and ‘Hispanic,’ which he believes are inappropriately broad when talking about culture.” This inappropriate broadness is precisely the point — they are so broad, I argue, as to make generalization about them meaningless without ample defense of why such a generalization is appropriate in this case. Richwine provides none, choosing to ignore the overwhelming literature on the social construction of race.

Similarly, Richwine misses my point on early childhood interventions and non-cognitive skills. The argument does not depend on whether Richwine mentions these factors occasionally in his dissertation — as Richwine points out above, I address his arguments on interventions specifically. Rather, my point was that he ignores the way in which such factors fatally frustrate his attempt to make broad predictions about immigrants based on their IQ. As I put it, “there’s simply no reason to think IQ matters enough to provide the juice for sweeping theories about the life prospects of entire groups of immigrants.” The proof of IQ fundamentalism is in the pudding.

For instance, on the issue of early childhood interventions, he does not attempt to explain whether or not the non-IQ related gains they produce (gains he consigns to a footnote) might be able to make up for any of the costs he associates with low-IQ immigration. For instance, on page 93, he argues that “Hispanics become less willing to play by the rules of the middle class when their low average IQ prevents them from joining it,” thus explaining why Hispanic immigration will produce more “underclass” behavior like dropping out of school and criminality. However, early childhood interventions can improve educational attainment and reduce criminality down the line — as he notes in his own footnote! Richwine pays lip service to factors other than IQ scores being important, yet edits them out of his substantive analysis.

This pattern repeats itself on the broader issue of non-cognitive traits. Richwine argues that (p. 100) “IQ has been linked to possessing middle class values, having a future time orientation, and cooperating in competitive games” in order to make his argument that Hispanic immigration will further lower social capital and “trust” inside the United States. These qualities bear intimate resemblance to non-cognitive traits like Conscientiousness or Agreeableness that either aren’t all that closely linked to IQ or, on some accounts, actually explain certain levels of performance on IQ tests. Yet Richwine never attempts to explore the connection between social trust and non-cognitive traits, or even establish that Hispanics lack the relevant non-cognitive qualities.

Essentially, Richwine suggests the supposedly lower Hispanic IQ will predict bad behavior without bothering to establish whether the immigrant populations might have or be able (with education) to get to higher levels of other traits that would counterbalance any IQ deficit. That sounds pretty “one-sided” to me.

I could go point-by-point on the other, lesser charges — for instance, his discussion of the flaws in the Lynn and Vanhanen data is hardly “full,” and he doesn’t consider criticisms of The Bell Curve in each case where it might be warranted. But, in Richwine’s words, “I’m already getting repetitive.”

#Heritage Foundation,#Intelligence,#Justice,#Racial Justice

~ Jason Richwine ~
Photo through the Heritage Foundation which has granted the right to reproduce this photograph in print and electronic formats, including reproduction by 3rd parties, excluding use in paid advertising space and book covers. Photograph © David Hills.

In one of the latest academic-cum-political dust ups, Jason Richwine, formerly of the Heritage Institute, co-authored a study estimating the “cost” of regularizing the immigration status of the undocumented.  Imagined by the Heritage Foundation as a high profile and hard-hitting attack on proposed immigration reform, the study was widely criticized by both liberals and conservatives for poor methodology and analysis.  When the Washington Post reported that Richwine’s 2009 Harvard PhD dissertation entitled IQ and Immigration argued that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than so-called “native whites” the Heritage Institute back-pedaled as speedily as it could.  Richwine resigned several days later.

Richwine’s dissertation committee, like the Heritage foundation itself, sought to distance itself from the content of the dissertation, though his committee chair commented that “the empirical work was sound.”  Charles Murray, a mentor to Richwine, and one of the co-authors of The Bell Curve, a 1994 book that sparked a controversy over IQ and race, defended Richwine’s work, accusing those who criticized Richwine of suppressing his right to freedom of speech.  Murray claims that Richwine is being treated for “crimethink” and that the situation is downright Orwellian.

Rather than relying on second-hand characterizations of Richwine’s dissertation, I decided to read it myself. I wasn’t surprised by the ideological content of the work, but I was quite startled by the lack of analytical rigor, the specious use of data, and the consistent use of gross generalization rather than disciplined scholarship.  Did Richwine’s committee even read his dissertation, I wondered?  Had a student submitted something like that to me, I would have covered it with questions, suggestions, proddings and requirements for more.  So I decided to put myself on his dissertation committee after the fact.

Here are some of the comments I would have provided to him:

Dear Jason:

I have read your dissertation and have several key areas where you need to devote serious attention to developing your work before it can rise to the level of PhD worthy work.

These are:

1. The framing and theoretical basis for the study itself lacks rigor, internal logic and consistency.  Your variables are poorly defined and your justification in particular for using “native whites” as your control group does not make sense.

Let’s look at your argument.  You state that you aim to show that immigrant IQ is, on average, lower than that of the “native white” population in the United States.  Remember that in good science, we work to prove our hypothesis WRONG, not to substantiate a pre-formed idea.  In choosing your control group as “native whites” you make a serious misstep.  According to you, natives are those who have been several generations in the United States.  Yet you show no evidence that white natives are different, IQ-wise, from other natives. This problem with your research design is compounded by the fact that your stated justification for choosing “native whites” as your control group is also that “for better or worse, most of America’s institutional, social, and political structure is the product of Euro Americans, which makes them the natural standard by which immigrants may be compared” (P. 33).  Remember that your thesis is about race and IQ and heredity, not culture and politics.  Choosing your control group based on elements utterly unrelated to what you propose to analyze makes the scientific validity of your work untenable from the start.  You just cannot forward a thesis about IQ and heredity and then use the supposed cultural dominance of “native whites” as justification for choosing them as your control group.

2.  Your literature review is consistently biased, incomplete, and cursory. The only work you cite that is openly critical of the IQ-race theory is that of Stephen Jay Gould.  For goodness sake, Wikipedia covers more literature than you do on the question of race and IQ.  You cannot convincingly argue for the validity or overall acceptability of your IQ-race thesis while refusing to substantially engage the large body of work that is highly critical of that idea.  As it is, you do not review even enough of the work that embraces this point of view.  Nobody in academia will take you seriously unless you deepen and widen your command of the relevant literature, the complexities of the arguments, and the substance upon which different positions are based.  In other words: you cannot only read the things you like and explain why you like them.  You have to read what you don’t like as well, and demonstrate the flaws. That’s what it means to be an intellectual and a scholar, rather than an ideologue.

3.  Your writing consistently substitutes unsubstantiated generalizations for careful argument and presentation of evidence.  This is poor scholarship and again, unacceptable at an undergraduate level, much less in a PhD thesis.  On page 21 you write that “…[T]here is no racial or ethnic policy agenda here.  One can deal frankly and soberly with group IQ differences while still subscribing to the classical liberal tradition of individualism.” If there is not a race or ethnic agenda, why base the analysis on race and ethnic groups?  More to the point, if race and ethnicity are not the agenda, how do you justify making the “native white population” the control group in the analysis?  I also note that you justify excluding IQ data “black” native populations, because their IQ scores are historically “unstable.”  This so-called instability was evidenced in a marked closing of the IQ gap between blacks and whites over time.  It appears to me that you exclude this particular data because it is inconvenient for your theory.  Such selective practices are bad science and bad scholarship.

Another example.  On page 15 you write that, “IQ can be an uncomfortable topic in a liberal democracy. The reality of innate differences between individuals and groups is often difficult to accept for those with an aversion to inequality. For this reason, journalists and academics in other fields are naturally attracted to scholars who downplay the role of genes in determining IQ, even if these scholars are a distinct minority.”  Your wording implicitly argues that those who challenge the scientific validity of IQ science work from an emotional rather than rigorously scientific position.  This impression is magnified when you claim that those who disagree with the IQ material are “naturally attracted” to scholarship that challenges the point of view that you endorse.  It really is a cheap shot.  There are serious scientific debates out there, and it is incumbent upon you to address them.  Furthermore, your claim that those who reject the IQ and genes hypotheses are a “distinct minority” is patently untrue.

The American Anthropological Association, in its statement on race, specifically rejects the genetic validity of the idea of race, period.  Furthermore, a task force report from the American Psychological Association notes that “Several culturally-based explanations of the Black/White IQ differential have been proposed; some are plausible, but so far none has been conclusively supported. There is even less empirical support for a genetic interpretation. In short, no adequate explanation of the differential between the IQ means of Blacks and Whites is presently available” (Neisser et al. 1996, 97).  While you do selectively cite this report, you neglect to mention this key conclusion.  Authored by ten top academics and published in the discipline’s flagship journal, the report effectively stands as the discipline’s definitive statement on the matter and can hardly be characterized as representing the position of a “small minority.”

As an anthropologist I cannot sign off without seriously challenging the implicit ideas about race upon which your entire thesis is built.  Throughout the work, you strive to link IQ to genetics and heritability.  You further assert that inheritance of IQ is empirically reflected in the data you present, and that the patterns reflect accurately in racial and ethnic groups.  The massive underlying problem is that this model assumes that the ethnic and racial groups you discuss possess relatively homogeneous gene pools, and, moreover, that the gene variance and distribution of one group are substantially distinguishable from those of another:  “Hispanics,” in your formulation, are genetically different from “whites”  and this is seen in their differential IQ scores.  First of all, “Hispanics” have only existed for a little under 400 years, not nearly enough time evolutionarily to produce significant genetic distinctiveness.  Second, those in the contemporary “Hispanic” population include descendants of indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, and European immigrants.

These are groups that you treat separately in your U.S. data.  On what scientific basis can populations be treated as genetically separate groups in one geographic location (the United States), then be grouped together genetically in another (Latin America)?   Your data would need to more finely parse these issues, separating “white descendant Hispanics” from both black and indigenous descendant Hispanics for the racial/IQ argument to remain convincing.   Even then, I fear your task will be fruitless, because the root of the problem is this: you are claiming that socially constituted category –that of race – is genetically identifiable.  That’s a bit like saying those who attend Harvard are genetically distinct and naturally superior.  One thing doesn’t have much to do with the other in terms of having a causal relationship.

Nobody uses genetic information to determine racial identity.  The closest instance might be Native American tribes who are obligated by the U.S. Government to use blood quanta to determine tribal membership.  But even here the so-called standards range so widely that genetics are not the determining factor.  Even you yourself use socially defined categories when you speak of race and in your analysis.  This is simply not scientifically justifiable.  You present no evidence at all as to the genetic distinctiveness of the populations you identify.  Without the genetic material, the main arguments of your thesis do not hold water.

I am forced to conclude that your work is bad science.  Your conclusions are not objective but ideologically driven.   Your research is narrow and selective in the extreme and aligns rather dramatically with racist attempts to justify white superiority.  Declaring that scholars who reject such racism are a minority and that the science you present in this work represents a mainstream position is both dishonest and disingenuous.  Did you know that the scholars you cite most often: Philippe Rushton, and Richard Lynn, were supported by the Pioneer Fund, which has long-standing affiliations with the movement to create a pure white race, that is, eugenics?   Richard Lynn, whom you cite copiously, is unapologetic in his support of eugenics; it is his data set—one generated with the same flawed notions of race I discussed earlier–that you use for the foundation of your empirical work the key studies from which you pull your data.

So, there it is.   If you are applying for membership in the Aryan nation, this work might be your ticket. But if you are claiming any kind of legitimacy as a scholar, I’m afraid the only thing I can suggest is for you to scrap the dissertation and start over.

Elizabeth Chin, PhD is an anthropologist whose work centers around issues of race and social inequality.   Her book Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture (Minnesota 2001) was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Prize.  In 2007 she was awarded the American Anthropological Association prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching.  In 2011 she joined the Art Center College of Design as a founding faculty member of the MFA track Media Design Practices/Field.

0 thoughts on “Jason Richwine Dissertation Advisor”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *