The IQ Test

David Weigel, Slate, May 10, 2013

Four years ago, long before he’d join the Heritage Foundation, before Marco Rubio was even in the Senate, Jason Richwine armed a time bomb. A three-member panel at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government accepted Richwine’s thesis, titled “IQ and Immigration Policy.” In it, Richwine provided statistical evidence that Hispanic immigrants, even after several generations, had lower IQs than non-Hispanic whites. Immigration reformers were fools if they didn’t grapple with that.

“Visceral opposition to IQ selection can sometimes generate sensationalistic claims—for example, that this is an attempt to revive social Darwinism, eugenics, racism, etc,” wrote Richwine. “Nothing of that sort is true. … an IQ selection system could utilize individual intelligence test scores without any resort to generalizations.”

This week, Heritage released a damning estimate of the immigration bill, co-authored by Richwine. The new study was all about cost, totally eliding the IQ issues that Richwine had mastered, but it didn’t matter after Washington Post reporter Dylan Matthews found the dissertation. Heritage hurried to denounce it—“its findings in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation”—and Richwine has ducked any more questions from the press.


Academics aren’t so concerned with the politics. But they know all too well the risks that come with research connecting IQ and race. At the start of his dissertation, Richwine thanked his three advisers—George Borjas, Christopher Jenks, and Richard Zeckhauser—for being so helpful and so bold. Borjas “helped me navigate the minefield of early graduate school,” he wrote. “Richard Zeckhauser, never someone to shy away from controversial ideas, immediately embraced my work.”

Yet they don’t embrace everything Richwine’s done since. “Jason’s empirical work was careful,” Zeckhauser told me over email. “Moreover, my view is that none of his advisors would have accepted his thesis had he thought that his empirical work was tilted or in error. However, Richwine was too eager to extrapolate his empirical results to inferences for policy.”

Borjas’ own work on immigration and inequality has led to a few two-minutes-hate moments in the press. He wasn’t entirely convinced by Richwine, either.

“I have never worked on anything even remotely related to IQ, so don’t really know what to think about the relation between IQ, immigration, etc,” Borjas told me in an email. “In fact, as I know I told Jason early on since I’ve long believed this, I don’t find the IQ academic work all that interesting. Economic outcomes and IQ are only weakly related, and IQ only measures one kind of ability. I’ve been lucky to have met many high-IQ people in academia who are total losers, and many smart, but not super-smart people, who are incredibly successful because of persistence, motivation, etc. So I just think that, on the whole, the focus on IQ is a bit misguided.”

But Richwine had been fascinated by it, and for a very long time, in an environment that never discouraged it. Anyone who works in Washington and wants to explore the dark arts of race and IQ research is in the right place. {snip}

I saw this for the first time in 2006. During the backlash to the McCain–Graham immigration bill, the young paleo-conservatives Marcus Epstein and Richard Spencer founded the Robert Taft Club, a debating society that would welcome taboo ideas and speakers. They did so, and the SPLC then branded them “hateful”—it was the way of things. But I’d sometimes attend those events, as a reporter. In 2006, they invited American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor to a debate on race and conservatism. Years later, a few reporters condemned James O’Keefe because he’d been in the room. They botched the story, accusing O’Keefe of planning the event, when he’d merely shown up. The lesson everyone took away from this? Well, of course the left would blow up anything you said about race into a controversy. That was no reason to stop doing it.

Richwine either relished in the controversy or didn’t care. In 2008, while at the American Enterprise Institute, he joined a panel discussing a new book from Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Decades of psychometric testing,” said Richwine, “has indicated that at least in America you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, and then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences. They’re not going to go away tomorrow.”


But Richwine was winning fans on the nativist right. Marcus Epstein was in the audience, asking a question, then writing the event up favorably at the anti-immigration site Over the years, VDare’s Steve Sailer would point to Richwine’s work and charts to reveal cold truths about racial IQ differentials. In March 2009, he shared Richwine’s calculations “from the 2003 New Immigrant Survey of the backward digit span subtest from the Wechsler IQ test.” Immigrants from Mexico had IQs, on average, 18 points lower than those of white Americans.

{snip} While at AEI Richwine got to know Richard Spencer, the other Taft Club founder, and another thinker who laughed at the constant denunciations of “hate watchers.” In 2010, as first noticed by Yahoo News’ Chris Moody, Richwine wrote a couple of pieces for Spencer’s new white nationalist magazineAlternative Right. His debut story demolished a piece by the pro-immigrant legalization conservative Ron Unz. “His reason is superficially plausible—the sole offense of some Hispanics in federal custody may be an illegal border crossing,” wrote Richwine. Alas, as numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics would prove, “Unz is wrong when he says that Hispanics are no more criminal than whites. Hispanics are, in fact, substantially more likely than whites to commit serious crimes, and U.S.-born Hispanics in particular are about two and a half times more likely.”

At his day jobs, on the mainstream right, Richwine wasn’t usually this blunt. He might cite the Bell Curve in an article for AEI’s magazine, but there was no thinkcrime there—he’d thanked Charles Murray in his dissertation. When he joined Heritage, Richwine wrote only rarely about immigration, applying his statistical acumen more often to public pension crises and student loans. “His mistake is that he wrote about a taboo subject,” Charles Murray told the New Republic yesterday. “And to write about IQ and race or ethnicity is to take a very good chance of destroying your career. And I really hope that doesn’t happen.”


Anyone could have predicted it. Richwine didn’t mind taking on taboos or talking to taboo people. That’s how immigration reform foes talk amongst themselves. That’s not how they’re going to stop the bill.


[Editor’s Note: Charles Murray issued two Tweets about Mr. Richwine’s firing which can be found here and here.]

Topics: , , , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.