But Richwine makes a strong moral case for taking IQ into consideration rather than relying exclusively on skills and education. IQ would give the world’s poor a chance: Someone living in a Third World country may not have access to training or high-quality universities, but with an IQ test he can demonstrate his ability to become successful. This delicately balances two competing goals — the goal of bringing in immigrants who will be a net benefit to the U.S., and the goal of helping the world’s poor improve their lot in life.
Politically unlikely? Sure. But a better and more humane idea than it might initially seem. And the implications are not restricted to the U.S.; many countries already have immigration systems based on skill, and the incorporation of IQ testing would be an improvement.
Of course, none of this is what bothered Richwine’s critics. What they objected to was Richwine’s argument that “the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ.”
To be sure, it’s arguable that Richwine should have avoided the subject, and not just for reasons of political correctness. He admits this argument isn’t crucial to his thesis — regarding immigration, what matters isn’t whether differences are genetic, but whether they improve over time, a related but not identical question. Further, research into group IQ differences has typically focused on the black–white gap, not the gap between immigrants and American natives — and “Hispanic” is an ethnic rather than a racial category, making any inquiry into the effect of genes incredibly difficult. As a result, Richwine presents evidence that has to do with whether racial gaps in general might be genetic, not whether the particular gap between Hispanic Americans and their native peers is.
But is the argument really outside the realm of legitimate academic discussion, and is it “racist”?
In my own view, we don’t yet have a good picture of how genes, intelligence, and race interact. We certainly know that genes and intelligence are related and that race and genes are related, but it’s hard to say more with confidence. On the one hand, IQ gaps are fairly consistent around the world, and they have proven stubborn in the face of dedicated efforts to erase them. On the other hand, IQ scores are clearly influenced by things such as culture, poverty, and so on, and groups’ scores sometimes change over time.
To make reaching firm conclusions even more difficult, much of the debate takes place at an incredibly technical level, with experts arguing back and forth about physiological differences between races and complex patterns in the IQ data. Even James Flynn, the scientist who documented the fact that IQs are increasing over time and who believes there is no genetic component to racial gaps, recently told the New York Times: “Take it from me, the evidence is highly complicated. . . . The best we can say is that it is more probable that the IQ gap between black and white is entirely environmental in origin.”
These sorts of debates are resolved by having scholars take different views, conduct research, and make their case, confident that their current and future “educational institutions” will not punish them for doing so. Indeed, today genome research is progressing at a rapid clip, with scientists worldwide making fascinating discoveries almost constantly. (Soon, I hope, this work will render the research Richwine cites, much of which is decades old, obsolete.) The Left would like to cut this process off, expelling from polite society — with the help of a conservative think tank in this case — any researcher who dares to defend the hereditarian view.
The Left’s labeling of Richwine’s argument as “racist” is especially dangerous. In modern America it is axiomatic that “racism,” whatever it is, is wrong — and this is a good thing. It therefore is a mistake to define racism to include falsifiable hypotheses in addition to racial hatred. If Richwine’s view is racist, what are we to do if it turns out to be correct?
I am doubtful that a serious discussion will emerge about any of this. But we have learned something important here: Harvard professors will go where the Heritage Foundation fears to tread.
— Robert VerBruggen is a deputy managing editor of National Review. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen.
Editor’s note: This piece has been corrected since its original posting. In fact, Christopher Jencks is no longer on the board of The American Prospect.