IQ and Immigration Policy

I haven’t read the supposedly racist Harvard dissertation of Jason Richwine, the coauthor of Heritage’s flawed immigration study. But I have read summaries of it in the coverage and have two related questions, both of which — in very different ways — undermine the relevance of the dissertation to the study. 

1) Of those journalists pointing out Richwine’s ties to (kindly put) ”nationalist” theories on immigration and intelligence, neither come right out and say what the knock on the dissertation is supposed to be. Is it that his claims about persistently lowers IQs for immigrant populations (and particularly Hispacnics) are empirically wrong? Or that IQ is capturing something other than intelligence (a view I’m sympathetic with)? Or that even if his views are empirically valid, that’s not how you should do immigration policy (a view I’m unsure of one way or another)?

Suffice it to say, if the knock on the dissertation is just that it’s racist, everything else be damned, well that might impeach Richwine’s motives, but it tells us nothing interesting about the Heritage study. 

2) Insofar as it’s worth asking about immigrant populations’ IQ, isn’t the so-called Flynn Effect, and not the gap between immigrants and white Americans, the important trend here? In a variety of research, the Flynn Effect shows robust increases in scores on cognitive tests across the years — major increases from about the 1930s to about the 1970s, and more modest increases since then. That is, we are all, as a species, getting smarter over time. Various theories are posited as to why this is happening, from better and earlier education to improved nutrition, but the important thing for our purposes is that it’s happening across all groups.

Doesn’t this cut pretty clearly against the implication not just of Richwine’s dissertation, but of the Heritage study, that “low-skill” immigrants and their progeny are doomed to zero social mobility in perpetuity? Furthermore, as mentioned above, the Flynn Effect seems to be slowing down in developed countries’ native populations, at the same time as there is some evidence of immigrants population IQs improve the longer they hang around in developed countries. Thus it seems completely plausible that immigrants could “catch up” to native populations in developed countries given enough time.

And if that’s true it joins “static scoring” as another reason to doubt the doomsday scenario of dependence and social determination imagined by the Heritage study.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster has been news editor of National Review Online since 2009, and was a web site editor until 2012. His work has appeared in The American Spectator, The American ...

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