Why People Keep Misunderstanding the 'Connection' Between Race and IQ
Jason Richwine's IQ-based argument that American Hispanics are less intelligent than native-born whites has been called racist. It's also wrong.
BRINK LINDSEY MAY 15 2013, 2:47 PM ET
Last week Heritage Foundation scholar Jason Richwine, coauthor of a hotly disputed new study on the fiscal costs of comprehensive immigration reform, resigned his position in a hail of controversy over his 2009 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation. In that dissertation Richwine had argued, among other things, that American "Hispanics" are less intelligent than native-born whites as evidenced by their lower average scores on IQ tests. Richwine then attributed Hispanics' alleged intellectual inferiority at least partly to genetic factors.
The Richwine affair is just the latest flap in a long-running dispute over the significance of IQ tests and group differences in IQ scores. It's easy enough to shut down that debate with cries of racism, but stigmatizing a point of view as morally tainted isn't the same thing as demonstrating that it's untrue. Here I want to explain why Richwine's position is intellectually as well as morally unsound.
... When these assumptions are relaxed, environmental factors start to loom larger. In this regard, consider a pair of French adoption studies that controlled for the socioeconomic status of birth and adoptive parents. They found that being raised by high-SES (socioeconomic status) parents led to an IQ boost of between 12 and 16 points - a huge improvement that testifies to the powerful influence that upbringing can have.
This was a study of 10 kids who were born to poor parents and adopted by rich parents and eight kids who were born to rich parents and adopted by poor parents. It found IQ at age 14 under those circumstances to be 58% nature and 42% nurture. Despite the tiny sample size, that seems highly plausible to me.
A study of twins by psychologist Eric Turkheimer ...
Among the strongest evidence that IQ tests are testing not just innate ability, but the extent to which that innate ability has been put to work developing specific skills, is the remarkable "Flynn effect": ... The Flynn effect is acutely embarrassing to those who leap from IQ score differences to claims of genetic differences in intelligence.
It's so acutely embarrassing that the term "Flynn Effect" was coined by Herrnstein and Murray in The Bell Curve.
Jason Richwine is the latest exemplar of the so-called "hereditarian" interpretation of IQ - namely, that IQ scores are a reliable indicator of immutable, inborn intelligence across all groups of people, and therefore that group differences in IQ indicate group differences in native intelligence. Yes, the hereditarian view lends aid and comfort to racists and nativists. But more importantly, it's just plain wrong. Specifically, it is based on the ahistorical and ethnocentric assumption of a fixed relationship between the development of certain cognitive skills and raw mental ability. In truth, the skills associated with intelligence have changed over time—and unevenly through social space—as society evolves.
Mr. Lindsey seems to confuse making a theoretical case that something could happen (Hispanic performance on tests and in the economy could rise dramatically) with the assumption that something will happen ... all without presenting any evidence that it has happened.
The U.S. has had enormous experience with Hispanics since 1848. Surely there must be lots and lots of Hispanic physicists employed at Los Alamos, New Mexico? Surely, Los Angeles' entertainment industry must be overrun by local Hispanic screenwriters and sound editors? Surely, Palo Alto's venture capital firms must be heavily staffed by local Hispanics?
The lower IQ scores of American Hispanics cannot simply be dismissed out of hand. They are evidence of skill deficits that sharply curtail chances for achievement and success. But contrary to the counsel of despair from hereditarians like Richwine, those deficits aren't hard-wired. Progress in reducing achievement gaps will certainly not be easy, but a full review of the IQ evidence shows that it is possible.
Perhaps Mr. Lindsey should tell us how many generations will it take to make this possibility into a reality? And how many trillions of dollars will it cost?
Wouldn't it make more sense to select immigrants who can strongly contribute immediately, not in several generations?
And it will be aided by policies, like immigration reform, that encourage the full integration of Hispanics into the American economic and cultural mainstream.