Jason Richwine's Racial Theories Are Nothing New

"Deep-seated individual and group differences in abilities" and "what implications they might have for a democratic society" were the subject of a 2009 book review.

But wait, there's more!

The co-author of the Heritage Foundation's big report arguing against "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants didn't just write his 2009 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation on IQ and immigration policy, arguing that "No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against." He didn't just expound these theories in a panel in 2008, saying, "I do not believe that race is insurmountable, certainly not, but it definitely is a larger barrier today than it was for immigrants in the past simply because they are not from Europe." And he didn't just write two articles in 2010 for a website Yahoo's Chris Moody described as "founded by Richard Spencer, a self-described 'nationalist' who writes frequently about race and against 'the abstract notion of human equality.'"

Back in 2009 when he was a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Jason Richwine also penned a book review in The American Conservative taking issue with Richard E. Nisbett's book Intelligence and How to Get It. As it turns out, Richwine's belief that intelligence is determined by biology and genes, which create culture and history rather than the other way around, is something he's been peddling around conservative institutions in Washington, D.C., for years.

"Deep-seated individual and group differences in abilities" and "what implications they might have for a democratic society" were something that need to be faced up to, he wrote, and when it comes to intelligence, "biological differences cannot be wished away."

In contrast to the argument "that genes have nothing to do with the black-white IQ difference," immutable biological differences have profound policy implications that should undermine progressive social uplift programs. "[T]he more we discover how firmly ingrained our abilities, attitudes, and behaviors tend to be, the less plausible leftist social-intervention programs become," he wrote in the review, adding later: "Biology severely limits the aspirations of social engineers."

Here is some of his review:

SOCIOBIOLOGY has long been a sore spot for the Left, and with good reason. Our fundamental traits have a firm biological basis, shaped as they are by complex gene-environment interactions. And the more we discover how firmly ingrained our abilities, attitudes, and behaviors tend to be, the less plausible leftist social-intervention programs become....Biology severely limits the aspirations of social engineers

While unwarranted optimism characterizes Nisbett's discussion of raising IQ, obfuscation best describes his treatment of racial differences in IQ. He claims, for example, that East Asians are not smarter than Europeans, citing a 1991 review of the data, but his evidence is 18 years out of date. Richard Lynn and his colleagues have since demonstrated that Asian Americans outscore white Americans by about fourpoints on IQ tests, and East Asian countries have the highest national IQ's in the world. These results are scarcely mentioned.

Nisbett does say that Jews have higher IQ's than Gentiles, and that whites have higher IQ's than blacks, but his purely environmental explanations of these differences often beg questions. For example, Nisbett explains the superior IQ of Jews by citing the educational focus of Jewish culture, and he ascribes elevated visual-spatial ability among East Asians to a culture that emphasizes it. But where did these cultures come from? Nisbett never seriously considers that cultures themselves could have genetic origins.

A key assertion that Nisbett makes to argue that genes have nothing to do with the black-white IQ difference is that blacks have cut the deficit by more than one third over the past 30 years, implying that we can expect smaller differences over time. But recent gap narrowing is shown by only a single IQ test. Four other major IQ tests show no narrowing of the black-white gap among people born after the 1970s.

By de-emphasizing the role of nature in determining intelligence, Nisbett tries to reduce IQ to little more than an achievement measure. Achievement can be raised by better textbooks, better teachers, better home environments. No need to worry too much about biology, Nisbett is telling his readers. There is no need to face up to deep-seated individual and group differences in abilities, and to what implications they might have for a democratic society.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has already bought in. In an article entitled "Rising Above IQ," Kristof pronounced Intelligence and How to Get It "superb" because it allows him to avoid talking about intelligence differences. He and most of the Left can go on with the comfortable assumption that everyone has the same cognitive potential. But biological differences cannot be wished away.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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