Why Rule Out Racism?

Will Wilkinson asks:

I don’t think the subject or conclusion of Mr Richwine’s dissertation is out of the bounds of reasonable discourse. Yet I think a suspicion of racism is perfectly reasonable. Grad students can choose from an infinite array of subjects. Why choose this one? Who are especially keen to discover a rational basis for public policy that discriminates along racial lines? Racists, of course. Anyone who chooses this subject, and comes down on the side vindicating racist assumptions, volunteers to bring suspicion upon himself, to expose his work to an extraordinary level of scrutiny. Were Mr Richwine’s dissertation a model of scientific rigour, he might easily enough survive this scrutiny.

The first trouble with this is that Will provides no evidence that the dissertation is second-rate, except Dan Drezner’s quick browse. The PhD advisor is on record saying: “Jason’s empirical work was careful. 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.” I’d put that more considered judgment over Dan’s. As for anyone thinking of examining group differences in IQ, the presumption of racism is pure prejudice. If Richwine had arrived at different conclusions, would he be given this treatment?

Freddie seconds Will:

Precisely so. It is not racist to ask these questions. James Flynn, one of the most important researchers of the question of human intelligence in history, has used this sort of research precisely to agitate for social justice and left-wing politics. But it is perfectly natural, in a country with such a long legacy of racism, to expect those arguing that race leads to inferior outcomes in as existential a quality as intelligence to be held to very stringent consideration. That is particularly true when, as in the case of Jason Richwine, that argument is levied in the service of further discrimination, a reactionary call against immigration and deepening racial diversity in the United States.

My problem here is with Freddie’s smuggling onto the argument a line about something “as existential a quality as intelligence.” That is not what IQ is. It’s a very limited measurement of predicted success on our modern economy. There are other kinds of intelligence, which can be measured differently. And you can also note that this research could also be saying that, on some cases, race may lead to superior outcomes – for, say, Asians and Ashkenazi Jews. If all this were a white supremacist plot based on rigged pseudo-science, I would not expect Jews to come out on top, or for there to be no measurable difference in IQ between the two genders, or for Caucasian whites to be in the middle of the pack. And I wouldn’t expect it to earn a PhD at my alma mater.

Since this issue is so explosive and important, I look forward to the scholarly dismantling of the Richwine thesis. Have at it. I’ll happily publish the grotesque, racist errors that somehow got past Christopher Jencks.