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Heritage Scholar's Take on Immigrants' IQs Not Too Ridiculous for Charles Murray

Flickr/ Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Earlier this week, the Heritage Foundation released a new report, “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer,” that confounded nearly everyone who read it. Using some preposterous methodology, its two authors, Jason Richwine and Robert Rector, concluded that providing undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship would cost the U.S. government $5.3 trillion.

Liberals, predictably, balked at the figure. But so did plenty of conservatives, likely out of fear that the report could futher alienate a group, Latinos, they are so desperate to court. According to the Huffington Post, Haley Barbour dismissed the report as “designed to try to scare conservative Republicans” and “political.” Senator Jeff Flake and wonk-in-chief Paul Ryan both blasted the methodology.

Trying to comprehend how Richwine and Rector could have reached such a conclusion, Wonkblog's Dylan Matthews found a clue in the dissertation Richwine wrote for his 2009 Harvard Ph.D. in public policy. “Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races,” Matthews explained. “While it’s clear he thinks it is partly due to genetics—‘the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ’—he argues the most important thing is that the differences in group IQs are persistent, for whatever reason. He writes, ‘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.’” Since that discovery, Yahoo’s Chris Moody found that Richwine has also written for, considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Richwine’s general body of work has its defenders, like John Derbyshire, who was fired from the National Review last summer for this staggering piece of racism, and white nationalist Richard Spencer, who edited the site where Derbyshire’s work appeared. Now add to that list the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray, who had favorable things to say about his dissertation.

Murray, of course, coauthored The Bell Curve—an infamous defense of the old notion that there are inherited, racial differences in human IQ (that this magazine excerpted in the early '90s). It turns out that Richwine held a one-year fellowship with the AEI while he was writing his dissertation and sought Murray’s input before he presented it to a committee.

Reached by phone today, Murray remembered his impressions. “Jason’s dissertation was, I think, a careful presentation of the data on the subject. His mistake is that he wrote about a taboo subject,” he said. “And to write about IQ and race or ethnicity is to take a very good chance of destroying your career. And I really hope that doesn’t happen.”

Writing for Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie neatly summarizes why this is total bunk: “[The] problem is with trying to measure ‘racial’ differentials in the first place. Remember, racial groups are imagined communities; there’s nothing biological or genetic that makes someone ‘black’ or ‘white.’ These are social distinctions. What does it mean to measure ‘Hispanic’ intelligence, when Hispanics come from a huge variety of socio-cultural backgrounds and environments?”

The answer is, nothing—but we do have some questions about Richwine's IQ.