By John Horgan | May 16, 2013 | 25
So there it is, a neo-eugenics program, proposed by a Harvard-minted scholar employed by a prominent think tank. The Heritage Foundation quickly distanced itself from Richwine, stating that the claims of his Harvard thesis “in no way reflect the positions of The Heritage Foundation.” Richwine resigned from the foundation last week.
Some pundits applauded Richwine’s downfall and attacked his Harvard research. I especially like how The Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates compiled historical evidence that race is more a social than biological phenomenon.
As Jonathan Swift and Ignatius J. Reilly liked to say, "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Others defended the premise of Richwine’s thesis—that genes account for at least some of the differences in IQ scores between different ethnic groups—and deplored attacks on him as threats to freedom of speech and scientific inquiry. Journalist Andrew Sullivan says that the “effective firing” of Richwine “should immediately send up red flags about intellectual freedom.”
These are the same sorts of things said in 1994 when Harvard researchers Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray argued in The Bell Curve that programs to boost black academic performance might be futile because blacks are innately less intelligent than whites; and in 2007 when geneticist and Nobel laureate James Watson ascribed Africa’s social problems to Africans’ genetic inferiority. (Watson is also a former Harvard professor. What is it with Harvard? Could there be something in the drinking water?)
I’m torn over how to respond to research on race and intelligence. Part of me wants to scientifically rebut the IQ-related claims of Herrnstein, Murray, Watson and Richwine. For example, to my mind the single most important finding related to the debate over IQ and heredity is the dramatic rise in IQ scores over the past century. This so-called Flynn effect, which was discovered by psychologist James Flynn, undercuts claims that intelligence stems primarily from nature and not nurture.
But another part of me wonders whether research on race and intelligence—given the persistence of racism in the U.S. and elsewhere–should simply be banned. I don’t say this lightly. For the most part, I am a hard-core defender of freedom of speech and science. But research on race and intelligence—no matter what its conclusions are—seems to me to have no redeeming value.
Far from it. The claims of researchers like Murray, Herrnstein and Richwine could easily become self-fulfilling, by bolstering the confirmation bias of racists and by convincing minority children, their parents and teachers that the children are innately, immutably inferior.
Why, given all the world’s problems and needs, would someone choose to investigate this thesis? What good could come of it? Are we really going to base policies on immigration, education and other social programs on allegedly innate racial differences? Not even the Heritage Foundation advocates a return to such eugenicist policies. ...
Scientists and pundits who insist on recycling racial theories of intelligence portray themselves as courageous defenders of scientific truth. I see them not as heroes but as bullies, picking on those who are already getting a raw deal in our society.
Jason Richwine, unemployed father of two young children, is The Real Bully.
It’s time to put these destructive theories to rest once and for all.
A classic example of the increasingly popular Argumentum ad Tarantino. (Tarantino claims to be a dyslexic with a 160 IQ.)
Self-plagiarism alert: Some of the material above is recycled from my 1999 book The Undiscovered Mind.