Some thoughts on Heritage, Jason Richwine, and the IQ scandal

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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By now, you’ve probably heard that Jason Richwine, the co-author of the Heritage Foundation’s immigration report, has resigned amid controversy.

He came under fire after his Harvard thesis, which asserted that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than non-Hispanic whites, was revealed (presumably such factors should be considered when deciding which immigrants to admit into the U.S.). When a couple columns he penned for a controversial “nationalist” website also surfaced, it was clear his days were numbered.

I find myself ambivalent over his departure, but let me begin with a sort of defense of him. What about preserving academic freedom and encouraging intellectual curiosity? Granted, Richwine took on a controversial topic for his dissertation, but he did so within the confines of an academic environment. Should we be so eager to force tomorrow’s students to think twice about taking on sacred cows and politically incorrect ideas, lest it come back to haunt them later?

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This is not to say that I don’t have problems with the IQ thing. I do. First, assuming his findings are correct, IQ tests may measure a lot of things, but do they measure character or ambition? If so, shouldn’t colleges and universities similarly ignore grades, activities, etc., and instead focus solely on IQ? And why wait until high school to determine life’s winners and losers? Couldn’t we figure out which elementary school kids have the aptitude to be successful. I mean, if that’s the best predictor…

You see where I’m going with this. It’s a very dangerous road to go down.

It’s also incredibly damaging politically.

One of the reasons Sen. Marco Rubio is so effective at communicating a conservative message is his inclusive rhetoric about achieving the American Dream. If the Republican Party is to rebrand itself as a winning national party, it will likely happen because they embraced Rubio’s style of optimistic conservative rhetoric.

But the IQ thing — and again, I understand this was not in the Heritage study — is an especially pernicious message to advance. And so, it should surprise no one that he’s gone.

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But what about The Heritage Foundation? While I disagree with the conclusions of their report (which largely ignored the ex ante benefits of immigration reform), I’m much more comfortable criticizing scoring assumptions from the right than I am in limning their motives from the left. This is especially true in light of the fact that the Heritage report doesn’t reference IQ scores, any way.

Though the IQ story first broke in the Washington Post, some conservatives jumped on it gleefully, as a way to demonstrate that the anti-immigration cause has unseemly roots. As others have observed (and as I wrote about a year or so ago), it does. But that doesn’t mean everyone who opposes this particular immigration bill is a closet racist, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should use it to taint Heritage’s legacy.

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This is merely the latest attack Heritage has endured. In recent months, some have lamented Heritage’s seeming evolution into a more activist player in politics. I have nothing but respect for the important role Heritage has played in the conservative movement, and see it as a valued institution worth defending. But when you get involved in petty politics, you get involved in petty politics.

To the extent the criticism of Heritage is true, it is regrettable  The conservative movement has enough activist groups to go around. What is desperately needed — now more than ever — is a highly respected organization that stays above the fray and helps crafts conservative ideas for the future.

Heritage essentially owned that brand, and I’m not suggesting they have thrown it away, but they have watered it down a bit in recent years.

In any event, it would be a mistake to assume that by dispatching Richwine (or accepting his resignation) Heritage is signaling they will surrender on immigration. Quite the opposite, the fact that they are so willing to rid themselves of this troublesome man likely means they are committed to the cause. And I expect them to throw some elbows back at the critics, soon enough.

Matt K. Lewis