Jason Richwine and Academic Racism
At the end of last week, Jason Richwine resigned from his position at the Heritage Foundation after being at the center of a firestorm regarding his checkered history of racially problematic statements. Richwine’s dissertation suggested disparities in IQ scores, and therefore educational and economic achievement, between racial and ethnic groups have biological and genetic underpinnings. This supposed low IQ then inhibits assimilation into “mainstream” U.S. society and leads to the inevitable creation of a permanent underclass “for whom crime, welfare, labor force dropout, and illegitimacy are normal aspects of life.” Further, in 2010, Richwine wrote two articles for the white supremacist nationalist website Alternative Right. In 2009, he wrote a review of Richard E. Nisbett’s book Intelligence and How to Get It in which he criticized Nisbett for attributing racial and ethnic differences to culture without “seriously consider[ing] that cultures themselves could have genetic origins.”
While many in the GOP have tried to distance themselves from him, key voices on the Right have expressed support for Richwine. In an odd reversal, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and others on the uncompromising ultra-conservative Right have eschewed their usual anti-intellectualism to defend Richwine’s work. Malkin and Limbaugh, who typically vilify universities as bastions of out-of-touch, elitist anti-American ideologues, seem suddenly very keen on Ivy League credentials. On Malkin’s blog, she recounts Richwine’s credentials stretching all the way back to his undergraduate degree. She outlines the intellectual bigwigs who comprised his dissertation committee and concludes, “These are serious people doing serious work.” Limbaugh reiterated Malkin’s assertions and make unjustified elaborations about how Richwine “sailed through” his doctoral program to write a dissertation unquestioningly approved by “achieved and highly acclaimed scholars.”
Of course, none of these celebrated credentials change the fact that Richwine, like The Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray before him, is trading on his expertise in an unrelated field to make a claim that is supposedly rooted in biology and genetics. Jason Richwine is in no position to make claims about the relationship between race/ethnicity, genetics, and IQ. Yet, he is doing so and being embraced on the Right as a respected scholar of the highest caliber. Which he isn’t, at least no in the field of human genomics. But you know who is? Dr. David C. Schwartz.
Dr. Schwartz is a Professor of Chemistry and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s an expert in the high-speed mapping and sequencing of DNA and has expertise in genomics, synthetic biology, gene sequencing, biotechnology, and a bunch of other really cool stuff that neither I nor Jason Richwine understand. I asked Professor Schwartz if Richwine’s claims have any validity. Here’s his response:
No validity. We can’t even define what “intelligence” really is all about, let alone try to define genetic factors associated with it. Not even close. Heck, blood pressure affects intelligence. This type of pseudoscience thinking about intelligence is dangerous to societies.
Schawrtz went so far as to call Richwine’s assertions akin to “measuring skull and brain dimensions to correlate with intelligence.” He then concluded by essentially reading my mind: Richwine is “not a human geneticist, or anyone with any credentials in neurocognitive function…”
Indeed, sir. He is not.