Critical Thinking and Immigration Policy

While my research centers on writing a transmedia story, the processes of it and how and why it works, there is also a social component to it. I deliberately chose to have my story be about the journey of a refugee girl escaping from war at home and trying to find a safe place to live. There are two main reasons for this: the first has to do with my experience as a Mexican-American growing up on the border of Texas and Mexico, and the second has to do with the appalling use of “boat people” as a political football by the government and the opposition here in Australia.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published an article about Jason Richwine, who co-authored a study commissioned by The Heritage Foundation indicating that immigration reform could cost the US trillions of dollars. The article in question, however, was written to put the study “in context,” as author Dylan Matthews wrote, by pointing out Richwine’s 2009 public policy doctoral dissertation titled “IQ and Immigration Policy.”

Richwine’s abstract is clear:

The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.

What’s not clear in the abstract arises later in the dissertation. Richwine asserts “the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ.”

Speaking as the daughter of a legal Hispanic immigrant to the US, and as a person who’s currently pursuing a doctorate, I have a very vested interest in this argument. But this dissertation is actually a very big opportunity for me on a lot of fronts.

  1. It’s relevant to my research. I suspect that there are some unpleasant couched assumptions in this dissertation regarding who and what immigrants are. However, I can’t say as much until I read it. And because it’s about immigration policy, and immigration is a component of the story I’m trying to tell, it makes sense for me to read this work.
  2. It’s an exercise in critical thinking. Obviously I’m having some serious negative reactions to the notion that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs as a matter of course, and will continue to have lower IQs, and should therefore be locked out of the US under an implemented IQ entrance exam, but it’s important to approach this thesis as rationally as possible and apply critical thought. I (and my husband, who’s also deeply appalled by this dissertation) have already found potential problems in research and data analysis just from the title, abstract, and ToC alone. The only way to see if these problems actually exist is to read the dissertation with a critical eye that isn’t unbiased, because I can’t just pretend they’re not there, but that acknowledges my existing biases and transparently takes them into account, particularly when I report my findings.
  3. It’s good practice for my framing document. I won’t be writing a traditional doctoral thesis, but the exegetical or framing document I’m writing will have some fundamental structural similarities with many PhD dissertations. Just because I may personally disagree with the content, or find it distasteful, doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas that I might benefit from analyzing. This particular dissertation was accepted by the Kennedy School of Government, which is a part of Harvard University. That’s got to mean something.

So, there you go. I’ve linked to both the original Washington Post article and to the thesis itself above, but if you’re interested in reading a little further, the Boston Globe reports that public policy students at Harvard have submitted a petition to the university to get studies that link cognitive ability and race barred from research at the school. Also, Slate has a longer investigation on Richwine himself here.

I can’t say when I’ll be able to report my results, because I have a lot of other things I’m working on, but I do want to get this out before, say, August. We’ll see what happens.

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One Response to Critical Thinking and Immigration Policy

  1. Irene says:

    I look forward to your findings – I was also shocked and offended by the dissertation in question, or rather by its abstract.