The Jason Richwine dissertation, like its predecessor The Bell Curve in 1994, argued that IQ scores are a good proxy for intelligence, that intelligence has a substantial hereditary component and is thus largely immutable to change by external measures, and that high IQ levels are significant predictors of economic and social success in life while low levels predict a life of crime, unemployment, and general failure. According to Richwine, American Hispanics have average IQs around 89 (the overall average is fixed to be 100) and thus Hispanic immigrants will be a drain on society. (See here and here for earlier posts on this.)
There are some problematic assumptions that go into arriving at this conclusion. First of all, ‘race’ as a biological construct has been largely abandoned because it has no clear and unambiguous identifying markers. Race is now viewed largely a sociological construct and people self-identify as to what ‘race’ they belong, if they wish to do so. Skin color, language, nationality, and culture are easier to distinguish and are sometimes used as proxies for race.
Second, what constitutes intelligence is itself something that is difficult to get agreement on since our intuitive notion of it takes many forms. What we have are IQ tests. All such tests measure something but what that thing is is not always clear. There are many batteries of such tests that measure different sets of skills and what psychometricians do is take those test results and do something called a a factor analysis on them and get a quantity known as ‘Spearman’s g’ that gives the degree of inter-correlation among those results and is assumed to measure something called general intelligence.
There are many IQ tests that are used, of which three are most common. The Raven ‘s Progressive Matrices are logic-based tests that require people to identify the missing piece of a design. It deals entirely with patterns involving shapes and so no language enters. This test is said to measure fluid intelligence or the ability to solve problems quickly. There are other tests such as the WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) and the WAIS (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale) that are said to measure crystallized intelligence, what you supposedly need in order to be able to acquire various kinds of knowledge. The Wechler tests consists of ten subtests, some of which measure verbal skills and others that involve symbols. All these tests have different ‘g-loadings’, meaning that the size of their correlations with Spearman’s g differs. The result of any given IQ test can be used taken to be a proxy for this g-factor and thus a measure of intelligence. (See James R. Flynn, Are We Getting Smarter? (2012), p. 7.)
To get a better understanding of what is going on, think of the decathlon events. You can measure people’s performances in the running, jumping, and throwing categories, calculate correlation coefficients among them, do a factor analysis, and extract a general coefficient of athletic ability which would be analogous to Spearman’s g. Those who are generally good all-round athletes will have a high general coefficient and one can rank people according to this number. The degree to which a decathlete’s performance on any one event correlates with this general coefficient of athletic ability is analogous to this ‘g-loading’. If g-loadings are high, then that one event can be taken as a good proxy for the athlete’s overall decathlon skills.
Richwine’s dissertation depends a lot on a data set compiled by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in two publications IQ and the Wealth of Nations (2002) and IQ and Global Inequality (2006) that compiled average IQ data across 192 nations. The results are given in Appendix A of Richwine’s dissertation (p. 135) and they range from a low of 59 for Equatorial Guinea to a high of 108 for Singapore and Hong Kong. You see a geographical pattern of IQ scores, starting with over 100 for East Asian countries that decline to the 90s as we go to south-east Asia, decreasing further to the 80s in Western Asia, North Africa, Pacific Islands, South-central Asia, and Central and South America, and sinking to the bottom of 70s and 60s in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile US and Europe (Richwine includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand in the European group) have averages close to 100. My native country Sri Lanka clocks in at a mere 79. (I have no idea what my personal IQ is since we never had to take these tests.)
So the IQ-based immigration policy advocated by Richwine would effectively end up being indistinguishable from a color-based Eurocentric policy
There is one immediate problem. Recall that these tests are normed to have an average of 100 (for America) and the standard deviation is 15. The idea that national IQ averages can range over more than three standard deviations boggles the mind. Why is this a problem? Because when you go more than one standard deviation below the norm, you are identified as having some level of cognitive impairment. The US Supreme Court has said that those with IQs below 70 (two standard deviations below the norm and who make up just 2.27% of the US population) have a prima facie case for being exempted from the death penalty because of mental incompetence. The idea that almost 85% of the entire population of Equatorial Guinea suffers from severe mental disabilities, and that their average IQ corresponds to the cut off for lowest 0.3% of the US population, is preposterous. The average IQ for American blacks is 85, which means that many of them can be classified as ‘dull normal’ and their average IQ corresponds to the cut off for the lowest 16% of white people.
There is another problem. Researcher James R. Flynn has found that IQ scores have been rising steadily at an incredible rate of about one standard deviation (15 points) over the last half-century, or about 0.3 points per year. This alone makes a mockery of the claim that IQ is rooted in biology and thus largely immutable, since it is inconceivable that such major changes in biology could occur over such a short time.
In his dissertation, Richwine acknowledges that these two issues are problematic for his thesis and that we have no satisfactory explanations for either (which is not quite true, but that is a topic for another day) but then proceeds to blithely ignore them. Furthermore Elspeth Reeve points out that Latinos in the US are assimilating over time, contrary to his claims that they are doomed to remain separate and an underclass, and Dan Drezner has looked at some of the other sources used by Richwine to support his case and says he is not impressed by their quality.
Next in the series: Some reasons why IQ scores are rising rapidly.