Monday, May 13, 2013

What the “Low Hispanic IQ” Dissertation Tells Us About Dissertations in General

Dissertation scandal!  Jason Richwine was disowned by the Heritage Foundation when it was revealed that his PhD dissertation at the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard), entitled “IQ and Immigration Policy”, argued for the superior intelligence of some immigrant “races” and the inferiority of others.  At the bottom of the heap were Hispanics, about whom Richwine concluded, “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”

Of course, the interesting question is not, why did Heritage pick this guy in the first place, but, what was his dissertation committee thinking?  According to Jon Wiener over at The Nation, his chair was George Borjas, and the other readers were Richard Zeckhauser and Christopher Jencks.  Borjas is politically conservative, but he has done as much as anyone to set the agenda of immigration studies in the US during recent decades.  Zeckhauser is perhaps the foremost name in pubic finance.  Jencks is a specialist in inequality, generally associated with the center-left.

The one who is primarily responsible for approving Richwine is Borjas.  Nothing in Borjas’ past work suggests that he has a penchant for theories about racial inferiority.  In fact, most dissertation chairs in economics buzz through the window dressing in the drafts that get sent to them and zero in on the methodology.  Did the candidate select and implement the right estimators, properly observe sampling issues, cite the appropriate papers?  You can’t let someone get through if there are observable errors.  The rest you skim.

With other readers it is rather hit or miss.  Senior faculty at large research universities may end up on many such committees.  They meet with the candidate once or twice and have little personal investment.  No one would blame them if they did the bare minimum, or less.  My guess is that both Zeckhauser and Jencks are rather embarrassed at the moment, but it will pass because everyone know’s it’s not really their fault.  More to the point, will Borjas suffer any consequences?  This is entirely speculative, but I would wager that he will cruise past this too.  Everyone knows a dissertation chair can’t vet the whole thing.

I’d be interested in hearing from readers if this matches their own observations about the dissertation process.


Sandwichman said...

"No one would blame them if they did the bare minimum, or less."

Maybe the bare minimum. But "less"? The bare minimum, presumably, would be to at least skim the dissertation with an eye out for red flags. I can't vouch for the inadequacy of the dissertation because I know next to nothing about it. But if even Heritage bailed at the first rumble, it doesn't sound good.

José-Manuel Martin Coronado said...

I always thought that IQ test were essentially a social and cultural test, rather than a pure and abstract skill tests.

On the first case, probably the results should be associated with race but with the predominant social characteristics of a particular race, which is rather different.

Though, on the second case, it looks like this result could aprove myth (vulgar knowledge) that "asians have better skills and brains that every other race".

If they still argue the second one, besides how politically incorrect it may sound, some scientific studies will be needed, apart from the economic analysis of that data.

Shag from Brookline said...

The dissertation evidences demographic changes and conservatives' "Hispanic Panic!"

ProGrowthLiberal said...

Andrew Sullivan is defending this dissertation?

OK – after Sulli makes your skin crawl, please read Ta-Neihsi Coates:

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