Jason Richwine & the Asian American dilemma

Jason Richwine

We’ve been hearing a lot about Jason Richwine’s racist views about Hispanics and immigration.  Richwine is the co-author of the widely discredited–even by other conservative think tanksHeritage Foundation report and the author of the infamous dissertation in which he calls Hispanics stupid.  I’m not going to go into the  particulars of that argument because lots of other people have already done so and done it well.  It’s also well established that there is a sordid history of trying to link IQ and race in the service of racism.

What we haven’t been hearing so much about is Jason Richwine’s racist views about Asians.  Just because Jason Richwine doesn’t call Asians “stupid” in his dissertation doesn’t mean those views aren’t racist.  According to Richwine’s data, Asians are the ideal immigrants because they are smarter – smarter even than “native whites.”  (As a researcher, this was the first time I ever encountered the term “native whites.”  I didn’t realize “native whites” existed.  Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians are the only native populations I’m aware of in the United States and they are definitely not white.)  Also according to Richwine’s data, among “native whites,” Asians “decrease trust” (Richwine’s language) less than blacks and Hispanics.  One can conclude that what Richwine really means to say is the way white society treats blacks and Latinos is not because of racism, it’s because Latinos and blacks are stupid.

The progressive Asian American community has been pretty silent about the Richwine affair.  However, Asian Americans on the right have weighed in.  Michelle Malkin, conservative America’s most vocal Asian American, posted a strong defense of Richwine disparaging anyone who questioned the validity of his dissertation.  Malkin in her post was very certain that people who were critiquing Richwine’s dissertation hadn’t even read it.  Well, I read it and it is as alarming as everyone says it is.  Perhaps Malkin felt obliged to defend Richwine since she received a Heritage Foundation award less than a month ago for “excellence in journalism.”

Richwine would probably also find a friend in Steven Hsu, a theoretical physicist by training who is currently searching for an intelligence gene.  Even though mainstream science has pretty much scrapped the notion that race has any kind of biological basis long ago, that hasn’t stopped Steven Hsu from trying to link intelligence with race and getting a billion and a half dollars for research based in China.  It’s easy to brush aside the eugenicist views of Hsu and Richwine as being far outside the mainstream, except that Hsu was recently on NPR.  The topic?  Superbabies.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of Richwine’s dissertation is that his recommendations are very similar to some parts of the immigration bill before Congress.  Although he plainly wants “IQ selection” to determine immigration eligibility, he recognizes there are “practical difficulties.”  Richwine offers a recommendation for coding IQ language to make it more palatable:  “drop the use of the word IQ and replace it with skill.” (Italics Richwine’s.)  If you replace the word skill with the word IQ in the current immigration discussion, what results is pretty scary.  That discussion would revolve around courting high-IQ (not high-skill) workers to immigrate to the U.S., exactly mirroring Richwine’s dissertation.

Senator Marco Rubio and Governor Bobby Jindal also want to increase high-IQ skilled workers.  When Marco Rubio introduced the bill in the Senate, he said, “The smartest, hardest-working, most talented people on this planet, we should want them to come here.  I, for one, have no fear that this country is going to be overrun by Ph.D.s.”  In his book, Leadership and Crisis, Jindal, an Indian American, says the U.S. needs to “refocus our legal immigration policy to encourage high-skilled immigrants who embrace American values.”

Among other “high skilled” worker categories, the immigration bill before the senate proposes doubling H1B visas.  And who are these H1B visa holders?  You might have already guessed it: Asians and Europeans.  Richwine’s view that “there is little evidence that low-IQ countries can fully close the deficit with Europe and East Asia” fuels a false divide between Asian and Latino immigrants in which coded language pits the high-skilled/high-IQ/legal/good immigrant against the low-skilled/low-IQ/illegal/bad immigrant.

All of this poses a dilemma for Asian Americans.  As Asian Americans, what are we working towards when we advocate for comprehensive immigration reform?  As racial justice activists, does our silence play into the racist traditions of Jason Richwine and those who came before him?




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11 Responses to Jason Richwine & the Asian American dilemma

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  1. Steve Hsu May 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    I suggest you edit your post for accuracy.

    1. At the link which you describe as efforts to link race and IQ, I state *explicitly* that we do not know whether any such association exists. While the existence of genetic clustering by ethnicity is well-known, no explicit link to group differences in intelligence is known.

    2. The BGI study has nothing to do with race — it’s a GWAS (Genome Wide Association Study) of cognitive ability. Similar studies have been funded by national research agencies in many countries. See this Nature News article for more information: http://www.nature.com/news/chinese-project-probes-the-genetics-of-genius-1.12985

    3. Neither I nor BGI have $1.5 billion in research funds.

    • Dan HoSang May 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      Very happy to see that Professor Hsu has become a reader of RaceFiles!

      In his defense, it is likely true that Professor Hsu’s research, which seeks to establish a hereditary basis for intelligence, receives little or no funding from any reputable public or private sources.

      Like Francis Galton, who coined the term “eugenics” and wrote the book Hereditary Genius in 1869, Professor Hsu hypothesizes that differences in “intelligence,” as measured by IQ tests, are mostly hereditary.

      After the Holocaust and in the wake of tens of thousands of involuntary sterilizations in the US, this kind of research has predictably fallen out of favor. One of its few prominent funders has been the Pioneer Fund, a group founded by American Nazis and Eugenicists in 1937. The Fund has supported some of the most infamous white supremacist research in the 20th century, such as Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve.

      Pioneer has not revealed whether it has supported Professor Hsu’s research. But given that Hsu has no publication record in the field or formal training in this area, it is certainly believable that his research has received little outside funding or support. Professor Hsu is probably correct in asserting, that BGI, one of the world’s largest genetic institutes, has invested little in this research beyond some office space and equipment.

      Professor Hsu is also correct that his remarks about the connections between race, genetics and IQ have been entirely speculative, and not based on any actual evidence. While others have denounced Jason Richwine for his comments on genetic superiority and race, Hsu has not. As he says, the question is an open one for him.

      On Hsu’s blog though, one can read his musings about the biological basis of race, the potential of government support for genetic selection of human embryos in order to generate “increased economic output” and to “decrease welfare and criminality rates” among the general population and assorted speculations about the cognitive superiority of Asian Americans (See for example http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2012/07/whole-genome-sequence-from-10-to-20.html.)

      And for a real treat, read this interview with the good Professor, where he discusses why he set to understand his own genius. Here’s a preview:

      “When I was a kid I sort of knew I was different from other kids. I remember some tests (Iowa Test of Educational Development) we were given in grade school that had multiple (perhaps 4? I can’t recall) sections, such as math, reading, vocabulary, etc., and a 99th percentile ceiling. When my scores came back as all 99’s, I wondered how common this score was-do only (.01)*(.01)*(.01)*(.01) kids (1 in 100 million) achieve this, or are there correlations between the scores?” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-the-next-einstein/201112/polymath-physicist-richard-feynmans-low-iq-and-finding-another

      • electrotectic May 23, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

        1) “When I was a kid I sort of knew I was different from other kids…”

        What is your objection to this section of the interview? These are fairly typical thoughts for a gifted kid to my knowledge, including wondering about the correlations (whether his score was, say, one in a thousand or one in a hundred million). You might well have had similar thoughts in a similar situation.

        2) “The BGI study has nothing to do with race — it’s a GWAS (Genome Wide Association Study) of cognitive ability.”

        Indeed, Noah Smith put it excellently in his witty blog:

        “In fact, identifying specific genes for high intelligence would clearly indicate that race and intelligence are not fundamentally linked, thus essentially slaughtering the entire academic-racist culture.”

        See http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.ch/2013/02/intelligence-boosts-for-everyone.html

        I would put it this way: in mapping the genome, science will reveal all possible collocations of genes associated with cognitive abilities and those coding for classic “race” markers — they will be written in the book for all to see, and no doubt various genetic pornographers will stare too long at these bits — but it will also find that these really don’t have anything to do with each other.

        Indeed, once the technology is there you can mix and match, as Noah Smith points out. Then the old normal will become the new treatable (!) and “how beauteous mankind is. O brave new world, that has such people in’t”.

        The question will be, of course, what does your insurance company have to say about it. Sinister thought.

  2. Glenn Robinson May 17, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    U.S. immigration policy should be set by Native Americans, not a group white men.

    • Wise Woman Talking May 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      DNA proves we all came from Africa. Therefore, everyone in America is an immigrant.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa May 20, 2013 at 9:38 pm #


  3. Raymond May 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I’m not really sure what this article is saying. Is intelligence research racist? Does Professor Hsu’s research have anything to do with race? Just a little genetics background for you, but genes are separate from race. Genes that determine race (or at least skin color) probably aren’t linked to genes that affect intelligence. So really you are just against any kind of genetic research that tries to link intelligence to genes. I don’t see any link about Dr. Hsu’s research and Richwine’s dissertation, except some imagined link between genetic links to intelligence and Richwine’s claims of race determining intelligence. Unless of course this is all about cultural differences, then wtf are you claiming about racism? Its easy to link culture to intelligence (which is probably a much better estimate for a whole continent of people than genetics), as that is pretty much the stuff ‘nurture’ is made from. If you have a culture that doesn’t value education, you have a culture of dumb people. When you say Asian, do you mean Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean? You are grouping quite a lot of people into the ‘Asian American’ community, whom by your estimation should have some kind of consensus based on race. Racefiles indeed.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa May 20, 2013 at 6:59 am #

      I think that in this context “Asian” is a reference to the racial construct, not a suggestion that all of the people originating in the region known as “Asia,” itself a political construct, are the same. Race being, as you suggest, a social construct and a somewhat arbitrary one at that, Racefiles attempts to explore the implications of the construct in our politics and social lives. The racial “consensus” among Asians, is, like the racial category, a political matter, cast upon “Asians” and politically manipulated.

      Genetic research today isn’t by itself racist, but when one starts to use race in order to categorize the subjects of the research, I think that scrutinizing the researcher and the research is a pretty good idea given the historical context referenced by Mr. Hosang in this queue.

  4. Grace Hong May 19, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    The Richwine affair is the resurgence of the scientific racist community. Steve Hsu is part of that community even though he is more careful than Richwine.

    I’ve seen an uptick in Asian-Americans in the so-called HBD blogosphere. HBD stands for ‘human biodiversity’ and is essentially a more non-threatening name for racism but they lump more categories like gender to soothe and soften their image. But the core remains the same.

    There’s actually a podcast where BigWOWO, a prominent Asian-American blogger, interviews an Asian HBD advocate, a guy who was apparently a mathematician at John Hopkings.


    I’ve read the HBD blogs in large part because they’ve been growing like nuts. Keep your eyes on your enemy. I noted that it was dominated mostly by white men, not infrequently Jews, but more and more are now Asian men.

    I think this is dangerous. Similarly, while many Asians complain about racism against ourselves I’ve seen many Asian men make racist jokes about other PoC. Let’s not forget that “blackface” video from the Asian frat group that surfaced on YT just a month ago or so. This is more common than we think.

  5. Joe Yoon June 18, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    I think it is unfair to link Richwine’s views with Stephen Hsu’s research.

    Disclosure: I lean Democratic, think that the Republican party has ventured into nutty territory and Libertarianism/Ayn Rand-ism is an adolescent’s wet dream, which like Communism, sounds good in theory but is a disaster in implementation.

    Having said that, I am amazed that liberals/progressives, who SHOULD be more open-minded, have their own blindspots when it comes to rational, scientific thought. Republicans have trouble with evolution, climate change and sexual orientation. Democrats have their own with GMO crops, vaccines causing autism (see Robert Kennedy Jr.) and race/genetics.

    Race is NOT solely a social construct. With modern genetic analysis tools, it is not only possible to determine with good probability what “race” a person is but narrow it further in geography to a particular region of a continent. The Gene Expression blog (blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/‎) is a good source of research. The mantra that we are not racially distinguishable genetically is just not true scientifically. It may not be PC, but those are the facts.

    Secondly, intelligence and height are genetically very complex with hundreds if not thousands of genes involved, each contributing a very small effect. And I don’t think Hsu ever claims that a majority of intelligence is genetic in origin. Nature/nurture and the influence of each is still a hotly debated topic. Both are important but the “nature” portion still determines the ceiling of performance. For example, someone with “tall” genes will not reach their full potential height if he/she is malnourished in childhood. But someone with “short” genes will not grow to be a NBA center no matter how well fed he/she is. Same constraints are in play with intelligence.

    Lastly, I am confused by the term “scientific racist community.” There are scientists who are racist, they are human after all, but you can’t be a “scientific racist.” Science is about facts and racism is about opinions/attitudes.

    We Homo Sapiens seem to have a high regard of ourselves. What evolution teaches us is that the ultimate fate of every species is extinction. More species have gone extinct than exist today. There were numerous Homo species in the past, even some that were concurrent (we have ~3% Neanderthal DNA), but all of them are gone except for Sapiens (and we may have “helped” some of them on their road to “retirement.”). The rate of evolution has increased since the advent of civilization/agriculture 10,000 years ago. And there is evidence that it has increased further since the Industrial Age began. We are not the end product of evolution, just the latest. And we are the first species that can direct its own evolution. The search for the basis of intelligence is just the latest quest for human improvement. Instead of relying on chance/luck/accident, ie sexual reproduction, for progress, we can engineer it. It may not be romantic or “natural” but that is our future.

  6. aj March 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Michelle malkin is pacific islander, not asian.

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