Jason Richwine’s Excellent Adventure

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) (C) confers with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (R) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (L) during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup for the immigration reform bill on Capitol Hill May 9, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Between Niall Ferguson’s joke about Keynes and the saga of Jason Richwine, it’s been a lousy week for Harvard. Richwine, you may remember, was the Heritage Foundation policy wonk who co-wrote the cost estimate of the immigration bill—a document that was derided by Republicans who wanted the bill to pass. It got worse for Richwine after that, with reporters noticing his long record of research into race, IQ scores, and immigrants. So I talked to his dissertation advisers.

At the start of his dissertation, Richwine thanked his three advisers—George Borjas, Christopher Jenks, and Richard Zeckhauser—for being so helpful and so bold. Borjas “helped me navigate the minefield of early graduate school,” he wrote. “Richard Zeckhauser, never someone to shy away from controversial ideas, immediately embraced my work.”

Yet they don’t embrace everything Richwine’s done since. “Jason’s empirical work was careful,” Zeckhauser told me over email. “Moreover, my view is that none of his advisors would have accepted his thesis had he thought that his empirical work was tilted or in error. However, Richwine was too eager to extrapolate his empirical results to inferences for policy.”

Borjas’ own work on immigration and inequality has led to a few two-minutes-hate moments in the press. He wasn’t entirely convinced by Richwine, either.

“I have never worked on anything even remotely related to IQ, so don’t really know what to think about the relation between IQ, immigration, etc,” Borjas told me in an email. “In fact, as I know I told Jason early on since I’ve long believed this, I don’t find the IQ academic work all that interesting. Economic outcomes and IQ are only weakly related, and IQ only measures one kind of ability. I’ve been lucky to have met many high-IQ people in academia who are total losers, and many smart, but not super-smart people, who are incredibly successful because of persistence, motivation, etc. So I just think that, on the whole, the focus on IQ is a bit misguided.”

There’s a lot more here about the underworld of anti-immigration thinkers online and in D.C.