Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Fight Fiercely Harvard

Fight fiercely, Harvard!
Fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do.
Oh, fellows, do not let the Crimson down;,
Be of stout heart, and true.
Fight for Harvard's glorious name!
Won't it be peachy if we
Win the game? Oh goody!
Let's try not to injure them,
But fight! Fight! Fight!

In these pages, I've written about the mathematician and ersatz musical satirist Tom Lehrer ("The New Math," "Wehrner von Braun.")

Thought of Lehrer today as I read about the recent kerfuffle created by (former) Heritage Foundation scholar and Harvard PhD Jason Richwine.  Richwine was the author of a recent analysis that, among other things, roiled the ongoing immigration "reform" debate by costing out illegal immigration.  His analysis, which balanced tax receipts generated by the contributions of illegal immigrants versus the costs of social services that they add to our national ledgers, found that the proposed plan being considered today would, over the next 50 years, bring a net cost to the US government (read: the US taxpayers) of $6.3 trillion.

This of course stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric we are being sold about how reform will be a net benefit.

Of course, the debate about immigration should be much broader than a cold, dollars and cents calculation, but to ignore this reality is something done at great peril by a nation that already struggles to pay its bills.

The report, well, it just won't do, and so off went various advocacy and special interest groups to undermine it however they could, and it did not take them long to discover that Richwine had written a most politically unacceptable dissertation at Harvard, where he earned his doctorate.

Richwine's PhD thesis, it seems, was on IQ and immigration policy; the 316 page paper describes empiric differences in IQ testing between various immigrant groups, their second and third generation offspring, and the impact his has on economic and social policy.  The whole thing can be seen here.  It's long and highly mathematical, and thus not really for the statistically faint of heart.

The reaction has been, well, curious.

Richwine was promptly defenestrated from Heritage in an act of true intellectual cowardice.

Worse, the reaction at Harvard - perhaps the premier research university in this country if not the world - has been downright shameful.  Students have been in high dudgeon, questioning just how such a heretic could have been awarded a PhD, asking that the thesis committee (a solid, reputable trio of scholars) be exposed, and in fact, that steps be taken so that "this does not happen again."

I've read some of Richwine's thesis, and trolled through the stats in the Heritage report.  From a mathematical and empirical perspective, my judgment is that his mechanics are on quite solid ground.  One can quibble, of course, about the variables included, and more "controversially," the exogeneities (those variables that affect the outcome that the model by definition, cannot measure).  But Richwine's work is serious scholarship.

That's beside the point to those who demand that Richwine be placed onto a scale with a duck, lest he be a witch.

One thing curiously missing from any of the complaints I've read is any attempt to disprove the numbers Richwine presents.  And this from a group who have bleated incessantly for the past 13 years about "science."  The point seems to be that Richwine is wrong because, well, the conclusion is just not acceptable.  The math and the science be damned.

Liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan nicely summarises the hysteria in Cambridge thusly:

But what the Harvard students are saying is worse than creating a straw man. They are saying that even if it is true that there are resilient differences in IQ in broad racial groupings, such things should not be studied at Harvard because their “end result can only be furthering discrimination.” You can’t have a more explicit attack on intellectual freedom than that. They even seem to want the PhD to be withdrawn. ...
That’s my view in a nutshell. What on earth are these “liberals” so terrified of, if not the truth? ... 
But please don’t say truly stupid things like race has no biological element to it or that there is no data on racial differences in IQ (even though those differences are mild compared with overwhelming similarity). Denying empirical reality is not a good thing in any circumstance. In a university context, it is an embrace of illiberalism at its most pernicious and seductive: because its motives are good.

I don't know for a fact that there are inherent differences in ability between various ethnic groups.  Richwine could be wrong in that there are meta factors  his model mismeasures, and that ethnic origins are a proxy for the real causes of the disparities.

What is empirically undeniable is that IQ tests have shown an almost uniform difference for 50 plus years.  The "science" for these differences is at least as solidly established as climate change.  And as with climate change, pretending what is empirically obvious - in Sullivan's words, "denying empirical reality" - will not make that reality disappear.

That students at Harvard University react with such intellectual cowardice - 'EEK! A WITCH!" - does not speak highly of our top students.

Getting back to Lehrer, it seems that, when it comes to today's students in Cambridge, fighting fiercely is a thing of the past, at least so far as intellectual freedom.

If I were a Harvard student or graduate, this would fill me with a deep shame today.
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