Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Harvard Students Call for the Repression of Free Inquiry

Jason Richwine

Jason Richwine

I don’t apologize for any of my writing, but I deeply regret that it was used to hurt my friends and colleagues at Heritage. Seeing them struggle on account of me was the most painful aspect of the whole ordeal. I remember a particularly difficult moment when a Heritage spokesman went on Univision to defend the Heritage report. He explained, accurately, that I was just the number cruncher for the study. Here’s the question he was given by the host:

So you’re telling me that you used the numbers from a man who has written that Hispanics have a low IQ and will have a low IQ for generations. So what makes you think, unless you agree with that premise, what makes you think that his numbers are sufficiently good in order for, for them to be included in your study?

How can anyone respond to a question as absurd as that one?


Claims that my dissertation influenced the Heritage fiscal analysis are completely false. Anyone who reads the Heritage study will discover that the basic framework — adding up government benefits received by immigrants and comparing that sum to the total taxes they pay — was developed by the National Academy of Sciences in 1997. Robert Rector adapted that framework for his 2007 fiscal-cost study, and he chose the same framework again in 2013, when I helped him run the numbers.In my judgment, the initial criticisms of the Heritage study were not enough to sink it, so the media latched on to my dissertation as a convenient distraction. Better to shoot the messengers than to deal seriously with what they are saying.

Some students at Harvard are now using the same strategy to denounce my dissertation findings. An open letter signed by 23 ethnic student groups contains this gem: “Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.” It would be difficult to find a more explicit embrace of censorship.

A student petition is currently circulating that calls on the Harvard administration to reject all scholarship based on “doctrines” that the signers don’t like. The petition, which at last count had nearly 1,000 signatures, isn’t just shameful, it’s worrisome. Many of these students will come to positions of national leadership, yet they openly oppose intellectual freedom. Going forward, I wonder what other thoughts they will seek to ban.

The furor will soon pass. Mercifully, the media are starting to forget about me. But a certain amount of long-term damage to political discourse has been done. Every researcher who writes on public policy over the next few years will have a fresh and vivid memory of how easy it is to get in trouble with the media’s thought police, and how easy it is to become an instant pariah. Researchers will feel even more compelled to suppress unpopular evidence and arguments that should be part of an open discussion. This is certainly not the way science should be conducted, and it’s not the way our politics should be either.

— Jason Richwine was a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation from March 2010 to May 2013.


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