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The Inside Story of a Harvard Dissertation Too Racist for the Heritage Foundation

How Jason Richwine finally found a place to explore his absurd theories linking IQ to race at the elite university.

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With Borjas and Zeckhauser on board, at least one critical area of Richwine’s Venn diagram remained unfilled: race and IQ. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s where the story gets complicated.

Richwine did not do his dissertation research at Harvard. That’s actually fairly common in the Public Policy PhD program. One source familiar with the program told me that students often only have university-provided stipends for the first two and a half years of the program; after that, they work as teaching assistants or find external grants or scholarships to make up the money gap.

That’s when Richwine went off to study at with his “childhood hero” Murray at the American Enterprise Institute. The mechanics of how Richwine ended up with a fellowship at the prestigious conservative think tank aren’t quite clear; Richwine  remembers a meeting with Murray in Cambridge leading to his eventual post at AEI, but Murray told me he doesn’t quite recall the process by which Richwine made it to Washington. It doesn’t surprise him, though, that Richwine was thrilled to be at AEI. “I’m Charles Murray,” he said. “I’m sure that Jason wanted to work with me.”

“I mean, come on.”

Murray’s work, particularly The Bell Curve, features prominently in Richwine’s dissertation. Richwine calls Murray “my primary advisor,” noting that “no one was more influential than Charles Murray” on the final product. Steven Durlauf, an economic methodologist at the University of Wisconsin familiar with IQ research, reads this as an acknowledgement that Murray “was de factothe main advisor” in place of Borjas. But even then, Murray didn’t see Richwine in person all that frequently. “I don’t have an office [at AEI]. They pay my salary,” but he generally works remotely.

Murray certainly had more of an influence on Richwine than the student’s third formal advisor, Christopher “Sandy” Jencks. A longtime veteran of the race and IQ wars, Jencks’ position in the controversy is quite different from Murray’s. Unlike Murray, a “hereditarian” who believes genes explain a great deal of the demonstrated gap in IQ scores between black and white students, Jencks is an “environmentalist” who  believes circumstances, not genetics, basically explain the score gap.

“My views about both test scores and politics are very different from [Richwine's],” Jencks told me archly.

Jencks was a “late addition” to the committee, meaning, he clarified, that he didn’t start working on Richwine’s dissertation till after he left for Washington. “He was at AEI at the time,” Jencks said, “so I did not see much of him.” The professor’s role was also fairly limited: “I was asked to serve as a third reader, read a draft, and made extensive comments about what should be done to improve it.” But, as Jencks remembers it, Richwine didn’t heed all of his advice: “He made some of the changes but not others.”

Depending on the importance of these criticisms, this could be a serious problem. “If you’re on the dissertation committee, and you say ‘you’ve gotta change this, this, and this,’ and the student doesn’t do it,” Professor Drezner told me, “then that is a red flag.”

Jencks didn’t clarify exactly what his criticisms were. But independent review of the section on race and IQ suggested some serious problems with Richwine’s approach.

IQ Isn’t Everything (Or Even Close)

“No academic institution would hire him based on this,” said Professor Warigia Bowman.

Bowman graduated from the Kennedy School Public Policy PhD program in the same year that Richwine did. She knew all of his advisors, some quite well: she was Borjas’ teaching fellow in an introductory economics course, studied analytic methods with Zeckhauser, and had encountered Jencks in passing. Bowman has the utmost respect for all of them.

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