In light of the Immigration Reform bill now in evaluation by congress, The Heritage Foundation made news this week by publishing a paper arguing that granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants will cost the U.S. government 5.3 trillion. I read the study through once and it does make some bold (and debatable) assertions, but the purpose of this post is not necessarily to poke holes in the study itself. I will leave it to those more experienced than I to take that on. Rather, my intent here is to make a case for critical thinking.
It is relatively simple, though not at all common, to exercise critical thinking skills in the face of hoaxes such as sasquatch studies, alien abductions and other paranormal gobbledygook. It becomes far more difficult with more mainstream topics, such as science and most especially, politics. Regardless of political tendency, citizens must critically consider all sides of an issue, including those positions that are in line with their own viewpoints. It is easy to find fault in opposing viewpoints, not so much the other way around. This concept is known as confirmation bias. Simply put, this is the predilection to accept evidence that confirms existing personal beliefs or biases and discount that which conflicts. Someone displaying confirmation bias will cherry-pick their data, considering only the facts that back-up their beliefs, usually unconsciously. This is the sometimes the case in science, but it is my opinion that with politics, it is often intentional. In light of this, most extreme Right Wing Nut Jobs will read the Heritage Foundation study and find little to fault and the far left Dirty Godless Liberals will decry it as dubious and shoddy accounting. It is because of confirmation bias that this study will do nothing to convert anyone entrenched on either side of the debate, but what about the undecideds and the centrists (or the casual follower of politics, such as myself)?
That’s where this handy trick comes in. Consider the source, always. Journalists put this concept to excellent use this week with a follow-on story that revealed that one of the authors of the Heritage Foundation’s study, a Harvard graduate named Jason Richwine, concluded in his doctoral dissertation (written prior to the Heritage Foundation paper) that immigrant populations have lower IQ’s than the native white population and that immigrant IQ should be a factor in immigration policy. In other words, the U. S. should test immigrants’ IQ and boot the low-scorers.
Yowza. There is no stronger stench of bias than that. Or is there? This article from Mother Jones reveals that Richwine credits scholar Charles Murray in the acknowledgements of his dissertation. Murray is the author of The Bell Curve, a controversial book claiming that racial differences in IQ come down to genetics. The dissertation paints Richwine as man who believes that minorities are dumber than whites and that this is justification for exclusion.
You know who would agree?
I could go on, but I believe you get the point. In considering the source, I think it improbable that the data presented in the Heritage Foundation report is in any way objective and I suspect the hole-pokers will confirm this. When it comes to this study, I am firmly in the camp of the Dirty Godless Liberals.