Thilo Sarrazin’s notorious book about German immigration and population trends, Germany Does Away With Itself, rests on a simple bit of math. Immigrants are outbreeding native Germans, Sarrazin writes, and since Muslim immigrant laborers in particular have lower IQs than everyone else, Germany will get dumber.
“With higher relative fertility among the less intelligent,” the banker and politician writes, “the average intelligence of the main population will fall.”
Simple, right? He made it even simpler for the German press. “Through natural methods, we are growing dumber,” he told Welt Online over the summer, blaming an influx of immigrants “from Turkey, the Near and Middle East, and Africa.”
It’s an argument that anti-immigration forces make with dreary predictability, and on the surface it might seem logical. Sarrazin isn’t wrong that Muslim immigrants underperform other immigrants to Germany (as well as Germans themselves) in school and on IQ tests. It’s also a persistent problem in Europe that a fraction of the Muslim population gets fed up with Western life and turns inward, away from integration, toward fundamentalism and the sort of parallel societies that breed terrorism.
But to make his argument — to predict, for example, that Muslims will form a majority of the German population within 80 years — Sarrazin relies on straight-line statistical projections, which almost never pan out, according to the American population expert Matthew Connelly. Sarrazin also relies on a definition of IQ as a genetic trait, while the last several decades of research have shown that education, income, and even nutrition, will move IQ numbers as much as biology.
“I don’t think you’d find a credible scientist in Germany today, or anywhere, who would try to make the arguments he’s making,” Connelly told me. “Most of these ideas were already discredited by 1920.”
A straight-line projection is a quick and dirty act of mathematics that says if trends continue the way they’re going now, the world will change in such-and-such a fashion. But at least one recent study shows that second-generation Muslims in Germany reproduce rather like Germans.
Connelly is a historian at Columbia University and the author of Fatal Misconception, a book on population growth. He points out that the great fear in America a hundred years ago was that Catholics from poor countries like Italy, Poland and Ireland would out-breed the Protestant majority. The great wave of European immigration to the U.S. was underway, he said, and “People thought Catholics were going to multiply and sort of take over … and change the United States” with their allegiance to Rome.
Now, of course, “six out of the nine justices on the Supreme Court now are Catholic,” he said. “If you told people back then that this was going to happen, they would have thought we were headed for a Papist takeover in the U.S.”
What changed? Catholics did breed. (I’m one of them, full disclosure.) But they also educated their kids, to the point where Irish and Polish jokes make little sense in America now. The nature of Christian belief changed, too, so the loyalty of Catholics to the pope is not what it was a hundred years ago. Above all, Catholics integrated and were allowed to integrate. In 2010, it’s hard to remember they were ever kept out of polite American society or that serious thinkers believed they would bring down the nation’s average intelligence.
But one legacy of the Catholic migration panic is the IQ test itself, which Americans developed from a French psychologist’s test for schoolchildren. Herbert H. Goddard, among others, turned the so-called “Binet scale” into a test to weed out “morons” (Goddard’s invented term) at Ellis Island.
“Beginning in 1912, he advocated and demonstrated the use of mental testing on newly-arriving immigrants at Ellis Island,” according to a history of IQ tests from the Autism National Committee. “Since it never occurred to the testers that low scores could be due to the testing conditions, to language or cultural barriers, to fear, confusion, or simply the fact that many immigrants had never before held a pencil, Goddard surmised that the quality of immigration must be deteriorating.”
This is the level of science that Sarrazin’s book indulges in.
Of course, whether Muslim immigrants to Europe will educate their kids, dispense with fundamentalism and find a comfortable place in European society remains an open question. There’s no reason they shouldn’t, given enough time. But the real point is that raw birth statistics tell so little about the future.