Scientific culture, Research
Raùl Magni Berton is a political specialist. He is a lecturer at Science Po Grenoble and carries out his research at the PACTE (Public Policies, Policy Actions, Territories) laboratory.

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Question Box

You focus on intellectuals, farmers, Eurosceptics… How do you pick your research topics?

Raùl Magni Berton: I work on multiple topics at the same time which might deal with similar themes. For example, for almost three years I conducted several projects surrounding immigration. Before that, I was working on agricultural policies and celibacy in farmers. Each time, I focus for a few years on topics which are born from an idea I like the sound of. Many people have interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive ideas that you would not immediately think of, and the advantage when you work in research is that you can go and test those ideas. That’s what I do. 
 

You sought, for example, to understand why the American IQ was in decline… 

R. M. B.: There was much debate in the 1990s about the fact that the average intelligence quotient of Americans was declining. Several explanations were put forward, but I noted that, in the 1950s (i.e. forty years earlier), IQ tests had been introduced at universities for the selection of students. Well, IQ can be passed down from parents to children. We are not sure to what extent this is genetic or cultural, but it can be passed on. Another thing we see is that people who have no future, who cannot aspire to climb the social ladder, often have more children. By excluding people with a low IQ from universities, by taking away their chance to gain higher social status, a situation is created where these low-IQ individuals will have more children. I formed the hypothesis that, if a meritocratic system promotes a quality like intelligence being passed down from parents to children, that society will grow and the number of people with low IQs will rise. I used a simulation based on close-to-reality data and it showed that, after four generations, there was a significant drop in IQ when these conditions were present. 

You also looked at the correlation between the reduction in crime in the United States and the legalisation of abortion.

R. M. B.: I borrowed that idea from two US economists: John Donohue and Steven Levitt. I really liked it because it reflects the small mechanisms which explain greater things. Donohue and Levitt theorised that the drop in crime in the United States in the late 1990s was due to the fact that abortion had been legalised fifteen years earlier. Well, it just so happens that there is a higher number of criminals among unwanted children due to a lack of parenting. When abortion is legal, there are fewer unwanted children and, therefore, logically, there should also be fewer criminals twenty years later. This idea has been tested and confirmed in the United States, and we wanted to test it in sixteen European countries. In the US, the date of legalisation was more or less the same across all states, but in Europe it varied. We therefore tested the consequences of legalisation, as well as the effect of abortions directly. Each time, Donohue and Levitt’s hypothesis proved correct. Many people dislike this theory because it suggests that it is difficult to be both against abortion and consider the fight against crime a priority, since the two are interrelated.

Updated on December 13, 2016