Are Jews Really Smarter?

First time the Economist has disappointed me, giving a voice to this dreck. IMHO, the researchers need to read Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man.

I guess I should be more open-minded and evaluate the data on its merits, but from what I read in the links, it smells like pretty trashy science.

Of course, don’t misconstrue my comments as taking away from my astonishment and admiration for the artistic, intellectual, and scientific accomplishments of many, many Jews, and the tremendous focus on such efforts that pervades much Jewish culture.

I don’t know where to dig the statistic up but I remember reading that the about 25% of americans have a bachelor degree and about 5% have a graduate degree. Among jewish people the rates were 50% and 25% respectively.

Well, it is certainly true that Gregory Cochran (along with associates Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending) presents an interesting hypothesis. I will point out that the NYT article* notes that the effect being investigated is not a general effect throughout the population. Rather, what they are claiming (beyond the association with the geneticv diseases) is that at the outliers of the population, there are more individuals with higher scores, so that generally the compared populations have roughly equivalent intelligence, but among the smartest individuals in each group, there is a higher percentage of individuals with extremely high scores among the Ashkenazim. This is not quite the same thing that most people think of when they hear that one group is smarter than most other people.

*(In fact, in general, the NYT article is much better than the Economist article, on this topic. The author of the Economist article makes two glaring errors, stating that European Jews are equivalent to Ashkenazim (which would come as a shock to the sizable Sephardic community who thrived in Spain for many hundreds of years until Ferdinand, Isabella, and Torquemada forced them to flee–with many of them taking up residence in other European countries, notably Italy and the Netherlands). S/He also erroneously declared that sickle cell anemia is isolated to Western Africa and unknown elsewhere while (as has been pointed out on several occasions on this board) sickle cell is endemic to a number of different regions in Africa, Europe, and Western Asia with a “sister” illness extending from the Middle East all the way across through India.)

“Ashkenazim generally do well in IQ tests, scoring 12-15 points above the mean value of 100, and have contributed disproportionately to the intellectual and cultural life of the West, as the careers of Freud, Einstein and Mahler, pictured above, affirm.”

From the Economist article. To start, I personally wouldn’t consider the pseudoscientific drivel of Freud as a good example. :wink: Biggest problem I see with the above is whether this is nature of nurture? Cultural factors may play a large role here.

I would call it, rather, provocative science. They did not base their claims on skull dimensions or even IQ tests and they have made no claim that the entire population under study is “smarter” (note my comment and those in the NYT article regarding where the intelligence is demonstrated). What they have done is note that the population under study has a notably higher incidence of persons who appear to have excelled in activities requiring intelligence, that the people who appear to have been most successful within that group in the past have also been the most prolific breeders, and have thrown in the extremely high prevalence of particular genetic diseases within that same population.

Since they have not (yet) declared that intelligence is derived from sphingolipid development in the brain, I do not see that they have gotten “trashy” (at this point). (Note that they are not studying “Jews” but a particular population that happens to have been Jewish which has both a well-identified endogamous breeding pattern (as demonstrated both by the genetic diseases and recent DNA comparisons) and a pattern of achievement that can be correlated to intelligence.) (I am not yet persuaded that Ashkenazim intellectual achievement cannot be tied to a cultural emphasis on education, but I am willing to see where these investigations go.)

That’s always been put down to a culture that values education and learning. The same is said about Asian immigrants in relation to other groups. I’m much more comfortable with that explanation than ones that classify ethnic, religious or national groups as being inherently more or less intelligent.

I spotted the myth that sickle-cell only occurs in Africans straight away which set the tone for an argument based on half-truths.

Anyway, if anything, Sephardic Jews have the edge, but I’m just biased. :wink:

Thank you, T&D, your summary helps me a lot. It seems that fault lies, rather, in the media (at least the two media sources quoted), which is choosing to misconstrue the study in their headlines. Perhaps the OP should consider renaming the thread so that it better reflects the study itself rather than the Economist/NYT misrepresentative emphasis.

This is the factor that further studies would need to focus on. How well people do on IQ tests is most definitely correlated with them being raised in an environment that values education and learning greatly.

Firstly, IQ by no means lends itself to objective study. For one thing, it is virtually impossible to get culture-free measures of intelligence.

For example, if the tests were mostly devised by people of one subset will they tend to favour people of similar backgrounds?

But, taking this article, the Irish have suffered from being the butt of British jokes, portraying them as stupid since 17th century propaganda made it fashionable to do so.

The result - once economic factors allowed in the 1980s- was that Irish teenagers and young adults quickly became statistically the most highly-educated in Europe.

I don’t recall any Irish people claiming that this - or the fact that, for example a disproportionately high percentage of the greatest “English” writers were actually Irish - was a case of the Irish being naturally intellectually superior. Yet, given the dramatic rise in a short space of time, they could have been tempted to make such a claim.

Instead, motivation and opportunity have generally been considered to be the crucial factors.

I think people entering into debates like this should recognise that, where you legitimise the consideration that people may be genetically superior, by implication you legitimise the consideration that ethnic groups may be inferior.

And we all know where that led us.

Again: take a look at what has been proposed. (And, again, I am not persuaded by their argument, but I think we should address what they said and not what we expect them to have said.)

The observation made is that one endogamous population has demonstrated through various events (specifically the observation that disproportionate numbers of this group have tended to dominate several areas of activity that require intelligence) that the group includes an apparently disproportionate number of really bright people when compared to the population at large.

This does not argue that the population as a whole is brighter, individual by individual, than any other group, but that among the far ends of a bell curve plotting intelligence, they produce a disproportionate number of people with disproportionately high displays of intelligence.

From that observation, the researchers are doing some correlation with figures regarding genetic diseases and wondering whether there is causation mixed into the correlation. They are not attempting to define Jews (or even Ashkenazim) as smarter, individual by individual. They are attempting to determine whether the genetic situation that manifests in diseases and susceptibilty to cancers also manifests in very high intelligence (particularly mathematical intelligence–I have seen no claim, for example, that the Ashkenazim have (or should have) produced more artists, musicians, writers, or other creative occupations, only that they seem to have produced a disproportionate number of people with athematical skills, either in science or finance.

(BTW, Not addressed in either article was where the trio got the figures to establish that the most successful Ashkenazi financiers produced the most children. That would be an interesting bit of information.)

I read this article too. I’d love to see the cite for the factoid that “Ashkenazim generally do well in IQ tests, scoring 12-15 points above the mean value of 100” … IQ, for whatever it actually measures, tends to be fairly stable through ones life and is very different than more culture sensitive items like interest in academics and exposure to a variety of sorts of ideas. My take on the disproportionate contribution of Jews to the world’s intellectual advancement has always been more focused on Jews being a people spread out among various cultures who had no resources other than intellectual property transported and translated and transformed across these cultures and lands. Not biology.

The article is rife with speculation built upon speculation but it left me very uncomfortable. I’m Jewish, and once you accept one stereotype, even a positive one, it is hard to defend against others. Is that factoid actually based on solid research? If so then the speculation that an association of fecundity with accomplishment in intellectually demanding areas for Ashkenazik Jews for many centuries would play a possible role is reasonable whether or not one buys into the specific mechanisms proposed.

But I still question that factoid’s evidenciary basis.

Of COURSE the Jews are smarter! A Jew turned me into a newt just last week!

I’m gald to see that you got better.

The Economist is a great magazine w/ consistantly terrible science writing. Their article on “table-top” fusion a few weeks back was also frought with errors. They really need to hire someone else to do those bits, or just stick to politics and economics.

I think that we’re over focusing on the IQ thing. That isn’t new research as it’s been fairly well known for a while that Ash. Jews score higher on these (and other similar) tests, and it has usually presumed to be primarly due to the reasons you state. Further study isn’t really going to seperate out if these differences are due to nature vs nurture, as the various variables are to hard to isolate.

Instead, the main observation of the study is that Ash. Jews also carry these two genetic “defects” that may also be related to intellignece. Further research would probably lie in proving that these genes are indeed due to natural selection, and that they do in fact make for greater intelligence.

I tend to agree. The IQ claim was a factoid in the Economist article with no association with the three researchers. Cochran and his fellows do not appear to be considering IQ either in their study or in their rationale for carrying out the study.

Any two defined populations would be expected to have different mean values of any defined variable. Does the measurement of these variables make you a Nazi?

No, but it is misleading to report findings without emphasizing (as is usually the case) that within-group variation is much greater than between-group variation; that’s why we have difference-of-means and ANOVA statistical tests. And it is misleading to semantically reify the variable you are measuring, such as (to cite a common 20th-century approach) assuming that the principal component of some set of tests constitute some thing called “intelligence”.

Failing to get these points across could mean your research will serve as fodder for those with agendas reminiscent of Nazi goals.

That’s sort of the problem with The Economist article. It’s more about the contraversy of linking intelligence to genetics then it is about the actual research it’s discussing. Consider the first lines:

It doesn’t give the disclaimer you suggest because that would make the research seem less contraversial, which sort of contradicts what the article is about. The New York Times article is much less inflamatory.

It’s not so much the researches at fault, as the people writing the articles for popular consumption. Presumably folks who read the actual research know enough that they realize what tems like “intelligence” mean in the context. Pop-sci writers shouldn’t scumb to the temptation to over simplify hypotheses to make them more contraversial then they really are. Headlines of “Researchers Prove Hitler Right” may sell a lot of magazines and raise a lot of emotions, but it’s far from responsible journalism.