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June 03, 2005



There is of course the "what is intelligence" question. I''m a historian, and most of my work confirms the ide athat the nedds, expectations and skills pertinent to one era are rarely pertinent to another. I suppose something called "problem solving ability" could be called "intelligence," but the historian asks "what is the problem?" Is it a quesiton of medieval theology? Is it about the spice trade in 1720? Is it about ohms law? Ability to solve each problem manifestly requires a background of contextual information which has nothing to do with "intellingence" and everything to do with education and the specific knowledge fund one ends up with. Drop me into a group of high school dropouts and my knowledge of history might make me seem intelligent. Ask me to fix one of their cars and I'd seem like an idiot

Think of the roots of the word "intelligence," its shared meaning as both "information" (as in "intelligence on WMDs") and it's more vaguley understood mmeaning as some kind of inheritable, fixed and quantifiable brain power. The latter is an odd idea. It seems manifestly ludicrous to imagine that the "intelligence" needed in 1720 is the same as the intelligence needed for today. But we love the idea that people in the past are exacty like us--holllywood routinely and ridiculously makes movies in which, say, Elizabethan Englishmen think talk and act like modern Americans. I'm sure the filmakers believe the results confirm their "intelligence."


It seems manifestly ludicrous to imagine that the "intelligence" needed in 1720 is the same as the intelligence needed for today.

I see your point, but this strikes me as an over-statement - although this falls in the category of comparing baseball hitters from different eras, don't you think that Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin would at least rise to the level of university prof or successful lawyer/banker/businessman in today's world?

How about Galileo? Or Plato? Or Will Shakespeare - could he find a publisher, or run a good blog?

Patrick R. Sullivan

"my knowledge of history might make me seem intelligent"

Not likely.


I doubt Shakespeare could find a publisher--I doubt it very much. His language is too baroque and ornate; it's the style of a pre-modern era, before the Puritan-derived "plain style" took hold. He had no lit school connections. And truthfully, he's not all that popular now--he's a high culture staple, but the number of people who actually enjoy Shakespeare is quite small--so small that I doubt he'd find a publisher. He probably run a good blog though--is a talent for evocative phrases intelligence? It doesn't build rockets or compose music. What do we mean when we talk about "intelligence?"

As Max Weber pointed out about franklin, his "intelligence" would have been derided in the middle ages as the worst sort of avarice and "as an attitude entirely lacking in self respect." But then, there could have been no Franklin in the middle ages. The range of freedom in both personal conduct and intellectual inquiry that he took for granted didn't exist. He would have been regarded as fool, I suspect, or a danger.

Would Jefferson be a college prof.? probably--although as my post suggests, I don't think it takes any great intelligence to be a college professor, it just takes a fund of accumulated knowledge. I'm a perfect example--trained in a specific way of thinking and writing, armed with a fund of painstakingly aquired knowledge? Am i an intelligent man? I have no idea what the question means, as i regularly meet people from all walks of life and all levels of education who can do things I can;t even imagine how to do. Jefferson had the habits that make for a good professor. sure, he'd proably make a good professor today, after years of education. Does that make him intelligent? Could he build a rocket? Could Werner Von Braun write poetry?

Hey pat sullivan--you make my point, thank you


It might be true, but its pretty speculative.

Two years ago, Dr. Neil Risch, a geneticist now at the University of California, San Francisco, proposed a different genetic mechanism known as a founder effect, which occurs when a population is reduced for a time.

This is a well known effect and responsible for many other pattens of inherritance. Of course they make an interesting point that many mutations are in the same biochemical pathway -- but you would need to know more than just that (are they located near each other, etc.).

They mention the evolutionary pressure of sickle cell -- but the mutations in response to sickle cell are very simple point mutations. And the pressure to protect against malaria is tremendous (definite death). Jews were under cultural pressure, but I dont know if it was to that extreme. Now maybe the same simple mutations led to increased intelligence -- but again, maybe not. People have been trying to find the genetic basis of schziophrenia for a while, with very minimal success. So you would think intelligence would be just as, if not more difficult.

Anyway, I'm sure someone will test their predictions.


At least from psych and neuro we do have some idea what intelligence is. People generally seem to think there is a "General" component, and then sub-specific component (visuo-spatial, lingual, emotional, etc..). Whether this is all true or not, isn't 100%, but there is some support for it, and it does fit with what we know about the brain.

People like shakespeare or jefferson or newton, were extremely smart. It's silly to pretend that if they were born today, they would try and live the lives of their respective eras. Shakespeare's literary ability would have allowed him to write his stories in modern english -- and considering how many remakes there have been of shakespear's plays, and how well they've done -- im sure he would have done well even if born today. I think the same can be said for jefferson.

Cecil Turner

The idea of having specific pressures on a population causing widespread adaptive evolution is certainly fascinating. It also makes for some good sci fi (e.g., Frank Herbert's Dune). But I suspect this particular study would be hard for many to accept even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Ernst Blofeld

"Intelligence" tests (Jensen prefers the term "mental performance" tests now, because the word "intelligence" is so ill-or-many defined) are not designed to measure specific problem-solving skills but rather a general factor, g. The interesting thing people discovered early on when they first started creating intelligence tests was that people who did well on one test of a specific problem-solving skill tended to do better on other tests of other problem-solving skills, too.

The g factor identified by the tests is also correlated with performance in other areas. For example, army recruits who have a higher g factor tend to be easier to train on more complex tasks. So you can test a recruit on something seemingly unrelated to army life, like "pick the next picture in the sequence", and use the results of that test to predict how well the recruit will do in learning how to shoot a TOW missile.

The Utah paper would seem to suggest that the professions jews were confined to selected for g, and the selection for g affected the population.

David Moynihan

Out, out, out hyperbolical fool!

Shakespeare continues to sell, be performed, be filmed, and yes, maxvintage, read, even to this day. But maybe not in worthless writing programs (whose aspirants only discover after running up $120k in debt that, well, they've learned nothing useful and wasted the time they could have spent experiencing life.)

Thankfully, there've been jackasses saying Willie S. was done for centuries now; but still the little bard keeps it going. And he was one of the most adaptable sons of a gun in history (doing poems when the plague shut down the theater, writing sophisticated women's parts whenever he had a boy that could act, etc.), so yeah, were he around today, he'd've either made the perfect espresso for Drewnka Willen, or gotten into Jorie Graham's pants... whatever it took to publish.

PS: The best-selling Penguin Classic of all time is the Iliad. Homer; there's a guy who'll never find a publisher...

PPS: Umberto Eco already wrote this piece for l'Espresso.

Attila (Pillage Idiot)

Am I missing something here? You take a small population. You persecute them over a period of centuries, forcing them for several hundred years to live in ghettos, separated from the rest of society. Their own (religious) rules prohibit intermarriage. It would seem obvious, at least to me, that all their genetic traits would become pronounced, whatever those traits may be. Linking two of those traits in particular based on natural selection seems to be a pretty flimsy argument.


OK, a paper that explores connections between generic disorders and suspected superior intelligence is recognized as "politically incorrect" but still merits consideration because "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."

And this differs from an idea that physical differences between men and women's brains may produce differences in aptitude, leading to observed uneven distribution among sexes in various areas of study in what way? Anyone care to explain the difference between the considered, but careful, academic approach to this paper's potentially contraversial proposition and the knee-jerk hyteria of the Harvard faculty?


Isn't the true purpose of blogs to be a place where we can cut the cant and hypocracy and tell the truth? You can't really know what intelligence is -- yeah right. And I could purport that my basketball skills are just as good as anyone in the NBA, because no one can really define what true basketball playing should be.

Ernst Blofeld

Actually, Arther Jensen, the undisputed king of "g" in the psychology world, is the one who declines to use the term "intelligence" in this context, because no accepted definition of the word can be agreed upon. If you can't agree on what a term means it doesn't have much place in a scientific discussion.

Patrick R. Sullivan

"I doubt Shakespeare could find a publisher--I doubt it very much. His language is too baroque and ornate; it's the style of a pre-modern era..."

Of course, he didn't have a publisher when he lived.

But, yeah, just listen to the guy, he's nearly incomprehensible to our modern ears: All that glitters isn't gold, a rose by any other name, discretion is the better part of valor, the lady doth protest too much, he's eaten me out of house and home, the quality of mercy, a pound of flesh, brevity is the soul of wit, full of sound and fury, a pox on both their houses, what a piece of work....

Mark Wilson

It does seem highly unlikely that there was natural selection for any trait over such a short period of time. The most likely explanation for the clustering of phenotypic traits is the migration and subsequent breeding isolation of this particular sub-population.


Mark Wilson


Actually the whole idea is somewhat absurd. As an exercise take a look at the occupational distribution of MENSA members. They range the gambit, both white and blue collar.

The possession of higher intelligence does not engender that the outcome is a superior result. Holding an IQ of 140 does not even say you are a genius, only that you have an aptitude for it. Unharnessed it goes for naught.

Then there are the social considerations. What is a preferred marker of success? If it's having a fat bank account then smart folks better stand aside. Research shows the 'typical millionaire' is of average IQ, shops at WalMart and drives a Ford F150. So my point is what a society views as SUCCESS may have more importance than merely the selection of IQ. And that may be more of a driver than anything else. Even of cross-breeding of beautiful people going to college.

Nor does it explain the seemingly spontaneous development of genius from ordinary parentage. So next theory?


Anyone care to explain the difference between the considered, but careful, academic approach to this paper's potentially contraversial proposition and the knee-jerk hyteria of the Harvard faculty?

Give the knees a chance to jerk, and the jerks a chance to knee somebody.

If no one anywhere denounces this study as promulgating the worst anti-Semitic sterotypes (they'are all so smart because they handle money!), I'll be shocked.

I doubt Shakespeare could find a publisher--I doubt it very much. His language is too baroque and ornate; it's the style of a pre-modern era...

I can't make this stuff up.

Since Shakepeare was clever enough to become popular in his own era, I wonder if he would be clever enough to write in contemporary language? Goest thou figure.

John Blake

Do not mistake "intelligence" as intellectual potential for technical competence: In any given place or time, intelligent applications may vary, but the capacity to realize them, whatever form they take, manifestly does not. The classic exemplars are stone-age Amazonian tribes transplanted to Rio de Janiero when deforestation eradicated their age-old jungle habitats. In Rio, they discovered a perfect fit with the old ways-- as taxi drivers. Tattooes and all, they also proved more entrepreneurial than many of the locals. In less than a generation, these benighted savages made Brazil their oyster, much as the high-steel Kennebunk Port Indians found their metier on the scaffolds of 1930s New York.

Comparisons of kepler, Galileo, Newton to today's theoreticians are valid only to the extent we divorce genius as such from the socio-cultural milieus which it inherits.


i ant no histrian an i kant spelt nether.

Half Sigma

When I read Benjamin Franklin (I have a book of his collected writings I bought at, highly recommended), I feel like he understands the 21st century better then the writers of today.

Genius Savant

There is a dimension to this no one has considered:

What if selecting for intelligence leads to genetic anomalies?

That would imply an upper bound, or at least a downside risk, of enhancing human intelligence, even if just by choosing more intelligent mates.

What if human intelligence is capped by an unfortunate coincidence of organic chemistry?

What if genius really does carry a terrible price?


How much time would it take to make an inter-marrying ethnic group different in terms of intelligence or other character traits? Not much. We could raise the average IQ in this country by about 15 points overnight, by killing everyone with an IQ under 100. Much of this "improvement" would persist to the next generation. (Maybe more than 15 points a generation later, as students knowledgeable about recent history would tend to take their studies really seriously, and would avoid brain-damaging TV and drugs!)

Over time -- 1900 years, really -- did half of all Jews get killed or screwed by the government or their neighbors to the point that they starved or raised fewer children? Perhaps, perhaps more than half.

And what other character traits do Jews stereotypically possess? Paranoia and avarice. These are harder to measure than IQ.

Personally I believe a lot of Jews measure very high on the paranoia scale, although this is more true of older Jews who remember the Holocaust, and their immediate family members. (I once had a Jewish girlfriend who told me that her landlord had criticized her for have a Mezuzah on her door frame. I was thinking "outrageous anti-Semite" until she told me that he said "it makes it easier for them to find us the next time," and that he was a survivor.

This paranoia could of course be due to learned experience, or to genetically due to selection bias among people who evaded many genocides. It's certainly easy to see that smart, paranoid genes would be more likely to survive 1900 years of oppression.

The avarice claim I believe to be an untrue characterization based on Jew's great success and over-representation in banking and merchandising. I have never known Jews to be particularly greedy, and the fact that a successful merchant has to keep costs down may lead to resentment, but has little to do with a greedy personality. Witness Wal-Mart today; if it were run by a group of distinctive co-religionists (say, Jews, or Mormons or Zoroastrians), many might attribute its ways to ethnicity, when in fact they are merely doing what they have to do to be successful.

Another theory I’ve read is that Jews test very smart because in a pre-modern European village a very smart kid is likely to be chosen for religious training (pretty much the only poor person’s opportunity for post-primary education). A Rabbi would then tend to have several children, who would tend to be relatively well off. A Catholic Priest would not.

The diseases? I don’t know if it’s been shown that they are any more common than we’d expect in a small group with so much inter-marrying.

Cecil Turner

"It does seem highly unlikely that there was natural selection for any trait over such a short period of time."

That would certainly seem to be the conventional wisdom: a few centuries just isn't enough time for a marked shift in gene frequencies. On the gross intelligence effect, killing off the dumbest 25% of a population will obviously raise the average intelligence level (however you define it), and persecution may be the most likely explanation. Still, the suggestion that the cited disorders affect DNA and "promote the growth and interconnection of brain cells" is interesting, and might change the odds.

I'd like to see their calculations, and how they figured things like the probability of a founder effect causing the disease cluster . . . but I probably wouldn't be smart enough to understand it.

Joanne Jacobs

About five years ago, someone theorized that the respect for religious scholarship in Jewish villages led to an evolutionary advantage: The offspring of scholarly Jews had a better chance of survival because wealthy merchants considered a scholar a prize son-in-law and subsidized the couple to enable the husband could continue his studies. The scholar and his wealthy wife could support a larger family than average. Since the scholar didn't require physical health, his infirmities would be passed down to the next generation. In most cultures, the biggest, strongest guy is the most prized as a husband, but that wasn't true in Jewish communities.

I think Jewish intelligence is mostly a result of culture. Same for Asian-Americans.

Attila (Pillage Idiot)

If no one anywhere denounces this study as promulgating the worst anti-Semitic sterotypes (they'are all so smart because they handle money!), I'll be shocked.

Tom, it might be described as so philo-semitic that it's anti-semitic. But I'd rather just call it dumb.

Here's what Paul Johnson, a philo-semite, wrote about Jews, moneylending, and charging interest in A History of the Jews:

"One of the greatest contributions the Jews made to human progress was to force European culture to come to terms with money and its power. Human societies have always shown an extraordinary unwillingness to demystify money and see it for what it is – a commodity like any other, whose value is relative. * * * Men bred cattle with honour; they sowed grain and reaped it worthily. But if they made money work for them they were parasites and lived on "unearned increment," as it came to be termed.

"The Jews were initially as much victims of this fallacy as anyone else. Indeed, they invented it."


TM, I'll take the anti-semetic-money bait. Although on extremes it probably doesn't matter (i.e. nobel prize winners) -- on average I would want to control for SES status of parents when looking at IQ.

Kwisatz Haderach

Christianity steamrollered Europe, pushed the Ashkenazi to the societal margin, and accidentally brought about the most successful human breeding program to exist prior to the American experiment in class mobility. That long, painful intensification of natural selection produced Leo Strauss, a teacher of sufficient power and tact to corrupt my Christianity and free my mind for philosophy. Behold the subtlety of the Divine Plan.

Richard Aubrey

When Charles Murray touched this third rail, he got flayed.

How many generations would it take to make a difference? If we knock out the least desireable ten percent every generation? Twenty percent? Two percent?
Nope. The problem with this isn't who's smarter because of environmental pressure. That's tough, but not the worst. The problem is that if this inquiry becomes legitimate, so do certain others which nobody wants to touch, for fear of the answer.

The idea that Ben Franklin or Shakespeare couldn't make it today is silly. First, they're each smart enough to make the requisite changes, should they be hauled into the twenty-first century by time machine. But the point is what would they be like if they'd been born in this century?


The college professors fleeing Hitler make a very small percentage of American Jews. There's a good reason for that--we wouldn't let them in.
The Jewish population in the US mostly were originally from Russia and Eastern Europe. Recently though, there has been an influx of Russian Jews and Israelis.

Woodland Critter

Cyril M Kornbluth explored the logical implications of this type of selection if true. Alas the future is not pretty.


I'm going to retract my remark about the implausibility of easily finding 4 genes that are involved in intelligence. I'd forgotten what sphingolipids are. Many of the disease they are discussing in NYT article talk about proteins that are responsible for making the conduction coating of your brain. Your brain communicates through electrical messages and uses wires. Those wires are insulated to speed things up, and these disease are effecting that.


How many generations would it take to make a difference?

I am hoping to pick Jor's brain for an answer to this, although obviously, anyone who feels qualified ought to jump in.

I am remembering a study out of the USSR after the break-up, where some scientists had bred foxes for certain traits. After 40 generations, they had what seemed like almost a new species, in terms of friendliness, disposition, and other specific traits (their tails were held vertically rather than horizaontally, IIRC).

Anyway, 500 years would be about 20 generations for humans - would that be time enough to breed for intelligence and see gentic mutatioins accumulate?

The college professors fleeing Hitler make a very small percentage of American Jews.

OK, I am not an expert on Jewish immigration history, but... the percentage of Americans winning Nobel prizes is also quite small.


Nuts! particularly to the Liberal F'Art's professors and other academic posers making ad hominem attacks on the genetically IQ favored (if often socially inept and frequently disinterested in making money)and hypothecating based on preconceptions and ifthen, then if then, then ....blah, blah. The assholian presumptions of these idiots and their hyperbolic pronouncements are just cover for their tinfoil-hat politics.
For respondent TM, this....

q= _______________

you and the Russians are quite right, both experimentally and theoretically. There are all sorts of things that could drive a mutation to high frequency, and all things being equal, even just a small founding population could produce these results, even without a direct linkage. I haven't read the paper yet, but will, with more later.
P.S. perhaps some of these clinical manifestations are
linked to axonal guidance and maturation factors, providing a palate of superior neuronal networking. Perhaps also the idea that many high IQ people never reach their potential is not so much a problem of IQ being vertically irrelevant(in the temporal, historic
sense) thus inflating the sociologic pap dispensed by the acadd academicsemic madrassas, as the fact that many bright people find stupid people (often bureacrats an


....sorry, big fingers, small keyboard...

to continue the fact that manybright people find stupid people
(often bureacrats and liberal arts professors) intolerable over time. Then too, it is difficult to pursue many interesting areas of inquiry if you start out at 21 planning for all the great things you will do at 65. No harm in prudence, but bright people often see the possibilities in ways others don't, and can't really afford to focus to tightly.
Anyway, mutations can pile up in a short period, and I find it highly improbable that natural selection in the
common meaning, rather than small founding populations, is the active ingredient, it that is true. Breeding preferences would also tend to help multiple factors persist as well.

John Blake above is dead right also.


Franklin ... Shakespeare ... Jefferson
successful in the 21st century?

How about Gates or Soros or Clinton or Bush
being as successful in the 16th century.

[no flames on the obvious idea that the last
of those 4 IS living in the 12 century :-}]

Cecil Turner

"Anyway, 500 years would be about 20 generations for humans - would that be time enough to breed for intelligence and see gentic mutatioins accumulate?"

I'm close to clueless on the subject, but a common argument (usually for intelligent design) refers to Haldane's Dilemma which suggested the mean rate of gene fixing was one per 300 generations. No clue if that's a valid assessment, but if it is, the time frame would appear to be an order of magnitude too short.


Nurture is as important here as nature. A few commenters touched on this. Jews prize scholarship, but this goes beyond just subsidizing the studies and genes of the smartest young men.

For centuries all male and some female children were taught to read, in places where the vast majority of the population was illiterate. All males were expected to study Torah and Talmud at least a bit. Talmud study is very intellectually demanding; it's like tort law, history, folk tales, homilies, and spiritual riddles all rolled into one. Often women would run small businesses so their husbands could study, so women had to know basic math and be able to read, even if they didn't go to yeshiva like the men. Also they would be very assertive (which gets stereotyped into "domineering" and "pushy.")

Children are encouraged to ask questions. Torah and Talmud study is traditionally done in "chevruta": pairs of students reading and discussing the text together. Any pedagogue will tell you this is an excellent method to get students to really engage with the material. Until recently almost all Jews spoke at least two and often more languages.

Also, a persecuted minority which wants to survive as a culture REALLY values its children. They are treated with great affection and concern. At an extreme, this is smothering, but in general it enhances the kid's self confidence and intelligence.

Since the Enlightenment Jews encouraged their children to attend university, Jewish immigrants in Western countries have been similar to Asian immigrants in pressuring all the children to get good grades and advanced degrees, and sacrificing to support their children's academic and professional careers.

With this kind of culture you don't need genetics to explain intellectual achievement. In fact, somebody wrote a book about 10 yrs ago on "how to raise your kids the Jewish way." He went through all these cultural practices, which are not universal in Jewish families, but ARE pretty common. They are stereotypes which are for the most part true. His thesis wasa that "these child-rearing methods will produce self-confident smart kids and you don't have to be Jewish to use them." Talk about philo-semitic!

Ralph Dean

Jewish IQ's compared to Asian? about equal. Compared to gentiles of European ancestry? About 15 points higher--on average, of course. Now, for about a thousand years +/-, we gentile Europeans gave the Catholic church a monopoly on education. If a bright young man wanted a degree, he took holy orders, and celibacy. A steady drain from the gentile gene pool. Happily, the bright women didn't get deselected that way, or we'd all be cretins.(No, I know cretins are congenital hypothyroids. Just a FOS.

Dog of Justice

Link to the paper.

The paper does a very good job of refuting the founder effect -- the founder effect predicts diseases due to homozygosity occurring essentially independently of gene function, while in this case most of the diseases are very tightly clustered along two metabolic pathways. It also addresses most misunderstandings of natural selection I see in this thread.

Frankly, I'm at least 90% sure that heterozygous carriers for the sphingolipid-related diseases do in fact have a measurable g advantage. The question is whether the public is willing to accept this finding.


TM, to tell you the truth, its been a while since I've taken genetics. It seems plausible though, farmers have been selectively breeding animals and plants and getting them to do what we want for centuries.

Thanks for the link DoJ. I don't share the same confidence you do, but I'll agree it seems plausible and should be looked at more carefully. However, instead of worrying about social implications -- why don't we try and worry about the sciencce between verifying or not? Do more animal experiments -- and the sib experiments -- let's get some more backing that these alleles are linked. Check for alleles and intelligence in other populations.

Dog of Justice

However, instead of worrying about social implications -- why don't we try and worry about the sciencce between verifying or not?

Oh, I'm totally in agreement with this. The paper provides some testable, falsifiable hypotheses; I'd certainly like to see the relevant data collected soon.

Alex Bensky

Well, as an Ashkenazic Jew myself, I'd like to, what was it...? Well, tell me about the rabbits, someone.

Cecil Turner

Thanks for the link, Dog. They certainly address TM's question directly:

With its high heritability, IQ should respond rapidly to directional selection according to equation 1. Assuming, for example, that the narrow-sense heritability of IQ is 0.8 and that the parents of the next generation have an average IQ one point above the population mean, the average IQ increases by 0.8 points per generation. In 20 human generations, about 500 years, it would increase by 16 points—slightly more than the difference between average Ashkenazi IQ scores and average European IQ scores. Change of this magnitude over historical time is not at all implausible.
The contention (which appears valid) is that the high heritability of intelligence and strong selection advantage made this a particularly rapid selection process. The time frame also depends a bit on how you define the area of interest, as they suggest the process has been ongoing for more than a millenium:
This implies that almost all of this class of mutations should have originated after the Ashkenazim began to occupy their niche in finance, perhaps 1200 to 1300 years ago, with the most common mutations originating early in this period.
The weakest part of their argument looked to me to be the dismissal of persecution as a possible selection factor . . . but I don't think I'd care to debate it with them.


The idea that Jews, specifically the Ashkenazim, faced social pressures that selected for intelligence (meaning g) is hardly new. I heard it first from my husband's math Ph.D adviser, himself Ashkenazi, 40 years ago or more. Izzy's thesis, which overlaps several proposed in the comments, was based on persecution, starting with the diaspora -- more like 2,000 years than 500, which is more than enough generations to enhance a genetic trait (as the tame foxes show). If the rabbi was the best marriage catch in town for the daughters of the richest merchants (and rich and smart are highly correlated), their children were more likely to survive poverty and starvation, because the community would protect the rabbi even at the cost of their own survival.

While it is true you can find people of all levels of income and education in Mensa, the membership skews very strongly toward high levels of income and education. The skew would likely be even stronger if it weren't true that Mensa-eligible people who are successful otherwise aren't as motivated to join.


I forgot to include; while it is true that both Ashkenazim and Asians test higher on IQ than the American mean -- and that's East Asians, by the way; genetically, South Asians cluster with Europeans -- they don't do it the same way. Ashkenazim are almost two standard deviations higher on the verbal component of IQ, but close to average on the mathematics component, while East Asians have their advantage in mathematics, and particularly spatial visualization (because there has been so much recent immigration, the verbal part of the IQ score is less reliable).

That adduces toward the Talmud-study hypothesis. It is also true that Jews excel in research mathematics, but that activity is more like Talmudic argumentation than it is like anything non-mathematicians think of as "mathematical."

Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein were mindlessly attacked when "The Bell Curve" was published, but their thesis -- that individually measured IQ trumps family SES in predicting life outcomes -- is now pretty much mainstream. They did not "claim" that the average IQ of African-Americans was one S.D. below the American average; that result was well established empirically decades before they published their book. Nor did they claim that the difference was genetic; they declare themselves "resolutely agnostic" on that question, since it has no practical implications.

The intriguing thing about this research is that it proposes a biological mechanism that generates testable hypotheses without getting into politically sensitive science.

Note that it is entirely possible that the selection pressure affecting Ashkenazim in Europe operated on a mutation that had deleterious physiological effects, while the selection pressure on East Asians relied on a different mutation, or no mutation at all -- just a different environment. Philippe Rushton has hypothesized that the climate of Northeast Asia, especially the harsh winters and the need to plan for them, selected for people who were smart enough to do that and survive.

On isolated islands, species get smaller, because being big is nutritionally expensive and not particularly useful. Fish in dark caves don't preserve useless eyes.

Biology is not warm and fuzzy, and Mother Nature is not politically correct.


i'm not greg or henry, but i know them, and some of the points people are making are addressed in the paper (it is a short 30 pages, trust me).

1) persecution: many groups have been persecuted. armenians and gypsies come to mind. they don't display the same profile according to henry and greg. more relevantly, non-ashkenazi jews have been persecuted, and ditto, they don't have the same profile according to henry and greg (read the paper for psychometric references, they are in there).

2) the rabbi thesis is rejected by henry and greg because rabbis were probably less than <1% of ashkenazi population. for selection to have power it needs to effect more than a trival segment of the population. greg points to research which suggests that there was a ~800 period when ashkenazi were mostly (that is the majority) money lenders or merchants of some sort. the paper has more details, please read it.

3) the ashkenazi cognitive profile differences from gentile northern europeans in that they are weak (.5 stds below the european norm) in visuospatial IQ, but well above the norm (~1 std) in verbal and mathematical IQ. this is a peculiar profile, as mathematical and VP intelligence tends to correlate well in other populations, suggesting that the ashkenazi phenotype has peculiar antecedants. the reading that greg terms it "overclocking" is that they are not intelligent in the typical way that a high IQ japanese or frenchmen might be, that is, over hundreds of genes of small effect, rather, there are a cluster of overdominant mutations that boost their cognitive profile with concomitant side effects (the diseases in question).

4) as greg and henry note response to selection ~ heritability X selection coefficient. it's that simple.

for more (and some comments by both greg and henry) see my blog.

Holly in Cincinnati

My Ashkenazic great-grandparents came to the USA from Eastern Europe between 1880-1905 (IOW, long before Hitler came to power). As far as I know, they were dirt poor and not well-educated. One had a bread route in Cleveland. Another peddled a route across northern Ohio until he had enough money to settle down, open a store and get married. They sent most of their children to college and, often, graduate or professional school.

"Well, surely that was influenced by the patterns of immigration to America - Irish laborers fleeing the famine, Jewish University professors fleeing Hitler, waddya expect?"

Cecil Turner

"As far as I know, they were dirt poor and not well-educated."

That may be, but it does not invalidate TM's point about the timely exodus of top-flight scientists from European fascism. Similarly, the argument that persecution was not a selective factor since it didn't have similar effects elsewhere (e.g., on the relatively mobile Gypsy population) is a negative finding that really doesn't appear to be dispositive.


As to the timing of Jewish immigration - look, it is interesting that the Ashekenazi Jews are 3% of the population but 27% of Nobel Prize winners. However, the fraction of As. Jews who won Nobel Prizes is still tiny (and since Holly in CinCin's relatives did not win any, hers is not a compelling rebuttal.)

That said, this is a silly argument - eventually, someone with a bit of free time will look it up.


"One had a bread route in Cleveland. Another peddled a route across northern Ohio until he had enough money to settle down, open a store and get married. They sent most of their children to college and, often, graduate or professional school."

One more data point supporting my "nurture vs nature" argument.

Attila (Pillage Idiot)

I haven't won a Nobel either. Anti-semites!


Thomas Sowell and Amy Chua have written volumes on how the values of an ethnic culture influence choices of profession, achievement, and wealth. What is striking in the numerous examples they cite is just how pervasive and persistent cultural values are, and how they repeatedly trump intelligence tests.


Only two pop out of these lists (which are not complete) - Modigliani and Steinberger.

This did not help much either:


"yeah right. And I could purport that my basketball skills are just as good as anyone in the NBA, because no one can really define what true basketball playing should be."

well, seeing as basketball has set and specific rules as to how to play the game, what is good and what is bad, and seeing how the game is based on numbers it makes sense that the best players would consistently do whatever gave there team the best numbers


there is no rulebook on the rules of intelligence that would be analogous to a book on how to play basketball and you couldn't use numbers to interpret a play by Shakespeare or a poem by Plath, or a painting by Dali or an invention by Edison could you? The only thing you could use was its popularity among the masses, but, last time I checked the masses of one era to the next were not exactly the best people to ask on what made a person smart. You could however, learn alot about what makes a person biased through studying them.

But I digress.
Point is, I think you're wrong.


"Holding an IQ of 140 does not even say you are a genius, only that you have an aptitude for it. Unharnessed it goes for naught."

I'm not arguing either way, per say, but couldn't this evolutionary process that made Ashkenazics "smarter", instead have worked to increase the amount of Askenazics that harness there intelligence, therefore making the entire group of people act and appear smarter (and perhaps one could argue be smarter) because of the intelligence they are harnessing. One could certaintly argue that the medeival Jews needed to harness there intelligence more than their fellow Christians to get ahead in life.

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