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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My IQ is Higher Than Yours

What did Sigumnd Freud, Albert Einstein and Gustav Mahler have in common?

Obviously they were all geniuses, brilliant men that rose above everyone else in their field of competence. But they were also Ashkenazi Jews. In an upcoming scientific paper, scientist Gregory Cochran and two of his colleagues claim that this is no coincidence: Ashkenazi Jews are, on average, more intelligent than others.

The notion that ethnicity determined intelligence might sound like a preposterous idea in our politically correct day and age. But Cochran backs his theory with hard facts and claims that a DNA failure commonly found in Ashkenazi society (that leads to a high incidence of diseases such as Tay-Zachs) is associated with the same genes that enhance intelligence. The argument is somewhat complicated but was summarised neatly by The Economist a couple of weeks ago.

Few would dispute the fact that Jews have fared above average throughout history in areas where intelligence mattered, making significant contributions to recent Western society in Europe and the US as well as to other civilizations in the more distant past. Whether this is a result of nature (DNA) or nurture (societal factors), or more likely a combination of both, is, in my opinion, less relevant.

On a side note, having grown up mostly in Israel I cannot help but wonder whether this natural advantage of Ashkenazi Jews works well only when the competition is mostly made up of gentiles but is much less effective when the competition is made up of other Jews, Ashkenazi or not...

5 comments:

Gregory Cochran said...

That's _Gregory_ Cochran, not George Cochran

To tell the truth I never thought much of Freud.

When you say this : " On a side note, having grown up mostly in Israel I cannot help but wonder whether this natural advantage of Ashkenazi Jews works well only when the competition is mostly made up of gentiles but is much less effective when the competition is made up of other Jews, Ashkenazi or not..." - what do you mean, exactly?

Gregory Cochran

Sharvul said...

Hello Gregory,

First, apologies for mistaking your name. I corrected the post.

What I meant by my comment (besides the "tongue-in-cheek" jab at Ashenazi friends; I'm Sephardi myself) was that in Israel I do not
notice a major difference, intellectually speaking, between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi Jews. At least not in my generation. It is true that there are still marked differences in areas such as university enrollment and high-profile jobs (more Ashkenzis that Sephardis), but I believe these differences are attributable to the history of Israel and not to "natural" causes such as the ones you researched.

Furthermore, as I also mentioned, I think that Sephardi Jews
contributed no less to the non-Western societies they lived in, when those societies flourished and dominated the world. Witness Maimonides in muslim Spain and Egypt. Now, a study that would find a common genetic cause for higher intelligence in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, compared with non-Jews, would of course prove both my points.

Until then, they are only a hunch.

Gregory Cochran said...

I just looked at some current figures: the college graduation rate of non-Ashkenazi Jews in the current generation is more than three times lower than that of Ashkenazi Jews, and the difference is bigger in the sciences.

I suspect that this difference is not primarily caused by culture - " The results suggest that the gaps between the two major ethnic groups are not smaller in the third generation than in the second generation. "

See http://sapir.tau.ac.il/papers/sapir-wp/5-04.pdf

But I could be wrong

Sharvul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sharvul said...

(I just posted above an email exchange between Gregory Cochran and me).

The paper from Tel Aviv university indeed paints a somber picture.

I am still not convinced the genes are the sole factor explaining the difference in university graduation between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Israelis. The social factors may have a larger contribution. Regardless, the numbers are there and they are not pretty.