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...