What’s the Secret? – Part III
Is there a secret ingredient that can be identified as the dominant factor that explains the rather astonishing successes of Ashkenazi Jews? The usual elements cited deal with “nature” and “nurture.” The former referring to genetic factors including IQ, and “nurture” with environmental and upbringing conditions. However, what must also be taken into account is the historic nature of Jewish tradition.
For example, here is an odd fact that was just revealed last September in a study published in the Nature Communication journal, citing an amazing statistic. “Ashkenazi Jews descended from just 350 people.” The study was authored by Shai Carmi, a computer science professor at Columbia University, and more than 20 medical researchers from Yale, Columbia, Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and other institutions.
Genome analysis shows Ashkenazi Jews can trace their ancestry to a “bottleneck” [see below] of just 350 individuals dating back to between 600 and 800 years ago. The researchers determined that the Ashkenazi Jews’ genetic similarities were so acute that one of the study’s researchers, Columbia professor Itsik Pe’er, told the Live Science website that among Ashkenazi Jews, “everyone is a 30th cousin.”
Obviously, this is not the first time genetics has been used in order to determine the course of Jewish history. One of the more famous research studies was published by Cochran, Jason and Harspending for the Department of Anthropology, University of Utah ten years ago in 2005. It was titled Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. It hypothesized that “the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence. Ashkenazi literacy, economic specialization, and closure to inward gene flow led to a social environment in which there was high fitness payoff to intelligence, specifically verbal and mathematical intelligence but not spatial ability.”
The study proposed “the well-known clusters of Ashkenazi genetic diseases, [these include Tay-Sachs, Gaucher's disease, Bloom's syndrome, and Fanconi anemia, and mutations at BRCA1 and BRCA2], the sphingolipid cluster and the DNA repair cluster in particular, increase intelligence in heterozygotes.” Never mind the scientific gobbledygook. The Utah researchers argue, “evolution has had to counter a sudden threat by favoring any mutation that protected against it, whatever the side effects. Ashkenazic diseases like Tay-Sachs, they say, are a side effect of genes that promote intelligence. Although these disorders have been attributed to a bottleneck in Ashkenazi history and consequent genetic drift, there is no evidence of any bottleneck.”
What’s a Bottleneck?
According to Wikipedia a genetic (or population) bottleneck is “a sharp reduction in the size of a population due to environmental events (such as earthquakes, floods, fires, disease, or droughts) or human activities (such as genocide). Such events can reduce the variation in the gene pool of a population; thereafter, a smaller population with a correspondingly smaller genetic diversity, remains to pass on genes to future generations of offspring through sexual reproduction.”
It’s interesting to note how, over a ten year period, the newly discovered genetic and population research by Nature Communication (above) contradicts the “bottleneck” conclusion cited in the older investigation, thus revising a previous held belief. A form of genetic research that created a firestorm of controversy occurred in 1994 in a book by American psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein (who died before the book was released), and American political scientist Charles Murray.
The “Bell Curve” Controversy
The book's title, The Bell Curve, comes from the bell-shaped normal distribution of IQ scores. In an opinion piece about the book at the time of its publication, the New York Times wrote this: “The Bell Curve, a flame-throwing treatise on race, class and intelligence by the late Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray advances a grisly thesis: I.Q., largely inherited and intractable, dictates an individual's success -- an economic death knell for much of America's black population. The story has America increasingly divided by race and sliding inexorably into castes based on I.Q.” The story continued:
“The book has already ignited bitter controversy, and that is no surprise. It declares settled what many regard as an unresolved argument over whether I.Q.'s have scientific merit. Moreover, Mr. Murray's record as a political ideologue who uses social science data to support his policy preferences touches a tender spot in American intellectual history on the issue of race and intelligence.” Despite the fact that Murray did state that the concept of IQ’s having scientific merit was unresolved did not stop many from terming him a racist. In fact, Bob Herbert, then a columnist at The New York Times, described the book as a “scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship.”
A Times book review said of the authors, “They believe that I.Q. can be quantitatively measured, and that intelligence is at least partly heritable. They say that numerical measurements of intelligence are statistically (albeit weakly) correlated with job performance, as well as with rates of birth, marriage, divorce, illegitimacy, crime, welfare dependency and participation in the political process.” It seems that statement is more readily acceptable today based on significant advances in genetic research and knowledge than it might have been twenty-one years ago when the book was first published.
So, what exactly is the role of IQ as a psychological exemplar? The origin of IQ testing is based in the works of one man as described in Wikipedia. Alfred Binet is celebrated in history as the man who created the first intelligence test in the form as we know them today. He is commonly known as the father of IQ testing.
In 1904, Binet was commissioned by the French Ministry of Public Instruction to develop techniques for identifying primary grade children whose lack of success in normal classrooms suggested the need for some form of special education.
In 1905 he produced the Binet-Simon scale [with Theodore Simon] - the first intelligence test. After the development of the Binet-Simon Scale, the test was soon brought to the United States where it generated considerable interest. Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman took Binet's original test and standardized it using a sample of American participants. This adapted test, first published in 1916, was called the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale and soon became the standard intelligence test used in the U.S.
Helping to understand the role of IQ’s is a relatively unrecognized article published in December 2013 by the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies that provides a wealth of information. It opens stating “ Ashkenazi Jews are smart, shockingly brilliant, in general, impressive in brain power.” It then asks the question, “How did they get that way?” What follows are quotes from that article that might illuminate the answer to the secret of Jewish achievement.
“Researchers who study the Ashkenazim agree that the children of Abraham are on top of the IQ chart. Steven Pinker – who lectured on ‘Jews, Genes, and Intelligence’ in 2007 - says ‘their average IQ has been measured at 108-115.’ Richard Lynn, author of ‘The Intelligence of American Jews’ in 2004, says it is ‘only’ a half-standard higher: 107.5. Henry Harpending, Jason Hardy, and Gregory Cochran, University of Utah authors of the 2005 research report, ‘Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence,’ [mentioned above] state that their subjects, ‘score .75 to 1.0 standard deviations above the general European average, corresponding to an IQ of 112-115.’ Charles Murray, in his 2007 essay ‘Jewish Genius,’ says ‘their mean is somewhere in the range of 107-115, with 110 being a plausible compromise.’”
Illustrated directly below are the IQ scores of the “general population,” displaying the percentage of people within each IQ range level. The IQ average for this population group is 100.
- Less than 70 IQ - 2.5%
- 70-85 IQ - 12.5%
- 86-100 IQ - 35%
- 101-115 IQ – 35%
- 116-130 IQ – 12.5%
- Geater than 130 IQ – 2.5%
- Less than 87 IQ – 2.5%
- 88-102 IQ – 12.5%
- 103-117 IQ – 35%
- 118-132 IQ – 35%
- 133-148 IQ – 12.5%
- Greater than 148 IQ – 2.5%
Nature Or Not
In essence, there is little argument (other than political correctness) relating to the inordinately high IQ scores of Ashkenazi Jews compared to those in the general population. However, the question still remains as to whether IQ relates to the nature of genetics. The following article in the Internet encyclopedia Metapedia provides an interesting interpretation:
“The eugenic hypothesis argues that Jews, and in particular, Ashkenazi Jews, have actually practiced eugenics. Judaism has had a long tradition of according high status to scholars as well as wealth, which allowed those with higher intelligence to more easily reproduce and their children to survive. The Mishnah states ‘under all circumstances a man should sell everything he possesses in order to marry the daughter of a scholar, as well as to give his daughter to a scholar in marriage. Never should he marry his daughter to an illiterate man.’ Jews have also practiced negative eugenics by disallowing marriages for poor (and likely less intelligent) Jews during certain periods when states explicitly limited the number of Jews. Poor Jews have also been particularly likely to leave Judaism. In contrast to Catholic priests, which may have caused a dysgenic effect on Europeans through their sometimes-enforced celibacy, Jewish Rabbis were encouraged to marry young and have children. Rabbis were also often physicians which may have caused better medical care for their children.”
This can explain why Ashkenazi Jews score relatively better on verbal subtests since it was verbal ability rather spatial ability that was required for the studies of the Jewish scriptures.
Ironically, Metapedia is a self-described anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying publication that somehow came up with a rather rational explanation here.
So, is it only genetics and nature that is the basis for high levels of Ashkenazi intelligence, or is nurture and environment that are the main causes? Next month’s article argues for the latter…or maybe…what?