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02 December 2005

Pinker on Jews, Genes and Intelligence

Steve Sailer noted on his blog that Harvard Professor Steven Pinker would be giving a lecture at the Institute for Jewish Research in Manhattan on Jews, Genes, and Intelligence. And so I dutifully got myself on the PATH train to midtown NYC Thursday evening. The talk was based on the paper "The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" by Greg Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending. For background, here's an article in the Economist, here's Steve Sailer's take, and here's Pinker on Nature vs. Nurture.

Though the moderator thanked him for a very 'even-handed' presentation on a controversial topic, to my ear what Pinker presented was a spirited endorsement of the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending (CHH) paper. The presentation generally seemed to fill the need to present these controversial ideas to a very interested audience by a trusted authoritative source. It didn't seem to me that Pinker added anything that Cochran or Harpending could not have provided themselves except proximity to NYC and comfortably strong Ashkenazik credentials. Overall Pinker emphasized the reasonableness of the authors' hypotheses, the generally better quality of the genetic evidence over the environmental, the non-rational basis of much of the opposition, and the paper's strong foundation in the current state of knowledge.

What follows is a rather lengthy account of what I saw. ...Read more

Pinker began the lecture reciting the litany of Jewish achievements: though only 3% of the U.S. population, Jews make up 40% of partners of top law firms, xx% of Natioanal Academy of Science members, yy% of Oscar winning screenwriters, etc., etc. And then pointed out that Jews test higher on IQ tests, anywhere from 7 to 15 points above the European average regardless of socio-economic status (SES). But this advanced achievement causes conflict in how Jews view themselves or wish to be viewed. Jewish domination in elite circles feeds conspiracy theories of Jewish cabals; suggestions that Jews are genetically different are repugnant in the wake of the Holocaust; and Zionism views Jews as a whole as an ethnic group, not as a race.

After this preamble, Pinker basically proceeded to step thru the arguments (i.e., hypotheses) presented in the CHH paper.

Hypothesis I: The Jewish IQ advantage is largely heritable. Pinker noted the irony that even the existence of intelligence is not recognized by many intellectuals. "I find it remarkable that intellectuals deny that intelligence exists because intellectuals are obsessed with intelligence." They constantly discuss the intelligence of colleagues, students, spouses. They are concerned with lead poisoning's lowering of IQ and the injustice in executing low-IQ prisoners and the intelligence of the current President of the United States. [Note that this is a favorite theme of Steve Sailer's]. Pinker though quickly pointed out that a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the American Psychological Association defined the consensus view as embracing intelligence as a real and stable property; that IQ is a good measure of it; that it is a good predictor of success in life; and it is from 50 - 80% heritable. He did point out that while intelligence may be highly heritable, this does not necessarily mean that group differences in intelligence are heritable and referenced the corn seed thought experiment (or tomato seeds). But as far as group differences between Jews and non-Jews, this should be highly testable using twin/adoption studies.

According to Pinker, evidence that the Jewish IQ advantage is environmentally based is circumstantial, but whatever the evidence may be it should be subject to the same scrutiny as genetic evidence. And he pointed out that twin and adoption studies have shown that whatever the environmental causes may be, family upbringing is not among them. Whether it's twins reared apart or adoptees vs. birth-children, there's nothing about the parents or siblings that seem to matter.

As to the influence of Jewish cultural norms, he brought up some counter-anecdotes to dipute that Jewish parents have traditionally emphasized scholarship and learning. In sum, he said that environment can only go so far and that the evidene for environmental influence on IQ is weaker than the genetic evidence.

He continued thru the CHH hypotheses.

Hypothesis II: The Ashknazim were highly endogamous with very little outbreeding
III: They were funneled into middleman occupations by being kept out of farming and crafts
IV: These occupations (money lending, primarily) were ones where intelligence provided a distinct advantage
V: Financial success translated into reproductive success - i.e., more children. Unlike today, in the past - before the Demographic Transition in the 18th century, more wealth meant more children. And he referenced Tucker's Law.
VI: Ashkenazim are associated with unusually high frequencies of certain rare genetic diseases which cluster around neurologically-related genes. The prevalence of these disorders has often been attributed to drift - i.e, random mutations occurring within a genetically isolated populations. But CHH calculate the odds of such random mutations clustering around sets of related genes as improbably low, and that further analysis suggests that these mutations show tell-tale signs of selection.
VII: That the presence of these diseases are associated with increased intelligence. There is already evidence that one Ashkenazi disease, Torsion Dystonia, is clearly associated with elevated IQ.

Pinker concluded his summation of the paper by pointing out that the evidence is, on the whole, "iffy", that each of the seven hypotheses are reasonable on their own but must all be true for the theory to be true - but it's highly testable using sibling/twin studies etc., and that the paper "is a good example of falsifiable science."

But - he asked his audience - is it Good For the Jews?

On the one hand, Yes, everyone already knows about high levels of Jewish achievement, and better that they attribute it to higher native intelligence than to conspiracies or general aggressiveness; that as "middlemen", Jews are often thought of as parasites and bloodsuckers, and so it's good that people understand the role of intelligence in filling these role.

On the other hand, Maybe Not. If intelligence can be genetic, what about certain other personality traits - maybe they're heritable too. Pinker left it up to his audience's imagination to fill in the blanks as to what these traits might be.
Regarding Sephardic Jews, Pinker asked Greg Cochran if some of this might apply to them as well. Cochran thinks there would be some similar findings but not as strong.

Then there is the concern about what this might imply about other population differences such as African-American vs. European-American. Pinker sees the issue of population diffences being denounced on several levels. There is the general repugnance towards any genetic explanation for anything. There is a tendency to deny such a thing as intelligence and to deny the very notion of distinct human groups - the myth, as he called it, that race does not exist. Reality, he pointed out, will not go away. If it's true, we cannot deny it away. The truth cannot be anti-Semitic.
There is a distinction between Fairness and Equality, he asserted. When the Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal, it did not mean that all men are clones. Political equality means that we treat each individual fairly and not as a member of a group - then we don't have to worry about group differences.

He then addressed the "We shouldn't go there" argument - that research such as this should be restricted as immoral - such as we restrict experiments that could endanger people. But here it's not the conduct of the research that's considered dangerous but the ideas themselves - ideas should not be restricted.

He offers some positives from genetic studies. Genetics have affirmed the history of the Jewish people as originating from the Mid-East, and have even affirmed the validity of the Cohanim-line of priests. Genetics also sheds light on the history of "under-documented" regions such as Africa and southwest Asia as well as pre-historic human migrations.

Final Thoughts - genetics engenders lots of hand-wringing - two of the biggest fears are 1) cloning and 2) genetic enhancement - so-called "designer babies." Pinker doesn't worry about these much. A clone is really just having a twin as a baby and once people realize that they're not literally making a copy of themselves we will find that cloning is not very popular. As far as genetic enhancement, the CHH paper is an excellent example of how difficult and dangerous this could be and so is unlikely to be attempted with much success. Pinker's own biggest fear - that the world right now is unprepared to deal with the inevitable genetic uncovering of group differences.

There was a Q&A which pretty much went over the same material. Here are some items of interest:
Q: Should the bar for publication on this type of controversial material be set higher? Pinker: Perhaps, but it's important to get the questions out there so they can be investigated
Q: What about the Khazar-origin theory of the Ashkenazim? Pinker: A minority view and not supported by genetic evidence.
Q: What about adoption of non-Jews by Jews? Pinker: The effect of the adoptive family on intelligence reduces to zero by adulthood.
Q: What about Jews under-performing between 1650 and 1900? Pinker: Not sure that's true - European Jews were seldom poor and seldom lived in ghettos until more recent European history [Pinker might have mentioned the effect that the Pale of Settlement had on Jewish life in the late 19th century.]


Blogger Chip said...

Thanks for an excellent summary. Do you know if a transcript will be made available?

December 02, 2005 10:37 AM  
Anonymous ziel said...

He was asked if he would make his Power Point slide available but he demurred - something about whether the lecture might be published.

December 02, 2005 12:10 PM  
Anonymous MP said...

Pinker was a sellout ... at YIVO.

Gimme a call when he hits the big time: the 92nd Street Y.

December 02, 2005 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He offers some positives from genetic studies. Genetics have affirmed the history of the Jewish people as originating from the Mid-East, and have even affirmed the validity of the Cohanim-line of priests.

He seemed to think that the Cohen Modal Haplotype was indicative of descend from Aaron. It may not be.

December 02, 2005 12:37 PM  
Anonymous scifigeek said...

How is he a sellout? He defended the paper and called for more inquiry into these issues.

December 02, 2005 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm missing the sellout angle also.

December 02, 2005 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought he meant that Pinker sold out YIVO, which is a small off-Broadway venue. The 92nd Street Y is Broadway for lectures in Manhattan.

December 02, 2005 4:57 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

Ah - literally sold out. Yes he did - I and about 50 others had to sit out in the hall and view the lecture on a closed-circuit feed (the screen was very large and the audio very good, however)

December 02, 2005 6:05 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

He seemed to think that the Cohen Modal Haplotype was indicative of descend from Aaron. It may not be.
True, that claim now looks premature. When I read D's first post on it a few days ago it seemed to be saying the line may not be traceable to a single "Aaron" source ~3000 YA but now looks like it may not signify even a specific Jewish line of ancestry at all? We'll probably see a lot of revisions to some of these types of claims as more refined methods are applied in replication efforts.

December 03, 2005 8:48 AM  
Anonymous E.C. said...

Jewish people are the most intelligent. They win almost 40% of the Nobel Prize's and they have a small population of only 14 million. So by far they exceed the other races in intelligence. The other races having huge numbers and such small contributions.

IQ tests, test intellectual conformity, not creativity and originality. This would explain the Asian high IQ's. They as a people are the ultimate conformists.

In IQ tests there is typically only one answer to the problem. That problem being a social conformity to reason. But everyone knows that Genius's and all of the greatest developments in the world are not the product of conformity. Conformity never breeds creativity. We can see this in the lack of influence the Asian population has had on Science. China used to be called the "sick man" of Asia. Their population is massive and their contribution to innovation is almost nil. We can see this lack of originality in their adoptation of European philosophies, I.e. Communism.

Friedrich Nietzsche and other Philosophers have critized Asians. Nietsche used the words "Pallid osification" to describe Orientals.

Pallid: lacking sparkle or liveliness.

Osification: The process of becoming set and inflexible in behavior, attitudes, and actions. Inflexible conformity, rigid unthinking acceptance of social conventions.

The reality is Asian people have yet to understand that laws and rules are arbitrary. Europeans make the rules and Asian's follow them.

It also doesn't make sense that Asian's are considered smart because of the fact that they have destroyed their own countries. This is due to over-population and their basic lack of enviromental understanding.

It is also common scientific fact that women who have many children are ignorant, and those who have less children are more intelligent. This has already been proven in studies. So it seems strange to say that Asians are smart when the obviousness of their backwards countries, and medieval lifestyle makes them contrary to that premise.

Europeans have the most advanced civilizations and every other race has yet to meet these levels other than the Japanese. The Japanese only being good at copying other people's inventions and making them better. Other than that their original creativity is lacking as well. They took American cars and made them better. They took the German camera and made it better. And they took German steel and made it better. Otherwise the greatest advances still come from Europeans and Jews. Other than that the Orientals have yet to produce an Einstein or a Thomas Edison.

When it comes to Black people. It makes sense that they have low intellectual comformity, I.e. IQ tests. They are far too creative to be trapped in this unoriginal form of conditioning. You can tell their creative capacity in their athletics, music, dance, and the way they talk. They by far exceed the Asiatic races in these areas. Being better singers, musicians ect. Blacks far exceed Asians in emotive expression. In all of North America there is only one or two famous high-paid Asian actors.

Reality, Europeans rule the world and they have allowed others to exist only out of desire for economic bennifet. They, (Europeans) are also the physically strongest, winning the Strongest Man competitions again and again.

The greater the conformity, the weaker the race. Thus we see the races as they are today. The wild animal being bred out of man, and the physically impotent, conformist thriving.

Otherwise "Group psychology" is the most destructive thing in the world. All these stereotypes are false when it comes to the individual. Individualism is the most important thing for this time. All countries, Religions, groups need to dissolve for man to live in peace.

June 04, 2008 1:39 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

One of the things that Asians do that Europeans don't (generally) is have kids at young ages. This has probably been a bit of a drain on their progress over the centuries, and is a powerful force behind overpopulation. It shortens the generations, and younger parents have less resources to manage their offspring.

June 05, 2008 12:38 AM  
Blogger Michael Littman said...

great summary, thanks

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’d take these discussions of Jewish “intellectual superiority” more seriously if Jewish contributions to world culture weren’t such cock-ups: communism, Freudian analysis, the bomb, and, more recently, the Project for a New American Century and Credit Default Swaps. When will the Jews harness this intellectual power and give us something cool, like Rock and Roll, or gummi bears?

March 28, 2009 5:36 PM  
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Mark Twain successfully infiltrated the order when he penned Concerning the Jews, an article discussing the intellectual prowess and survival skills of the Jewish people. The membership otherwise consists largely of Europeans who helped Jews during the Holocaust and political leaders who have gone out of their way to make peace with Israel.

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Blogger pierce79 said...

Three University of Utah anthropologists have done their darndest to reach that rarified group close to my grandmother’s heart: Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending collaborated on “The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence,” a paper recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Biosocial Sciences. In the article, they unveil a theory for why Jews have an average IQ that’s one standard deviation above the European norm.

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