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I talked with Rutgers University professor of anthropology R. Brian Ferguson about Steven Pinker, Napoleon Chagnon, Marvin Harris, anthropo...

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Bell Curve and Ashkenazi Jews

The New York Times' review of three hereditarian books published in 1994,  "The Bell Curve,"  Rushton's "Race, Evolution and Behavior" and Itzkoff's "The Decline of Intelligence in America" makes this observation:
Although their books vary in viewpoint, the authors share a suite of controversial convictions. They believe that intelligence in some deep but ill-defined sense is a real attribute of human beings, not some artificial construct of the psychometricians who invented intelligence tests. (Mr. Itzkoff's loose definition of intelligence, very similar to that of the other authors, is expressed as the capacity "to think abstractly, to reason. . . . to organize large quantities of information into meaningful and useful systems.") 
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. 
MOREOVER, they say, intelligence test scores tend to vary with ethnic groups. In the United States, Asians generally score a few points higher than whites and blacks some 15 I.Q. points lower than whites. (Mr. Herrnstein and Mr. Murray mention in passing that "Ashkenazi Jews of European origins . . . test higher than any other ethnic group.") 
The last paragraph illustrates the typically careless terminology used in race science. It identifies "ethnic groups" as "white," "black" and Asian although "race" is more often applied to those three terms when used together, while the term "ethnic groups" is most often used to refer to groups that are subsets of those classifications, for example ethnic groups of Europe are considered part of the "white race": Italian, German, Irish, Swedish, et. al.

And then there is the claim that "Asians generally score a few points higher than whites" along with "Ashkenazi Jews of European origins... test higher than any other ethnic group."

What does that mean? That Jews are a subset of Asians? And that Jews are not "white"? How else can you say that Asians test higher than whites while Jews test higher than any other ethnic group? Yet they are "of European origins"?

Eleven years after The Bell Curve was published, a paper "The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" by Gregory Cochrane, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending was published. The paper suggested that one of the reasons Ashkenazi Jews are the most intelligent group is in-breeding:
From roughly 800 to 1650 CE, Ashkenazi Jews in Europe were a mostly isolated genetic group. When Ashkenazi Jews married non-Jews, they usually left the Jewish community; few non-Jews married into the Jewish community.
As discussed earlier this week, Steve Sailer is a fan of this theory, while at the same time believing that Iraqis are incapable of having a democracy due to in-breeding. His paper on the subject, The Cousin Marriage Conundrum, was included by Steven Pinker, who apparently wholeheartedly agrees with it, in "The Best Science and Nature Writing" of 2004.

Steven Pinker is also a fan of the Ashkenazi theory as discussed by R. Brian Ferguson in his paper which debunks the theory:  How Jews Became Smart: Anti-"Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence"
 Prominent commentators lined up behind NHAI. Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker has done much to legitimize and publicize NHAI, while remaining carefully agnostic on its truth value.  
In the Times:"'It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard... Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well argued-paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright" (Wade 2005). His article about NHAI in The New Republic concluded that it "meets the standards of a good scientific theory, though it is tentative and could turn out to be mistaken"(pinker2006:27). 
A blogger (Your Lying Eyes 2006) reported a public talk by Pinker on NHAI ("Jews, Genes, and Intelligence"). "Overall Pinker emphasized the reasonableness of the author's 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." Pinker is credited with formulating Edge's Annual Question for 2006: "What Is Your Dangerous Idea... dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?" His own answer is "Groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments." Of his four illustrations, one is Cochran and Harpending's argument on Ashkenazi intelligence.
Ferguson is a former student of Marvin Harris and currently professor of anthropology at Rutgers.

We will be discussing his paper again later in this series on The Bell Curve.

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