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The Brian Ferguson Interview

Saturday, December 28, 2019

NYTimes promotes Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence paper. Again.

I'm proud to have interviewed anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson, critic of the paper "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence."

Ferguson said:
...it was a pretty stark hypothesis because it was proposing that particular conditions would confer a five-point IQ increase. That's a lot. It's testable. It was proposed in the journal which was formerly called The Eugenics Review and it got a tremendous amount of attention. 
Nicholas Wade brought it to the readers of the New York Times twice. Now one
question is why is an untested hypothesis getting so much attention?
You would think that if they found evidence for it - but there was no evidence. This was an untested hypothesis. Steven Pinker helped legitimize this.  
Well what struck me was that him saying that it was good science and when you actually look at the science, it's not good science. I mean they get the wrong diseases in some cases, they, if you look at their proposition that these different diseases - just just the idea that these diseases boost IQ - if you look at their the actual science of it, that’s not what it says...
So now the NYTimes Bret Stephens is promoting it again:
The common answer is that Jews are, or tend to be, smart. When it comes to Ashkenazi Jews, it’s true. “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data,” noted one 2005 paper.
Stephens links to the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence paper.

There were some good responses on Twitter:

Bessner is referring to the infamous incident in which Stephens threw a fit because he was referred to as a "bedbug" as a joke, on Twitter.

I teach classes in strategic political communication. Every week, for the last seven years, I have begun each class session with a simple question: “What happened in the news this week?” The idea is to draw out lessons about how strategy and power work in the digital age. I often joke that it is my job to have a professional opinion about the latest Twitter storm. 
But then Bret Stephens, a New York Times columnist, emailed me on Monday night, cc’ing my university provost, to scold me over a milquetoast joke I had made on Twitter about bedbugs at the Times. I’ve never been a fan of Stephens, so when I saw the news about bedbugs at the newspaper and everyone joking about it, I contributed a joke about Stephens. His email was a bizarre overreaction (he was offended that I called him a metaphorical bedbug) — my joke had gotten no traction on social media, and was pretty tame — so I posted about his response on Twitter. Something clicked, and the story went immediately viral. The original joke had zero retweets and nine likes. It now has 4,700 retweets and 31,200 likes. I have spent the past two days in the center of the viral media controversy, instead of observing with interest from the sidelines.
Stephens was so angry at the response he quit Twitter:
Stephens responded by quitting Twitter. Then he wrote a column last Friday that one could say was a massive subtweet of the entire situation. Accompanied by a picture of Nazi propagandist-in-chief Joseph Goebbels, Stephens argued that the politics of the current moment echoes that of 80 years ago, “plus three crucial factors: new forms of mass communication, the rhetoric of dehumanization and the politics of absolute good versus absolute evil.” And then he went there:
Radio then, like Twitter today, was the technology of the id; a channel that could concentrate political fury at a time when there was plenty to go around.... 
The political mind-set that turned human beings into categories, classes and races also turned them into rodents, insects and garbage. “Anti-Semitism is exactly the same as delousing,” Heinrich Himmler would claim in 1943. “Getting rid of lice is not a matter of ideology. It is a matter of cleanliness.” Watching Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto burn that year, a Polish anti-Semite was overheard saying: “The bedbugs are on fire. The Germans are doing a great job.” 
Today, the rhetoric of infestation is back.
As historian Daniel Bessner put it, “Well, he did it. Bret Stephens compared his being called a bedbug on Twitter to the genocide of 6 million Jews.”

Now if he would only quit the NYTimes.

UPDATE: The NYTimes posted this on the article:

An earlier version of this Bret Stephens column quoted statistics from a 2005 paper that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. After publication Mr. Stephens and his editors learned that one of the paper’s authors, who died in 2016, promoted racist views. Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically. The effect was to leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior. That was not his intent. He went on instead to argue that culture and history are crucial factors in Jewish achievements and that, as he put it, “At its best, the West can honor the principle of racial, religious and ethnic pluralism not as a grudging accommodation to strangers but as an affirmation of its own diverse identity. In that sense, what makes Jews special is that they aren’t. They are representational.” We have removed reference to the study from the column.