Jul 31, 2009
Gregory Cochran, physicist and professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, was puzzled at the unusually high prevalence of deadly genetic disorders in European Jews. Shouldn’t natural selection flush these dangerous genes from the gene pool or at least not make ‘em appear in such high frequency in that population?
Then one morning, Cochran came upon his solution – and with the help of population geneticist Henry Harpending, he immediately touched off a charged debate in the scientific community: some genes make Jews smarter.
Cochran, 55, and Harpending, 65, say there’s no question that as a whole, Ashkenazi Jews — those of European descent — have an abundance of brain power. (Neither man is Jewish.)
Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That’s only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of geniuses. When a group’s average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.
Though Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students, the pair write.
"People are perfectly willing to admit that some people are taller or some people are shorter," Cochran said. "But no one wants to say ‘This group is smarter.’ "
That, said another scientist, is the rub:
"What are their theories about those on the opposite end of the spectrum?" asked Neil Risch, director of the Institute for Human Genetics at UC San Francisco, who finds the matter so offensive he can barely discuss it without raising his voice. "Do they have genetic theories about why Latinos and African Americans perform worse academically?"
Karen Kaplan of the Los Angeles Times has the rest of the story: Link