June 24, 2005

Jonah Goldberg on the Cochran-Harpending theory

In his new syndicated column, Jonah gets the proposed mechanism wrong:

One paper by a respected independent researcher suggests that Jews from Northern Europe (a.k.a. Ashkenazi Jews) are more likely to get certain diseases, such as Tay Sachs, in part because Jews have been selectively breeding for intelligence for centuries.

No, the Cochran-Hardy-Harpending theory is that natural selection, not selective breeding, was at work -- smart medieval Jews tended to be richer and richer Jews tended to have more surviving grandchildren. It's fascinating how so many neocons prefer the alternative theory championed by Kevin MacDonald that medieval Jews consciously arranged and subsidized marriages for the brightest young rabbinical students. Perhaps the American Enterprise Institute will give MacDonald a chair to develop his apparently more appealing theory in greater detail.

But what's striking about Jonah's June 24th column is how similar it is to Richard Cohen's June 16th column "Aptitude Adjustment" in the Washington Post on the same topic. Cohen wrote:

I cannot be certain that Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, has read the article [by Cochran et al]. But if he did, I bet he wondered why it is possible to suggest that certain Jews are smarter than other people but not remotely possible to suggest that women might not be as brilliant in science and engineering as men. When Summers did precisely that back in January -- when he wondered out loud about such matters as "intrinsic aptitude" -- he got his head handed to him. He was not, mind you, stating this as a fact -- just throwing it out along with other factors that might account for why men outnumber women on the science, engineering and math faculties of first-rate universities. What he did not do -- and this was his mistake -- was limit the possibilities to the only politically correct one: sexual discrimination of one sort or another.

But if Jews could adapt to their environment in a certain way, why couldn't women or men? After all, to the eye, there is no distinction between a Jew of European origin and a non-Jew of European origin -- or even a Jew of non-European origin. Yet to that same eye, there is plenty to distinguish a man from a woman. They have bodies designed for different things. If, as the Utah scientists propose, Jews adapted to their environment to produce better businessmen (and not better farmers or soldiers), then why couldn't men or women have adapted to their particular environments in a similar way? Maybe -- just maybe -- there's a link between not being able to express your feelings and solving Fermat's Last Theorem?

Eight days later, Jonah writes:

Here are some recent headlines from the world of science: "Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic [Jewish] Genes" — New York Times

"Some Politics May Be Etched in the Genes" — New York Times

"Feminists Feed on Lawrence Summers's Flesh, Vital Organs; Pancreas Swallowed Whole, 'like a Cocktail Peanut.' " — New York Times...

O.K., I made the last one up. Feminists didn't actually feed on the president of Harvard University, but it's certainly been all-you-can-eat-at-Sizzler night, metaphorically speaking. In January, you might recall, Larry Summers raised the possibility — nay, the hypothesis! — that as a statistical matter biological differences may partially account for the disproportionately low number of women at the top ranks of science. In response, an activist feminist professor from MIT contracted a case of the vapors, and when she arose from her fainting couch she was on the Today Show complaining to a supportive Katie Couric about what a bigot Summers is...

Which brings us back to the mortification of Larry Summers. Is it so unreasonable to assume there are greater genetic cognitive and behavioral differences between men and women than between, say, Jews and gentiles — never mind conservatives and liberals? If genes make us more open to some group mores, why can't they make one gender more open to one field of study? The animal kingdom is replete with enormous male-female disparities. Even among the branch of humans we call feminists, it's a widely held view that men and women think and behave differently.

To answer Cohen and Goldberg's question: maybe, maybe not -- it all depends. For some traits, the male-female difference is greater than differences between racial groups, for other traits, such as skin color or average IQ, male-female differences are small (or non-existent) compared to racial differences.

Racial differences can emerge for lots of different reasons, such as founder's effect, drift, and selection for various reasons. Sex differences within a racial group, however, are less likely to emerge due to random flukes, and they are less likely to be driven by environmental factors such as latitude, since boys and girls from the same latitudes grow up to marry each other. You need some particular reason for sex differences. Since fetuses start out as basically female and have to be masculinized in utero, which is a risky process that apparently leads to a lot of miscarriages, gratuitous sex differences are costly.

Thus, you find a lot of similarities between males and females, such as in average IQ. This doesn't mean Summers was wrong -- his subtle argument was about sex differences in IQ's variance rather than its average. But, it's just not a slam dunk to say that if a racial difference in IQ exists, then there must be a sex difference in IQ.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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