Monday, 23 March 2009

Why are Jews clever?

There’s nothing like a controversial post to get your hits up, so I thought I’d look at a bit of conventional wisdom that has baffled researchers for centuries: why are Jews so clever?

Personally I’ve never been one for judging people by their race or color of their skin, but to simply brush questions like this aside – as many researchers are required to do in the States (else face being fired on the spot) – is equivalent to sticking your head in to the sand like an ostrich.

Sure we should never make any judgments about a single individual because of the socio-economic and cultural traits which they possess, but if we are honest with ourselves and study interesting divergences between different groups, it may be the case that we are able to identify the factors that can explain why such divergences occur.

But hold on a sec. Some people say that the conventional wisdom is wrong: i.e. that there is no real difference between the intelligence of Jews and other groups. Indeed, this is what most liberals, non-racists and generally fair-minded people would like to believe. But are they right?

Well, I don’t think so. Just do some cursory research over the internet and you will then find that there is plenty of evidence to support the assertion that Jews are highly intelligent - the most obvious of all being how many Jews have won the Nobel Prize over the years:

At least 178 Jews and persons of half- or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry have been awarded the Nobel Prize, accounting for 23% of all individual recipients worldwide between 1901 and 2008, and constituting 37% of all US recipients during the same period. In the scientific research fields of Chemistry, Economics, Medicine, and Physics, the corresponding world and US percentages are 27% and 40%, respectively. (Jews currently make up approximately 0.25% of the world's population and 2% of the US population.)

Wow! Jews are only 2% of the US population and yet they account for 37% of US Nobel Prize winners! And in terms of global population numbers the Jews are dwarfed by other groups: globally they number only around 13.2 million compared to the around 1,000 million Muslims for example. But how many Muslims have won a Nobel? Very few indeed. So what the hell is going on? What can explain this strange phenomenon?

1 Genetic factors: Jews are cleverer due to more selective breeding. This is the notion put forward by Charles Murray (who got into serious trouble for such ideas). The basic argument is that Jews place a lot of emphasis on choosing intelligent marriage partners since they are taught that “a man should sell all he possesses in order to marry the daughter of a scholar, as well as marry his daughter to a scholar.”

2 Social factors: Jews are cleverer because their culture leads them to place an emphasis on learning (by factors such as having books in the home etc.)

But I find neither answer convincing. After all, even if intelligent male Jews were able to find intelligent marriage partners, what about those who couldn’t? Wouldn’t they still get married – and to not so intelligent girls whose fathers’ were not scholars?

And while social factors (such as having good books in the house) may help us make the most of what we have got, do they really make us more intelligent? Well, I don’t think so. After all, if you give an education to a stupid person, don’t you just get an educated idiot rather than a clever person? You can’t teach someone to be intelligent; you either have it or you don’t.

But there is one other possibility of course. And it is a lot more controversial than the two answers I’ve given above.

But a lot of Jews do believe it to be true.

And it is that they are cleverer than the rest of us because – quite simply - they are the Chosen People! Thanks God, thanks a lot!


wankongyew said...

Isn't the God explanation basically the same as the genetics explanation though, if the argument is that Jews are generally more intelligent across their entire "race"?

Unless you want to argue that God simply picks individual Jews to be intelligent more often than individuals from other ethnicities because he loves Jews so much more.

The Sycologist said...

it's a tricky subject. Genetics do determine intelligence but what determines our genetics?

Bill Connelly said...

Well if you're going to believe the God theory, then you might as well believe that God changed the minds of the nobel prize committee, inserted answers into Jews heads or one of the million other interferences that an all powerful, all knowing god could do. Indeed, you're already in vastly shakey philosophical ground, because you're attributing human thought processes to God so you to second geuss His decision making. If we do that, then we have to wonder why a God that thinks like a human would have given the Jews such a hard time for the last 5,000 years?

What is far more likely is the combination of factors that you describe (sans God): Jews probably have genetic advantages over a lot of other human liniages, they are more likely to come from a well educated and well off family. Jews also generally live in 1st world countries (it's pretty hard to win a nobel prize if you're born in Syria or Iraq).

You also might want to consider other 'intelligent races' before you suscript to the god theory. East Asians on average score very high on IQ tests (average 105-110 if memeory serves).

You also need to consider that Ashkenazi jews (US immigrants) at the turn of the century scored poorly on IQ tests (which, at the time, was fodder for eugenisists), now of course, Ashkenazi jews are well known for being the highest IQ scoring 'race'.

Dr. James said...

Clever is not the proper term for intelligence. The culture and the ability to learn are vital to the end result. The value of applied knowledge is worth further investigation.