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« Group Genetics and IQ - The New Caste System | Main | Whither The Human Race? »

November 02, 2007

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This is probably the point that Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, the third participant at the AEI forum tried to make against the claims of Murray and Entine.

True, to a certain extent, but I, and Gladwell's article, question what "smart" means, which according to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, Zoloth does not:

"Brought in to rebut the two scholars, Laurie Zoloth of Northwestern University floated an alternative notion: that 'Jews are smart because we value learning.'"

What I (and Gladwell) ask is, what does "smart" mean? I would agree with Zoloth only if what's she's trying to say is "Jews succeed at tests and in professions that reward learning because we value learning."

As Milbank points out:

"Left unchallenged was the question of whether Jews are indeed smarter than others -- even though it would have only required a walk down the hall to the office of new AEI visiting fellow Paul Wolfowitz, whose leadership on the Iraq war and conflicts of interest as head of the World Bank demonstrate that Jews are capable of questionable judgment."

Milbank's point is one I similarly made with my quip (in my comments to your original post) about my doltish Hebrew school classes. There are bright and less bright people in every group, and it is both ethically and factually wrong to make assumptions, good or bad, about a person's aptitude based on their ethnic identity. I don't, though, think it wrong to guess that a disproportionate number of those painfully dull Hebrew school classmates went on to become lawyers and doctors, for cultural reasons, just as a disproportionate number of my not-necessarily bright and not-necessarily Jewish, but affluent, private high school classmates went on to take professional jobs, because money, like those cultural reasons, is also a predictor of academic success. The character trait of inexplicable personal drive or competitiveness (separate from intelligence) can be another, and there are a number of others, but "smart" seems like a pretty reductive way to describe any of them.

You are absolutely right. Which is why I squirm when I hear the same song sung by and about Indians, Koreans and the Chinese in America (I am leaving out the Vietnamese and Cambodians who form a much more diverse economic group) who culturally and economically, compare more closely with American Jews than with the general population.

even if the average ashkenazi jew has an IQ of 115, that's pretty dull in my book. so we shouldn't make too much of averages. the key is that the shift in mean produces huge imbalances at the tails, 3 or 4 standard deviations above the norm. i don't buy the idea that test prep invalidates any cognitive aptitude. most people i know who took test prep improved some, but there is only some elasticity to this. people don't go from the 40th to the 90th percentile, they go from the 70th to the 85th (especially on math from what my friends who have taught for kaplan courses tell me). the old SAT was a highly "g-loaded" test. that is, it has a very strong correlation with other intelligence tests. certainly preparation and mindset matter, but they give returns on the margins (and those margins do matter!).

Imagine trying to make an argument for innately high white IQs, or low black ones. I know it's a trite reminder, but so was your mother telling you not to play with matches. This half-Hebrew is sick to death of anything racist by Jews being Kosher and anyone else playing the game being a hater. Long live Orwell!!

I agree that it's still a useful reminder, Ernie, which is why I was inspired to post on the subject. This half-Hebrew is pretty sick of this stuff, too. We should know better.

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