Turkheimer: Is Race Science Good for the Jews?

November 26, 2007

In a recent Cato Unbound piece, Eric Turkheimer makes the surprising claim that questions of race differences are “not empirical, but theoretical and philosophical.” What he means is that “we can recognize a contention that Chinese people are genetically predisposed to be better table tennis players than Africans as silly, and the contention that they are smarter than Africans as ugly, because it is a matter of ethical principle that individual and cultural accomplishment is not tied to the genes in the same way as the appearance of our hair.” Such comparisons “are offensive precisely because they violate our intuition about the balance between innateness and self-determination of the moral and cultural qualities of human beings.”

Indeed, such comparisons remind Turkheimer, who is Jewish, of the Nazis:

If I may address my fellow Jews for a moment, consider this. How would you feel about a line of research into the question of whether Jews have a genetic tendency to be more concerned with money than other groups? Nothing anti-semitic, mind you, just a rational investigation of the scientific evidence. It wouldn’t be difficult to measure interest in money and materialism, and it wouldn’t surprise me if as an empirical matter Jews scored a little higher on the resulting test than other groups. As a behavioral geneticist I can assure you without reservation that the trait would be heritable, and, if anyone bothered to take the time to find out, specific genes would have small associations with it. Of course, this research program has already been carried out, at least to the extent the relevant technology was available in 1939. While we are at it we could open a whole scientific institute for the scientific study of racial stereotypes, and finally pull together the evidence on sneaky Japanese, drunken Irish, unintelligent Poles, overemotional women and lazy Italians.

Steve Sailer comments, “hasn’t he just wrecked his credibility as an objective scientist?" Yes, indeed. That was the main theme of The Culture of Critique: A great many Jewish social scientists—including many of those involved in debates about race and IQ a—were strongly influenced by their Jewish identities and their perceptions of Jewish interests. And they did terrible science.

In responding to Turkheimer, James Flynn notes that “are we just to discourage discussions about race that various groups dislike rather than like?”

Good point. When the study by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending on Ashkenazi IQ came out, it was featured in the media around the world. Shortly thereafter, Charles Murray published an article in Commentary (published by the American Jewish Committee) titled “Jewish Genius.” He noted that “from 1870 to 1950, Jewish representation in literature was four times the number one would expect. In music, five times. In the visual arts, five times. In biology, eight times. In chemistry, six times. In physics, nine times. In mathematics, twelve times. In philosophy, fourteen times.” Recently, Jon Entine has published a book on Jewish DNA (including material on genetics and Jewish intelligence): Abraham's Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People; presently he is busy writing op-eds in the mainstream media promoting his work.

High Jewish IQ is celebrated and considered worthy of learned analyses and commentary in the mainstream media. I don’t recall Turkheimer writing to Commentary complaining that studies showing high Jewish IQ "are offensive precisely because they violate our intuition about the balance between innateness and self-determination of the moral and cultural qualities of human beings."

Flynn goes on to write that “As for my group, Irish-Americans, I welcome a no-holds-barred discussion of the roots of our high rates of alcoholism.” Personally, I would welcome studies of the biological roots of European individualism because, in my opinion, individualism is the key to Western uniqueness while at the same time making Western peoples uniquely vulnerable to invasion by cohesive groups and ideologies of altruistic punishment (i.e., ideologies which highlight the moral shortcomings of Europeans to the point that they are willing to engage in moral crusades against their own interests).

The rub is that such studies might also provide clues on the biological roots of collectivism, and these might be greeted with little enthusiasm by Jews and other groups prone to collectivism. Such studies would start to reveal the genetic underpinnings of endogamy (marrying within the group) and ethnocentrism. Is there a genetic basis for someone like Jakie Kassin, a leader of the Syrian Jewish community in New York, saying that converts should be “push[ed] …away with strong hands from our community. Why? Because we don’t want gentile characteristics.” Wouldn’t it be interesting to understand the genetics of God’s Jewish Warriors? These are people who, as I noted in a previous blog, “don’t seem very democratic… they seem massively ethnocentric. They live in a completely Jewish world where their every thought and perception seem colored by their Jewish identity.” Are there genetic implications to the fact that 80% of the Israeli public describe themselves as traditional [Orthodox] Jews (47%) or hareidi-religious/ religious-Zionist (33%), while only 20% consider themselves secular Jews?  And are there genetic differences between the Syrian Jews and the Ostjuden that influence their very different responses to America and its culture?

Actually, I suspect that, if pressed, Turkheimer would agree that there should be no studies at all that examine group differences in cultural accomplishment—even traits like high Jewish IQ. The problem is that even Jewish IQ is prone to becoming part of a world view that I am sure Turkheimer would find anathema. The one thing that Entine, Murray, and Cochran et al. have in common is that they are perfectly willing to discuss high Jewish IQ and achievement, but they pretty much leave it at that.  (In a comment that is sure to appeal to Jews, Murray ends his piece by “tak[ing] sanctuary in my remaining hypothesis [for high Jewish IQ], uniquely parsimonious and happily irrefutable. The Jews are God’s chosen people.”)

These writers are willing to link high Jewish IQ to Jewish overrepresentation in the arts and sciences (e.g., >160 Nobel prizes), but they don’t consider how this would also be expected to lead to a high level of cultural influence generally, with all that that entails. Most importantly, they don’t consider how Jews and non-Jews may have conflicts of interest over the construction of culture and on important public policy issues such as immigration and policy toward Israel and the middle east generally. For example, the basic thesis of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s work on the Israel lobby is that the influence of the Israel lobby has often been contrary to the legitimate national interests of America.

Nor do they factor in the powerful ingroup attitudes among Jews—particularly their tendency toward a lachrymose view of Jewish history in which Jews have repeatedly been innocent, passive victims of irrational hatred. Such lachrymose views are doubtless an ingredient in the hostility exhibited by influential groups of Jews and Jewish organizations toward the people and culture of the West—what John Murray Cuddihy termed "punitive objectivity. ... the vindictive objectivity of the marginal nonmember." In my opinion, these attitudes are a huge ingredient in establishing the culture of critique.

Viewed in this way, high Jewish IQ becomes an issue because it because affects Jewish influence, and Jewish influence sometimes conflicts with the legitimate interests of others. The plea to suspend all scientific discussion of genetic influences on group differences is problematic precisely because failure to discuss such differences has real costs. Even in the area of explaining the relatively low achievement of American Blacks and Latinos, there are costs for ignoring the possibility of genetic influences.

For example, in a recent summit in California on the topic, the California Superintendant of Education, Jack O’Connell, “absolutely, positively” rejected the possibility of genetic differences, and he acknowledged that socioeconomic differences could not explain the data. He fell back upon the remarkable claim that the less restrained nature of worship in black churches might make it harder for black students to adapt to the restrictive environment of the classroom as developed by the majority culture even though that got him in some trouble.  With the genetic and cultural explanations excluded by the activists, the only recourse was to blame the achievement gap on the racism and insensitivity of white teachers. (Somehow Asian students do just fine despite the racism of their white teachers.)

Such explanations constitute a cost for whites because they may lead to firing whites or preferential hiring of non-whites; or they may lead to needless expenditures on what Steve Sailer calls “Maoist-style self-criticism sessions” aimed at making white teachers more culturally sensitive. These theories also represent a cost because they may be used to justify affirmative action programs that discriminate against whites.

However, the costs of banning discussions of group differences are even more apparent in discussions of Jewish influence. Any suggestion that Jews are influential or sometimes pursue interests that diverge from American national interests or the interests of other American groups is sure to bring charges of anti-Semitism — the ultimate silencer of public discussion. Abe Foxman’s recent book on Mearsheimer and Walt says it all: The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. Keeping discussions of Jewish influence, the traits that make it possible and determine its character out of the mainstream media certainly is in the interests of Jews. But it’s clearly not in the interests of the rest of us. I submit that Turkheimer understands this, and that’s why he thinks that people who try to understand racial differences deserve “vigorous disapprobation”; “they are not entitled to my encouragement or respect.” The feeling is mutual.