Scott Alexander talks about our paper, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. He thinks it a good explanation of a burst of contributions by Ashkenazi Jews in the exact sciences in the early 20th century. His guys then comment extensively, if not always particularly wisely.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

94 Responses to Slatestarcodex

  1. anon says:

    He mentioned somewhere a while back that he reads your blog and i’ve been devouring your archives ever since. So many insights per post! Between your terse curmudgeonly style and his verbose fair-minded prose it’s a great time for blogs.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Might I recommend Razib Khan at

      There are a few gems among the piles of steaming horse shit in blog land. Razib is incredibly well read, but he has better things to do than read comments by non experts, so read to your hearts delight but mums the word over there. If you want to be guided to the best of the best in non fiction writing click on his good reads. I guess I disagree that it is a great time for blogs overall because so many of them are garbage but on the other hand it is a great time to be a reader of non fiction, thanks to handy dandy links that can guide you to great minds that write well.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Honestly folks, if you were given good brains than simply STFU and seek out words that were written by people that you recognize as more educated than you in your area of interest. Don’t jabber with people on a blog. Do you want to stroke your ego or learn?

  2. anon says:

    Scott* Alexander

  3. RCB says:

    He did a long post on Albion’s Seed some months back. I was impressed.

  4. dave chamberlin says:

    I wish i belonged to the emperor. He wouldn’t want me. I don’t have days of time to read all 675 comments but I didn’t find anyone talking about how super genius is increased in a population that already has an average IQ 115 (Ashkenazi Jews) but could be much higher in an academic center such as Budapest.

    Lets say for the sake of argument it takes an IQ of 175 or 5 standard deviations above the norm to belong to the club that helped created the atomic bomb. In a population that draws from people with an IQ of 100 only 1 in 1.75 million people have an IQ of 175. But if you had an elite Ashkenazi population with an IQ of 130 that population would produce 1 in 370 with an IQ of 175.

    So that’s why.

    Hell of a writer that Scott Alexander, he has earned his intelligent following.

    • MawBTS says:

      I don’t have days of time to read all 675 comments

      Don’t consider yourself deprived. Comment sections suffer from entropy as they grow past a certain size, and SSC has it pretty bad. There’s a lot of smart people, but also a lot of rambling autists with no ability to edit.

    • Jim says:

      I think your estimates are for the number of people more than 5 standard deviations from the mean. Also for the Ashkenazi elite calculation you should use a truncated normal distribution. If you truncated at 120 to produce an average of about 130 then you get roughly 1 in 10000 at IQ above 175.

      Of course the normal distribution shouldn’t be taken very seriously far away from the mean.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        You are right. But the higher the IQ of the parents the lower the number of children required to create someone 5 standard deviations from the mean. For reasons beyond my understanding the teeming masses get real steamed and emotional about IQ distribution so I will make an example of the NBA Gasol brothers. With a standard deviation of three inches for height and the average male height right around 5 foot 10 inches the 7 foot 1 inch Gasol brothers are 5 standard deviations above the mean, they would each have a height quotient of 175. People get that, people understand that normal sized folk can pump out millions of babies with nary a one of them topping seven feet tall but change the subject to human intelligence and reason turns to madness.

      • Jim says:

        Actually four standard deviations from a mean of 115.

  5. Important to read Scott Alexander’s post on two levels: 1) about your 2005 paper, 2) testing Overton window in May 2017 (versus 2005), and attempting to determine best ways to write about contentious topics.

    Point #2 is far more subtle and interesting than point #1, at least in regards to what’s going on in that post, and the reactions (or lack thereof) to it.

    • Frau Katze says:

      The commenters were tossing ideas around rather than screeching “hateful racist”. The latter would be the norm at lefty sites.

      I was impressed by how reasonable the commenters were. I don’t read him as often as I should. I’ve got to find more hours in the day (even though I’m retired!)

      • jasonbayz says:

        Some of the posts(essays?) are pretty good. But others are pure disingenuous garbage, like this recent example:

        It irks me because Alexander is smart enough to know better.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Was he the guy who was terrified as a teenager by nutjob feminists? Or did he just write about such a guy?

          The link you gave suggests he doesn’t get out much. Just reads stuff.

          It sounds like he has zero experience in the area, even as a monogamous man. It just sounds weird.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Just recently NYT started in on “open marriage”, interviewing several couples. WTF? It might work for a few, but I think that it’s a non-starter in general. Don’t they have anything more relevant to write about?

          • Zenit says:

            No one in the polyamory movement (a fringe of fringe of fringe) says everyone could, or should be polyamorous. Fears that everyone will join group marriage are as real as fears of the religious right that if gay marriage becomes legal, everyone would “turn gay”.

            • Frau Katze says:

              I could see a certain number of men being very interested in it and nagging their wives about it. Of that I am 100% certain.

              I say it needs to stay socially unacceptable. At the very least outfits like NYT needn’t lend it legitimacy.

              • Brendan says:

                Assuming you’re a relatively normal guy introspection should reveal that affairs, not polyamory, will remain the standard alternative to monogamy, no matter what the NYT prefers.

            • jason says:

              Fears that everyone will join group marriage are as real as fears of the religious right that if gay marriage becomes legal, everyone would “turn gay”.”
              Except that polygynous family groups are probably the species norm for H.sapiens, whereas all actual evidence still points to male homosexuality being a paraphilia.

  6. MawBTS says:

    It’s obvious, assuming that you believe the net impact of Jewish smart guys has been positive, but seldom suggested, because Jews are on whole allergic to the actual biological facts about intelligence.

    Betting pool on how long it takes for Greg to get banned: now open.

    • Zenit says:

      What are “the Jews” supposed to do?
      Stand up and say: “We are the Master Race, born to rule the world! Bow before us, Goyim!”?

      • gcochran9 says:

        I’ve heard that, and I have to admit it didn’t go down very well.

        • whyteablog says:

          I have to ask how that conversation went.

        • whyteablog says:

          Ie, more specific than “[not] well.”

          • gcochran9 says:

            Just someone I know that occasionally refers to Jews ( including himself) as the Master Race – quite seriously. I thought it odd.

            • whyteablog says:

              I’ll give him points for honesty, I guess. Certainly better than the flagrant mendacity of Peter Lox saying that being Hungarian helps with math. You’re not talking about Magyars, buddy.

              I’ve been talking to a girl from Tinder (dating app) lately; she mentioned she was going to Israel next week. I like making guesses and I like it even better when I call it right, so naturally I asked her if it was a birthright trip or a study abroad thing. It was the former.

              She was actually creeped out by the fact that I knew what a birthright trip was. Bizarre, since it’s not exactly secret! I tried to play it cool, waxing academic about the neat stuff lying around in Israel: hacksilver caches, the ruins of Jericho, etc. Don’t know whether it worked.

            • j says:

              “There is only one race that is greater than the Jewish race, and it is the Derby.” By Victor Sassoon, the wealthiest Jew in his time and not Ashkenazi.

      • Bob says:

        There are large populations of gentiles around the world with high IQs, populations much larger than the Ashkenazim. Widespread understanding and application of the biological facts about intelligence would imperil competitive advantages that the Ashkenazi have in IQ. I would imagine that would be a greater concern than any sort of hostile reaction to gloating.

        • gcochran9 says:

          I will bet you money that the number of people that have ever thought this is very, very small.

        • Anonymous says:

          Herrnstein was somewhat obsessed with what happens when the large
          gentile population around him starts mating assortatively. He managed
          to inform a sizable number of readers of The Bell Curve of his
          worries. I bet he was understood.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Since I don’t often want to comment on that blog, my half-life there may be pretty long.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Anyhow, what I said is perfectly true, so how could it be controversial?

    • Frau Katze says:

      Banned from where? WordPress? He could go self hosting easily.

  7. whyteablog says:

    Regarding the apparent end of this Euro-Semitic golden age: couldn’t have been Hitler, given the numbers of Ashkenazi then vs now.

    Here’s a guess: there aren’t as many nuts for top tier math minds to crack at present. One of the SSC commenters got this one from Paul Dirac:

    ” [In the early days of quantum mechanics … it was a good description to say that it was a game, a very interesting game one could play. Whenever one solved one of the little problems, one could write a paper about it.

    It was very easy in those days for any second-rate physicist to do first-rate work. There has not been such a glorious time since. It is very difficult now for a first-rate physicist to do second-rate work."

    What mountains are there to climb nowadays? String Theory? It is to laugh.

    Another idea, interbreeding. They “get down with the swirl” on a pretty regular basis, be it with Gentiles in the West or Sephardim in Israel. That’ll put a dent in how likely the kids are to be geniuses.

    • Larry, San Francisco says:

      You are forgetting about assortative mating. My gentile wife and I had identical GRE scores (a fact I found out many years after we were married). One of my kids is just as smart as we were and the other still went to Lowell (SF’s equivalent of Stuyvesant). I hardly think this is unique. In a couple of generations there may be very few secular Jews but I would bet that members of the American upper class will have many Jewish roots.

      • vuzqk says:

        Assortative mating doesn’t work perfectly though (regression to population mean). Because of that the decay to larger population mean will still be exponential, just with different constant.

      • Boy golly are you working with a tiny sample size there.

        Sure such families ought to be retaining some of their cognitive power- a few of them might even get smarter- but on average they’ll lose a couple points.

      • whyteablog says:

        IIRC assortative mating has been quantified as a .28 correlation between spouses’ IQs. White Gentiles married to Ashkenazi Jews should have an average IQ of, what, 103? 104? Now roll in regression to the mean. (I remembered correctly, by the way

        I’m talking averages. You wouldn’t lose any dendrites marrying into the Cochran family, nor mine, nor apparently your wife’s. Some Gentile families are smarter than the average Ashkenazi family going back several generations. You could argue that what separates smarter from duller populations is having a higher frequency of such families and a lower frequency of Bumpasses.

    • Migrant Advantage? says:

      In seems plausible that there is a migrant effect here (in the case of American Jewry, at least):

      A bump in educational effort with First and Second Generation Migrants (all else being equal) for Asian and Hispanic groups; see Ozek and Figlio
      Migrants show a short term work ethic bump after migration;
      Migrants with relatively weaker language skills channel into STEM;

      Of course, the perverse conclusion, then, is that the physical sciences would benefit greatly from a wave of poverty stricken Ashkenazi refugees to China.

      May well all add up to a pile of social science rubbish but seems rather plausible.

  8. Ashkenazi Jews are less intelligent these days than during the Manhattan Project for the obvious reason: smart Jews no longer out-breed dumb ones.

  9. Space Ghost says:

    How do you explain the early 20th century Ashkenazi Jewish contributions to the…let’s say, inexact sciences?

    • Jim says:

      I’m sure Freud had a pretty high IQ.

      • whyteablog says:

        He also had a whole lot of something else.

        • gcochran9 says:

          He was full of shit?

          • Jim says:

            It’s amazing how many people took Freud seriously for so long. At one time he was routinely describe as one of the great figures of science right up there with Newton and Darwin. Popper in the twenties had already subjected Freudian theory to what should have been devastating criticism but to little avail.

            • syonredux says:

              I often hear Jews talk about the Jewish ” Holy Trinity”: Marx, Freud, and Einstein….I’ve always found such talk rather odd. At the very least, linking Einstein to frauds like Marx and Freud does him a real disservice….

              If Jews want a genuine Trinity of Jewish genius, why not, say, Spinoza, Durkheim, and Einstein?

              • gcochran9 says:

                That talk tells you something about them.

                Einstein thought highly of Freud, and they corresponded. Which goes to show… something. I don’t think he ever talked about Marx though.

              • syonredux says:

                “Einstein thought highly of Freud, and they corresponded. Which goes to show… something.”
                That brilliant guys like Einstein can also be kinda stupid? Cf Linus Pauling and vitamin c…..

              • Jim says:

                Yes I knew that Einstein was very impressed by Freud. But wasn’t Einstein also an admirer of the Soviet Union? At least at one time.

            • Peter Lund says:

              In the thirties, I believe.

          • whyteablog says:

            Shamelessly appropriating a Christopher Hitchens line: “If you gave him an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox.”

            Too bad he used that linguistic bomb on Falwell instead of Fraud.

          • dave chamberlin says:

            Of course Freud was full of shit, we see it clearly now; But amazingly his shit spread far and wide and was kowtowed to by bigwigs that should have known better. This leads to a more interesting question than was Freud full of shit, who is the Freud today that we haven’t yet recognized as full of shit. This is why I support and like this guy Cochran. We are in a bad coal mine, real dirty and dangerous. We need a few more squawking canaries and this guy is my favorite canary.

            The biggest problem isn’t that we have got a bit dumber thanks to relaxed selection (we have but not by much) the biggest problem is the modern world is many more multiples complex than it used to be so we are far less in control than we were in out grandfathers time. The dumbshits are absolutely apoplectic about this whole situation because they couldn’t control their fate when life was simpler. Now it’s hopeless for them. I could wander into how this pertains to modern politics but I wont. Science works, politics shits the bed.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Creativity and messianism run amok.

  10. Bob says:

    There’s an interesting suggestion in the paper about how a side effect of selection for higher IQ in urban environments among the Ashkenazim would be lower fitness in more typical environments and competitive disadvantages in things like farming and hunting-gathering. I don’t think this has been discussed much before. What do you suppose these disadvantages would look like? And would these disadvantages suggest that the Jewish advantage is more in a specialized type or types of intelligence rather than g, or do you think they involve things unrelated to intelligence?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Generally speaking, selecting for more of X gives you less of Y.

      In some tests Ashkenazi Jews look to be worse at spatial visualization tasks. If true, that probably means they’re less good at hitting a target. Myopia can’t help.

      • RCB says:

        Could you make that more precise? Certainly if Y is correlated with X, then that that isn’t true.
        Do you mean that if Y is a complex trait, then selecting for another complex trait X is likely to interfere with Y, because it pushes all of Y’s sub-traits out of balance?
        Or that selection for X often implies relaxed selection for Y (because if everything was being strong selected for, we’d all be dead) and therefore a breakdown of Y?

  11. slatestarcodex says:

    Thanks for the link.

    If you haven’t written about it before, I’d be interested on hearing your thoughts about

  12. whyteablog says:

    While we’re on the subject, there’s a small but nonzero chance that I’m going to end up with quite a bit of money in the next few years. I remember an old post of yours talking about sphingolipid disorder research as a method for discovering nootropics, provided you had the cash.

    I would be down for replicating Prometheus’ fire. I’ll shoot you an email if the money comes.

    • kot says:

      The FBI will charge Hillary Clinton with a crime between January 20 and February 20 of 2017. Don’t expect to hear a peep out of them until Trump is in office- as per #1, Obama would just pardon her, and the FBI are smart enough to know that.

      You made this prediction back in November. Just wanted to remind you.

  13. dain says:


    You talked about how medicine only began to break even around the turn of the 20th century or so, once antibiotics were invented and germ theory started to be understood. Before that time, a doctor was more likely to hurt you than help you.

    Doctors (or “doctors”) have been around for a long time — thousands of years. That’s a reasonably long length of time. If they were killing people for that long, and if “iatro-skepticism” was heritable, then perhaps it was selected for and spread through the population.

    This could explain why many people are irrationally reluctant to seek treatment for curable ailments. Is this a feasible hypothesis?

    • Jim says:

      Antibiotics didn’t really become widely available until after WW II.

      • dain says:

        Ya, I was being kinda imprecise

        • Pincher Martin says:

          He’s quibbling. For the purposes of your thought experiment, it hardly matters.

        • Frau Katze says:

          There was some improvement even before antibiotics. Centralized piped water that was sand filtered in big cities stopped cholera. It became clear in the late 19th century that some diseases were caused by bacteria. Even if there were no antibiotics, doctors improved things by being clean and trying not to let bugs get into open wounds.

          Insulin was discovered in the 1920s.

          I’m not clear on how well early attempts at smallpox vaccination worked.

          But by and large it was pretty bad.

          • Jim says:

            Yes, sewage treatment was already very important by the end of the 19th century. Also some nutritional diseases such as scurvy, pellagra and beri-beri had become understood. Anesthetics and antisepsis meant that there was a much better chance of surviving an appendectomy or gallstone surgery. In addition public health measures such as quarantine were having an effect. Perhaps a crackdown on prostitution helped to reduce syphilis.

          • Pincher Martin says:

            None of that is germane to his point.

            If doctors (including village healers, medicine men, traditional experts, apothecaries, etc.) have been around for millennia, and their prescriptions until recently have generally hurt their patients more than helped them, often proving fatal, might there not be a slight genetic tendency among people today to be skeptical of doctors and their prescriptions, even if it’s no longer rational?

            With that kind of question, it doesn’t really matter if doctors started being helpful to their patients’ health fifty, one-hundred, or one-hundred-fifty years ago. The point is that they hurt their patients for a hundred or more generations before they finally did become helpful.

            I don’t know how testable his idea is, or if his assumption is even correct (e.g., were the village healers that poor people would’ve consulted when ill that harmful to sick patient’s life? Or was poor health care a luxury good before the modern era?), but it’s an interesting notion.

    • Zenit says:

      Not a feasible hypothesis. Through all history, medical care was avalilable at all only for the upper 0,1 – 1%.

      • Ursiform says:

        All history? Can you support that assertion with evidence?

      • Karl Narveson says:

        I think most societies have had healers or leeches of some kind, and their fees were adapted to their patients’ means.

        Luke 8:43-44
        And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment.

    • MawBTS says:

      Doctors (or “doctors”) have been around for a long time — thousands of years. That’s a reasonably long length of time. If they were killing people for that long, and if “iatro-skepticism” was heritable, then perhaps it was selected for and spread through the population.

      There MIGHT be a general adaptive response against fast-talking con men (not doctors specifically), but it can’t be strong, based on what I see around me.

      I think many people view doctors as an outgroup. Doctors make more money than you, and know lots of stuff you don’t. What more do you need to dislike them?

    • Broseph Walsh says:

      I think it’s worth noting with the whole 20th century breaking even thing. That it’s more a reflection of a couple really shitty practices that were super harmful. Take away those and we were probably doing at least as well the Chinese and Indians, probably even ahead once the new world was found. It’s not really mentioned much but part of why western alternative medicine is so crap is because 99% of what worked got canabillised into modern medicine.

      Onto your point. I don’t think the selective pressure would’ve been to high: first you would have had to be able to afford it, second you’d have to go in for one of the harmful treatments instead of one which was going to do nothing or one which may be benificial. Thirdly I don’t think the practice of surgery, which was probably the major killer, was around and widespread for long enough before antibiotics was developed.

  14. Brendan says:

    Scott reminds me of Pinker but more so. A style that’s so perfectly designed to get centrists to dabble in crime-thought that it must be his main intention. Why else 50k words on topics Greg summarizes in 50?

  15. ben_canaan says:

    Greg, I know you gloss it over in the paper, but any specific leads on heterozygote advantage for Canavan carriers? Not sphingolipid-related, but one can imagine how structural differences in white matter could make a positive difference.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s