Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jews Are Smart

An article in The New Republic summarizing a controversial scientific study:
Utah researchers Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending (henceforth CH&H) proposed that Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling, and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in northern Europe, from about 800 C.E. to 1600 C.E. Since rapid selection of a single trait often brings along deleterious by-products, this evolutionary history also bequeathed the genetic diseases known to be common among Ashkenazim, such as Tay-Sachs and Gaucher's.
The Jewish author, Steven Pinker, touches on some of the moral and ethical dangers in making such conclusions, especially how it relates to the perception and treatment of his people:
But is it good for the Jews? More to the point, is it good for ideals of tolerance and ethnic amity? On one interpretation, perhaps it is. Jewish achievement is obvious; only the explanation is unclear. The idea of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural) could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenians, Lebanese, Ibos, and overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious persecution because of their economic success.
It seems that genetics also confirm the adage that blessings can also be curses. A mutation in African populations that confer resistance to malaria also causes sickle cell anemia.

Science cannot be a substitute for ethics, morals, and religion. Without moral directives like the Golden Rule, individuals and societies would see little value in resisting marginalizition and stigmatization of entire races because of perceived intellectual advantages or deficiencies. Genomic research and the intimate knowledge it provides presents another stern test for mankind. Do we use our genetic knowledge towards social Darwinisim, and a neo-eugenic movement toward socio-economic elitism? Or, do we use that knowledge to treat disease and uplift those who are less fortunate, safeguarding our most important moral and religious heritage?

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