Brainy Ashkenazim Get Diseases

A new study through the University of Utah has found a link between the incidence of genetic disease among Ashkenazi Jews and the fact that we are just so darn clever. The theory seems to suggest that the medieval European restrictions on Jews that forced them into “intellectually demanding” commerical sectors, thus creating a natural selection situation in which their descendents were both smarter than average and also carriers of specific genetic diseases. According to Haaretz, the report suggests that

The restrictions imposed on Jews in medieval Europe led to the spread of genetic mutations that enhanced intellectual ability. These mutations are also responsible for four genetic diseases characteristic of Ashkenazi Jews, including Tay-Sachs and the Niemann-Pick and Gaucher syndromes, the study says.

It fascinates me that nobody thought to mention a connection between genetic disease and, say, 1000-ish years of strict endogamy among a very small population. Do we get to thank the medieval bigots for making us so smart? Clearly this is a response to oppression, not, say, a long and glorious textual tradition and a high value on learning or anything like that. Whatever. This Ashkenazit is not compelled, but she does look forward to reading the University of Utah’s next study, on why African-Americans are such great dancers.
Full story here.

6 thoughts on “Brainy Ashkenazim Get Diseases

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  2. (Whatever . . . )
    What really makes this study a joke is the fact that
    1) It doesnt seem to take into account Jewish Scholarship.
    2) Sefardic Jews are pretty damn smart. (I am no scientist but I have a number of friends)
    3) Many, I believe a majority of Eastern European were ignoramouses and made a living chopping wood or schlepping water. Many in Russia farmed as well

  3. What about the Indians. Seems like 4 out of 5 doctors are Indian these days? Studies show that asian kids are bright as hell.
    I think education is a primary factor.

  4. ummm, are those first three bits not deleteworthy? we see no viewpoint, popular or not, in a hundred repetitions of “naughty russian ass.”
    also, anyone know how Mormon is UU (W?) and might that affect things?

  5. This study sounds like just so much bullshit to me. As if someone said, “How come those Ashkenazic Jews are so smart and so good with money? There has to be a genetic reason for it…so let’s start looking for those ‘smart and good with money’ genes.”
    But to link Ashkenazic Jewish intellectual achievement with three or four genetic diseases makes no sense to me at all. The Tay-Sachs gene appears in both Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern European origin and in French Canadians. So how come there are so few (I can’t even think of one) French-Canadian Nobel Prize winners?
    And the study does not account for the fact that Ashkenazic Jews of Western European (i.e. German) origin are not carriers of Tay-Sachs, Gauchers or Niemann-Pick’s disease, yet they, too, comprise a disproportionately large number of Nobel Prize winners.

  6. The paper does not say “here’s some historical crap about how intelligence may have been selected for. Here’s some evidence that they do have higher intelligence today. Oh, by the way, those diseases? They might have something to do with intelligence.”
    Instead, the focus is on the diseases. “Evolution tends to strongly select against diseases, so why would they still be around? The accepted hypothesis was the founder effect… but wait, the genetic distribution of diseases is absolutely bizarre for a founder effect. So there might be a different reason. If, and only if, selection for intelligence was the actual reason, heterozygous carriers for any of the diseases will tend to have enhanced intelligence compared to non-carriers with all socio-cultural factors statistically equalized. How would we find out? The IQ test is imperfect, our hypothesis could be correct yet the IQ test might not reveal it to be so. But if the IQ test results are as we predict, then the only plausible cause is our hypothesis. And if natural selection for intelligence is the only explanation for these gene frequencies, then natural selection must have occurred.
    Here’s our best historical guess about how the selection might have occurred. This isn’t so easily testable; it might be wrong. But the professional historians should be able to put together an accurate picture incorporating our findings.”
    The paper is not a joke; in fact, its testable hypothesis is revolutionary. The Economist and New York Times are quite sensitive to political correctness; they would not have dared to touch the research unless it was genuinely compelling. Soon, we will actually know whether natural selection for intelligence occurred or not. If you guys are right in your assertion that it’s all about culture, then no consistent correlation between IQ and being a heterozygous carrier of the sphingolipid diseases will be found. But the converse is true as well. The question is, can you handle the truth, regardless of what it is? Or would you rather suppress its discovery, even if there’s a chance you’ll be found to be right, just because there’s also a chance you’re wrong?

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