Is There A “Secret To Jewish Genius?”

(Richard Drew/AP Photo)

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A recent op-ed in The New York Times entitled “The Secret of Jewish Genius” claiming that Ashkenazi Jews have superior intelligence to other groups has been widely attacked on social media and the author has been accused of encouraging racism and eugenics.

Columnist Bret Stephens, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, cited a quote from the paper: “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.”

“Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. During the 20th century, they made up about 3 percent of the U.S. population but won 27 percent of the U.S. Nobel science prizes and 25 percent of the ACM Turing awards. They account for more than half of world chess champions.”

The quote is taken from a 2005 paper by researchers at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah, Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending. Harpending is a proponent of far-right ideology and racial superiority and has been accused of promoting eugenics, the Nazi practice of “improving” a population by weeding out those with “weak” genes.

A day later, the reference to the 2005 paper was removed from the article and an editor’s note said: “After publication, Mr. Stephens and his editors learned that one of the paper’s authors, who died in 2016, promoted racist views. Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically. The effect was to leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior. That was not his intent… We have removed reference to the study from the column.”

In his column, Stephens asked: “How is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?” He theorized that although Jews may have a slight advantage in intelligence over other populations, their success is a result of “thinking different” – a quality that stems from the Jews’ heightened awareness due to their “repeated exile” that almost all things are ephemeral but knowledge is forever.

The op-ed isn’t the first controversial column for Stephens, a conservative columnist for the largely liberal New York Times readership. In the past, Stephens was slammed for saying that there are “some sluggish elements” in the Black Lives Matter movement and another op-ed about “the disease of the Arab mind.”

His first column for the NYT in 2017, which expressed skepticism about the science behind climate change was so explosive that NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote a personal appeal to readers who canceled their subscriptions, which explained the paper’s decision to hire Stephens.

In his letter, Sulzberger wrote that although Stephens is a conservative writer, he “has written strongly against Trump” and regarding his views on climate change, the paper believes that with “so many people talking past each other about how best to address climate change, different points of view challenges our assumptions and benefits our readers.”


  1. He is correct from a statistical standpoint. Ashkenazi Jews are, on average, 15 IQ points smarter than gentiles. I don;t know how you can be offended by a fact, there’s a reason why Jews are over-repped in terms of noble winnings. Jordan Peterson has a whole lecture about how Jews are smarter. True is true.

  2. A better explanation: Our culture is based on education which wasn’t all that useful in the pre-industrial era, but is very useful as the level of technology rises. Note that our elites have always been the scholar whereas their elites were soldiers. In a modern world, scholars are more useful than soldiers. Also note that other cultures than value scholarship also seem like geniuses (e.g. Chinese) compared to westerners, In addition, until recently non-Jews in the west who wished to be scholars were required to be celibate which gave scholarship a bad reputation (made it seem “un-manly”),

    Also note that all Jews, starting with Avraham, are non-Jews who converted, precluding the idea of a “genetic” difference. We are what we are by choice.

  3. Racism means a legal or cultural system that deprives someone of human and civil right based on their race. To say that different groups of people have different strengths or weaknesses is not racism. Is it racism to say Pygmies are small or the Watusi are tall? It is clear that some people are smarter than others. So long as there is equal opportunity to education, economics and politics, a society can not be considered racist.

  4. Akuperma is half-right — our culture is based on education — and half-wrong, that it didn’t matter until recently. Prof. Zvi Eckstein (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya) and an Italian associate argue powerfully that it all traces to mitzvat Talmud Torah from the time of chazal. Once learning became a litmus test of Jewishness, those unwilling or unable to do it/pay for it left the Jewish fold. The result, widespread predisposition to learning and nearly universal literacy among Jews (at least the men), gave Jews a huge advantage from then on (remember that for most Gentiles back then, literacy was for the privileged only, or wasn’t even valued).

  5. i know the smart ones arrent commenting here, but aizehu chachom hamakir es mekomo, so here i am, but wait… i contradict myself?! oh whatever!

  6. The advantage of being educated in a pre-industrial economy was slight. Muscle power was what mattered. In warfare, intellect was of minimal value. We didn’t have a useful skill set to prosper in that economy. Along comes the industrial revolution, and suddenly education is what matters,

    For a Jew to join the goyim 1000 years ago he would have a limited skill set. His Jewishness didn’t help pull a plow or smash heads. Job demand for educated people was very limited. People would not have noticed “genius” Jews, they would have seen unemployable Jews whose only skills were worthless (such as reading and writing).