Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Are Ashkenazi Jews Smarter than the Rest of Us?

In modern-day America, the supporters of Darwinism tend to be on the left, while the opponents tend to be on the right. It hasn't always been that way. Although Darwin himself wouldn't have endorsed their views, many of the early 20th Century champions of evolution were right-wing types who thought Darwin's theories proved the biological superiority of light-skinned people.

The study of evolution, I think, is held back in the 21st Century because we're afraid that new discoveries might lead us back to the idea that some groups are superior to others.

So many people aren't happy with the idea that natural selection has given Ashkenazi Jews a biological advantage when it comes to intelligence. The Economist reports:
Put these two things together—a correlation of intelligence and success, and a correlation of success and fecundity—and you have circumstances that favour the spread of genes that enhance intelligence. The questions are, do such genes exist, and what are they if they do? Dr [Gregory] Cochran thinks they do exist, and that they are exactly the genes that cause the inherited diseases which afflict Ashkenazi society.

That small, reproductively isolated groups of people are susceptible to genetic disease is well known. Constant mating with even distant relatives reduces genetic diversity, and some disease genes will thus, randomly, become more common. But the very randomness of this process means there should be no discernible pattern about which disease genes increase in frequency. In the case of Ashkenazim, Dr Cochran argues, this is not the case. Most of the dozen or so disease genes that are common in them belong to one of two types: they are involved either in the storage in nerve cells of special fats called sphingolipids, which form part of the insulating outer sheaths that allow nerve cells to transmit electrical signals, or in DNA repair. The former genes cause neurological diseases, such as Tay-Sachs, Gaucher's and Niemann-Pick. The latter cause cancer.

If the study of evolution leads us to these conclusions, some will resist it. But that would be wrong. Much better to deal with the issues raised by studying evolution than to ignore them.


At 7:25 AM, Blogger dhodge said...

I guess that this research debunks the "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" episode of Family Guy.


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