Did Jewish Genius Really Decline?

Andrew Gelman summarizes some criticisms of the data that went into the Ron Unz article that I cited in this post.

Pointer from Tyler Cowen. Some of the criticisms seem powerful to me, others less so. Basically, it possible to come up with disparate measures for the proportion of Jews in a segment of the population. Unz appears to have over-estimated the proportion of Jews admitted to elite colleges and under-estimated the proportion with high achievement (such as wins in the Putnam math exam). Note, however, that the people proposing revised estimates may be stretching things in order to prove their point.

8 thoughts on “Did Jewish Genius Really Decline?

  1. Arnold:

    Regarding your last sentence: I can’t speak for others, but as for myself I have no point to prove here; I just wanted to look at the evidence. I understand your desire to be fair-minded but in this case I don’t see any “stretching” in the arguments made by Unz’s critics (although of course there may be some arguments out there that I haven’t seen).

    Regarding the decline in high-end performance (for example, the drop in percentage of Olympiad participants by a factor of 2 or so since the 1970s), I think Janet Mertz was reasonable in writing, “the recent modest drop off in the % Jews can be fully accounted for by their now having to compete with the recent influx to the US of high-achieving Asians for the fixed number of 6 slots per year available on the US IMO team, combined with Jews, especially non-ultra-Orthodox ones, having become a smaller percentage of the US population over the past few decades.

    • Andrew, the reason for the qualification in the last sentence is that it is possible that people were looking for methodological issues that bias Unz in one direction but not looking as hard to try to find methodological issues that could bias him in the other direction. Perhaps there are no issues of the latter sort, but I could not be sure.

  2. Unz’s comparisons’ inconsistency of measurement techniques, compared to his critics’ consistency, seems pretty bad. I would say the onus is now on Unz to provide some kind of convincing reply.

  3. Not being a statistician myself I’d be curious to see both you and Professor Gelman respond to Unz’s most recent comment: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/meritocracy-response-to-prof-gelman-on-jewish-elite-overrepresentation/

    (Also, I know you all are busy academics and blogging is only a secondary passion, but I think it would be cool if you could google the person you’re writing about to see if they’ve already written a response to the item you’re posting. Helps the conversation move better I find…)

    • Chris:

      I responded to Unz’s comment on my blog. In brief: My correspondents and I were indeed aware of his post of 1 Feb; I didn’t mention it in my blog because it didn’t seem to provide any relevant useful information. Also, I took a look at his new post but it does not address the problems that the critics raised, most obviously that he was using different and incompatible sources for his numerator and denominator.

  4. Hi Philip,

    I’ll just quote from Unz’s column yesterday, since this seems relevant to your concern:

    “As mentioned earlier, one irritating aspect of responding to this lengthy critique was that neither Profs. Mertz nor Gelman had apparently noticed that less than two weeks ago I had already published a similar column on Jewish surname analysis, which dealt with many of these same issues.

    “Still, they are hardly alone in such carelessness. By a remarkable coincidence, their critique was published almost simultaneously with that of a critical column by Prof. Kevin MacDonald, whose focus of greatest interest seems very similar to that of Prof. Mertz. In Prof. MacDonald’s case, he chided me for no longer discussing the Jewish aspects of my analysis. Apparently he, too, had failed to notice the same column of mine missed by Prof. Mertz.

    “Given that Profs. MacDonald and Mertz share such a strong commonality of personal interests, yet are both sometimes a bit prone to carelessness, perhaps they should join forces and henceforth work closely together to ensure that none of my future columns accidentally slips by them.”

    Like I said, I highly recommend checking someone’s blog or just googling them to see if they have in fact done as you want them to do.