Re Nicholas Wade: It’s hard to prove an untestable theory
|July 18, 2014||Posted by News under Culture, Darwinism, News|
A friend writes to point to a thoughtful reflection from two Jewish thinkers on prominent science writer Nicholas Wade’s Troublesome Inheritance’s claims about why Jewish people win lots of Nobel Prizes:
Jews play a disproportionate role in A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, an extended argument by Nicholas Wade for the impact on modern life of genetic differences among races. Why are Jews so important to the story? Because, well, says Wade, Jews are such a really smart race. Of course, there’s an irony here. The last time genes were used to explain why some whole peoples prosper and others don’t – during the Progressive Era’s eugenics movement – Jews were held up as a people of innately low physical, moral, and intellectual capacity. Now, Wade and others tell us that Jews are endowed by evolution with superior verbal and mathematical ability (albeit not spatial intelligence; in Wade’s view, Jews stopped hunting so long ago that Jewish genes can’t find their way out of a paper bag).
You mean they actually found a bag? Here, we still don’t get the Nicholas Wade thing at all, except insofar as philosopher Daniel Dennett is right: Darwinism is a universal acid. It can even make racism respectable again.
Anyway, Paul and Diana Appelbaum go on to say, re these kinds of theories in general:
There are good reasons to be suspicious of arguments suggesting powerful selection effects over brief time frames for cognitive abilities. To be sure, intelligence – at least the form most frequently measured by psychologists – has a clear genetic component. But years of research have failed to identify any genes that account for this effect. The dominant explanation is that intelligence, like height, may be determined by the cumulative effect of scores, perhaps hundreds of genes, each of which makes an incremental contribution to cognitive ability. To further complicate things, those genes may interact to amplify or negate their influences on intelligence, and it is certain that environment plays a key role. Indeed, recent evidence indicates that genetic effects on intelligence are stronger in high socioeconomic circumstances, which presumably allow maximization of individual potential, but fade away in poor families.
With scores of genes likely involved, most distributed widely in the population, selection for or against particular genes becomes more difficult and time-consuming. The rapid selection event on which Wade (following Botticini and Eckstein) relies hence strains credulity from a biological perspective. Although some guesses about how the Jews got their disproportionate share of Nobel prizes put forward in these books could be right (after all, it’s awfully hard to disprove an untestable theory), there is very little evidence to support them and good reasons to doubt their validity.
Some of this stuff tends to get overthought. Like, for example, why is half the National Hockey League Canadian born, even though most teams aren’t based in Canadian cities?
Genes? Nah. Who hauls his “horse” onto the ice in the dark of the dawn, and stays there until his numbers look good? The Canadian. So who does the pro team want? Aw, surprise me. Tell me something else I just can’t believe.
Doesn’t he mind the cold? Sure, but it would be just as cold delivering flyers in the teeth of the winter wind. Pay scale much more disappointing, and not as much fun. – O’Leary for News
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