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November 27, 2004


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David Gillies

I've read that some researchers have ascribed the indubitable fact that Ashkenazi Jews consistently score about a standard deviation (15 points) higher on IQ tests to the intellectual effort required to become a Talmudist. The level of ratiocination and logic chopping inherent in Talmudic study, and its very high cachet in days gone by, is adduced as evidence of a selection effect.

I'm not sure that the Flynn effect can simply be ascribed to the demand for skills that are IQ-test friendly.. Intelligence as a whole is more in demand now than 100 years ago. Human capital, which is the only truly finite resource, has shifted from manual to intellectual work. If rewards accrue to a cognitive elite then we would expect to see intelligence rise. In fact, that's something of a truism: if a trait is heritable (and intelligence certainly seems to be), and its posession leads to increased fitness, then by definition the allele that codes for the trait will tend to increase its representation in the population.

The flip side is that those of lesser cognitive ability are disproprtionately penalised in a knowledge-based society. Thus there tends to be a stratification of society, with a large underclass essentially locked out of success. That's pretty much the central conclusion of Murray and Herrnstein's The Bell Curve (which is roundly execrated by a large crowd of people who've never read it).

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