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Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence

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Prominent and not so prominent talkers from the American Black population come out with similar theories of vague and invisible forces that are oppressing people, like 'institutional racism' and 'white privilege'.
—Henry Harpending claiming that acknowledging the existence of systemic racism is the same as believing in witchcraft[1]

Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence is a paper published by "human biodiversity" proponent Gregory Cochran, anthropology student Jason Hardy and white nationalist Henry Harpending which "elaborates the hypothesis that the unique demography and sociology of AshkenazimWikipedia in medieval Europe selected for intelligence."[2] It appears to be an hereditarian attempt to find "scientific" evidence for racist beliefs about race and intelligence. The paper was published in 2006 in the Cambridge University Press' Journal of Biosocial Science.[3] The Journal of Biosocial Science had been renamed from The Eugenics Review in 1969 at the time that Cambridge University Press began publishing the journal.[4]

The untested yet widely disseminated hypothesis[edit]

Steve Sailer in 2019 admitting the NHAI hypothesis has not been tested. Sailer suspects a conspiracy

Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence (NHAI) presents an untested and unproven hypothesis, which was nevertheless promoted by mainstream media, via proponents of hereditarianism, especially New York Times columnist Nicholas WadeWikipedia and Harvard professor Steven Pinker.

Anthropologist R. Brian FergusonWikipedia was one of the few scholars to respond substantively to the paper. In 2008 he self-published "How Jews Became Smart: Anti-"Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence".[5] In an interview in 2019, Ferguson summarized the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence paper as a hypothesis which claimed that the (heterozygoticWikipedia) expression of genes associated with eighteen inherited physical conditions, often seen in Ashkenazi Jewish populations, conferred higher intelligence.[6]

Ferguson noted the surprising attention given to the paper: "Now one question is why is an untested hypothesis getting so much attention? You would think that if they found evidence for it — but there was no evidence. This was an untested hypothesis. Steven Pinker helped legitimize this… if you look at their proposition that these different diseases — just the idea that these diseases boost IQ — if you look at the actual science of it, that’s not what it says. So you don't say that something that's not good science is good science without diminishing your own credibility."

Lack of evidence[edit]

A profile of Gregory Cochran, published in the Los Angeles Times in 2009, discusses the problem Harpending and Cochran had in getting the paper published: lack of evidence.

"They wrote up their theory[note 1] and sent it off to a journal. It was rejected. Harpending said he gave it to an anthropologist friend, editor of another journal, who asked to publish it there. That plan was called off. The friend, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said the paper was clearly controversial and its extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence  which was lacking."[7]

"Easy to test"[edit]

In the same article, Steven Pinker claimed the hypothesis would be "easy to test." However, Cochran and Harpending had no plans to test it. Cochran compared the paper to work by Albert Einstein: "One criticism about our paper is that 'It can't mean anything because they didn't do any new experiments.' OK, then I guess Einstein's papers didn't mean anything either." This explanation however shows ignorance of the history of Einstein's theory of relativity (developed in 1905-1915), which has been confirmed by numerous scientific observations (starting with the 1919 solar eclipse).[8] Furthermore, theory of relativity did not spring forth de novo, it was proposed as a solution to observational discrepancies of Mercury's orbit that disagreed with the Newtonian physics' prediction.[9]

But still untested[edit]

Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence was published online June 17, 2005.[3] There is no evidence that the NHAI hypothesis has been tested yet, in spite of the alleged ease of testing.

AUTOMATIC NHAI COUNTER: Today is 18:11, 2 December 2023 (UTC). It has been 18 years since publication without testing.


There are historically two sides of the hereditarian coin: Jewish intellectual superiority and Black intellectual inferiority. The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence appears to be one effort to prove this old trope "scientifically."

Mankind Quarterly[edit]

The April 1961 issue of the racialist Mankind Quarterly published an article by Henry Garrett,Wikipedia a segregationist with ties to the Pioneer Fund, entitled "The Equalitarian Dogma,"[10] which illustrates the two-sided hereditarian coin:

Could Franz Boas say truthfully in 1938 that the African Negro had produced any men to compare with the best of the European whites: to compare, for example, with Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, Galileo, Voltaire, Goethe, Shakespeare or Newton? On the other hand, consider the Jews. Boas' own ethnic group. By almost any criterion, the Jews have produced a disproportionate number of intellectually gifted persons, and this despite the handicaps under which they have often lived and worked. Did "culture" alone produce these outstanding men or was there better native endowment to begin with?[10]

The article is notable not only because it describes the hereditarian assumption about race, it provides the term, "equalitarian," adopted by 21st century hereditarians for the same purpose: to claim opponents of the hereditarian assumption are not motivated by scientific objections.[11][12]

J. Philippe Rushton[edit]

Although Harpending questioned some of racist J. Philippe Rushton's r/K strategy claims, in his 1995 review of Rushton's Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective he nevertheless said: "I believe that this is very important pioneering work and that Rushton deserves congratulations for bringing it together and, most of all, for trying to understand it within the framework of modern science. Perhaps there will ultimately be some serious contribution from the traditional smoke-and-mirrors social science treatment of IQ, but for now Rushton’s framework is essentially the only game in town."[13]

Kevin MacDonald[edit]

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in its profile of Henry Harpending, claims that the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence is "based on the work of Kevin MacDonald, a discredited evolutionary psychologist and current director of the racist American Freedom Party, formerly known as American Third Position."[14]

Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence cites as a source MacDonald's A People That Shall Dwell Alone.[15] According to the Anti-Defamation League:

Couching his views as legitimate intellectual inquiry, MacDonald has asserted that anti-Semitism, including the anti-Jewish hatred exhibited by the Nazis and those who carried out the Spanish Inquisition, is a "rational" response to Judaism. According to MacDonald, Jews maintain their elite position by fostering non-white immigration into America to alter the country’s "racial hierarchy" and by creating intellectual movements that weaken ethnic European identity.

MacDonald also argues that Judaism is a particularly successful "group evolutionary strategy" that allows Jews to benefit at the expense of non-Jews. He believes that Jews in contemporary times have fostered and supported multiculturalism, Zionism, and neo-conservatism to benefit Jews at the expense of non-Jews. MacDonald claims that Jews are able to disseminate their anti-European ideas and squelch the public debate of Jewish issues because they have access to the "very top" levels of academia and the media. He also alleges that Jews have a hatred for Western culture and Christianity.

MacDonald originally expressed his arguments about Jews and Judaism in three books he published between 1994 and 2002: People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy; Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism and Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements.[16]

Steve Sailer's claim[edit]

On the white nationalist website VDARE in 2009, professional racist Steve Sailer claimed responsibility for introducing Harpending and Cochran through his Human Biodiversity email group.[17] While Cochran had compared himself and Harpending to Einstein, Sailer compared them to Charles Darwin (emphasis in the original):

I'm pleased that a new book, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, demonstrates that Darwin has two worthy 21st Century successors of comparable insight and ambition: co-authors Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. (They've set up an official website for The 10,000 Year Explosion here).

On a rather less epochal note, the publication of The 10,000 Year Explosion marks the tenth anniversary of my invitation-only Human Biodiversity email group, which I started in 1999.

And that's where Greg and Henry got to know each other! Peter Brimelow recently called to my attention that the inscription on the Westminster Abbey tomb of concert impresario J.P. Salomon reads, "He brought Haydn to England …" Perhaps my gravestone will read, "He introduced Cochran to Harpending."

Henry Harpending, a professor at the University of Utah and member of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the few field anthropologists (he lived for 42 months with hunter-gatherer peoples in Africa, such as the tongue-clicking Bushmen) with the mathematical skills to grapple with the current deluge of genetic data.

(Here's Henry's hair-raising tale of going hunting with Bushmen for the most lethal African game animal, the Cape buffalo.)

Greg Cochran, a physicist turned evolutionary theorist, is a polymath who might be the most ferociously brilliant idea man of his generation in America.[18]

In the preface of their book, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, Harpending and Cochran acknowledged Sailer's influence, writing "We have also benefited from discussions with members of the Human Biodiversity Internet discussion group run by Steve Sailer."[19]

The Los Angeles Times confirms Sailer's claim, "Once Cochran gets talking, it's hard to get him to stop. He jumps from idea to idea, beginning new sentences before finishing old ones. In e-mail discussion groups, where he befriended Harpending, he thrives on debating people and proving them wrong."[7]

Cochran's eureka moment[edit]

The Los Angeles Times profile of Cochran, the "self-taught genetics buff," provides this snapshot of Cochran's inspiration for the hypothesis:

Gregory Cochran has always been drawn to puzzles. This one had been gnawing at him for several years: Why are European Jews prone to so many deadly genetic diseases?

Tay-Sachs disease. Canavan disease. More than a dozen more.

It offended Cochran's sense of logic. Natural selection, the self-taught genetics buff knew, should flush dangerous DNA from the gene pool. Perhaps the mutations causing these diseases had some other, beneficial purpose. But what?

At 3:17 one morning, after a long night searching a database of scientific journals from his disheveled home office in Albuquerque, Cochran fired off an e-mail to his collaborator Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

"I've figured it out, I think," Cochran typed. "Pardon my crazed excitement."

The "faulty" genes, Cochran concluded, make Jews smarter.[7]

Prior to publishing the NHAI hypothesis, Harpending already believed in the hereditarian assumption about race and intelligence[13], and it's probable that Cochran did too, and so the thought process behind Cochran's insight was likely: "Jews are genetically intelligent. Jews have genetic diseases. Therefore, the genetic diseases caused the genetic intelligence."


Jason Hardy[edit]

Jason Hardy was identified as an undergraduate of the University of Utah in 2005, the year the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence paper was published.[20] In 2006 he was identified as an anthropologist.[21] However there is no evidence that Hardy has a career as an anthropologist nor in academia. Hardy did not publish with Harpending nor Cochran again.

Gregory Cochran[edit]

Geneticist Adam Rutherford responds to insults from Cochran and Geoffrey Miller

According to his LinkedIn profile, Cochran is currently self-employed and has "consulted on adaptive optics for both imaging and beam projection, with emphasis on atmospheric effects. This had included control systems and performance modelling. I've also worked on image recovery, detector analysis, and diagnostic algorithms for chirped laser systems."[22] The profile also reveals that Cochran was adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Utah for ten years. However, Cochran's education includes no courses in anthropology, and Cochran states: "I studied physics and math as an undergraduate, to excess if anything, and got an undergraduate degree in physics and another in mathematics. I attended graduate school in physics there as well, where I worked on first-principles calculations of electronic structures."

Taki's Magazine[edit]

According to his contributor's profile for the right-wing racist Taki's Magazine, "Gregory Cochran grew up in a small town in Illinois, picked up a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Illinois, and worked for years in aerospace, mainly on advanced optics and laser systems. He later segued into evolutionary genetics and anthropology. He collaborates with Henry Harpending (University of Utah): and they put out a book in 2009 about the recent evolutionary change in humans: The 10,000 Year Explosion."[23] Cochran wrote three articles for Taki's Magazine, about Ebola, asteroids and Neanderthals.

West Hunter[edit]

Cochran currently runs a blog called "West Hunter". Harpending was a contributor until his death in 2016.[24]

Cochran has a Twitter/X account in which he tweets blog posts from West Hunter[25]


Cochran has been a frequent contributor to EdgeWikipedia including:

  • In 2006 Cochran was asked by Edge what his "dangerous idea" was. Cochran pushed the NHAI hypothesis to its logical conclusion: "This concept opens strange doors. If true, it means that the people of Sumeria and Egypt's Old Kingdom were probably fundamentally different from us: human nature has changed — some, anyhow — over recorded history."[26]
  • In 2017 Cochran was asked to contribute to Edge's "What Scientific Term Or Concept Ought To Be More Widely Known?" and Cochran took the opportunity to promote NHAI: "So what can you explain with the breeder’s equation? Natural selection, for one thing. It probably explains the Ashkenazi Jews — it looks as if there was (once) an unusual reproductive advantage for people who were good at certain kinds of white collar jobs, along with a high degree of reproductive isolation."[27]

Take the money…[edit]

According to the 2009 tax returns for the Unz Foundation, publisher of The Unz Review, Cochran was given a grant of $600,000 by Ron Unz.Wikipedia[28] The money was granted "In recognition of the notable research activities of Dr. Gregory Cochran, Ph.D." and "Dr. Cochran is unrestricted in his use of the funds provided in this grant. The Unz Foundation does however take a strong interest in each of its grantees. While not requiring any specific use of funds provided in this grant, The Unz Foundation encourages each grantee to make brief, periodic reports (not more than semi-annually) regarding ongoing activities. The Unz Foundation also encourages its grantees to take pride in their notable achievement, to regard their award status as a primary professional affiliation, and to prominently mention it in all public contexts." Razib Khan and Steve Sailer also received sizable contributions that year.

…and run[edit]

According to Ron Unz, Cochran took the money and did "no subsequent work of any significance" for it, due to being arrogant and lazy:

[Cochran's] a smart guy, but unfortunately he believes he’s far, far smarter and more knowledgeable than he actually is. This serious personal flaw leads him to make all sorts of grandiose claims regarding topics in which he knows absolutely nothing and therefore looks ridiculous.

Back about ten years ago, I’d given him a very large unrestricted five-year financial grant based upon his outstanding previous work. Unfortunately (as far as I can tell) that grant caused him to become very arrogant and lazy, and he did no subsequent work of any significance during that five year period. Therefore, I decided not to renew his very large grant for an additional five years causing him to become outraged.

Some time after that, he wrote a blogpost grossly insulting the intelligence of my old Harvard professor E.O. Wilson. This led me to point out some of the obvious flaws in his reasoning in a series of very polite comments on his blogsite. Since my analysis was clearly correct and his analysis was wrong, he immediately deleted my comments and also banned me from his blogsite so that my arguments wouldn’t “confuse” the flock of silly fanboys who foolishly worship his self-proclaimed brilliance.

Based upon this disagreeable history, the only circumstances in which I might allow him to join my webzine would be if he provided me an explicit personal apology for deleting my polite comments disputing his mistaken ev-bio analysis and then banning me from his blogsite. Given Cochran’s aforementioned personality, the likelihood of this happening is nil.[29]

Robert E. Howard[edit]

The cover of Conan the Conqueror, perhaps not how it actually happened

Cochran believes that the stories of "Conan the Barbarian" by Robert E. HowardWikipedia are a better guide to archeology and anthropology than the work of actual archeologists and anthropologists. Writing in his blog "West Hunter" Cochran said:

Given the chance (sufficient lack of information), American anthropologists assumed that the Mayans were peaceful astronomers. Howard would have assumed that they were just another blood-drenched snake cult: who came closer?

Now I’m not saying that Howard got every single tiny little syllable of prehistory right. Not likely: so far, we haven’t seen any signs of Cthulhu-like visitors, which abound in the Conan stories. So far. But Howard’s priors were more accurate than those of the pots-not-people archeologists: more accurate than people like Excoffier and Currat, who assume that there hasn’t been any population replacement in Europe since moderns displaced Neanderthals. More accurate than Chris Stringer, more accurate than Brian Ferguson.

Most important, Conan, unlike the typical professor, knew what was best in life.[note 2][31]

Cochran refers to the alleged scientific superiority of Howard other times on the blog.[32][33][34][35]

It is likely that the "Brian Ferguson" mentioned by Cochran is anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson,Wikipedia a critic of the "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" paper.[5] As a proponent of cultural materialist theories, with a focus on war,[36] Ferguson does not assume "that the Mayans were peaceful astronomers."

Cochran versus critics[edit]

Cochran often responds to criticisms of hereditarianism and Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence not by addressing arguments, but by insulting his critics, including those with relevant expertise. Considering that Cochran inserted himself into anthropology and genetics without any training in those fields, and yet believes his work is comparable to the work of Einstein, it's not surprising he has no respect for credentials or expertise.

  • Cochran suggested R. Brian Ferguson's work was driven by emotion: "It would hurt Brian Ferguson’s feelings."[37]
  • Cochran claimed twice that Robert E. Howard, author of "Conan the Barbarian" understood anthropology better than Ferguson.[31][38]
  • Cochran insulted New York Times science and society correspondent Amy HarmonWikipedia on X/Twitter[39]
  • Cochran claimed on X/Twitter that geneticist Adam RutherfordWikipedia was "dumb" while his hereditarian ally, psychologist Geoffrey MillerWikipedia called Rutherford an "ideologically driven hack." Rutherford was not impressed.[40]

Cochran versus E. O. Wilson[edit]

In spite of E. O. Wilson's importance to hereditarianism, Cochran, alone among hereditarians, considers Wilson "an idiot." He commented on his blog: "I liked Sociobiology, and read some more of his books. The Ants was also interesting, but the others, those I read, didn’t seem to say anything. When I ask people what important problem Wilson has solved, what important prediction of his has come true, I hear crickets."[41]

Henry Harpending[edit]

Like many hereditarians, Harpending was associated with the organization Edge.[42] His Edge "People" profile says of him:

Holds the Thomas Chair as Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropolgy[sic] at the University of Utah
HENRY HARPENDING holds the Thomas Chair as Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropolgy[sic] at the University of Utah, the strongest biological anthropology department in the United States. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is a unique blend of field anthropologist (having spent years with the Bushmen and other peoples of the northern Kalahari) and population geneticist — one of international reputation, particularly active in the analysis of modern human origins. He played an important role in the development of the Out-of-Africa theory of human origins. He is coauthor, with Gregory Cochran, of The 10,000 Year Explosion.[43]

Per the Southern Poverty Law Center, Harpending "was a controversial anthropologist at the University of Utah who studied human evolution and, in his words, “genetic diversity within and between human populations."[14]

Preserving Western Civilization[edit]

In 2009, Harpending gave a speech, "The Biology of Families and the Future of Civilization"[44] at the "Preserving Western Civilization" conference[45] along with infamous racists Peter Brimelow and J. Philippe Rushton.[46]

The H. L. Mencken Club[edit]

Harpending was a member of the H. L. Mencken Club. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was on the organization's board. The Club was profiled by The Village Voice in 2013 in an article entitled, "Is the H.L. Mencken Club an Extremist Hate Group, or Just a Bunch of Weary Old White Guys?":

The club meets yearly at airport hotels near Baltimore. It takes its name from journalist and gadfly H.L. Mencken, who was colossally famous in his day as “the sage of Baltimore,” a satirist and wit known as a noncomformist and casual racist.

In 1930, Mencken called Jewish people “the most unpleasant race ever heard of” (though his views on Judaism seemed to evolve with time). He wrote of the "negro" as a "low-caste man" who will "remain inert and inefficient until fifty generations of him have lived in civilization. And even then, the superior white race will be fifty generations ahead of him."

The club that celebrates Mencken still sings this tune today, however politely. "We try to bring up issues that sort of push the envelope," says E. Christian Kopff,Wikipedia an associate professor of classics at the University of Colorado.

The group has a "strong commitment to preserving the traditions of the West," he says. “Every time you say something good about the West or Europe or America’s European heritage, someone calls it racist. No one's saying China or India doesn't have a great culture, but we have ours and it's worth preserving."

Yet the notion that American culture is mostly "European" is the sort of thing that frequently gets the club into hot water. Board member Richard B. Spencer, founder of, has been known to wax on about things like the need to strengthen the right wing's "historical Anglo-American majority" as the "indigenous ruling class of this country."[47]

University of Utah statement[edit]

After his death, the University of Utah released a statement about Harpending:

Statements attributed to Henry Harpending that promote ideas in line with white nationalist ideology stand in direct opposition to the University of Utah’s values of equity, diversity and inclusion. The university has a strong non-discrimination policy designed to protect members of its community from discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, etc. That said, speech — even when it is racist — is protected by the U.S. Constitution and is necessary for the free exchange of ideas. As such, we will meet these words with ours: Racist views and rhetoric that position one race as superior to another are inaccurate and harmful. The University of Utah is bolstered by its diversity, which allows individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives to come together to address challenges in new and creative ways.[48]

The 10,000 Year Explosion[edit]

Cochran and Harpending published "The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution" in 2009.[19] According to the Los Angeles Times profile of Cochran: "They have been sneered at by colleagues and excoriated on Internet forums. They have been welcomed to speak at a synagogue and a Jewish medical society. They were asked to write a book; that effort, "The 10,000 Year Explosion," was published early this year."[49]

The article does not say who asked Cochran and Harpending to write the book. But it's probably significant that the preface of the book says "Parts of this work were supported by the Unz Foundation."[19] The preface admits indebtedness to various hereditarians and racialists including Gregory Clark,Wikipedia Razib Khan, James Lee,[50] Rosalind Arden,[51] and J. Philippe Rushton.

The 10,000 Year Explosion continues the promotion of the untested, unproven claims about Ashkenazi intelligence:

In the final chapter titled: “Medieval Evolution: How the Ashkenazi Jews Got Their Smarts” (Cochran and Harpending 2009:187), the authors attempt to defend the idea that the Ashkenazi Jews are a distinct genetic population of humans whom, through a process of "natural selection for white-collar occupations" in-between 800-1700 C.E., acquired remarkably advanced intellectual abilities (e.g., Cochran and Harpending 2009:199). The evidence they mobilize to ‘conclusively prove’ that the Ashkenazi Jews are the smartest humans include disproportionately high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores, enrollment in prestigious western academic institutions, and exceptional contributions to science and mathematics over the past 200 years (Cochran and Harpending 2009:188-189). A historical account of Ashkenazi Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries is beyond the scope of this book review, however IQ scores, university enrollment and excellence in science and math are not absolute measures of intelligence, but rather, achievements that must be understood in a socio-cultural context. Throughout the book they do not explicitly layout an intellectual hierarchy of humanity, however it is implied several times in the narrative. For example, claims are made regarding the proportion of ‘geniuses’ within Ashkenazi Jewish and northern European populations (23 out of 1,000 for Ashkenazi Jews and 4 out of 1,000 for northern Europeans) (Cochran and Harpending 2009:211).[52]

Gregory Clark[edit]

The claims of hereditarian economist Gregory ClarkWikipedia influenced the book. "Much of what Harpending and Cochran claim in The 10,000 Year Explosion builds on the work of economist Gregory Clark, who believes that the Industrial Revolution and British global dominance can best be explained evolutionarily".[14] Clark is currently known for publishing in 2014 The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. In its review of the book, The Economist said: "His work implies, however, that poor blacks remain so because they are descended from people with low social competence; discrimination is irrelevant, except to the extent that it limits intermarriage with other groups. The Son Also Rises may not be a racist book, but it certainly traffics in genetic determinism."[53] Clark gave the keynote speech at the 2018 annual conference of the hereditarian, racialist organization International Society for Intelligence Research entitled: "How Genetics Determine Social Status."[54]


In spite of the fact that "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" was an untested, unproven hypothesis it was promoted by hereditarians when it was released. Pinker and Wade were able to use their mainstream media connections to widely publicize the hypothesis, as noted by Steve Sailer, "The slow liberation of the Mainstream Media from the deathgrip of political correctness accelerated last week with startlingly courageous coverage in The Economist and the New York Times of the potentially epochal scientific paper by Gregory Cochran, Henry Harpending, and Jason Hardy entitled The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence[55]

Nicholas Wade[edit]

Long-time New York Times contributor Nicholas Wade promoted the paper in 2005:

"It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, noting that it argues for an inherited difference in intelligence between groups. Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."

"Absolutely anything in human biology that is interesting is going to be controversial," said one of the report's authors, Dr. Henry Harpending, an anthropologist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

He and two colleagues at the University of Utah, Gregory Cochran and Jason Hardy, see the pattern of genetic disease among the Ashkenazi Jewish population as reminiscent of blood disorders like sickle cell anemia that occur in populations exposed to malaria, a disease that is only 5,000 years old.[56]

Wade continued promoting the still unproven, still untested hypothesis in 2014, in Time Magazine.[57]

Steven Pinker[edit]

Steven Pinker is likely the most enthusiastic promoter of the unproven hypothesis, although he was careful to admit it was unproven, writing, "CH&H, then, have provided prima facie evidence for each of the hypotheses making up their theory. But all the hypotheses would have to be true for the theory as a whole to be true — and much of the evidence is circumstantial, and the pivotal hypothesis is the one for which they have the least evidence. Yet that hypothesis is also the most easily falsifiable. By that criterion, the CH&H story meets the standards of a good scientific theory, though it is tentative and could turn out to be mistaken."[58]

Pinker must have been aware of the connection between Sailer and Cochran/Harpending. Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence was released online (2005) and published (2006) during a time period when Pinker was a public supporter of the career of Steve Sailer, having recently included his The Cousin Marriage Conundrum in The Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2004.[59]

In response to the Edge "annual question" "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?" Pinker's idea was "Groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments" and predicted, "The year 2005 saw several public appearances of what will I predict will[sic] become the dangerous idea of the next decade: that groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments." He included a plug for the hypothesis, "In June, the [New York] Times reported a forthcoming study by physicist Greg Cochran, anthropologist Jason Hardy, and population geneticist Henry Harpending proposing that Ashkenazi Jews have been biologically selected for high intelligence, and that their well-documented genetic diseases are a by-product of this evolutionary history."[60]

"Reality is what refuses to go away"[edit]

In a speech he gave entitled "Jews, Genes and Intelligence", Pinker revealed his confidence in the hypothesis, in Cochran as an authority, in the claim that race is biological, and reveals his belief that any disagreement with hereditarianism is the result of pure emotion and in defiance of reality:

…I asked Cochran about what the predictions are with regard to the Sephardim, and he said that it's probably a similar story would apply, although not as cleanly, not with as much strength. And of course this has implications for the status of civil harmony in Israel, for example. And of course, once you open the door to any group differences being examined in terms of their possible genetic causes, you get to far more politically-fraught issues, such as the source of the difference in IQ scores between African American and European American populations. And so, not surprisingly, there have also been some denunciations of the CHH study. It has been called "bad science as having no positive impact. And I'd call the study bullshit if I didn't feel its idea were so insulting." All of them you can find in the New York Magazine article. I think this is part of a larger repugnance among intellectuals to any genetic explanation of anything. I've written a book on on this topic, The Blank Slate, The Modern Denial of Human Nature, how the idea that any aspect of human talent or temperament has any biological basis has often been seen as politically and morally and emotionally incendiary in most of the 20th century. And in the book I tried to analyze how one can sensitively deal with discoveries of the biological basis of human personality and intelligence, including possible discoveries about the genetics of group differences. I think it's safe to say that the current approach, at least the approach in recent decades, was to deny the existence of intelligence, I mentioned The Mismeasure of Man as the foremost example; to deny the existence of genetically distinct human groups. There is a widespread myth that there is no such thing as race whatsoever, that there are, that it's purely a social construction and to call the people who don't do this Nazis. But on the other hand, there is a quotation, I don't know who's responsible for it. "Reality is what refuses to go away when I stop believing in it."[note 3] That in a way, it doesn't matter whether what our emotional reaction is to various findings…[61]

Pinker acknowledges Cochran in the preface to his 2011 book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined.[62]

Writing for The Guardian in 2006, Marek Kohn said, "At a meeting in New York at which the psychologist Steven Pinker spoke about the Ashkenazi paper, though, one writer was troubled. Maggie Wittlin, reporting for Seed magazine, said: 'People will hear what they want to hear. And many in attendance were there to hear that Jews are naturally smarter than everyone else.' Seduction is more powerful than provocation — and more insidious."[63]

Criticisms and debunkings[edit]

Soon after the paper was released, Jennifer SeniorWikipedia published an article in New York Magazine, "Are Jews Smarter?" and noted the response from scientists:

(because) it did not meet the standards of traditional scientific scholarship, Harpending and Cochran’s paper attracted a barrage of criticism from mainstream geneticists, historians, and social scientists.

"It's bad science — not because it's provocative, but because it's bad genetics and bad epidemiology," says Harry Ostrer,Wikipedia head of NYU's human-genetics program.

"I see no positive impact from this," says Neil Risch,Wikipedia one of the few geneticists who's dipped his oar into the treacherous waters of race and genetics. "When the guys at the University of Utah said they'd discovered cold fusion, did that have a positive impact?"[64]

R. Brian Ferguson[edit]

How Jews Became Smart: Anti-"Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence"[edit]

In 2008, anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson responded to the publication of "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" (NHAI) with a paper, "How Jews Became Smart: Anti-'Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.'"[5] In the introduction, Ferguson notes the curious status of the NHAI, "To my knowledge, no challenge to the thesis of NHAI has appeared anywhere. It lives, on the web, and in people's minds. A few months ago I fell into a conversation with a young anthropologist, who was arguing for the need to bring genetics into the study of culture. I asked why. He replied by citing NHAI as the perfect example of the power of that approach."

Main criticisms[edit]

Ferguson presents eleven main criticisms, listed in the paper's abstract:[5]

  1. Contrary to NHAI's argument that the inherited conditions are due to selection, bottlenecks and drift remain strong explanations of their frequency, and consistent with historical information.
  2. In NHAI, less than half of all inherited conditions have even a suggested pathway to higher intelligence.
  3. The inference that genes which stimulate aspects of neural growth are linked to higher intelligence is pure speculation predicated on a simplistic view of neurological development.
  4. The claimed connection between three specific conditions and higher IQ has virtually no empirical support whatever.
  5. The demonstrated IQ advantage of Ashkenazi Jews as a whole is less than asserted.
  6. The multi-point IQ boosts proposed for specific genes are very inconsistent with current research on the genetics of IQ.
  7. Even within the mainstream of IQ research, which emphasizes genetic/biological bases, the extent of Ashkenazi IQ advantage is easily accommodated as due to environment.
  8. The "Talmudic Tradition" of emphasizing learning and abstract reasoning provides a clear cultural explanation for higher IQ among Ashkenazi. In Ashkenazi history, NHAI's assumption that higher intelligence led to greater income is contradicted by
  9. a rigid system of social stratification
  10. the critical importance for amassing wealth of capital, social connections, and political patrons, and
  11. the absence of any evidence that success in business required anything more than average intelligence.

Adam Rutherford[edit]

How to Argue with a Racist[edit]

Adam Rutherford on arguing with racists

Geneticist Adam RutherfordWikipedia, in his 2020 book How to Argue with a Racist addressed the genetics errors made in the NHAI paper:

…the complexities of the arguments for and against the potential intellectual benefits of these particular genetic conditions are a total mess in terms of different studies arguing in support of selection, against selection, or for founder effects, genetics bottlenecks, or neutral drift where changes in DNA are neither beneficial nor detrimental. Cochran et. al. suggest other genes or bits of DNA that may be involved in promoting growth of neurons or the dendrites that grow out of them, and link to other brain cells.

They didn't know this at the time of writing their paper but we now know that the genes associated with intellectual capability are myriad and are very small but cumulative effect. Pixels on a colossal screen. Of the genes identified so far, and remember that while we know these genes are important, we don't know what they do and therefore why they are important, many are expressed in the brain as indeed are thousands of genes and therefore may well have a direct effect on intellect. There are databases that list hundreds of GWAS[note 4] results and thousands of genes. You can enter a gene and ask the database to pull out studies that indicate the gene is associated with any one of dozens of types of traits, from height to mortality to bones, as well as cognitive and neurological. I checked the current databases for the disease genes that Cochran et al. suggest might be driving selection for Jewish brains, to see if at the time of writing they associated with brains or cognitive abilities. The result — not one of them does.[65]

The evolution of Shylock[edit]

Rutherford also notes the implication in NHAI — that the Jewish stereotype exemplified by the character of "Shylock" in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice[66] is the result of selection, "…money-lending is a common stereotype not least because of Shakespeare's Shylock. In fact money-lending was a trade that was extremely limited in time and space within Jewish culture in Europe and by the end of the 15th century had largely vanished from Jewish populations. Yet the implication of Cochran et al.'s scientific speculation is that business and financial acumen has driven the evolution of Jewish brains…"

Hereditarian disagreement[edit]

Although hereditarians as a group believed that NHAI was evidence for the hereditarian assumption, there were some disagreements, as shown in the Harpending/Cochran response to Charles Murray in the letters page of Commentary magazine:

We sympathize with the overall themes of Charles Murray’s essay, but we have reservations about some of his scenarios for the evolution of Ashkenazi intelligence. Our own model of elevated Jewish intelligence posits that it is a consequence of Jews’ economic niche in medieval Europe north of the Alps (from around 800 c.e.). Before that period of rapid evolution there is no special sign of unusually high intelligence in the historical record of the Jews. Mr. Murray, following work by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, disagrees, and looks back to antiquity for the origins of this phenomenon. There is no obvious critical test to confirm his hypothesis over ours, and we are all reduced to arguing by anecdote.

Mr. Murray suggests that the creation of the Hebrew Bible and, later, of Christian theology as presented in the New Testament are signatures of a population with high intelligence. But while the Bible is indeed a cornerstone of our civilization, is it necessarily evidence of a population with high IQ? Revered documents have come from populations that did not stand out in terms of intelligence — take, as one example, the Book of Mormon and its followers. We would also be inclined to attribute the New Testament mostly to Greeks rather than to Jews…[67]

But really, one just-so story is as good as another.

The influence of "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence"[edit]

Reputable scientists for the most part ignored the hypothesis, due to lack of evidence. When asked about it in 2005, geneticist Ostrer called the paper "bad science" and geneticist Risch called it insignificant. And anthropologist Ferguson in 2008 and geneticist Rutherford in 2020 had taken the time to explain at length the problems with the hypothesis.

In spite of this, racists, hereditarians and others continued to reference and even promote the claims of Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence.

American Enterprise Institute[edit]

In 2011, in the American Enterprise Institute (AEI, a long-time employer of racist Charles Murray), Lazar Berman presented the paper as a "serious, peer-reviewed" work:

Still, serious, peer-reviewed studies continue to examine the source of intelligence — environment or genes — in the debate around the causes of Jewish achievement. Scholars also debate whether high average intelligence is characteristic of all Jewish populations, or whether it is limited to the Ashkenazi population that coalesced in central and eastern Europe.

There is ample scholarly work to suggest that Ashkenazi Jews, at least, have significantly higher IQs than surrounding populations. In Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending of the University of Utah conclude that "Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. They score 0.75 to 1.0 standard deviations above the general European average, corresponding to an IQ of 112-115 … This fact has social significance because IQ (as measured by IQ tests) is the best predictor we have of success in academic subjects and most jobs. Ashkenazi Jews are just as successful as their tested IQ would predict, and they are hugely overrepresented in occupations and fields with the highest cognitive demands." While Ashkenazi Jews score well on mathematics and verbal problems, their visuospatial scores are noticeably lower than average Europeans.[68]

"The adaptation of Jews to capitalism"[edit]

In his widely-criticized book, published in 2014, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History Nicholas Wade used the claims of "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" to argue that Jews are adapted via natural selection to capitalism, "The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process, though harder to recognize because the niche to which Jews are adapted is one that has required a behavioral change, not a physical one."[69][70]

Scott Alexander[edit]

Scott Alexander promoted it in Slate Star Codex in 2017.[71]

The Secrets of Jewish Genius[edit]

In his column in December 27, 2019, New York Times op-ed writer Bret StephensWikipedia promoted the "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" claims, writing, "The common answer is that Jews are, or tend to be, smart. When it comes to Ashkenazi Jews, it's true. 'Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data,' noted one 2005 paper." The reference linked to the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence paper.[72]

After the New York Times received negative feedback about Stephens promoting a claim based on an unproven hypothesis, the Times removed the reference and included a note on the article:

An earlier version of this Bret Stephens column quoted statistics from a 2005 paper that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. 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. He went on instead to argue that culture and history are crucial factors in Jewish achievements and that, as he put it, "At its best, the West can honor the principle of racial, religious and ethnic pluralism not as a grudging accommodation to strangers but as an affirmation of its own diverse identity. In that sense, what makes Jews special is that they aren't. They are representational." We have removed reference to the study from the column.

Corrine Engber in Jewish Boston wrote an article "The Secrets of Bret Stephens' Racism" which said, "First, the op-ed should never have gone to print. The editor and fact-checker's jobs are to ensure that racist pseudoscience and patently false information are not spread as if they are fact. The New York Times redacted the citation within the article after its publication, but that doesn’t change the fact that Stephens' article is based on eugenicist concepts. Even if the article had never gone to print, its basis indicates racism on Stephens' part, which should have given the editorial team pause. Clearly, it did not.[73]

Writing in response to the Bret Stephens controversy, Matthew Yglesias provided context to the strong reactions to Stephens' use of the untested hypothesis:

But beyond that, arguments about Ashkenazi intelligence that have no particular policy relevance are typically the thin edge of the wedge of an argument that ends up being about black inferiority. The Times's note says that "after publication Mr. Stephens and his editors learned that one of the paper’s authors, [Harpending] who died in 2016, promoted racist views."

Political scientist Charles Murray, for example, takes a strong interest in questions about Ashkenazi IQ. But he’s better known for his work promoting the idea that spending money on education and social assistance is at best useless and at worst actively harmful because it encourages low-intelligence people to breed.

Murray also, and relatedly, believes that efforts to attribute gaps in black/white outcomes to racism are fundamentally misguided. All of this, however, is clearly wrong — not as a matter of genetics but as a matter of policy analysis. There is overwhelming evidence, for example, of racial discrimination in hiring, that affirmative action admissions policies lead to better outcomes for black students, that social assistance programs genuinely help kids, that pollution has important cognitive consequences, and that generally speaking genetics-driven pessimism about improving society is mistaken.

Murray-style views of these pressing policy questions have been broadly influential in the United States. We have, for example, by far the highest relative child poverty rate in the Western world because the United States is unique among our peers in not providing cash assistance to parents of young children.

The stakes are quite high in the argument over whether outcomes for African Americans and people who grow up in poor households represent remediable matters of social justice or genetic realities that it would be counterproductive to try to solve.

The stakes in the Ashkenazi intelligence debate, by contrast, are a little bit hard to discern. The debate appears to arise primarily because people with an anti-black agenda see it as a useful entry point into race science. This provokes antipathy from progressives less because of strongly held views about occupational choice in premodern Poland[note 5] than because they see where the argument is heading over the long term.[74]

Hereditarian defense[edit]

Steven Pinker was part of the hereditarian gang who defended the highly speculative "Natural History of Ashkenazi Science" as if it was settled science

Because the New York Times removed the link to an untested, unproven claim that was, nevertheless, every hereditarian's favorite "evidence" for ethnic essentialism, four "heavy-hitters" (and wingnut welfare recipients) published an article in Politico', breathlessly declaring in the title "The New York Times Surrendered to an Outrage Mob. Journalism Will Suffer For It."[75] The authors were:

  • Steven Pinker, participated in[76] the infamous Koch-funded "Unsafe Space Tour"[77]
  • Jonathan Haidt, a "Koch stooge"[78] and hereditarian who had predicted the triumph of hereditarian beliefs back in 2009.[79]
  • Nadine Strossen, a Koch employee via AEI,[80][81] Cato Institute,[82] Georgetown University Free Speech Project[83], and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)[84]
  • Pamela Paresky, also a Koch employee via FIRE,[85] employee of Peter Thiel via Quillette authorship[86] and a fan of the ghoulish "Gender Wars" playing cards.[87]

They claimed the New York Times' action was "Orwellian" and explained that just because an indisputable racist co-authored a paper about race it didn't mean the paper about race should be suspected of promoting a racist agenda:

Second, the Times redacted a published essay based on concerns about retroactive moral pollution, not about accuracy. While it is true that an author of the paper Stephens mentioned, the late anthropologist Henry Harpending, made some deplorable racist remarks, that does not mean that every point in every paper he ever coauthored must be deemed radioactive. Facts and arguments must be evaluated on their content. Will the Times and other newspapers now monitor the speech of scientists and scholars and censor articles that cite any of them who, years later, say something offensive? Will it crowdsource that job to Twitter and then redact its online editions whenever anyone quoted in the Times is later "canceled"?[75]

Hereditarian Jerry Coyne promoted their response on his blog in a fawning post titled, "Four heavy hitters criticize the New York Times for 'Orwellian' retroactive censorship",[88] and Steven Pinker promptly tweeted a link to it. Coyne also attacked the The 1619 Project: "This is all part and parcel not only of the Times's increasing wokeness, evidenced in its 1619 Project…" The hereditarian antipathy towards the 1619 Project[89] appears to be the standard hereditarian tactic: "remove all the history."

None of these hereditarians happened to mention that the hypothesis was untested and unproven, most likely because it would interfere with their mission to present objections to "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" as emotional rather than scientific.

Continuing citations[edit]

  • In 2019, Barbara Aiello, writing in The Times of Israel cited the American Enterprise Institute's 2011 article by Lazar German[90]
  • In 2021, Steve Sailer promoted the hypothesis in Astral Codex Ten[91]
  • In 2022, Patrick Whittle in the "Genetic Literacy Project" promoted the hypothesis, giving the impression that objections to the paper was based on political correctness.[92] The Project includes Henry Harpending under the heading "Advisors Who Helped Launch GLP"[93] Also in 2022, the organization "U.S. Right to Know" claimed that the Genetic Literacy Project was a "PR front for Monsanto, Bayer and the chemical industry"[94]
  • In 2022, promoted by hereditarian Peter Frost, a former co-author with Harpending and an author at the racist Aporia magazine on his blog[95]
  • Promoted by Jordan Peterson in 2023[96]
  • In 2023 the paper is cited for "Our findings shed light on the decades-long debate about the persistence of this allele—selection versus founder effect resulting in genetic drift (29–33)" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America[97]

The continuing popularity of Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence[edit]

Why, in spite of the fact that the hypothesis is unproven, do hereditarians (and the clueless) continue to promote it? A possible reason is that due to the failure of genetics studies to prove the hereditarian hypothesis, evident in the "missing heritability" phenomenon, it is all that they have.

External links[edit]


  1. "Hypothesis" would have been the appropriate word to use here since the journalist writing this knew that it was lacking in evidence.
  2. "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."[30]
  3. It was Philip K. Dick.
  4. GWAS is genome-wide association studies.
  5. Poland had the largest Ashkenazi population in Europe before the Holocaust.


  1. My friend the witch doctor Henry Harpending (January 15, 2012) West Hunter
  2. Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, Henry Harpending (2005) Department of Anthropology University of Utah Salt Lake City UT 84112 USA
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy & Henry Harpending (2006) Journal of Biosocial Science 38(5):659-93. doi:10.1017/S0021932005027069.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Journal of Biosocial Science.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 How Jews Became Smart: Anti-" Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" R. Brian Ferguson (2008)
  6. Pinkerite interview with R. Brian Ferguson, anthropologist Hello Pinkerite (November 21,2022) YouTube (retrieved October 10, 2023)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Jewish legacy inscribed on genes? Karen Kaplan (April 18, 2009) Los Angeles Times
  8. May 29, 1919: A Major Eclipse, Relatively Speaking by Lizzie Buchen (May 29, 2009 12:00 AM) Wired.
  9. Discovery of Physics From Data: Universal Laws and Discrepancies by Brian M. de Silva et al. (2020) Front. Artif. Intell. 3. doi:10.3389/frai.2020.00025.
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