Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Levi's Genes

This story has been getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere, and I will address the substance of the article in future posts.

My first impression, though, is to note that reputable, scientific inquiry in this area is actually as old as the hills, yet it is always clouded by the disreputable and/or despicable political purposes to which it has been yoked. Regardless of the specific claims made in this particular article (which might be right or horribly wrong), the general public is going to have to get used to more and more of these articles popping up in the scientific literature. Specific genes that impact upon cognitive performance have already been identified; this kind of research is not science fiction (or Nazi propaganda), even if it has nothing to do with the medieval history of the Ashekenazi Jews. By the same token, individual effects of any single genetic variant are very modest, do not rule out environmental effects, may be offset by other effects of the same gene, etc. Most importantly, none of these findings, nor the sum of them, will ever diminish (or even speak to) any individual's human dignity.

The way I see it, we are entering a period in which we will see story after story about such research, and ultimately the general public will come to understand that "genetically influenced" does not mean "fully determined," "doomed," or "deserving to be weeded out of the population". Hopefully, along the way, the issue will not be needlessly polarized.

Bottom line: Don't panic. If you were smart before you read this article, you are still smart, whether or not you are Jewish. And if you are Jewish, and your Aunt Gertie is dumb as a stone, she still is.