Times Amends, Apologizes For Stephens Column

Times Amends, Apologizes For Stephens Column

Essay on ‘The Secret of Jewish Genius’ cites a researcher who promoted racist views.

Bret Stephens facing backlash for citing a controversial study about Jewish I.Q. scores. Getty Images
Bret Stephens facing backlash for citing a controversial study about Jewish I.Q. scores. Getty Images

JTA  New York Times columnist Bret Stephens came under fire on social media for an op-ed in which he wrote that Ashkenazi Jews are more intelligent than other people and cited a paper by a researcher who promoted racist views. The reference to the paper later was removed.

“The Secret of Jewish Genius,” published last Saturday, had received nearly 700 comments on the online edition of The Times by Sunday afternoon when the comments were closed. Many of the comments also thanked Stephens for his column and praised his conclusions.

The column cited a 2005 paper by researchers Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Utah stating that “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average I.Q. of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. During the 20th century, they made up about 3 percent of the U.S. population but won 27 percent of the U.S. Nobel science prizes and 25 percent of the ACM Turing awards. They account for more than half of world chess champions.”

But the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Harpending was an anthropologist who insisted that “innate racial differences are the defining element of human society.” He said in a 2011 speech that “the gap between ethnic groups is not closing in this country” because of genetic differences.

The reference to the paper was removed later on Sunday. An editor’s note said, in part, that Harpending “promoted racist views.”

“Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically,” the editor’s note said. “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.”

Stephens concluded in his column that “Ashkenazi Jews might have a marginal advantage over their gentile peers when it comes to thinking better. Where their advantage more often lies is in thinking different.”

This different thinking is “born of repeated exile,” where Jews have learned that things are “ultimately perishable,” but knowledge is “potentially everlasting.”

Some critics questioned how The Times could allow the column to be published, saying that articles about eugenics and the supremacy of Jews over others are inappropriate, especially in the venerable newspaper. On Twitter, some wrote that they canceled their subscriptions because of the column. Times reporters, columnists and contributors also roundly criticized Stephens.

Some readers called on the paper to fire Stephens over the column.

One commenter on The Times website said the importance of education to many Jews, not I.Q. or inherent intelligence, is the reason that Jews are considered smart. Another wondered if Asian Americans feel a similar nervousness when their “genius” is touted.

Stephens, a conservative on the predominantly liberal opinion pages of The Times, has often been a lightning rod for left-leaning and pro-Palestinian criticism. A frequent critic of President Donald Trump, Stephens has also been attacked from the right.

Before winning a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal, Stephens was editor of The Jerusalem Post. 

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