I stumbled across this post on SSC after getting some incoming traffic from somewhere in the comment thread. Scott Alexander’s basic story: per Cochran and Harpending, a millennium of selection for Ashkenazi tax farmers and debt collectors made Ashkenazim cleverer (true!), and then Ashkenazi cleverness ushered in fifty years of jew-led scientific revolutions (um), which was abruptly brought to an end by… (((plot twist)))… none other than Adolf Hitler.
Man, that was one bad dude!
For some reason Scott Alexander, whether he is in one of his more sincere moods or his (((creative))) moods, inspires me to actually check facts rigorously. In this case I couldn’t help but wonder: how many children did the fourteen Hungarian mathematicians and physicists whom Alexander mentions have, between them?
The answer is fourteen, if Wikipedia is to be trusted. (I welcome corrections.)
- Neumann> 1
- Szilard> 0
- Teller> 2
- Wigner> 3
- Harsanyi> 0
- Kurti> 0 (?)
- Karman> 0
- Michael Polanyi> 2
- Balogh> 2
- Kaldor> 4
- Lax> 0
- Erdõs> 0
- Polya> 0
- Gabor> 0
Fourteen geniuses with 28 pairs of “genius chromosomes” passed on only 14 pairs to the next generation: a 50% rate of attrition. It’s like anudda shoah!
Maybe some of them supported their genetically-gifted nieces and nephews, and 14 children underestimates the genetic success of early twentieth-century ashkie geniuses.
On the other hand, quickly eyeballing Alexander’s list, I have the most respect for Neumann, Szilard, Harsanyi, Polanyi, and Erdõs, who only managed three children between them (including a Nobel Prize winner, if memory serves). That would suggest that the most successful researchers were the least successful reproducers. Perhaps I’m wrong about whose achievements were the most impressive, and Kaldor (who I really think of more as a middle-of-the-road economist than a mathematical genius) and Wigner were the true crème de la crème of turn-of-the-century Budapest. And perhaps this relationship doesn’t reflect hereditable mathematical ability, but rather a trade-off between intense focus on research and a happy family life.
Either way, unless Wikipedia is spectacularly inaccurate even by its own malleable standards, it appears that very few proven Hungarian mathematical geniuses failed to pass their talents on to the next generation because of the blue-eyed, bloody-handed goys, whereas a great many simply failed to have children.
How did these men, well-paid and mostly married, fail to produce any children?
But Alexander’s account of the relationship between the frequency of Hungarian geniuses and innovation is just as tendentious as his account of the relationship between “a psychopath with a stupid mustache” and the lack of Hungarian innovators:
For centuries, Europe was sitting on this vast untapped resource of potential geniuses. Around 1880, in a few countries only, economic and political conditions finally became ripe for the potential to be realized. The result was one of the greatest spurts of progress in scientific history, bringing us relativity, quantum mechanics, nuclear bombs, dazzling new mathematical systems, the foundations of digital computing, and various other abstruse ideas I don’t even pretend to understand. This lasted for approximately one generation, after which a psychopath with a stupid mustache killed everyone involved.
According to Scott Alexander, European science pre-1880 was held back by its palpable lack of Ashkenazim, and thus its increasing lethargy post-1950 can be traced back to the same problem. It reminds me of Wally Shawn: “You’ve heard of Plato? Aristotle? Moronth!”
Galileo? Kepler? Tycho Brahe? Descartes? Mersenne? Morons! Fermat, Newton, Leibniz: morons. Cauchy, Fourier, Galois, Abel, Jacobi: morons. Cuvier, Lyell, Baer, Agassiz, Darwin, Haeckel, Mendel: morons. Riemann, Sylow, Lie, Klein, Hamilton, Cayley: morons.
European science has been in a state of continual creative ferment for four hundred years. During most of this period, no jews were involved in the ferment. Indeed, what is unusual about the two generations Alexander is considering is not that there were revolutionary discoveries or that they were strangely concentrated in a few narrow geographic networks, but that (ex hypothesi: this is Alexander’s starting point, that there was one “spurt” which “lasted approximately one generation”) the first fifty-year period of mind-boggling discoveries to be dominated by jews was also the final period of mind-boggling discoveries.
So perhaps the question to be asked about innovation is not “Why did the West run out of jew geniuses?” Scientific innovation by super-geniuses and in particular mathematical innovation did not require jews in the past and thus should not require jews now. Rather the question is “Why did jewish dominance of Western academic institutions start to stifle scientific innovation almost immediately?” And perhaps, in pondering this riddle, it is more illuminating to look at the success of the Freud-cult in psychology, the Marx-cult in sociology, or even the Boas-cult in anthropology than at the healthier cousins of these cults in mathematics and the natural sciences.