Following widespread criticism by readers accusing it of trafficking in racism and eugenics, The New York Times on Sunday edited a controversial op-ed by opinion columnist Bret Stephens, cutting a section in which he appeared to endorse the view that Ashkenazi Jews are inherently genetically superior to other groups.
In the column, published in the paper’s Friday edition and titled “The Secrets of Jewish Genius,” Stephens asked, “How is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?”
He wrote that the “common answer” was that “Jews are, or tend to be, smart,” and claimed that “when it comes to Ashkenazi Jews, it’s true.” He quoted as evidence a 2005 academic paper that argued “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data.”
The paper, which was published in the Journal of Biosocial Science, has been heavily criticized by researchers and one of its authors, Henry Harpending,who has spoken at a number of white supremacist gatherings, has been described as a “eugenicist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups.
In his column, Stephens did not explicitly claim that the achievements of Jews have a genetic basis.
Arguing that “certain habits of the Jewish intellectual tradition and Jews’ outsider sensibilities as a minority community throughout most of their history have given them an advantage,” he concluded that “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,” he wrote, “what makes Jews special is that they aren’t. They are representational.”
In an editor’s note appended to the amended op-ed, the Times noted that the original version of the piece had “quoted statistics from a 2005 paper that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews” and that Stephens and the paper had only subsequently learned of Harpending’s “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,” the Times stated, noting that it had “removed reference to the study from the column.”
Bret Stephens cites a Henry Harpending paper in his "Jewish genius" column https://t.co/LQpug2ouKx
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) December 28, 2019
In response to the article, journalist Joshua Benton, who runs Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab, tweeted that the Times itself had only last year run an article decrying Harpending’s for perpetuating “racist stereotypes.”
Many, including at least one fellow New York Times contributor, called for Stephens to be dismissed over the column.
“Speaking as both an Ashkenazi Jew and a NYT contributor, I don’t think eugenicists should be op-ed columnists,” wrote Jody Rosen.
Speaking as both an Ashkenazi Jew and a NYT contributor, I don't think eugenicists should be op-ed columnists. https://t.co/AlQM9m30rI
— Jody Rosen (@jodyrosen) December 28, 2019
Stephens has not yet commented publicly on the outcry. He left Twitter earlier this year after somebody mocked him by comparing him to a bedbug.