Scientist cited in push to oust Harvard’s Claudine Gay has links to eugenicists: Christopher Rufo, credited with helping oust school’s first Black president, touted critic associated with ‘scientific racists’ (Jason Wilson, 14 Jan 2024, The Guardian)

The 2019 paper is entitled Polygenic Scores Mediate the Jewish Phenotypic Advantage in Educational Attainment and Cognitive Ability Compared With Catholics and Lutherans. It argues that the high cognitive abilities of Ashkenazi Jews are “significantly mediated by group differences in the polygenic score” – that is, genetically caused. They speculate that “culture-gene coevolution” may influence “Jewish group-level characteristics” like high cognitive abilities.

The basis of the paper was an interpretation of publicly available data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, one of the longest-running population surveys in the US.

Pallesen’s co-authors were Emil Kirkegaard, Michael Woodley and Curtis S Dunkel.

The paper was demolished in a direct response from academics from universities including Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Wisconsin, who wrote that “researchers have been warning against using polygenic scores for comparisons across race/ethnic groups for some time now, and a closer look at the data results [in Pallesen paper] provides another illustration of why”.

The lead author of the paper criticizing Pallesen’s paper is Jeremy Freese, a professor of sociology at Stanford. Freese was also part of a team that integrated genetic data into the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study – the same data the original paper draws on.

In a telephone conversation, Freese said that “we were moved to write something because the paper seemed to mistake correlation for causation in a question that obviously deserved more care”.

Freese added: “The problem we pointed out didn’t take a detailed interrogation to notice.”

Aaron Panofsky is the director of, and a professor in, UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics, and one of the authors of the paper How White Nationalists Mobilize Genetics, which includes the Pallesen-co-authored paper in its survey of the misuse of genetic data by scientific racists.

On the paper’s claims about Jews’ innately high intelligence, Panofsky said that this was a persistent trope among white supremacists that “fits into a larger narrative about Jewish conspiracies and the idea that Jews are controlling the problems of the world from behind the scenes”.

The paper Pallesen co-authored repeatedly cites Kevin MacDonald, a retired psychology academic whose antisemitic publications argue that Jews engage in a “group evolutionary strategy” that explains their financial and cultural successes, and that antisemitism is an understandable reaction to this phenomenon.