by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted October 15, 2007 in DNA in General
Author Jon Entine contacted me last week about his new book and I’ve invited him to pen a guest post today. As you’ll see, he seems to have a penchant for controversial topics.
Hsien has invited me to introduce myself and my upcoming book. Abrahamâ€™s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of The Chosen People is my second book on â€œgenes and identity.â€ The prior book, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why Weâ€™re Afraid to Talk About It, created a bit of a stir because it so candidly discussed the folk notion of race, but it received the most sympathetic treatment from hard scientists (postmodernists and some cultural anthropologists didnâ€™t like it very much). Its thesis â€” that there are meaningful population-based physical/physiological and behavior differences, as well as disease proclivities â€” has emerged as the scientific convention in the years since it was published in 2000.
â€œAbrahamâ€™s Childrenâ€ results from a confluence of three otherwise disparate currents in my life. Iâ€™ve always been curious about my own family history lost in the fog of the Jewish shtetlâ€™s of Eastern Europe. DNA provided a way to unravel my personal history, but also my ethnic roots to Biblical times and beyond, as Judaism is a surviving tribal religion, based in part on blood ancestry. Iâ€™ve also long harbored a professional interest in finding a new â€œlanguageâ€ to productively discuss the genetic revolution, which in part spurred me to produce a documentary almost 20 years ago, with Tom Brokaw at NBC News, titled â€œBlack Athletes: Fact and Fiction.â€ It evolved into â€œTaboo.â€
The catalyzing event was when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer a number of years ago. We learned it was caused by a genetic mutation found almost exclusively in Jews that more than likely was responsible for the cancer deaths of my mother, aunt and grandmother years before. I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation as well; my young daughter, who is half Jewish, has a 50/50 chance of carrying it, though we wonâ€™t know until sheâ€™s a teenager and old enough to be tested. In essence, we have genetic markers that label us as having Jewish ancestry. That discovery touched off some provocative rethinking of my identity, and combined with my ongoing interests, led to my writing â€œAbrahamâ€™s Children.â€
The book includes a chapter explaining the possible link between so-called Jewish diseases â€” certain neurological and LSD disorders, as well as DNA repair problems — and the high measured IQ of Ashkenazi (Eastern European origin) Jewry. Although this theory (most recently advanced by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpendingâ€”two non-Jewsâ€”is best classified as informed speculation (as I acknowledge in the book) at the moment, it argues persuasively, I believe, that Ashkenazi Jews are a rather distinct population group in which positive selection pressures, balanced against the killer consequences of neurological disease mutations, have led to higher IQs. The “it’s environment and culture” argument are far less persuasive. This is only one chapter in the book–most of AC is a look at our shared Israelite ancestry and history–but it is the most provocative chapter. Wonder where others come down on this issue? Intererestingly, “liberal” Jews (of which I’m one) are the oneâ€™s most uncomfortable about discussing or (even if they believe it) acknowledging this point.
For more about Jon Entine and Abraham’s Children, see Razib’s 10-question interview at Gene Expression .
Update: Dr. Larry Moran at Sandwalk shares his perspective on the book as well as the Ashkenazi Jewish population in general.
DNA Video: Jon Entine of Abraham’s Children...
Eye on DNA Headlines for 8 November 2007...
A Child’s Understanding of Reproduction and Sex Chromosomes...
Author Jon Entine on Genetic Genealogy...
Genetics on Google Book Search...
Wish List of Books about DNA and Genetics...
DNA Excerpt: Reading in Our Genes...
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