Skip To Content
Fast Forward

Times Revises Bret Stephens’ ‘Jewish Genius’ Op-Ed

Days after publication, The New York Times removed chunks of text referring to an academic paper from Bret Stephens’s controversial column on “Jewish genius.” The reason? The study Stephens cited was co-authored by a man considered a white nationalist.

Stephens quoted the paper’s statistics on IQ in a column “The Secrets of Jewish Genius,”, in which he argues that Jews’s unconventional thinking has played a role in a track record of Jewish achievement. Published in 2005, the paper was called “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence,” and Stephens used it to support his claim that Ashkenazi Jews “are, or tend to be, smart.” The paper put forward the theory that Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group, The Daily Beast reported.

During the time of that paper’s publication, some dismissed its findings; among them, Andrew Clark, a population geneticist at Cornell who called its arguments “far-fetched.” One of the authors of that study, Henry Harpending, is described as having a “white nationalist” ideology by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Harpending has lectured at conferences with that worldview and is often referenced on white nationalist platforms like Stormfront.

Following the publication of Stephens’s column on December 27, many on Twitter claimed it subscribed to the theory of eugenics. Others pointed out the problem of citing the research on Harpending, who died in 2016, given his alleged white nationalist ties.

In an editor’s note that explained the revisions, the Times responded “Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically,” adding that it was only after the column ran that Stephens and his editor’s learned of Harpending “promoted racist views.”

“The effect was to leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior,” the editor’s note continued, “That was not his intent.”

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.