A year ago, David Brooks of the New York Times gave out the "Sidney Awards" for best magazine articles of the year. Here is how he described the first winner:
At the start of the 1980s, about 5 percent of Harvard students were Asian-American. But the number of qualified Asian-American applicants rose so that by 1993 roughly 20 percent of Harvard students had Asian heritage.
But, according to Ron Unz, a funny thing then happened. The number of qualified Asian-Americans continued to rise, but the number of Asian-Americans admitted to Harvard fell so that the student body was about 16 percent Asian. Between 1995 and 2011, Harvard’s Asian-American population has varied by less than a percentage point around that 16.5 percent average. Not only that, the percentage of Asian-Americans at other Ivy League schools has also settled at a remarkably stable 16 percent, year after year.
This smells like a quota system, or at least that was the implication left by Unz’s searing, sprawling, frustrating and highly debatable piece, “The Myth of the American Meritocracy,” in The American Conservative. It wins the first of the 2012 Sidney Awards, which go to the best magazine essays of the year.
You’re going to want to argue with Unz’s article all the way along, especially for its narrow, math-test-driven view of merit. But it’s potentially ground-shifting. Unz’s other big point is that Jews are vastly overrepresented at elite universities and that Jewish achievement has collapsed. In the 1970s, for example, 40 percent of top scorers in the Math Olympiad had Jewish names. Now 2.5 percent do. The fanatical generations of immigrant strivers have been replaced by a more comfortable generation of preprofessionals, he implies.
Unz’ article was also noted and often praised by The Economist
, Time, The Daily Beast and others, but mostly for the part about Asians and not the part about Jews.
There are a couple of problems, though.
While Unz’ main point about Asians seems to have merit, his methodology about Jews at Harvard is worthless.
Andrew Gelman, director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University, demolishes
Unz’ piece based on the numbers. (Unz replied, but Gelman notes that he did not address the main points of the criticism.)
A recent, very thorough paper by Nurit Baytch
goes into far more detail.
Because I like to try to explain complicated things, I’m going to briefly describe one of the major problems with Unz’ analysis as shown by Baytch and Gelman.
When one looks further, one can see that this error and the others appear to have been conscious. In other words, Unz may have set out to find a way to make Jews look bad, and by George, he found it.
Unz’ main argument about Jewish over-representation at Harvard is that Harvard is 25% Jewish, based on estimates provided by Harvard Hillel. He compares that to the number of Jews who may be considered good candidates for Harvard - specifically, people who were National Merit Scholarship semifinalists (NMS) and those in the US teams for the International Math Olympiad (top six students nationwide.)
According to Unz, the percentage of Jews in the NMS in recent years is only 6-7%. Similarly, he claims that the percentage of Jews in recent Math Olympiads is only 2.5%. Therefore, according to Unz, Jews are vastly overrepresented at Harvard (and other Ivy League schools) compared to their actual intellectual achievements. The losers, in Unz’ opinion, are the Asians and - especially - white non-Jews.
As mentioned, Unz’ used statistics from Hillel to determine the number of Jews at Harvard. It is not known exactly how Hillel came up with those numbers.
But his method of calculating the number of Jews in NMS semifinals used something called Weyl Analysis. Very briefly, this method look at known Jewish surnames (Goldberg, Cohen, and so forth) as a percentage of a known Jewish population - for our purposes let’s pretend that 50% of Jews have clearly Jewish surnames. Then, by counting the number of Jewish surnames in an unknown group and multiplying by the same factor (2 in this case), you can determine the number of Jews in the group altogether.
A good statistician would use the same
methodology to create two separate estimates of two different groups, in this case Harvard undergrads and NMS semifinalists. But Unz uses the Hillel numbers for Harvard, and the Weyl analysis for the NMS semifinalists. (He appears to have used his own subjective guesses of what names are Jewish sounding for the Math Olympiad and other groups.) If there is a fundamental flaw in either Weyl or Hillel’s estimate, the results are meaningless.
Indeed, they are.
Using Unz’ methods reproduced by Baytch (as best as could be determined), Weyl analysis shows that Harvard undergrads in 2008 were only 7-9% Jewish, not 25%. This is quite in line with the Weyl analysis on NMS semifinalists.
Weyl analysis is clearly underestimating the number of Jews today, and Unz apparently jiggered the numbers to overrepresent the number of Jews in the past to bolster his thesis. (Baytch shows that there were more Jews in NMS and the Math Olympiad dataset than Unz’ Weyl analysis showed, and at Harvard the number of Jews in reality is probably more than 7-9% but much less than 25%. For today’s Harvard undergraduates, the number calculated through Weyl analysis is even lower.)
Again, there are many other statistical problems with Unz’ article, and Baytch’s paper goes into far more detail.
But the major problems with Unz’ article
in The American Conservative (founded by Patrick Buchanan) go beyond the problematic statistics. They are found in his conclusions.
He writes a number of very curious paragraphs that the NYT and others seem to have overlooked. After he claims to have proven that Jews are vastly overrepresented at Harvard to the detriment of (mostly) white non-Jews, he writes:
It would be unreasonable to ignore the salient fact that this massive apparent bias in favor of far less-qualified Jewish applicants coincides with an equally massive ethnic skew at the topmost administrative ranks of the universities in question, a situation which once again exactly parallels Karabel’s account from the 1920s. Indeed, Karabel points out that by 1993 Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all had presidents of Jewish ancestry, and the same is true for the current presidents of Yale, Penn, Cornell, and possibly Columbia, as well as Princeton’s president throughout during the 1990s and Yale’s new incoming president, while all three of Harvard’s most recent presidents have either had Jewish origins or a Jewish spouse.
At most universities, a provost is the second-ranking official, being responsible for day-to-day academic operations. Although Princeton’s current president is not Jewish, all seven of the most recent Princeton provosts stretching back to 1977 have had such ancestry, with several of the other Ivies not being far behind.82 A similar degree of massive overrepresentation is found throughout the other top administrative ranks of the rest of the Ivy League, and across American leading educational institutions in general, and these are the institutions which select our future national elites.
…The overwhelming evidence is that the system currently employed by most of our leading universities admits applicants whose ability may be unremarkable but who are beneficiaries of underhanded manipulation and favoritism. Nations which put their future national leadership in the hands of such individuals are likely to encounter enormous economic and social problems, exactly the sort of problems which our own country seems to have increasingly experienced over the last couple of decades. And unless the absurdly skewed enrollments of our elite academic institutions are corrected, the composition of these feeder institutions will ensure that such national problems only continue to grow worse as time passes. We should therefore consider various means of correcting the severe flaws in our academic admissions system, which functions as the primary intake valve of our future national elites.
In other words, these manipulative Jews who run Ivy League schools are destroying America!
Many of the Jewish writers who focus on the history of elite university admissions, including Karabel, Steinberg, and Lemann, have critiqued and rebuked the America of the first half of the Twentieth Century for having been governed by a narrow WASP ascendency, which overwhelmingly dominated and controlled the commanding heights of business, finance, education, and politics; and some of their criticisms are not unreasonable. But we should bear in mind that this dominant group of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants—largely descended from among the earliest American settlers and which had gradually absorbed and assimilated substantial elements of Celtic, Dutch, German, and French background—was generally aligned in culture, religion, ideology, and ancestry with perhaps 60 percent of America’s total population at the time, and therefore hardly represented an alien presence. By contrast, a similarly overwhelming domination by a tiny segment of America’s current population, one which is completely misaligned in all these respects, seems far less inherently stable, especially when the institutional roots of such domination have continually increased despite the collapse of the supposedly meritocratic justification. This does not seem like a recipe for a healthy and successful society, nor one which will even long survive in anything like its current form.
Unz is saying that Jews are an alien presence
in America, and their goals are not in alignment with what real Americans want!
How can you read this as anything but antisemitic? This is essentially a white supremacist argument that is disguised as scholarship.
There is more.
Ron Unz is president of the Unz Foundation, which gives quite a bit of money to causes he feels are worthwhile. Some of his recipients seem to fit a pattern.
For example, in 2009
the foundation gave $108,000 to Paul Craig Roberts, a columnist who turned towards anti-semitism since 2006, according to the ADL
$74,000 went to Philip Giraldi, a fellow American Conservative columnist who has written numerous articles about the pernicious Jewish Lobby.
Plus $75,000 to Holocaust minimizer/Hezbollah praiser/Israel hater Norman Finkelstein.
And $80,000 to the far left, antisemitic
to the virulently anti-Israel (and often antisemitic) Mondoweiss, where founder Philip Weiss lavishly praised Unz’ article
without mentioning his financial relationship with Unz!
Between Unz’ own words and where he puts his money, it sure looks like his bogus statistics have an agenda behind them.