Volume 2  Number 8
August 2000

    Prodigy and his friend Jesse join Mentor to discuss Prodigy's approaching college choice. Together they solve the mystery of how an otherwise unremarkable college managed to produce eight Nobel Prize winners in 21 years. Prodigy and Jesse come up with novel estimates of the Ashkenazic Jewish IQ.

In the background is the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorial. Each one of these monuments is 19 feet high. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president; Thomas Jefferson, the third president. And 16 and three make 19 again. What is so deep about this number?

--- Louis Farrakhan       
Million Man March, October 17, 1995       

. Welcome Prodigy, I have been looking forward to your visit.

   Prodigy. Thank you Mentor. I brought my friend Jesse. Hope you don't mind.

   Mentor. Not at all. Have some cookies, Jesse.

   Jesse. Thank you. I'll put some in my pocket for my next prayer breakfast.

   Prodigy. Jesse has been advising me on selecting a college. You know I will be twelve soon and have to make a decision. I would appreciate your guidance, Mentor.

   Mentor. What do you think Jesse?

   Jesse. Prodigy must decide for learning not burning.

   Mentor. Hmm.

   Prodigy. I don't know about burning, but Uncle Jim has a different view of learning. He says "Who needs universities and their degrees?" Uncle Jim thinks that a university education limits earning potential. He says traditional careers impose a ceiling on earnings, maybe six figures. Software development, for example, has no such limits. Time spent in college might be put to better use. Graduate school uses up even more time. A scientist, for example, can count on ten or more years after entering the university before he is out on his own, four years for the bachelor's degree, four more for the Ph.D. and two or more as a post doc. Uncle Jim offered to help me start a software company, Purely Prodigy Systems. Not too bad for eleven, wouldn't you say?

   Mentor. And what do you say?

   Prodigy. I took Jesse's advice.

   Jesse. Amen. Learning begets earning.

   Prodigy. Jesse is persuasive, though without my inheritance I might have found Uncle Jim's offer more tempting.

   Mentor. Have you narrowed your search, Prodigy?

   Prodigy. Not yet. However I did run across a curiosity -- a college with a remarkable record of notable graduates. It is a mystery because the college is otherwise undistinguished.

   Mentor. Which college is it?

   Prodigy. The City College of New York -- CCNY. Eight of its alumni won Nobel Prizes, seven in the sciences and one in economics. That record is unmatched by any public college or university in the world. Even more extraordinary, all eight graduated in a 21 year period between 1933 and 1954.

   Mentor. That is remarkable. It must be very difficult to get into CCNY.

   Prodigy. Not exactly, breathing is the only requirement.

   Mentor. Then how do you account for eight Nobel laureates in 21 years?

   Prodigy. I've given it some thought. We have to look at what CCNY was when the laureates attended, not at what CCNY is today.

   Mentor. During the tenure of the laureates, was the faculty particularly distinguished?

   Prodigy. CCNY could boast few well-known scholars at that time. We will have to look elsewhere for answers.

. Was there anything unusual about CCNY?

   Prodigy. Several things. Until 1976, CCNY charged no tuition. Every student had a full scholarship. Ten cents for a round-trip subway ride bought a college degree. At that price almost every brainy poor and middle-class kid in New York hoped to get in. Admission was fiercely competitive.

   Mentor. Anything else? Something about New York perhaps?

   Jesse. You mean Hymietown?

   Prodigy. You're getting warm, Jesse. By 1910 more than a million Jews, almost all Ashkenazic, lived in New York. They made up 25 percent of the city's population, and 80 percent of the CCNY students. Believe it or not, all eight of the City College Nobel laureates were Jewish.

   Mentor. So, it was not that CCNY was special. It was that most of its students were Jews from the right tail of the Jewish bell curve. Still, eight Nobel laureates in 21 years?

   Prodigy. Suppose that 21 is a typical age to graduate from college. Then, most of the CCNY laureates would have been born between 1912 and 1933. Recall Prodigy's Conjecture in Some Thoughts about Jews, IQ and Nobel Laureates. It asserts that American Jews constitute about 27 percent of any group whose distinguishing characteristic is intelligence. Ninety-three Nobel Prizes (excluding Peace and Literature) went to Americans born between 1912 and 1933. Prodigy's Conjecture theorizes that 25 or so were Jewish. At that time, half of all American Jews lived in New York City. Thus, we might expect that half of the Jewish laureates, say 12, were New Yorkers. If half of the best Jewish college students in NYC went to CCNY, then we might expect about 6 Jewish laureates to have graduated from CCNY between 1933 and 1954. Consequently, eight is not at all astounding. In fact, it is within the range of our expectations.

   Mentor. Fermi would be proud of you, but one puzzle remains. Where are the Prizes of Jews who graduated from CCNY before 1933 and after 1954?

   Prodigy. In the early part of the century, the center of mass of science was in Europe. The US had almost no scientific tradition. In fact, by 1920 Americans had won only 5 percent of the Nobel Prizes in science and medicine. Doing science is like doing carpentry. Both are learned through apprenticeship. Without a scientific tradition, there was little opportunity to learn how to do first-rate science.

   The fifties witnessed the breakdown of discrimination against Jews in academia. Jews had new opportunities, and CCNY was brain-drained by the Ivy League and other more prestigious schools. Jews continued to win Nobel Prizes in record numbers, but after graduating from other colleges. CCNY gradually declined. Finally in the late sixties a push for racial and ethnic diversity spawned a series of violent student protests. In response, CCNY dropped all admission requirements The college that once produced Nobel laureates now offered remedial courses in reading. CCNY laid in a supply of Ortho-Gro and prepared for the rest of the century.

   Jesse. They folded their tent and created a bigger tent. Red, Yellow, Brown, Black and White are all precious in God's sight.

   Prodigy. Hmm.

   Mentor. In a few square blocks of Harlem, a concentration of brain power materialized that was to contribute immensely to the intellectual strength of America. Out of this emerged the eight CCNY Nobel laureates. I wonder what the IQ of the CCNY students was like.

   Prodigy. We can estimate their IQ from demographic data.

   Mentor. You are welcome to use my library. What do you need?

   Prodigy. May I use your computer?

   Mentor. Please.

   Prodigy. Let's look at the supply-demand picture at CCNY circa 1930. The 1930 decennial census tells us that about 110,000 male eighteen-year-olds lived in New York. This is an upper bound to the CCNY applicant pool. (CCNY did not admit women.) At the time New York City was 25 percent Jewish. Thus, about 27,500 Jews and 82,500 non-Jews were in the age cohort of CCNY freshmen. On the supply side, CCNY graduated about 1000 students a year with bachelor's degrees.

   Recall La Griffe du Lion's Principle of Corresponding Order, proposed in The Color of Meritocracy. It reads:

If a large group takes a set of tests, such that each test contains at least one part dependent on cognitive ability, then the test takers will finish in the same rank order on every test.

   We can apply the Principle of Corresponding order to the problem at hand. First recognize that "test," as used in the Principle, need not be a literal test, i.e., one taken with pencil and paper. Admission to a college may also be regarded as a "test," in the sense of the Principle, provided the admissions criteria have a cognitive component and are not biased for or against individuals or groups. Cognitive ability was not only a component of CCNY's admissions criteria, it was the chief component. Students were admitted in rank order of ability, which according to the Principle of Corresponding Order, is also the rank order of IQ.

   Mentor. Am I correct in saying that the Principle of Corresponding Order does not assert that admission to CCNY was an IQ test?. It says only that the rank order of finish would be the same for both.

   Prodigy. Exactly. And from the Principle, we can obtain the mean IQ of the CCNY students, the Jewish students, the non-Jewish students, and finally the IQ of Jews in the general population.

   Mentor. Incroyable!

   Prodigy. Here's how. Let NJ and NG be the number of Jewish and non-Jewish men, respectively, in the freshman-age cohort who vie for one of NS seats. Let PG be the normalized probability distribution of IQ in the general population of non-Jews. Then the fraction, fG , of a CCNY class that is not Jewish is given by,

where λ is the lowest IQ among admitted students.

   Assume that the normalized IQ distribution of Jews in the general population, PJ , is related to that of non-Jews by a translation, Δ. That is,

   Then the Jewish fraction, fJ , of a CCNY class may be written,

in which we have used the transformation,

. How will you assign values to NG and NJ ?

   Prodigy. The number of non-Jews in the freshman age cohort was 82,500 in 1930. Some of this group, even those with the right stuff, would opt for another college or perhaps no college at all. Since I have no way to know how many would decline admission or not apply, I will not assign a value to NG., but rather put bounds on it. I will do the same for NJ . The upper bound of NG is the number of non-Jews in the cohort, 82,500. For the lower bound let's assume half the cohort would attend if they could.

   The threshold IQ , λ, of the CCNY graduate may be obtained from (1) using the 1930 data. Eighty percent of CCNY students were Jewish, i.e., the non-Jewish fraction, fG = 0.2. The number of slots, NS , is the number matriculating to a degree or 1000. Assuming PG is Gaussian, we can solve (1) numerically for λ, using each of the two bounds on NG . One moment please. Here is the result: In standard units, λ is between 2.59 and 2.82. That is, the minimum IQ of a CCNY grad was between 139 and 142 IQ points. (I assume here that the IQ scale is normalized, as is customary, to a mean of 100 for the non-Jewish population and a standard deviation of 15.)

   Mentor. It looks like the standard for admission to CCNY 70 years ago was higher than in the Ivy League today.

   Prodigy. Very likely. Now with λ in hand, we can solve (3) for Δ, the mean IQ difference between Jews and non-Jews in the general population. Again using first all and then half of the Jewish age cohort for NJ , we can place bounds on Δ. One moment please. OK, the mean IQ difference between Jews and non-Jews in the general population computes to between 0.92 and 1.02 SD, putting the mean IQ of Jews between 114 and 115. Fortunately, the IQ calculations are not very sensitive to NG and NJ , so the bounds are tight. Agreement with IQ-test data is excellent.

   Mentor. What do you think of that, Jesse?

   Jesse. My friend Louey says, "Add the number of letters in 'goyim' to the number of letters in 'Jews' and 'CCNY.' That and the number of subway stops between 145th St. and Delancey St. are the prime factors of 247. Now each tower of the George Washington Bridge is 609 ft tall, and 609 (mod 247) is 115. And there we have it: the mean IQ of Jews." Now isn't that easy?

   Mentor. Hmm.

   Prodigy. There is more. We can also calculate mean IQs for both Jewish and non-Jewish CCNY grads. The non-Jewish mean, < IQ G >, is simply,

where the denominator in (5) renormalizes the distribution.

   Similarlly, the mean Jewish IQ, < IQ J >, is given by,


where in (6) we have used the transformation,


   Using the bounds established for λ and Δ, I estimate that the mean  IQ at  for non-Jewish CCNY grads, circa 1930, was between 144 and 147. The overall mean IQ for CCNY grads was between 145 and 148.

   Mentor. What an impressive bunch!

   Prodigy. Well, you don't get eight Nobel Prize winners from nothing. Given the demographics of New York circa 1930, we expect an impressive bunch. The minimum IQ in a CCNY graduating class was about 2.7 SD above the non-Jewish population mean, and about 1.7 SD above the Jewish population mean. Jewish graduates of CCNY represented the top four or five percent of Jews. It would be surprising if they did not succeed so well.

     Jesse. Amen. If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it.

   Oops, I see a camera crew down the street. Have to go now. Goodbye. Remember, keep hope alive.

   Prodigy. Thanks for your help Mentor, I'm off to violin practice. I'll give Uncle Jim your regards.

   Mentor. Please come again soon. Say hello to Aunt Patricia.



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"... by 1920 Americans had won only 5 percent of the Nobel Prizes in science and medicine."







"Doing science is like doing carpentry. Both are learned through apprenticeship."








"In a few square blocks of Harlem, a concentration of brain power materialized that was to contribute immensely to the intellectual strength of America."






"Admission to a college may also be regarded as a 'test' ..."







"... the standard for admission to CCNY 70 years ago was higher than in the Ivy League today."






"the mean IQ difference between Jews and non-Jews in the general population computes to between 0.92 and 1.02 SD, putting the mean IQ of Jews between 114 and 115"






"Add the number of letters in 'goyim' to the number of letters in 'Jews' and 'CCNY.' That and the number of subway stops between 145th St. and Delancey St. are the prime factors of 247."