Does Harvard discriminate in favour of Jews?

In The American Conservative, Ron Unz published an essay that was ostensibly about whether the top Ivy schools discriminate against Asian students but, upon closer reading, was mainly concerned with arguing that Harvard/Yale/Princeton discriminate against white Gentiles in favour of Jews. The essay was widely discussed in various blogs, in part because the question of whether Asians are discriminated against is one that has a resonance in the academic community, and also because the essay contained voluminous appendices to back up its claims.

However, the wheels started to come off around February, when Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman reported on some significant inconsistencies in Unz’s methodology, as pointed out by Nurit Baytch, and Unz’s gross underestimates of the percentage of Jews among US recent IMO team members (as pointed out by Prof. Janet Mertz). There’s now an update on Gelman’s blog here, which links to a more in-depth rebuttal of Unz by Nurit (which you can find directly here). Nurit’s critique rips apart Unz’s argument on many levels (it mainly addresses the issues concerning [the lack of] discrimination in favour of Jews, not against Asians).

The entire episode points to a few disturbing facts. First, if you present a lot of data, people will trust your arguments even if your statistical analysis is completely flawed (the sociological “power of math”!). Second, if you couch your crazy argument (“The Jews” control Harvard — look, even President Drew Faust’s husband is Jewish [seriously, Unz uses this argument]) in something which is a genuine concern (discrimination against Asians), people will take you seriously. Finally, the essay was promoted by David Brooks; that should be a warning to anyone that it should not be taken seriously.

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