Italians Are Genetically Distinct from Jews

October 30, 2010

It's often claimed that Italians, especially Southern Italians, cluster with Ashkenazi Jews. At the very least, that's backwards because it's Jews who have mixed origins, pulling them away from West Asia and toward Europe. That, and the correspondence between geographic and genetic distance, puts them closest to Southern Europeans. However, when enough markers are used (or the right kinds of markers) the two groups can be distinguished, just as each can be distinguished from others. Indeed, Ashkenazi Jews form their own unique cluster, while Italians belong to a broader Southern European cluster, expectedly plotting between Spaniards and Greeks.

Tian et al. (2009) sampled Lombards (ITN_N), Tuscans (TUSC), Sardinians (SARD) and Southern Italian-Americans from New York (ITN), as well as Ashkenazi Jews (AJA), and genotyped them for 300,000 autosomal SNPs:

The current study extends the analysis of European population genetic structure to include additional southern European groups and Arab populations. Even within Italy, the relative position of northern Italians compared with subjects from Tuscany is consistent with the general geographic correspondence of PCA results. Interestingly, the majority of Italian Americans (NYCP four grandparents defined) appear to derive from southern Italy and overlap with subjects of Greek heritage. Both of these observations are consistent with previous historical information.

Possible exceptions to this observation of geographic correspondence include the Ashkenazi Jewish population. While the Ashkenazi are clearly of southern origin based on both PCA and STRUCTURE studies, in our analyses of diverse European populations, this group appears to have a unique genotypic pattern that may not reflect geographic origins.

Price et al. (2008) sampled Southern Italians and Sicilians, and isolated the genetic markers that are most accurate for distinguishing between European groups, achieving results comparable to those from genome-wide analyses:

Important work has already shown that northwest and southeast Europeans can be distinguished using as few as 800-1,200 ancestry-informative markers mined from datasets of 6,000-10,000 markers. Here we mine much larger datasets (more markers and more samples) to identify a panel of 300 highly ancestry-informative markers which accurately distinguish not just northwest and southeast European, but also Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. [...] Our results are consistent with a previous study in which Ashkenazi Jewish and southeast European samples occupied similar positions on the northwest-southeast axis, although there was insufficient data in that study to separate these two populations.

Tian et al. (2008) provide an additional example of the same clustering pattern, using samples and markers similar to those in their other study:

European population genetic substructure was examined in a diverse set of >1,000 individuals of European descent, each genotyped with >300 K SNPs. Both STRUCTURE and principal component analyses (PCA) showed the largest division/principal component (PC) differentiated northern from southern European ancestry. A second PC further separated Italian, Spanish, and Greek individuals from those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry as well as distinguishing among northern European populations. In separate analyses of northern European participants other substructure relationships were discerned showing a west to east gradient.

Italian-American Billionaires

October 23, 2010

As far as I can tell, 16 out of the 400 billionaires on Forbes' 2010 list of the richest people in America are Italian or have Italian ancestry. That puts them at 4% of the total, which is not too far from the 5.6% of Americans who report Italian ancestry. Here they are in order of wealth (click each name for a bio):

Rank Photo Name Net
Age Home Source of
#55 Ray Dalio $5 B 61 CT hedge funds
#66 John Paul DeJoria $4.2 B 66 TX hair products,
#95 John Sobrato & family $3.3 B 71 CA real estate
#124 Philip Falcone $2.8 B 47 NY hedge funds
#136 James Leprino $2.6 B 72 CO cheese
#164 A. Jerrold Perenchio $2.2 B 79 CA Univision
#182 Daniel D'Aniello $2 B 64 VA leveraged
#221 Fred DeLuca $1.8 B 63 FL Subway
#252 Leandro Rizzuto $1.6 B 72 WY Conair
#269 Edward DeBartolo $1.5 B 63 FL shopping
#308 Stephen Bisciotti $1.3 B 50 MD outsourcing,
#332 Joseph Mansueto $1.2 B 54 IL Morningstar
#332 Tom Golisano $1.2 B 68 FL Paychex
#365 Frank Fertitta $1.1 B 48 NV casinos, UFC
#365 Kenneth Langone $1.1 B 75 NY investments
#385 Lorenzo Fertitta $1 B 41 NV casinos, UFC

Richard Lynn Further Refuted

October 18, 2010

I had recently criticized Richard Lynn's flawed study on IQ in Northern and Southern Italy, and now Italian researchers Cornoldi et al. (2010) have published their own critique, which confirms what I said and predicted:

Working with data from the PISA study (OECD, 2007), Lynn (2010) has argued that individuals from South Italy average an IQ approximately 10 points lower than individuals from North Italy, and has gone on to put forward a series of conclusions on the relationship between average IQ, latitude, average stature, income, etc. The present paper criticizes these conclusions and the robustness of the data from which Lynn (2010) derived the IQ scores. In particular, on the basis of recent Italian studies and our databank, we observe that : 1) school measures should be used for deriving IQ indices only in cases where contextual variables are not crucial: there is evidence that partialling out the role of contextual variables may lead to reduction or even elimination of PISA differences; in particular, schooling effects are shown through different sets of data obtained for younger grades; 2) in the case of South Italy, the PISA data may have exaggerated the differences, since data obtained with tasks similar to the PISA tasks (MT-advanced) show smaller differences; 3) national official data, obtained by INVALSI (2009a) on large numbers of primary school children, support these conclusions, suggesting that schooling may have a critical role; 4) purer measures of IQ obtained during the standardisation of Raven's Progressive Coloured Matrices also show no significant differences in IQ between children from South and North Italy.

Lynn's feeble reply, where he's basically forced to admit he's wrong:

Beraldo (this issue) and Cornoldi, Belacchi, Giofre, Martini, and Tressoldi (2010) (CBGMT) have eight criticisms of my paper (Lynn, 2010) claiming that the large north-south differences in per capita income in Italy are attributable to differences in the average levels of intelligence in the populations. CBGMT give results for seven data sets for IQs in the north and south of Italy. All of these show that IQs are higher in the north than in the south, although the differences are not as great as those I calculated. Other criticisms to the effect that the PISA tests are not measures of intelligence are refuted. The results of two further studies are given that confirm that IQs in the north of Italy are approximately 10 IQ points higher than in the south.

The other critique mentioned there is Sergio Beraldo (2010), which focuses mostly on Lynn's claims about economic differences.

Italian Beauty: Giovanna Mezzogiorno

October 15, 2010

What better way to kick off this series than with one of the most popular actresses in Italy right now, born in the capital city of Rome to a father from the South (near Naples) and a mother with roots in the North (Veneto).

"Guido" Isn't an Ethnic Slur

October 12, 2010

Usually, "anti-defamation" stuff comes from whiny democrats, so I was surprised to find this article by Fox News republican Tommy De Seno. Apparently, he was at the boardwalk in New Jersey one day and saw an amusement stand with a game called "Shoot the Guido". It offended him, even more so when he discovered that the guy running it was Italian too. He argues that there's a double standard because there could never be a game called "Shoot the nigger", "Shoot the spic", "Shoot the chink" or "Shoot the kike".

But his entire premise is false. "Guido" isn't an ethnic slur like those others. First of all, it originated among Italians, not as a derogatory name used against them by outsiders; and secondly, it describes a youth subculture within an ethnic group, not the ethnic group itself, and different ethnicities can and do join in. So whereas a game like "Shoot the chink" would equate to "Shoot the Chinese person", "Shoot the Guido" does not equate to "Shoot the Italian person"; it's more like "Shoot the chav" or "Shoot the cholo" (all really fun-sounding games). An equivalent to De Seno's examples would be "Shoot the wop", and no amusement stand would ever have a game like that.

He then takes aim at MTV for enforcing Guido stereotypes, and manages to work in Mafia stereotypes too (blaming HBO for The Sopranos, a critical darling created by an Italian-American). But his anger is misdirected. He should be targeting the source: the Guido subculture itself. Cancelling shows like Jersey Shore won't make Guidos go away. Shooting them would, and pretending to shoot them might be the next best thing, because it conveys very strong disdain. The fact that a game like "Shoot the Guido" exists, and that it's run by a NJ Italian, is encouraging, not offensive.

Time Magazine recently ran an article about the whole Guido controversy, and it contains some informative history that refutes De Seno's nonsense:

There's no date stamp on when the term Guido came into play, but [sociology professor at City University of New York/Queensborough Donald] Tricarico theorizes that it very well may have originated as an insult from within the Italian-American community, conferring inferior status on immigrants who are "just off the boat." It clearly references non-assimilation in its use of a name more at home in the old homeland. In fact, in different locales, the same slur isn't Guido: in Chicago the term is "Mario" and in Toronto it goes by "Gino." Guido is far less offensive, among Italian-Americans, than another G word, which is also used in the names of countries in equatorial west Africa.


"It's a way to be a part of popular culture for kids who aren't invited to the party," Tricarico says. "It is defiant. It's identity politics," he explains. "It's a cultural movement, but it's about consumption, not ethnicity."

"'Guido' has become the name of a lifestyle,"
says Fred Gardaphè, Distinguished Professor of Italian American Studies at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College. "Guido itself is not a derogatory name." He explains its origins from a stereotype: "It's a real handsome, uneducated kid who gets by on his charm and his looks and doesn't really have much going for him." But, says Gardaphè, the wave of negative response to Jersey Shore come from what he calls "irony deficiency" in the Italian-American community. These peacocking kids, he says, come from a long history of exaggerated characterizations in Italian culture.

"The major key to Italian-American culture is something called 'bella figura,'" says Gardaphè. "It basically means, to put on a show so people don't know the real you. If you're poor, you make them think you're rich. If you're rich, you make them think you're poor." For an immigrant people emerging from a history of foreign conquerors and a lack of a nation-state (till 1870), says Gardaphè, "It's all about protection."

Caryn Brooks. "Italian Americans and the 'G' Word: Embrace or Reject?". Time Magazine, December 2009.

Sicilians Fight Back Against the Mafia

October 4, 2010

In Sicily, the birthplace of the modern Mafia, the mob has served as the real power center for decades, infiltrating all aspects of life and government. But Frontline/World reporter Carola Mamberto finds that one town is fighting back. "Taking on the Mafia" tells the story of how a Palermo restaurant owner and a movement of young people help to score a rare victory in the country's battle against Mafia dominance.

"Italy: Taking on the Mafia". Frontline/World, Jan. 27, 2009.