I was thinking about a series by David Plotz about the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, about ten years ago. It was an amazingly stupid and dishonest series – even for Slate. The Repository for Germinal Choice only managed to obtain sperm from one Nobelist (William Shockley), and that sample didn’t produce a baby.  Almost all of the donors were pretty high-achievement types, though, and the few kids that Plotz managed to contact were ( on average) unusually smart. On the other hand, one can’t be sure that they were representative of the 200-odd kids produced by this positive-eugenics effort.
The amusing aspect was Plotz continually kept heaping ridicule and scorn on an effort that apparently worked, judging from the kids he met. We can be pretty confident that it did work, and that any similar attempt would work, since the heritability of IQ is high, around 0.8 for adults in typical Western circumstances.
So – assuming that you were a despot, could you create a population that had an unusually high average IQ, higher than any extant population? Sure. It’s trivially easy. There may be other ways,  but old-fashioned truncation selection should do the trick.  Come to think of it, Warren Buffet could probably manage it just by bribing people on a certain list to marry each other – like the Howard Foundation.

Most university educated types would, if asked, say that this is impossible, particularly if you called it eugenics.  That’s my guess, anyhow. Some of my colleagues think that most people really know the score (understand heritability of  intelligence) and are just saying what they think society wants them to say, but I suspect that the vast majority really don’t know.  Ignorance is the default state.

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35 Responses to Plotzing

  1. TXL says:

    How likely do you think it is that this will be done on a large scale, by parents or governments? Do you think that understanding the genetics of intelligence is likely to change the status quo, or does the fact that folk haven’t used the existing data from twin studies indicate that the genetics won’t matter?

    Would it be a good idea?

  2. Wes says:

    Could we simply discourage or bar people below a certain IQ level from having kids? Say, the bottom of 10 or 20%? Wouldn’t this do more to solve our social ills than any other social program?

    • Tschafer says:

      As O’Brian would say in 1984; “Doubleplusungood crimethink refs reascience rec MinLove liquidate”

      Or as modern liberals say “RACIST!!!”

      • FredR says:

        Another issue with pushing (that kind of) eugenics is that it involves some kind of reproductive control, and then you’ve got some very serious feminists mad at you as well.

    • Anonymous says:

      There will always be a bottom 10%. Can’t work.

  3. j says:

    It is not that people are ignorant, they just dont care about intelligence. There hundreds of thousand AID events per year and millions of natural inseminations too. If anything, people is selecting for yellow hair and light eyes. Is that eugenic? North European populations have IQ average around 100, while American average is below that, it may be very slightly eugenic. Why they care more about skin color than IQ? Because they are morons.

  4. Tschafer says:

    There are ruomers that the Chinese are doing this, I have no idea if they’re true or just the usual scare stories. Given their experience with people like Sakharov, you wouldn’t think that a Communist government would want a lot of smart people around, but they might feel that the advantages outweigh the risks.

  5. ziel says:

    There seems to be a universally enforced editorial standard that requires that the term ‘eugenics’ be teamed with ‘pseudoscience’, preferably with emphasis as in “the long-discredited pseudoscience of eugenics…”

  6. John Harvey says:

    There are eugenic practises going on all the time, for instance in the sense that assortative mating takes place. Bright people marry other brights more than they marry dims, but the problem is that they then have fewer children than dim couples.
    The irony is that in a more rigid, less meritocratic society, bright and dim ‘strains’ are more likely to remain distributed throughout the social hierarchy.

  7. Gorbachev says:

    I suspect this will become more mainstrem as time goes on.

    Eugenics will come to seem almost normal.

  8. dave chamberlin says:

    no need for interference by others to create assortive mating by intellegence. (wouldn’t work anyway) there is a perfectly good system in place that puts the brightest men and women in close proximity during their mate selection years, the university system and the follow up job market.

  9. The eugenics movement in the early twentieth century was reacting to a real profound change in the demography of Europe and America. Before the demographic transition and the industrial revolution everywhere the prosperous outreproduced the poor. After these events the whole thing was turned upside down, children survived, and the growth in the number of the poor was alarming.

    No one would have us back to the old regime where children died a lot. On the other hand a mandatory dose of depo-provera with public support checks would not be so bad. We are these days like frogs in the pot with water gradually getting hotter and hotter, so slowly we don’t notice.

    • Sean says:

      The poor-and-employed have big families. In the general population do the long term unemployed have more children than employed? A lot of the long term unemployed are male misfits who have never fathered a child.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Razib recently had a thread that women with graduate degrees average half as many children, 1.5, as women that drop out of high school, 3.0. These are very close to the same numbers reported by Murray in his book the Bell Shaped Curve back in 1996. Every time I hear a dumber more clownish comment from a politician than the last, these statistics haunt me. Anyway I try to stay positive and compassionate. I’m not religious but i love the old saying “there but for the grace of God go I.”

  10. Rachelle says:

    To some degree selective breeding has already been done. When the English spoke of well-bred people I suspect they were not referring only to socialization. They were very conscious of animal breeding and tended to examine the pedigrees of eligible mates rather carefully. It wasn’t just shame that led to hiding a crazy uncle. There was probably some worry that the family oddball would reflect poorly on the breeding qualities of the family. Or so I gather.

  11. Kiwiguy says:

    ***No one would have us back to the old regime where children died a lot. On the other hand a mandatory dose of depo-provera with public support checks would not be so bad. We are these days like frogs in the pot with water gradually getting hotter and hotter, so slowly we don’t notice.***

    @ Henry,

    Very true. I’ve suggested this on a NZ political site for a while now. One ex Member of Parliament actually responded that making contraception a condition of welfare entitlements was a “no-brainer”. However, he admitted it wasn’t politically viable and you’d get massive protests and people calling it eugenics.

    Speaking of which, here is apparently the most read book on the subject by John Glad. It has a preface by Seymour Itzkoff, author of “The Decline of Intelligence in America”. Glad, who is jewish, tries to point out that eugenics is quite different to what the Nazis did, and frames it as part of a humanistic tradition and concern for future generations.

  12. Kiwiguy says:

    ***It was an amazingly stupid and dishonest series – even for Slate. ***

    In fairness, William Saletan’s articles on James Watson and race and sport seemed pretty good.

  13. Greying Wanderer says:

    110+ average IQ and above average healthiness – like you get in special forces – would be the best sperm donors imo.

  14. Nanonymous says:

    Plotz published a book on the subject. The book makes it very obvious that the “experiment” was a success. Plotz cannot bring himself to say so and constantly tries environmental explanations but none of it is working.

  15. I think we should all be cautious about what we wish for. If the Murray phenomenon continues we will indeed have a genetic high IQ caste/class, perhaps more and more of them if they would start reproducing more.

    But who will this help? Maybe some of us but they sure won’t help all my relatives in Possum Hollow, Pennsylvania. Why should they? Why should bond traders help any of us?

    • TXL says:

      But wouldn’t the bond traders be able to pay less in taxes and enjoy larger markets if the next generation in Possum Hollow was more economically productive?

    • says:

      It was reported about 15 years ago that a single sperm donor had fathered 5000 children in the NYC area, his big selling point was a claimed IQ of 180. He was an investment banker.

  16. j says:

    We are these days like frogs in the pot with water gradually getting hotter and hotter, so slowly we don’t notice.

    We do notice but no one figured out what to do. We are a dying society where EVERY child born is welcome. We are in no condition of mandating depo nor rejecting babies. On the contrary, we spend enormous effort on keeping alive very defective babies.

    Singapur, which may be the most successful society in our times, tried to solve the problem. I’d like to read a good case study of their conclusions.

  17. qwerty says:

    > Why should bond traders help any of us?

    Yeah no kidding. I guess we’re starting to lose the ability to assume that smarter people implies more innovation and general advancement. At least, the proportion of those doing so has gone down.

  18. Viral Architect says:

    So – assuming that you were a despot, could you create a population that had an unusually high average IQ, higher than any extant population? Sure. It’s trivially easy. There may be other ways, but old-fashioned truncation selection should do the trick.

    Breeding to raise IQ, while possibly fun for individual participants, is slow for the despot. What about a eugenic virus or bacterium, capable of raising IQ in adults? Is it biologically possible (if not naturally then by genetic engineering)? I seem to remember Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse suggesting hominid intelligence was raised by brain infection with a slime mold.

  19. Konkvistador says:

    What I’ve always wondered is why some group like say the dynasty rulling North Korea hasn’t applied this to itself?

    Kim Jong-Un (and his father before him) could have easily gotten the resources, both genetic and otherwise, to have a thousand kids, produced from the best eggs money can buy on the black market. From that batch pick a few with the best traits and raise him as your own, then ten or twenty years later pick a successor from your kids and start showing him the ropes. Get rid of the paper trail behind the rest.

    • Tschafer says:

      Maybe they actually believe their commie BS about nurture being everything. That would seem odd for a dynast like Kim Jong -Il, but people are weird – you just never know. Also, the Kims, while certainly shrewd, have not exactly been repositories of rational thought these last 70 years…

  20. Pingback: Breeding Humans « Johann Happolati

  21. Steve Sailer says:

    Plotz’s original articles for Slate around the turn of the century were pretty good. His book that finally came out a half decade later was disappointing, though. Here’s my review of the book:

  22. Steve Sailer says:

    I was just reading a lengthy obituary for Cambridge psychology professor Richard Darwin Keynes, who died recently at 90. He was the great grandson of you know who and nephew of you know who. He, personally, figured out how electric eels work, using the more fundamental biochemistry of Arnold Huxley, Nobel Laureate in chemistry, half-brother of Julian and Aldous Huxley, and grandson of T.H. Huxley.

  23. Andrew Erickson says:

    I only have an anecdote to contribute as to the eternal question of how much people, particularly elites, understand things like the heritability of IQ, but conceal their knowledge for the sake of social propriety. It would seem difficult to gather decent data on the question, so I suppose aggregating anecdotes may be the best we can do.

    Anyway, two years ago I was dating a girl who was about as far out on the “socialization accounts for every and all differences, West Africans dominate the NBA and 100 meters via their socially constructed fast-twitch muscles, boys and girls are totally the same until we put them in different colored clothing” Blank Slat-ist wing as one can get without actually trying to raise a chimpanzee in the Rabbinic tradition to see if it can magically win a Nobel Prize in physics. She also happened to be extremely feminine in every way, making her silly notions and inability to reason almost adorable to a guy like me. One morning I borrowed her laptop to check my email, and found a conversation open between her and her sister (every bit as much a vocal proponent of left-wing creationism). Being a curious fellow as most are, I read it. They were discussing their opinion of me as a potential father to her future children, more or less entirely in terms of heritability and genetic characteristics. On the negative side of the ledger were the diseases common in my family (mostly autoimmune). She did not exactly have a great knowledge of the genetics of disease risk- or access to my 23andme account, for that matter- but she seemed to have an intuitive understanding that there are some HLA genes in my pedigree she would rather her children not inherit. On the positive of the ledger, she listed my test scores, the educational backgrounds of my family members, and the like. These are of course, the same standardized tests she consistently decried in polite company as whatever bad thing Gould claimed they were.

    I never had any intent of marrying her, and did not resent her private realism– it is perfectly reasonable for a woman to be concerned with such things, after all (I also did not mention it to her– I just smiled a little wider whenever she criticized genetic determinism). But I wonder to this day the extent to which, when she talked publicly as if heritability does not exist, or planned to give her children androgynous names under the notion it would somehow change their life courses, she was just posturing. She was a bright girl, and like most bright people, her intelligence was devoted primarily to figuring out what the socially prudent thing to say and signal is. In matters where there is something personal at stake, devoting brainpower to actually figuring out the truth becomes more important.

    • Miley Cyrax says:


      Usually I hate anecdotes in anything resembling nature versus nurture discussions (as it’s usually along the lines of “I know one smart black physicist, so there’s no way blacks can have lower SAT scores than Asians without there being anti-black discrimination!”) but I love yours.

      • Andrew Erickson says:

        Yea, I figure there are two justifications for anecdotal evidence in this case: 1) We probably won’t be too successful polling people with questions such as, “You are just pretending you think the heritability of IQ is zero, right? You don’t actually believe that nonsense, do you?” On the other hand, an anecdote concerning group differences in SAT score distributions is worthless, because we have access to hundreds of thousands of data points. 2) I think the story is funny and illuminating enough to merit inclusion in this thread.

  24. bgc says:

    “The real reason for the New Left opposition to eugenics (beyond strategic electoral demographics) has nothing to do with preventing the state from imposing low fertility upon the lower orders (after all, the politically correct see no limit to the state’s right to control people), and almost-everything to do with preventing the state from enforcing high fertility upon the higher orders – ie. the PC elite.”

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