Friday, February 4, 2011

Behavioral Genetics: The Most Important Topic You Don't Discuss

What is behavioral genetics? It examines the genetic basis of intelligence and of personality characteristics such as depression, empathy, impulse control, predisposition to addiction, and sexual orientation.

There are good reasons we don't discuss behavioral genetics. As an Economist article pointed out, we currently can't do anything about the genetic roots of our behavior, so discussing it merely encourages personal fatalism, when in fact, our behavior is at least partly changeable. Also behavioral genetics evokes thoughts of the horrific Nazi eugenic plan, in which millions of people were slaughtered in an attempt to create a master race.

Even as a young child, I was fascinated by how much we inherit. One reason is that I was born to parents who had the worst imaginable environment: Holocaust survivors who, as teenagers, were wrested from their Poland homes and imprisoned in concentration camps, and after the war, dumped onto a cargo boat and dropped in the Bronx as young adults, without a penny to their name, no education, not a word of English, no relatives (nearly all were killed in the Holocaust), no connections, only the scars of the Holocaust tortures. Yet they were successful and well-adjusted, as were many of the Holocaust survivors I've come to know. Early on, I knew that while genetics aren't everything, they certainly are important.

But what really drove home the power of genetics was my own experience. Although I was the child of poor, uneducated, non-English-speaking, Holocaust-surviving parents, and living in a Bronx tenement, my mother insists that I was reading the New York Times (with little comprehension, no doubt) when I was three years old. My earliest memory is of my mother parading me from apartment to apartment showing off my reading ability. Even though my parents never read to me nor took me to the library, by watching words spoken on TV and staring at a few children's books and then the newspaper, by the time I was in the first grade, my reading comprehension was on a 12th grade level and my IQ was 155. Without practicing more than 15 minutes a day, I became a professional pianist when I was 13 years old.

My fascination with behavioral genetics went dormant until, in my doctoral program at Berkeley, I read studies of identical twins who were raised apart. Despite often being raised in extremely different environments, the identical twins' IQs were virtually identical, as were their personalities, even their career and avocational preferences.

My interest in behavioral genetics grew further in graduate school when I chose my area of specialization. I've always loved judging things so, not surprisingly, I gravitated to evaluation: program evaluation, individual cognitive evaluation, etc. The more I read evaluations of "model" programs designed to change children's environments, the more I became convinced that while environment may matter, genetics matter more. I reviewed the evaluations of Head Start, Title I, the Kansas City experiments of spending massive amounts per child, experiments with having students from Chicago housing projects attend top prep schools, and media-touted "miracle" programs like Marva Collins' schools, Central Park East, and more recently, Ed Trust, and KIPP. When I dug beneath the self-promoting schools' marketing efforts and a media eager to show that education matters, I became ever more certain of the relative power of genetics over education.

Beyond studying those programs' evaluation data, I visited a number of such programs. I've come to believe that a model program is one you haven't visited. My most startling memory is when my wife Dr. Barbara Nemko (Napa County Supt. of Schools and recent regional Supt. of the Year) and I visited Central Park East School, the subject of two glowing features on 60 Minutes, touting Central Park East's test scores as proof that education can close the racial achievement gap. We spoke with the principal, who, after we gained his trust, literally cried and said that the temporary blip in scores came from an impossible-to-sustain monumental effort that faded not long after the cameras left and that, now, the school's achievement scores are right back to the average of the other public schools in Harlem.

I was very dispirited by all this. After all, I had devoted my life to changing people, hoping that environment mattered a lot. I quit my position as a biomedical researcher at the Rockefeller University to become a drug counselor in an inner-city New York junior high school. Failing to change the kids, I took the six years to get a Ph.D. from Berkeley in education. After that, I returned to teach in inner-city Richmond, California schools, and while my students loved me, I do not believe my extraordinary efforts yielded significant enduring changes in the kids. I later became a career counselor, dealing with less problemed people, and despite having a 96% client satisfaction rate and being proclaimed "career coach extraordinaire" by U.S. News, I still find it very difficult to change people, for example, from low-motivation to high-motivation, let alone from being an average performer to a star.

Even though I have a Ph.D. specializing in program evaluation, I'm disproportionately affected by personal experiences. I'll never forget my friend Miriam Weinstein telling me, "Every mother of two or more kids knows how powerful genetics are. They have distinct, enduring personalities from Day One, or even before. Thirty years later, my kids' basic personalities have remained the same." Every time I ask a mother if her experience comports with Miriam's, she always says yes. That further solidified my belief in the power of behavioral genetics.

At my core, emotionally, I'm a liberal. I care about helping the have-nots, perhaps in part because I came from such humble roots and my parents were victims of the Nazis. I've wanted, for decades, to find reasons to believe that changing the have-nots' environment, whether through educational innovation or spending, nutritional improvement, job training, mass media, whatever, would close the achievement gap.

Yet now, at age 60, I am more convinced than ever of the power of genetics. Just as tuning up a VW Beetle will never turn it into a Ferrari, I am now convinced that trying to close the achievement gap by changing only people's environment will continue to fail, as it has for the past half century, wasting yet more taxpayer trillions on such programs. And indeed we have, in the U.S., spent at least a trillion dollars since the 1960s on such efforts, and the achievement gap remains as wide as ever.

That is why, as I've written before, I believe the wisest approach to addressing the persistent racial and social-class achievement gap is to supplement research to identify better environment-changing interventions with research that would enable prospective parents to elect to ensure that their children don't start out life with a genetic two strikes against them.

If such research were permitted by the government and especially if subsidized by the government, we would, within a decade or two, find gene clusters responsible for at least components of intelligence, empathy, impulse control, depression, addictions, etc. At that point, prospective parents could be given the option of having gene therapy to ensure their baby is born as--what liberal philosopher John Rawls calls--a "winner in the genetic lottery."

As I wrote in a previous blog post on this subject, I want to stress that there is a Grand Canyon of difference between the monstrous Nazi eugenic plan and what I'm proposing. The Nazis wanted to murder people. I merely want to give parents choices, uncoerced choices. And to ensure that it doesn't exacerbate racial or class differences, I advocate the taxpayer subsidizing outreach and treatment payment for the poor, just as we do with MediCal and other health programs for the poor.

What do you think?

Update: Buried in one of the 33 comments on this post is mention of a major study being supported by the Chinese government. That study is comparing the full genome of 1,000 of China's most intellectually precocious children with the genome of 1,000 average children. They've already found the genomes of the two groups to be different from each other. Most readers of blogs don't read the comments so, because I find that study intriguing, I mention it here. My thanks to the commenter, Shawn, for providing the link:

Another update: In a private comment on this post, a reader asked if I've ever implemented "Intelligent Choice," which I proposed in a previous post. In Intelligent Choice, the media and schools would initiate a campaign stressing that among life's most important decisions is who you'll have a baby with. For example, "That cool Bad Boy may be fun to date but do you really want your baby to have his genes?" In this blog and in my other writings, I give away many such ideas because I don't have time to implement them but I'd love it if someone decided to try to make Intelligent Choice happen. If you're interested, email me at and I'll share details.


Justin Wehr said...

First, let me say that I appreciate the thought you put into this post.

I agree that there are good arguments to be made for genetic engineering, especially since that’s essentially what we already do with mate selection and farming, etc.—bioengineering would just accelerate the process. But it’s a loaded and complex issue and I’d rather discuss the broader point about genetics vs. environment.

You spent plenty of sentences establishing your authority/qualifications on the issue, but I didn’t see a lot of facts or logic to defend the assertion that genetics “matter much more”. With the disclaimer that I don’t proclaim to have authority on the topic, and that I’ve had 35 fewer years on the Earth than you, I offer my two primary reactions to this post:

(1) This needs to be taken case-by-case. We cannot reasonably make blanket statements about genetics mattering more than environment. Every trait seems to have different ratios. Happiness, addiction, blood pressure, and cholesterol all happen to be around 50% genetic. Other things, like language skills, are much less genetically-determined. And even things that we think of as 100% genetic like height, are not so.

(2) As you well know, it’s simplistic to talk about genetics and environment as independent forces. They interact.

I wonder if you are just frustrated by how hard it seems to change people. I posted this quote from Scott Adams the other day: "I’ve never seen anyone change his mind because of the power of a superior argument or the acquisition of new facts. But I’ve seen plenty of people change behavior to avoid being mocked."

People are stubborn and prideful. Arguments almost always polarize instead of unite. But people change a lot throughout their lives and it can’t be explained entirely (or I’d say even mostly) by genetics. We expect epiphanies, but change almost always happens gradually, once we’ve softened to an idea and let it grow.

Finally, if you desire a renewed appreciation in environmental forces, I’d suggest picking up the book “Connected”.

Anonymous said...

The genetic plans of the National Socialists were not all negative selection. Certainly, the wanted to segregate out groups they felt were or were likely to be disloyal, as did the United States with its citizens of Japanese extraction. And those segregation programs ultimately became murdorous, but I think many people don't know much about it. For instance, Rudolf Hess, the last surviving prisoner at Spandau, left Germany before the mass killing of Jews, Gypsies and others had begun.

For Germans under national socialism, the emphasis was much more about positive eugenics - encouraging the able to marry and have children with the able - than about negative eugenics.

And the German program drew much of its inspiration from various groups and movements in the United States.

Marty Nemko said...

Justin, I mentioned the twin studies. Indeed, there are countless twin studies that establish the importance of genes in a wide range of behavioral characteristics--even risk tolerance.

Justin Wehr said...

Marty, unless I am badly mistaken, no twin study is going to support your blanket assertion.

Marty Nemko said...

Any "blanket assertion" is subject to exception. The appropriate question is, "What is the extent to which twin studies support significant genetic influence on behavior?" And the answer to that question is "A great extent." Here, for example, are a link to the University of Colorado's and the University of Minnesota's to repositories of many studies and study results: and

Of course studies other than twin studies bear on the issue. The resistance of the achievement gap to being reduced despite at least a half-century of massive innovations of all stripes, gives weight to the importance of genetics.

And most recently, studies of DNA between identical and fraternal twins supports the importance of genetics.

Again, none of this is to say that environment is irrelevant but to try to address social problems by simply changing the environment is like fighting a tough opponent with one arm tied behind your back.

Jeffrie said...

I haven't studied behavioral genetics, so I can't say with authority whether nature or nurture is dominant. My guess is that both play significant roles, and even if controlled for by the most benevolent eugenics program, society's ills will not completely go away because the world isn't perfect.

If the poor did have free access to this program and used it, the poor environment the child grows up in will still have an effect. Will they still be part of a permanent impoverished underclass because of their environment, or will they be more likely to become successful because of their genetics? Who would volunteer to be the guinea pig for that experiment?

On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if the right genes can only help a person. I'm pretty sure genes play a role in how I ended up.

I ended up so different from just about all my immediate & extended family, that if I didn't look very similar to one of my older sisters, I'd swear they got the wrong child from the hospital.

My sisters & I went to the same kinds of schools, and in some cases the exact same schools, had the same parents, and more or less had the same treatment. But if you compared our lives today, no person would say we're related. Why such a big difference?

I can't say it's one or the other. I have to say it's both. If you changed both, there would almost certainly be a difference, but if you only changed one, there may or may not be a difference.

Marty Nemko said...

Justin, another point. One cannot apriori dismiss the opinions of some of the world's greatest minds throughout history that assert that "one's nature" is critical. For example, in The Republic," Plato stressed the importance of "doing what's in your nature." Nietzche urged us to "Become who we are." And more recently, the liberal John Rawls urges us to use "redistributive justice" to compensate the losers in what he called, "the genetic lottery." Leading eugenicists included Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Darwin, Marcus Garvey, Margaret Sanger, Nicola Tesla, and one of our most respected Supreme Court jurists, "Oliver Wendell Holmes."

Andy McKenzie said...

Marty, epigenetics is the game changer. It casts some doubt upon even the best twin studies, because you can have inter-generational transfer that is still potentially reversible given the right environment. We still don't know much about it, but it does mean we have to temper our confidence in the conclusions of twin studies. Also see John Rennie's thoughts:

Re: genetic engineering, I don't think it's worth it, on traits like intelligence. Genome wide association studies are going to have a very tough time finding individual genes that explain a large percentage of phenotypic variance in intelligence. So you are then talking about engineering hundreds of individual genes, which seems both too costly and more ethically challenging.

Screening for genetic diseases or point mutations in important genes with in utero genetic testing, with the possibility of aborting the child if he/she has a likely disease... that's something I can get behind.

It is possible that *eventually* intelligence genes will be easily manipulable, that we will understand the trade-offs and know which levers we can pull and which we cannot... but by then we will probably have good AI, rendering the median human's intelligence somewhat moot.

Anna said...


I get the impression, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that you have difficultly looking back at your life's work with pride and a sense of having achieved something.

I believe you have given of yourself to others and helped them, even if just by encouraging them. Maybe you have a 96% client satisfaction rate because you were talented at giving clients a sense of hope.

Neither you nor I are the messiah, it isn't our job to change people or to better them. That isn't anyone's job. If you are superior in any sense to someone, you may condescend to aid them, but that's it. You can't change people. And I don't think this world would be a better place if we used the practices that you are obliquely referring to to make a superior race of people. A human being has inherent worth, no matter his or her genetic mix. All human lives are tragedies. We live, we make mistakes and then we die and are eaten by worms. That doesn't mean we should unleash hell on earth in pursuit of perfection.

Anonymous said...

I was curious about whether Darwin had endorsed eugenics, and it seems that he did not after looking a bit with Google.

(The term did not exist during his lifetime, being coined by Galton after his death, but the ideas were gelling, especially after Malthus.)

There is an extended argument in the Descent of Man outlining many then-current proto-eugenic ideas but to my eye, though he quotes them, he does this to point out problems with them. A few paragraphs from this kind of honest, careful essay can easily be selected to make it appear that Darwin agrees but in context, that seems like applying "gotcha" journalism to a completely different type of discourse than the 30 second bites we see today.

Some glaring problems with early eugenic ideas are well captured here:

"The careless, squalid, unaspiring Irishman multiplies like rabbits: the frugal, foreseeing, self-respecting, ambitious Scot, stern in his morality, spiritual in his faith, sagacious and disciplined in his intelligence, passes his best years in struggle and in celibacy, marries late, and leaves few behind him. Given a land originally peopled by a thousand Saxons and a thousand Celts---and in a dozen generations five-sixths of the population would be Celts, but five-sixths of the property, of the power, of the intellect, would belong to the one-sizth of Saxons that remained." (This is an author named Greg, quoted by Darwin for the purpose of arguing against him.)

One problem with that argument at its time is that Scots and Irishmen had by then been living in close proximity for many generations, separated only by water, and yet the Scots had not been overrun by the Irish having outbred their island.

The problem in a modern context is the sheer quaintness of this "any fool can see" style of argument when applied to argue in favor of the essential superiority of the Scots over the Irish. At this remove from the potato famine, the argument certainly looks like one advanced foolishly, if not by a fool.

The chapter entitled Civilization in Descent of Man is now on my reading list for the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Looks like IQ could be even more heritable than height:

"Estimates...of the heritability of IQ have varied from below 0.5 to a high of 0.9. A 1996 statement by the American Psychological Association gave about .45 for children and about .75 during and after adolescence. A 2004 meta-analysis of reports in Current Directions in Psychological Science gave an overall estimate of around .85 for 18-year-olds and older. The New York Times Magazine has listed about three quarters as a figure held by the majority of studies." -

"Human height is 60%–80% heritable, according to several twin studies[70] and has been considered polygenic since the Mendelian-biometrician debate a hundred years ago"

Marty Nemko said...

My look at the epigenetics literature suggests it's more wishful thinking than explained variance.

Marty Nemko said...

Yes, Anna, I look back on my life's hard work--70+ hours a week, minimal vacations, and indeed am disappointed in my impact. But I do not believe that's the genesis of my belief that giving people a choice about their children's genetics is wise. Nor do I believe it would yield "hell on earth." There's a much, much higher probability it would take us closer to heaven on earth.

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, that was an error. It turns out it was Charles Galton Darwin, Director of the National Physics Laboratory, not Charles Darwin. But it doesn't seem central to focus on whether it's Charles Darwin or Charles Galton Darwin who is included in a list within a comment when the central post made so many stronger arguments.

Marty Nemko said...

g is far from mythical, except in a few eyes, notably anthropologist (not individual psychologist or statistician) Stephen Jay Gould, and Howard Gardner. Here's the link to the Wikipedia entry for "g." Wikipedia profiles, like most populist-created media, tends to be biased against such variables as g, yet in great detail, well-cited, the Wikipedia entry for g makes clear that the large majority expert consensus is that g is not only mythical but important.

Marlo said...

Few people argue that academic success and intelligence have no genetic basis. And those who do, from what I gather, secretly accept this fact. The real question then is to what extent do we owe our success or lackthereof to our genes? I'm not yet convinced that such a question is off limits in academia. Even before human genetic material was discovered psychologists were conducting IQ studies and attempting to explain why it varies with respect to race and socio-economic class.

I think Marty is a bit naive in assuming that environment plays a lesser role in shaping intelligence. It has been demonstrated, for example, that black children adopted by white families have the same IQ scores as white children--until around the age of 12, and then their IQ's tend to fall. Is there an environmental explanation for this or do their genes just magically change? hmmm...

It's a bit premature to throw your hands up and declare the current state of education, and indeed society in general, to be an everlasting, irreversible condition. If we're to believe that every possible endeavor to eliminate disparities in school performance and standardized testing has already been carried out, then we have to blindly accept the falsehoods that everyone is now given the same opportunities and that everyone is equally liked and integrated into the mainstream; That every single social difference imaginable has already been studied thoroughly and ruled out as a factor.

Genetic engineering is not a quick fix to the problem, for reasons 'Andy McKenzie' pointed out. Genes that effect one's musical or mathematical prowess most likely have a number of other vital functions. So while it may be appealing...if mishandled, it runs the risk of actually producing a more fucked up progeny than what nature would have. Hell, the biologists don't even know the full consequences of genetically altering plants.

If you're worried about what to do with societies less desirables, perhaps a program that teaches parents how to interact with their infants in ways that stimulate proper brain development would be the way to go. I could accept the genetic argument if I hadn't seen studies of black children placed in white families. It's fair to say that genes are responsible for behavioral differences when comparing family members, or to a lesser extent, people of the same race...but its virtually impossible to measure such a thing between races. Google "genetic vs heritable".

Shawn said...

Thanks. Very good post & I agree with it in it's entirety.

It was important to mention the holocaust so that we may get a better understanding of your parents background, and how it affected you. I will point out intellectual climate is over-saturated with discussion about it, though.

Shawn said...

Americans have eugenics right now (down syndrome babies are usually aborted, for example) but it is not enough to combat the overall dysgenics which has been occurring.

I wonder what will happen if the USA does not take common sense steps? China is not faced with the PC mess that American face, so they are taking steps to look into these sorts of things.

Shawn said...

Marty wrote: "And more recently, the liberal John Rawls urges us to use "redistributive justice" to compensate the losers in what he called, "the genetic lottery."

Although some people REALLY DO choose to be poor, because the Left allows the Right to ignore the role of genes, how many Republicans disingenuously say that MOST poor people's impoverished state is their 'fault?'

Shawn said...

Andy wrote: "Re: genetic engineering, I don't think it's worth it, on traits like intelligence. Genome wide association studies are going to have a very tough time finding individual genes that explain a large percentage of phenotypic variance in intelligence. "

Check out the project Steve Hsu is working on in China:

China isn't afraid.

Marty Nemko said...

I am very familiar with the transracial adoption studies, notably the famous Scarr and Weinberg study, and the results do not provide the degree of dispositiveness you feel about the importance of environment vs geneticis:

Look at that study and the resulting analyses of it. Then assign a weight to its dispositive power. Compare that against the weight of all the other data points mentioned in the posts and comments.
Respectfully submitted,
"The Naive One."

Sebastian said...

Given how much you invested in helping the helpless, one wonders how intelligent you really are! I'm being only half facetious. Here's why: you have a high IQ and I have known too many high IQ people who have squandered possible careers in music, literature or academia to follow their ideological commitment to "diversity," or general equality. I also know IQ's are a terrible measure of intelligence. Men like Beethoven, Shostakovitch or Rembrandt would not have known what to do with one of those silly tests. Neither would an old world philosopher with the wisdom (which is different than intelligence) to know a priori that a huge segment of any population is hopeless and cannot be changed - and that we have no right, or certainly no imperative, to attempt to change them.

It seems you had to unlearn your naive liberalism. Perhaps had you not jettisoned ancient wisdom in favor of new fangled idealism, you would have known all along what is now considered "scientific" discoveries, namely, people are different, hierarchical, and Third World people live in Third World countries because they have Third World consciousnesses. I am only 36, but because of my upbringing as a European who lived in Latin America, I never had these delusions of you "high IQ" liberals.

BTW, if two babies from the same mother are so different, then genetics and heredity, though real, are more difficult to predict than a simple intelligent parents have intelligent kids, no?

Lastly, I very much enjoy the blog. I only contribute to have a go at you, but I agree with the lion's share of your ideas.


Marty Nemko said...

Sebastian, your core point is well-taken. In my defense, I have spent my adult life in a most liberal environment: the City University of New York, U.C. Berkeley, and since then, remained in the San Francisco Bay Area, America's most liberal bastion.

And of course, in recent decades, the media has gone from neutral reporter to leftist advocate: whether it's TV news or the New York Times, sitcoms, comedy shows (e.g., The Daily Show), TV dramas (The West Wing) plays,or feature films, whether it's fiction or nonfiction books, websites such as the Huff Post, Slate or Salon, or blogs such as the Daily Kos,

It's very hard to develop let alone live beliefs that are counter to such a powerful zeitgeist. Perhaps I've not been sufficiently brave or confident to live a life that the thought leaders of this era would agree is wrong-headed.

Marty Nemko said...

Oh and Sebastian, I might add that every time I dare be politically incorrect, I suffer HUGE reprisals. I did a radio show opining that illegal immigration is a net negative. Immediately after, a computer programmer named Anarchogeek admited to google-bombing me so that whenever you google me, "Marty Nemko is a Racist" comes up. That metastasized when none other than Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter read it and decided, without having even listened to the show, to add a link to Anarchogeek's libel of me on his extremely well-visited blog.

Today's Berlin Wall is one between left and right. You dare not cross it or you risk getting shot. You can quote me on that.

Marlo said...

Marty, you say you're familiar with the transracial adoption studies but you only mentioned the one conducted by Scarr and Wienberg. Have you looked at the studies by Tizard and Cooperman? Or the Heber study?

My stance on race/iq isn't based on one study but on a number of studies that, more or less, produced the same results. None of the comments here contained any data refuting these studies.

I'm no expert on genetics or cognition, so my degree of "dispositiveness" is based soley on the information made available to the public. For all I know, some of the cutting edge research currently underway may counter my conclusions. I'm open to all ideas. But I'm not quick to speculate about what "might" be true...

It's clear that you've made up your mind about intelligence and race. So I'll refrain from making any more post on this topic.

Marty Nemko said...

If I recall correct, Tizard did studies in the 1970s and 1980s on institutionalized versus adopted kids. Far less germane than Scarr and Weinberg, which has stood the test of time as the most solid, and indeed, has the been the subject of repeated reanalyses, including by the authors, whose views changed FROM believing environment was key.

The Heber study is even older, somewhere in teh 1960s and refers to a very expensive innovative program called the Milwaukee Project. Indeed, that is often cited as evidence for the LACK of effect of environment:

Galtonian said...

This is a brave and thoughtful statement by Nemko.

To Justin Wehr and others who may wish to become more informed about the behavioral genetics (hereditarian) perspective, if you have access to an academic library I suggest you read papers and books by the following experts:

On the importance of genetics in determining mental traits:
Tom Bouchard, William Iaconno, Matt McGue, Wendy Johnson (Minnesota)
Nancy Segal (U C Santa Barbara)
John DeFries (Colorado)
David Rowe (Arizona, deceased)
Steven Pinker (Harvard)
Ian Deary (Edinburgh)
Robert Plomin (London)
Dorret Boomsma (Amsterdam)
Nicholas Martin (Queensland Australia)
Roberto Colom (Spain)

On the theory that genetic differences are probably the major factor in ethnoracial group differences in mental traits:
Arthur Jensen (Berkeley, emeritus)
Hans Eysenck (London, deceased)
Richard Lynn (U.K.)
Linda Gottfredson (Delaware)
Henry Harpending (Utah)
Heiner Rindermann (Germany)
Bruce Lahn (Chicago)

Seraphim said...

Choosing which babies to keep based on genetics inherently devalues the baby not chosen.

After a generation of this, giving birth to a Downs child or a child with a disability is seen as socially irresponsible.

Not all these cases can be determined during pregnancy -- so the next logical step is waiting till birth and applying infanticide when appropriate.

This is not hypothetical. It's already happening in Belgium, Holland, and other places, and it's being advocated by top bioethicists, such as Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University.

And it's another very small step from infanticide to involuntary euthanasia of the undesirable. Which, again, is already happening.

Be careful what you wish for -- you might get it.

Marty Nemko said...

Seraphim, I'm not suggesting we choose babies. I'm suggesting that research be conducted that would enable parents to have their eggs and sperm checked and if needed, repaired to ensure good genes for intelligence, empathy, impulse control, etc.

Seraphim said...

... which would (by definition) result in the creation of designer babies. Your whole argument is that this would result in "better genetics", i.e., "better" babies. Which inherently devalues the non-designer babies.

And then the rest of my argument still applies.

Marty Nemko said...

Seraphim, have we descended into such a value-void society that. for example, a baby with genes for superior intelligence, empathy, and impulse control could not be said to be better than a mentally retarded baby with low levels of empathy and impulse control?

Seraphim said...

Marty, I'm very sorry to observe that you've just proven my point.

Eugenicist said...

I'm a eugenicist, so this post interests me greatly. Marty, check out "Project Prevention" if you have the chance, it's a US/UK charity that pays drug addicts to get sterilized. You can imagine the flack they get, though not from the public.

I believe that the best solution, to many social pathologies, is to pay the un-gifted to be sterilized, and to pay (or somehow aid) the average for having two children or less. Nothing else that I can think of would be as advantageous for society, the environment or human accomplishment.