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In Defense of "Designer Babies"

Why we should not let fears about inequality stand in the way of technological progress that could potentially make the next generation healthier, happier, and smarter.

Imagine technological innovations enable us to have children free of genetic diseases, or at least with a greatly reduced risk of them. Imagine, further, that we can ensure that future children are significantly smarter, healthier, and generally more capable than those of the past. That seems like a future we should welcome! Nonetheless, many view the prospect of "designer babies" with alarm. A recent article in the prestigious MIT Technology Review illustrates some of the reasons why - and also why these negative reactions are problematic. There is a strong tendency to judge new technological innovations unrealistically high standards, while giving a pass to more serious flaws in the status quo.

The author, science writer Laura Hercher, does not categorically condemn the use of genetic screening to ensure that babies are free of genetic disease. But she worries that it will create dangerous inequalities, because not everyone will have access to the new technologies, especially at first. Some will be unable to do so because of lack of resources or lack of available facilities in their geographic region. Others will refuse to do so because "[r]eproductive technology is less acceptable in racial, ethnic, and religious groups where being seen as infertile carries a stigma." Unless these inequalities are eliminated, she argues, "designer babies" will create dangerous inequalities:

Our discomfort around designer babies has always had to do with the fact that it makes the playing field less level—taking existing inequities and turning them into something inborn. If the use of pre-implantation testing grows and we don't address these disparities, we risk creating a society where some groups, because of culture or geography or poverty, bear a greater burden of genetic disease.

What could change society more profoundly than to take genetic disease—something that has always epitomized our shared humanity—and turn it into something that only happens to some people?

The problem with this sort of critique of designer babies is that it overlooks the far more serious flaws of the status quo. We already have a society where genetic disease "only happens to some people." It only happens to those unlucky enough to be born with the wrong genes. Those in that category - and their families - unquestionably "bear a greater burden of genetic disease" than the rest of us. When I was in high school, there was a boy who lived on the same street who had Down Syndrome. It's pretty obvious that the burden of genetic disease fell far more heavily on him than on me.

Nor is it the case that the dangers of genetic disease are equally distributed across society, in the sense that every family is at roughly equal risk of passing it on to their children. Nothing could be further from the truth. In most cases, your children are at far greater risk of having a genetic disease if there is a history of that disease in your family. Some genetic diseases disproportionately strike particular racial or ethnic groups. Tay-Sachs Disease, for example, is largely confined to Ashkenazic Jews, and a few other groups.

If "designer baby" technology is available to some but not all families, it will still save many parents from the risk of passing on genetic diseases. It will also actually reduce the overall amount of inequality, by reducing the percentage of the population afflicted with those diseases. It could be particularly valuable to families and ethnic groups with a history of genetic diseases that would otherwise present would-be parents with the painful choice of either foregoing children (except, perhaps, by adoption) or risking passing on a debilitating condition.

As with many other technological breakthroughs, designer baby options are likely to become available to the relatively affluent before they spread to the rest of the population. But, based on past precedent, they are also likely to become cheaper over time, and spread to more of the population. Even those who cannot initially take advantage of the new technology (or who simply do not want or need it) can benefit from its introduction. They too will be better off for living in a society where fewer people's potential is stifled by genetic disease, and more can therefore live happy and productive lives.

Imagine that, thanks to technology, the Jones family has a child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease that might otherwise have afflicted her. As a result she grows up to be a successful scientist. She and the rest of Joneses won't be the only ones better off as a result. Others will also benefit from whatever new discoveries she makes. If you multiply that kind of effect over thousands of similar cases, it is clear that designer babies can potentially have a great positive impact on society, even if the technology does not become universally available.

As Hercher recognizes, many people who accept the use of technology to forestall disease oppose its use to "enhance" children's capabilities - to make them smarter, fitter, or stronger, for example. Here too, concerns about inequality often crop up. If some families are able to raise their children's IQs through genetic intervention, while others are not, the offspring of the former might have an "unfair" advantage over the latter.

Like Hercher's concerns about the use of technology to prevent genetic disease, this sort of argument overlooks the major inequalities embedded in the status quo. Some people already have huge advantages over others due, in part, to differing genetic endowments. Designer baby technology could well reduce those inequalities at least as much as it increases them. For example, if it allows some large fraction of the population to increase their IQ to, say, 150, children who otherwise would have suffered from mental retardation will benefit a lot more than those who would have had relatively high intelligence anyway.

And, as with preventing disease, genetic enhancement can be a huge boon even to those who do not benefit from it directly. People who are smarter and healthier will also be more productive. And the rest of society - including those do not have any any genetic "enhancements" themselves - can benefit from that additional productivity. For most, the effects are likely to be large enough to swamp any negative impact from having to compete with the "enhanced" for specific jobs or educational opportunities.

If you doubt this, consider whether you would be better off if some cosmic force ensured that no one's IQ but yours could be over, say, 120, but yours was higher than that. You would then be in a much stronger position to compete for jobs requiring intelligence. But, more than likely, you would still be worse off than before, overall, because of the decline in productivity of the rest of society. And if reducing the abilities of other members of society would, on net, make you worse off, the same is likely to be true of blocking technology that could increase them.

In addition to increasing productivity and innovation, genetic enhancement could also help mitigate the problem of political ignorance, which currently has a major negative impact on public policy. Here too, we can benefit from the enhancement of others even if our own genes remain the same.

Neither the prevention of genetic disease nor the enhancement of abilities is a zero-sum game in which gains for some can only come at the expense of others. To the contrary, improvements for some also provide benefits for many others, including those with "normal" genes.

As with other types of medical care, there is a case for having the government subsidize genetic enhancement technology for the children of the poor. To the extent it reduces the incidence of genetic disease, it might even actually reduce health care costs in the long run. But even in the absence of such subsidies, designer baby technology is likely to cause a lot more benefit than harm.

Despite my general enthusiasm for designer babies, I will note a few caveats. First, it would be dangerous to allow government to mandate genetic manipulations. Among other things, rulers could take advantage of this authority to ensure that the next generation shares the political views of the party in power (political orientation is in part genetically determined). The solution to this problem is to leave these matters up to the discretion of parents rather than government officials, subject, perhaps, to some safety standards.

A second danger is that some enhancements may not be socially beneficial, but just fuel for zero-sum "arms races." For example, data suggests that taller people have an advantage in competing for jobs and mates. It is unlikely, however, that society would be better off if everyone was a foot taller. Height is primarily a "positional good" whose benefit comes from being taller than the competition. Using genetic enhancement to make people taller might potentially do more harm than good. We could end up with a taller population that needs more food and other resources as a result, but there would be no overall societal benefit from the change.

I suspect these sorts of cases are the exception rather than the rule. Most enhancements that benefit the individual are probably also socially beneficial, as well. Still, this is an issue worth considering further.

Finally, it is possible that designer baby technology will never advance to the point where we can make more than very modest interventions. And it is also legitimate to consider the potential safety and reliability of new innovations. I lack the scientific expertise to assess these matters. Butto the extent that "designer babies" are indeed feasible, we should want the technology to spread as quickly as possible, not be stymied by concerns about inequality.

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  • Voize of Reazon||

    I don't understand the references to genetic enhancement, when the topic is actually genetic screening. The technology doesn't repair faulty genes, it tests for them and informs a decision to abort. If the intent is to argue in favor then step one is to be honest about what you are advocating.

  • Toranth||

    After a few generations of currently-in-use techniques, you'll see that descendants of those who can afford the screenings will be turning out healthier, longer lived - and because of that, most likely wealthier, too.

    If there are ever sets of genes identified for 'intelligence' or 'athletic ability', then screening for those genes could quickly produce a genetic upper class in just a few generations.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Always assuming that the technology never gets cheaper and better and more widespread. Just like everything else new and useful.

  • Toranth||

    Oh, almost certainly. Even if it doesn't, outbreeding would solve the problem before too long (generation wise). A couple of centuries before all members are significantly improved isn't bad for the species.

    On the other hand, it could really suck to be one of the untermensch during that period.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Being among the untermenschen could last much, /much/ longer. There has already begun a sorting of people by mental abilities, in a generally meritocratic economic/educational milieu. I'd expect that designer kids would lead to an almost unbridgeable caste system.

    What if a business could give your offspring an extra 15 points of IQ for, say, $100,000? Would you be able to turn down the offer? The more income your have the easier it would be so say "where do I sign up?" The more competitive the environment, the greater the /pressure/ would be give your children the advantage. Indeed, could you afford /not/ to go that route?

    You may say "sure I'd decline," but tell that to all the professional athletes who initially said "no" to performance-enhancing drugs, and saw others pass them by in performance and salaries (ultimately, sports found effective ways to ban them). Tell it to the affluent families who struggle to send their kids to expensive, elite universities because they /think/ that will give their kids a boost (the evidence for it isn't very strong).

    No. This would catch on with the upper middle classes, and it would create more of an intellectual caste system than we already see developing. And -- final question -- would those now dramatically better-off families then be willing to be taxed to allow the proles even access to the new technologies? I think not.

  • Toranth||

    Decline? Hell, no! If I could give my kids an extra 15 points of IQ for just $100,000, I'd be all over that. Not giving you children that level of advantage should be looked at as immoral.

    The point @Remember was making was that it may cost $100,000 (or likely much more) at first. But as time passes, it will be easier and cheaper. Look at genome mapping. The Human Genome Project spent almost $3 billion to perform the first mapping. Today, it costs around $1,000.

    While I don't think genetic improvement costs would drop that fast, I can't imagine it taking too long. It may cost $100K when introduced, and thus be limited to upper-middle class and higher. But 20 years later, expect it to be $10K, and available but expensive for the poor. After 100 years, expect it to be part of the standard pre-natal screening process.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Note: Poor people can likely give their kids a 15 point boost just by improving prenatal nutrition. And for a LOT less than $100K. Mind, that would only bring them up to average, but that's nothing to sneer at.

    The catch is that it requires exactly what poor people are typically bad at: Advance planning and good decision making.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    The evidence for improvements in cognitive ability from prenatal (and other) nutritional improvements -- at least in developed countries! -- is not nearly as impressive or consistent as adherents claim.

    See: this article

    Also, this balanced
    Wikipedia article shows some of the uncertainties.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    Why? Say I'm an untermensch with cancer, and one of the ubermenschen figures out how to cure cancer. I'd be OK with that.

  • Toranth||

    12" - You may be happy that someone figured out how to cure cancer... or it may not matter to you, because you only make $30,000 a year, and can't afford the $250,000 in treatments it takes.

    Screenings are likely to be cheap, but genetic engineering to make improvements will likely be very expensive at first, and are unlikely to be covered by insurance. As was said, it will get cheaper - eventually. But it may take generations before the poor can afford it. And as time passes, they will be more and more at a disadvantage.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    " or it may not matter to you, because you only make $30,000 a year, and can't afford the $250,000 in treatments it takes."

    Still no worse of than when there is no enhancements and nobody cured cancer. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man may be king, but in the kingdom of the sighted, the blind get to benefit from all the cool stuff made by people who can see.

  • gormadoc||

    Some folks don't understand that wealth is created rather than distributed from some unchanging lump.

  • Krayt||

    Somebody needs to invent the cures before socialized systems can dream of handing it out for free.

    Medicine isn't a static thing to pluck off a tree and hand out to applause. It's the latest and greatest iPhones that everybody wants. If you want to save the most lives, focus on advancing tech and science rather than hurting the process of development.

  • Toranth||

    I think some people may be unclear on my opinion.
    I am in favor of magic "designer babies", and inventing as many technologies to improve genetics as we can. I find the Eugenics factor of screening for things like Downs Syndrome to be creepy while sex screening is borderline immoral, but I see nothing wrong with trying to improve the genes of your child.

    So, yes, it is certainly better the have the kingdom of the sighted. But it can still suck to be there, if you are blind - even if it wouldn't suck as much as the kingdom of the blind.

  • Lee Moore||

    Totanth : genetic engineering to make improvements will likely be very expensive at first, and are unlikely to be covered by insurance. As was said, it will get cheaper - eventually. But it may take generations before the poor can afford it

    Generations ? You mean like false teeth, spectacles, cotton underwear, bicycles, motorcycles, lipstick, telephones, safety razors, toasters, cars, non-British dentistry, radios, cameras, air travel, fridges, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers, TVs, video cameras, microwaves, personal computers, mobile phones, back up cameras, online banking and stock purchasing, smart phones etc ?

    Yup, I'm sure looking forward to getting a radio.

  • Toranth||

    Lee Moore -
    I'm not sure what you are getting at. Are you trying to suggest that everything, even dramatic new inventions, always come down in cost quickly?
    Almost everything you list is an incremental invention, was never expensive to begin with, or did take a generation or two to come down in price.
    Not to mention those things that never did - how much does a nuclear reactor cost? A rocket launch to orbit? A jet plane?

    Some things do become cheap quickly. Genetic engineering may be one. At this time, we can't do it, so we don't know. It may be rocket science, or it may be television. But right now, we don't know.

  • Lee Moore||

    Are you trying to suggest that everything, even dramatic new inventions, always come down in cost quickly?

    I hope I'm not just trying to suggest it, I'M SAYING IT IN CAPITALS.

    All goods and services dependent on new technology, which are developed for the rich and whose R&D is financed by the rich's willingness to pay high prices for new stuff, rapidly becomes better and cheaper as producers discover how to make versions which can be afforded by middle class people. And in due course poor people too. That's the invariable course of new product development in the modern world.

    Except for positional goods and services, and those rare cases of goods and services developed with taxpayer funds, feel free name an exception.

    The inevitable conclusion is that attempting to prevent the rich getting new toys harms the middle class and poor, because without the rich to pay for the R&D, very little gets to a marketable condition.

    None of which to say that designer babies are a good idea - I am currently agnostic on that question.

  • Toranth||

    The problem is that NOT everything comes down in price quickly. Many medical drugs or procedures are still almost as expensive as they were decades ago.
    Orbital rockets are still expensive, far beyond the capabilities of any middle-class family.
    Nuclear reactors are MORE expensive now than they were when first invented.

    It's a matter of difficulty - if it becomes possible to mass produce genetic engineered changes to children, performed by average medical workers, then you the price will drop.
    If it takes extensive study, testing, and years of expert time... no, it'll stay expensive for a long time.

    And during that time, not being rich will mean falling further behind those that can afford the changes.

  • Lee Moore||

    Many medical drugs are protected by intellectual property rights and are not open to market competition. And are available more cheaply in poorer countries because the seller can enjoy a monopolist's privilege. Other drugs are only useful for 0.001% of the population so the price remains high because there is no mass market, and wouldn't be even if the drugs cost 3 cents.

    Some medical procedures remain expensive because skilled labor is a fundamental ingredient, and that doesn't fall in price.

    Nuclear reactors and orbital rockets are not consumer goods available yet even to the rich. And in any event orbital rockets were originally financed by taxpayers, which was one of my exceptions.

  • James Pollock||

    "If there are ever sets of genes identified for 'intelligence' or 'athletic ability', then screening for those genes could quickly produce a genetic upper class in just a few generations."

    Meanwhile, until the tests for those genotypes are developed, I guess we're stuck just working with phenotypes.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Go do some research into Eugenics. That didn't involve genetic engineering either.

  • Armchair Lawyer||

    The article is actually about a step before abort, but about embryo choice in an in vitro fertilization. The embryo hasn't implanted yet. The step before that would be screening the ova and sperm to be combined.

    Now abortion, and selective abortion, is a different situation.

  • Voize of Reazon||

    Armchair, you are right.
    If I'm going to insist on accurate and objective language I should start with my own.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    But she worries that it will create dangerous inequalities, because not everyone will have access to the new technologies, especially at first.

    So she's really arguing against all change, and she's really just another Luddite.

    The first person to invent EVERYTHING has created a new inequality. Why is she so blind? Never mind, I know why, she is only interested in equal outcomes, not equal opportunities, not equal treatment before the law. Except for her, of course, and her elite buddies, who will run things to ensure that everybody else is equally poor and has equal inaccess to the uncreated new technologies.

  • perlchpr||

    Yeah, on reading that, my first thought was "What, like cars? Or personal computers? Or FILL_IN_THE_BLANK?"

    I guess I should have noted that her title is "science writer", not "scientist".

  • Bob from Ohio||

    "she's really just another Luddite"

    Not really, she is just a social justice warrior. Unless the poor can have it, no one should.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    "If the use of pre-implantation testing grows and we don't address these disparities, we risk creating a society where some groups, because of culture or geography or poverty, bear a greater burden of genetic disease."

    You could say this about anything. She may as well be arguing that regions with the resources to treat their water should not do so, because that means that other regions will bear a greater burden of dysentery.

    This is precisely the problem with the leftist tendency to view inequality as a social problem.

  • um ok||

    I'm old enough to remember hearing serious discussions about whether or not to medically treat poor children, or type 1 diabetics. Would allowing them to survive long enough to have babies not just lead to more poor children and type 1 diabetics? Well yes, it would. In retrospect, how has that worked out? We can all agree: some good, some bad. Can we not all also agree that on balance, the good outweighs the bad?

    So too, for everything from using electricity to assigning Social Security numbers to GMOs.

    Point being, of course there will good and bad from every new thing. Many arguments are valid & most all should be well considered. But the new is coming. For sure. Best to prepare for it.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    "assigning Social Security numbers to GMOs."

    commas, dude.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    You clearly are not up with the current literature.
    We are opening our borders to all the mestizo GMOs in the world. The Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg group, and the Vatican are behind the project.
    Only immediate and firm action can save America.

  • RobinGoodfellow||

    Don't forget the Pentaverate—the queen, the pope, the Rothschilds, the Gettys, and Colonel Sanders before he went tits up!

  • bernard11||

    In connection with intelligence enhancement, Somin says:

    i>this sort of argument overlooks the major inequalities embedded in the status quo. Some people already have huge advantages over others due, in part, to differing genetic endowments. Designer baby technology could well reduce those inequalities at least as much as it increases them.

    This is just wrong. Right now people are unequal in many traits - intelligences, athletic ability, wealth, to take some broad categories - and much of this, especially wealth, is due to their parentage. A person is not one thing, and "inequality" should not be measured on just one dimension.

    But if genetic intervention can increase intelligence, or athletic ability for that matter, then it all comes down to wealth. Inequality in wealth will be replicated in these other areas. So rather than these being somewhat independent traits they will all correlate with wealth. That doesn't reduce inequality. It increases it.

  • M.L.||

    "intelligences, athletic ability, wealth . . . much of this, especially wealth, is due to their parentage"

    Actually, wealth is not nearly as much due to parentage as the other two, since those are genetic and wealth of course isn't.

  • bernard11||

    There is in fact a strong correlation between one's wealth and that of their parents.

    Genetics is hardly the only means of transmission between parents and children.

  • Lee Moore||

    There is indeed a strong correlation between your wealth and that of your parents, but it's a mistake to imagine that the "transmission" is essentially environmental rather than genetic.

    There's a stronger correlation between intelligence and wealth, than between parent-child wealth (by the time the child gets to 40.) All sorts of things that look like they're happening outside the genome are in fact heavily influenced by it. All that stuff about children of wealthy parents having an educational advantage because their parents set up a "learning environment" at home ? Yes that's environmental. But it's also genetic. They set up that sort of environment because they're that kind of people. And you genetically inherit a good chunk of "that kind of people." Your Dad ran his own small business. You set up your own. Environmental ? Sure, you saw your Dad do it, you know how it works. But also, on average, you're more likely to be the sort of person who wants to run a small business, take the responsibilities, not have a boss etc. Because genetics.

  • ||

    Exactly. Which is why African children adopted by well meaning white liberals rarely become successful.

  • bernard11||

    Your Dad ran his own small business. You set up your own. Environmental ? Sure, you saw your Dad do it, you know how it works. But also, on average, you're more likely to be the sort of person who wants to run a small business, take the responsibilities, not have a boss etc. Because genetics.

    And what is the basis for the claim that genetics are the major factor here. Doctors' children tend to become doctors, lawyers' kids become lawyers. That's not genetic.

  • ||

    No they don't. Professionals' children tend to become professionals. I've seen no evidence of the specificity you claim.

  • bernard11||

    I've seen no evidence of the specificity you claim.

    You wouldn't know evidence if it bit you in the ass.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    bernard11: "You wouldn't know evidence if it bit you in the ass."

    Please now. ARWP may be irritating at times, but he's correct here. Professionals perform well above average on various tests of cognitive ability, which a /large/ research literature has found to have fairly high heritability and little influence from home environment.

    If docs' kids more often than not turn to medicine (and I don't know that they do) it's just one of the professional occupations open to them but not to kids in the mid-range of measured cognitive ability.

  • Lee Moore||

    What is the basis of the claim that the environment is a major factor here ?

  • bernard11||

    Are we talking about "the" major factor, or "a" major factor?

    When it comes to intelligence, genetics is certainly a major factor. That it is as important as environment and upbringing in making someone decide to open their own business seems dubious to me, since there are plenty of opportunities for smart people. I don't think there is a gene for "open your own business."

    Regardless, though, it doesn't affect my argument. The more you make a variety of positive traits correlate with wealth, the more unequal - in broad terms - the society will be.

  • Lee Moore||

    Are we talking about "the" major factor, or "a" major factor?

    "a"

    Hence : Yes that's environmental. But it's also genetic.

    I don't think there is a gene for "open your own business."

    No, indeed. I doubt it's 'a" gene, and it's probably more like a genotype for "paddle your own canoe." Most "own businesses" are small and only averagely successful. They are not the exclusive preserve of smart people (though there's a limit to how dumb you can be.) And there are undoubtedly some environmental features that contribute - like being an immigrant where you're at a disadvantage in getting a job job. (Though economic migration is itself an entrepreneurial act, most likely to be attempted by folk willing to take a risk.)

    I know I'm not cut out to run my own business, It's much more comfortable to have an infrastructure of people to do all the admin that I don't want to do. And I don't want to take the risks. Most of the "own business" folks I know are a different personality from me. And personality is, to some extent, heritable.

  • NToJ||

    "Regardless, though, it doesn't affect my argument. The more you make a variety of positive traits correlate with wealth, the more unequal - in broad terms - the society will be."

    Does it make sense to require the children of the rich to suffer from Tay Sachs disease to preserve income equality? (Even though we know this policy is ineffective at preserving income equality.)

  • bernard11||

    Does it make sense to require the children of the rich to suffer from Tay Sachs disease to preserve income equality? (Even though we know this policy is ineffective at preserving income equality.)

    I am in the group "who accept the use of technology to forestall disease [but] oppose its use to "enhance" children's capabilities.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    So, what are your plans for when the well off engage in genetic tourism, having their childrens' genetics enhanced out of the country?

  • NToJ||

    If the technology progresses sufficiently to identify enough intelligence-related genes that uncontroversially can increase human intelligence, would you be willing to support it if administered exclusively by the government, on a lottery system?

  • NToJ||

    "And what is the basis for the claim that genetics are the major factor here."

    The second law of behavior genetics is that, so far as heritability goes, the effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes. The laws are based on approximately a century of twin studies.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    NToJ: "The second law of behavior genetics is that, so far as heritability goes, the effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes."

    And this goes for /all/ measurable human behavioral traits, not just cognitive ability. Here is
    Eric Turkheimer's presentation of the matter.

  • M.L.||

    Granted, but relatively little of this is actually caused by inherited money, which is what you are implying in the usual communist-type critique. In fact the correlation in wealth is also caused by the genetic inheritance of traits that make someone wealthy. So you are emphasizing a second order effect and ignoring that it's caused by the first order effect. Anyway, there was a study showing that in America over 95% of millionaires were self-made and didn't inherit anything substantial. Not that this is wealthy any more, but you get the point.

    This is kind of analogous to how you see the claim endlessly repeated that higher education, and the "ranking" of your institution of higher education, has this huge effect on your earnings. But then, someone controlled for intelligence and test scores, and found it was all bullshit and the correlation vanished.

    Unsurprisingly, that didn't slow the repetition of the claim of course, because it is employed in service of the trillion dollar government-financed higher education racket, and the indoctrination agenda and monopolization of academia agenda of the ideological left.

  • NToJ||

    Share link of the referenced study, please.

  • bernard11||

    "communist-type critique" Really? You imagine that only a communist could note that being born into a wealthy family tends to make one wealthy?

    Your hero Trump would be penniless today if he had had to rely on his own abilities, rather than inherited wealth.

    Regardless, I join NTOJ's request for some support for your claims.

  • M.L.||

    I think it was a stat from the (dated) Millionaire Next Door book. In this context, "self made" just meant that you didn't inherit the money. At some level, of course, nobody can really be "self made" in the sense that they personally had no control over who their parents were or their genetics, being born with a functioning brain, being born in the U.S. vs Somalia, etc.

  • NToJ||

    The way Thomas Stanely defines "self made" is very different than the way we're discussing it. It might be strictly true that very little wealth (by percentage of population, not wealth) is inherited, most people accumulate a lot of help, and wealth, from their parents while their parents are alive.

    But the state I was looking for was the corrected for IQ/testing related to income effects on education. Can you link that study?

  • M.L.||

    Ah. I have seen a number of studies along these lines over the years. Two of them are cited & linked in this article.

    Admittedly, when it comes to law school, anyone who's been knows that large law firms and certain other positions hire at much higher rates from top ranked law schools, and I say this as someone who opted to go to a top 10 law school instead of a lower ranked option. I'm sure the same applies to specific paths in other areas, but as a general point regarding income and higher education, the oft-repeated myths are in support of the quite incredible scam of higher education at large.

  • NToJ||

    That supports a claim that Ivy League is overrated by earnings, but not the two broader claims: (1) that the rankings of all institutions--even non-Ivy Leagues--was irrelevant; (2) that higher education generally has no effect on income. The study was still comparing Ivy League qualified but attending lower ranked to Ivy League qualified attending Ivy League. To show that higher education generally is overrated, you'd need to compare against people who don't go to higher education at all, I would think.

  • M.L.||

    Actually the study was not limited to the Ivy League at all, they looked at a broad cross section of colleges and the "selectivity" metric in their methodology. You are just drawing conclusions from the colloquial summary in the US News article. But yes, these studies were about the ranking/selectivity of a school and not the other question of college vs. no college. I've seen studies on that, too, but don't have time to find them right now.

    "To show that higher education generally is overrated" is just obvious, you don't need anything more than a lick of common sense.

  • NToJ||

    "Actually the study was not limited to the Ivy League at all, they looked at a broad cross section of colleges and the "selectivity" metric in their methodology."

    I had to look at the summary because that's what you linked. The link to the study in that link is broken. If you'll just tell me the name of the study, I'll go find it myself.

    ""To show that higher education generally is overrated" is just obvious, you don't need anything more than a lick of common sense."

    I didn't ask you to demonstrate your own common sense. I asked for a link to the study you referenced. You've confirmed that the study is grads versus grads. If you have a study comparing grads versus non-grads, I'd love to look at it. If you don't, ok.

  • M.L.||

    The older study is here: https://www.nber.org/papers/w7322 and the newer study is here: https://www.nber.org/papers/w17159

    I didn't say you asked about common sense, but I was responding to your other statement about whether "higher education generally" is "overrated," which is actually quite a separate and much broader issue than we were discussing.

    Personally, I look forward to the day when people can just go online, take some tests, and get a degree for 0.1% of the cost of what college entails these days.

  • Lee Moore||

    NTOJ : To show that higher education generally is overrated, you'd need to compare against people who don't go to higher education at all, I would think.

    You'd need to compare to that set of people who don't go to higher education, but who have similar ability to those who do go. I suspect you'd find a disproportionate number of entrepreneurs, and hence wealth, in that set. But that wouldn't necessarily show that college has squished the entrepreneurial spirit of those who go to college. Kids who choose not to go to college may have more entrepreneurial personalities.

  • M.L.||

    "You'd need to compare to that set of people who don't go to higher education, but who have similar ability to those who do go."

    You'd also need to determine how higher education is generally "rated" by people, compared to how it should be "rated", including noneconomic factors, evaluating the legitimacy of various complaints and criticism about higher education such as their efficiency and cultural impact, and plausible alternative ideas and reforms.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    "That doesn't reduce inequality. It increases it."

    Absolutely! That's the issue. A meritocratic caste system of sorts is already in place, and this would put it on steroids.

  • gormadoc||

    But everybody is then richer. Prenatal nutrition has dramatically increased the quality of our lives, even when it was not available to the poorest.

  • Jerry B.||

    Didn't Vonnegut cover this in "Between Timid and Timbuktu" where no one could by law be stronger, faster, or smarter than anyone else?

  • perlchpr||

    I think that was actually "Harrison Bergeron".

  • LiborCon||

    "Imagine that, thanks to technology, the Jones family has a child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease that might otherwise have afflicted her. As a result she grows up to be a successful scientist."

    I can also also imagine that she grows up to be a journalist or politician, in which case society suffers from curing her affliction.

    "In addition to increasing productivity and innovation, genetic enhancement could also help mitigate the problem of political ignorance,"

    Having a higher IQ just gives people better tools to justify the nonsense they believe.

  • fafalone||

    It's overwhelmingly clear that many on the left would rather see everyone stay disease ridden rather than allow something that doesn't benefit the right distribution of melanin. These same people insist that despite the very high heritibility, intelligence cannot possibly be influenced by genetics, and any science saying so is wrong, because that would mean admittedting that group differences might not be entirely caused by oppression.
    Meanwhile many on the right will play the god card again.

    I expect the US to whip out the banhammer the minute genetic modification of embryos (as opposed to screening) becomes available.

  • santamonica811||

    Shorter version: Liberals bad blah, blah, blah...liberals bad.

    Is it possible that some liberals have genuine philosophical or moral objections? That some conservatives have the same (or different-but-alligned) objections?

    There are tons of widely publicized objections from many religious leaders. Including many that everyone would label as politically conservative leaders. You (intentionally? negligently??) overlook the multitude of counter-examples to your thesis. Seems kinda of dopey to me. But if your goal is to just whine in general about liberals, and it's not to convince anyone of your position's merits . . . well; I guess there are worse ways to spend a Sunday evening.

    (Not that it's relevant, but . . . I'm one of those people who is favor of allowing genetic testing, screening, etc.; although I'm not oblivious to the concerns that others have raised)

  • ||

    I think he's referring to the left's refusal to accept that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites are.

  • fafalone||

    And Jewish people and some Asian groups are more intelligent than whites. But I couldn't possibly believe that, you just thought I was off on some anti-black rant right?

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    "Is it possible that some liberals have genuine philosophical or moral objections?"

    Well, the particular liberal quoted in the op had a genuine philosophical objection, and the philosophical objection that she gave was bad. And it was bad in a way that liberals are often bad, in that that it seeks to make people worse off in the name of equality. So yes, in this case, liberals bad.

  • fafalone||

    You could at least read a little further to note my post also mocked right wing religious objections. As is usually the case, my goal is to whine about the counterfactual absurdities of both sides.

  • Lee Moore||

    data suggests that taller people have an advantage in competing for jobs and mates

    No.

    Data suggests that taller men have an advantage in competing for jobs and mates.

    Do not allow the PC to eat your brain.

  • santamonica811||

    Data suggest that...

    A datum suggests that . . .

    (Yeah, I know that data is acceptable as both singular and plural, per Google ngrams. BUT, I'll note that--again, per ngrams--the singular of "data is..." did not really appear until about 1937. Notice that this is just about the time of the rise of Hitler. Now, I'm not sayin' that only Nazis and Nazi sympathizers use "the data is...". But the data doesn't [yes, that was intentional] lie!!!)

    :-)

  • Lee Moore||

    Hmm. What is [sic] your agenda ?

    It is a mistake to imagine that English and Latin are the same. See split infinitives.

  • santamonica811||

    Heh

  • bernard11||

    It is a mistake to imagine that English and Latin are the same.

    That's not what my Latin teacher said.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "Yeah, I know that data is acceptable as both singular and plural"

    This is not correct. As it is used in English, data is considered a mass noun (measured not counted) so it is only singular, never plural.


    Mass Nouns

    Mass nouns are uncountable by a number. Mass nouns are quantified by a word that signifies amount.

    A few examples:

    Materials, food, metals, and natural qualities: bread, cotton, wood, lightness, adolescence
    Names of liquids, gases, and substances made of many small particles: cappuccino, oil, smoke, oxygen, rice, sugar, salt, cement, gravel
    Names of languages: English, Spanish, French, Latin, Sanskrit, Chinese
    Most gerunds: looking, listening, swimming, running, anticipating

    Remember that a number can not be used to quantify a mass noun. Incorrect: four woods, one rice, three courages.

    To measure or classify mass nouns, use "of" after a measurement: a foot of wood, a pound of rice, an ounce of courage, a bar of chocolate, a piece of music, a bag of money
    Tests for Mass Nouns:

    Mass nouns are quantified by an amount rather than a number.
    They have only one form (singular).
    They cannot have "a," "an," or "one" before them as modifiers.
    They can use "much" as a modifier.

  • Old Smokin' Egg||

    I'm afraid I must disagree with Matthew's assertion that "data", as used in English, is only a mass noun.

    I think there can be no question that "datum" is a count noun. Merriam-Webster gives its plural as "data", when used in the usual sense (as opposed to, say, a geodetic datum used in surveying). Lower on the page, MW says that "data" can be used both as a mass noun and as a plural noun; for the latter, they compare it to "earnings", which is also used with plural verbs and substituted with plural pronouns, but isn't quantified with a number.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    In the context of the top comment being replied to here, data is being used as a generic reference to information. In this context datum would not be applicable and data is very explicitly a mass noun and therefore singular.

  • bernard11||

    running,

    "This was 144th running of the Kentucky Derby."

    woods

    "I have four woods in my bag." Just kidding about that one, but how about, "The house backs up to a lovely wood?"

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    This was 144th running of the Kentucky Derby."

    Running is a verb, not a noun in this sentence.

    "I have four woods in my bag." Just kidding about that one, but how about, "The house backs up to a lovely wood?"

    Wood or woods would not be a mass noun when used as a synonym for forest, but it is used as a mass noun in reference to lumber.

  • bernard11||

    Running is a verb, not a noun in this sentence.

    No. It's a gerund. (There's a typo. I meant write "the 144th running.") The running of the derby is an event, like the World Series or the Indianapolis 500.

  • NToJ||

    I think it's been demonstrated for men and women, although for women the effect might not be as pronounced. See here.

  • Lee Moore||

    Imagine that, thanks to technology, the Jones family has a child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease that might otherwise have afflicted her.

    It would be great*, but no such technology exists, or is even on the horizon. The current and near future technology involves the child with Downs Syndrome or Tay-Sachs being created, screened and popped in the trash. And the uterus slot, that she might have had, being claimed by her non Downs Syndrome / non Tay-Sachs sister, who goes on to be a doctor / scientist / Olympic polevaulter.

    * from the point of view of patriarchal oppressors. But in the postmodern world it's "problematic" to suggest that, say, Downs Syndrome is a "disability." It's merely a difference.

  • NToJ||

    Pre-implantation diagnosis of Tay-Sachs (in eggs) has been around for over twenty years.

  • Lee Moore||

    Your point being ?

  • NToJ||

    That current technology permits testing of Tay-Sachs in eggs before fertilization. There's no "child . . . being created".

  • AmosArch||

    I would envision a way to circumvent some of the objections to structure significant non medically necessary genetic enhancements as reversible addons and a ban on enhancement before the age of majority. That way you don't have the issue of children undergoing changes they would otherwise not approve of. People can swap out enhancements and you remove some of the dangers of an arms race scenario. Of course theres the issue of whether the grandchildren automatically inherit the enhancement or it needs to be removed but its at least a start.

  • ||

    I don't see an issue with it. People say it's like "playing god." Well, we already do that through abortion and letting gay "couples" purchase children.

  • santamonica811||

    In what way to gay couples purchase children? I mean, ways that are singular to gays, and not ones that straight couples (or an unmarried person) also do? I have a feeling that is has something vaguely to do with butt-sex, which is a subject you repeatedly complain (fantasize??) about?

    Also, I think you meant to put the ironic quote marks around "purchase," rather than around "couples." That way, it makes more logical sense (even if I disagree with your panties-in-a-bunch reaction).

  • ||

    They're either adopting or hiring a surrogate. Either one is a purchase.

  • iowantwo||

    I sense my discomfort lies in the abortionist willingness to kill because the babies would grow up poor. Also the notion that humans that deal with imperfections are not happy, or contribute to society, is demonstrably false.
    Are we going to abort those with the genes for left handedness? How about homosexuality? Or Gender dysphoria? Red Hair? Tone deafness?

  • ||

    The world would be much better off if homosexuals and transgenders were aborted. Have you seen the levels of depression and disease that these people have?

  • santamonica811||

    I know. And don't forget about rape victims. You would NOT believe how depressed (compared to us non-rapies) they are. Okay, we'd have to execute them and not abort them, obviously. But I like your argument...let's get rid of all that low-hanging fruit. Strictly for the betterment of overall society, of course.

    (p.s. Do lesbians really have higher rates of disease than straight people? That surprises me...if you have a cite for this, it would be much appreciated.)

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Inequality is the wrong critique of eugenic engineering. The right critique is to advocate humility and caution in the face of inability to predict consequences which will result as eugenically systematized children grow up to breed randomly. It's foolish to suppose that attempting eugenic heredity—whether through breeding or engineering—won't implicate unsuspected linkages to other traits which go ignored. Indeed, it's unwise to suppose the sought-for traits won't have unwanted hereditary implications which will also go ignored.

    In light of experience, which of the characteristics systematically bred out—or bred in—will turn out to have been reckless discards of useful or even essential traits (or additions of unwanted ones)? Nobody knows. Nobody can predict. It's easy to imagine inadvertently creating a future in which random, unengineered breeding had become unwise, or even reckless—while at the same time being a problem which engineered breeding was powerless to reverse or unwind.

  • donojack||

    Good comment and we don't have to look that far to see your cautions confirmed. We use selective breeding on domestic animals to produce certain desirable characteristics, but it invariably comes at a price in sacrificing other desirable traits. "Show" dog breeding, particularly in the US, strongly emphasizes physical conformation. If you want to win at Westminster this has to be your focus, and if that's all you care about then none of the other problems will concern you. The problem comes on down the line with people who want a pet that is "show quality." We have had many dogs over the years, some supposedly show quality and others mutts. We'll take the mutts thank you.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    ""Show" dog breeding, particularly in the US, strongly emphasizes physical conformation."

    That depends on which breeding/breed certification organization organization sponsored the show.

    There are two such organizations in the US: The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC)*.

    While your statement would certainly be true for AKC shows, the UKC places considerably less emphasis on conformance to physical standards.

    *The UKC was originally founded due to the AKC's refusal to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier as a breed. The AKC finally relented on that in the 1970s but refused to have anything to do with the "pit bull" name, naming the breed the American Staffordshire Terrier.

    All AKC registered American Staffordshire Terriers can be registered with the UKC as American Pit Bull Terriers, but a UKC registered American Pit Bull Terrier can only be registered with the AKC if it meets the AKC's physical conformance standards for the American Stafford Shire Terrier.

    Originally the American Pit Bull Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier were considered to be a single breed. However, they have diverged due to differences in breeding philosophy between the AKC and UKC and have been considered separate breeds for around the last 20 years.

  • donojack||

    My brother-in-law breeds Staffordshire Terriers and gets very offended if I refer to them as Pit Bulls, which I do on occasion just to bait him.

  • iowantwo||

    Show dog breeding is bad because of inbreeding. The few good sires and dams account for too many offspring.

  • Old Smokin' Egg||

    Lathrop has a good point. The article and the comments repeatedly mention Tay-Sachs disease; but it's been suggested that the gene might confer some selective advantage on heterozygotes, who wouldn't manifest the disease. Absent some such advantage, it's likely that selection would've removed it from the population in a fairly short time, since homozygotes almost never survive to breeding age.

    Compare sickle-cell anemia. Homozygotes manifest the sickling trait, which adversely affects their survival and reproduction. However, heterozygotes have a resistance to malaria, which gives them a survival advantage over non-sickle-cell homozygotes in areas where malaria is prevalent.

  • Lee Moore||

    Sarcastro : The right critique is to advocate humility and caution in the face of inability to predict consequences

    :)

    Now do "undocumented" immigration, gay marriage, Obamacare.

    The "precautionary principle" is a super-conservative dogma invented by liberals to resist "progress" in the wrong direction.

    Which reminds me of a Prof Somin point from a day or two ago where he mentioned the connection between personaity and political preference. Which is broadly, but mildly, high orderliness / conscientiousness and low openness predicts conservative attitudes and the contrary predicts liberal attitudes. Which is moderately sensible and true, except for the practical problem of where you start. The Bolsheviks were very "liberal" in this sense when they had their revolution, but after murdering their subjects and each other, soon ossified into a hyper-conservative structure, run by very non open folk, dedicated to preserving the new order. Likewise most college liberals are sheeple, conservatively following the campus orthodoxy, while college "conservatives" are the rebels.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    The "precautionary principle" is a super-conservative dogma invented by liberals to resist "progress" in the wrong direction.

    And, imho, usually applied wrongly. Almost always, the correct decision from a PP PoV is to maximize flexibility so that you can marshal resources against the threat that actually materializes.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Curmudgeon, I suggest one test for appropriate instances of the precautionary principle is that you need it and choose it appropriately in cases where there is a reasonable possibility of consequent threats (or disruptions) which no one can predict. In instances of that sort, you can't know whether anyone can afford the resources you say need marshaling. You don't even know if any such resources exist. That's a good time to be careful.

    Science and engineering are a very long way from making predictable the consequences of altered inheritance—whether in the human genome, or in other plants and animals. As we know from ecology, a genetic alteration in one species can affect the genomes of other species which must interact with the first species, even though there is no interbreeding among any of them. Altered selection pressures accomplish the changes. Effects of that sort can cascade through a genome comprising myriad species, delivering one shocking surprise after another.

    Of course, the risks of surprises are greatest, by far, if genetically altered organisms are expected to breed freely and without restriction. Ethically, that's a premise which must be accepted as true for any proposed genetic alteration of humans.

  • Lee Moore||

    I suggest one test for appropriate instances of the precautionary principle is that you need it and choose it appropriately in cases where there is a reasonable possibility of consequent threats (or disruptions) which no one can predict.

    There's always such a risk. We cannot even survey all potentially relevant facts about the present state of affairs , never mind the future.

    However your sentiment is correct. If the "precautionary principle" has any value as a heuristic it is that reform is better than revolution. Incremental change may have unpredictable results, but not as unpredictable as wholesale change. This is one of the many reasons why evolution works as it does. Most changes are fatal, large changes invariably so. Ditto why the market beats central planning. Decentralised small scale experiments beat grand visionary plans by a country mile. Which brings us back to the lunacy of Obamacare.

  • NToJ||

    "It's foolish to suppose that attempting eugenic heredity—whether through breeding or engineering—won't implicate unsuspected linkages to other traits which go ignored."

    Even if your fears were founded--I doubt it--it would be cruel to require people with severe and fatal genetic abnormalities to suffer for your benefit.

  • donojack||

    Pre-implantation screening and even abortion to eliminate specific diseases are at the lowest order of the genetic engineering spectrum, and also carry a high benefit/cost ratio. Going on to using genetics to raise IQ or to select for other complex behavioral traits would have a higher probability of introducing unintended and undesirable consequences.

  • NToJ||

    If we know the probabilities, they aren't unintended (even if they are undesirable). If we don't know the probabilities, it's just naked speculation and the stated fear is not very justifiable. Since the entire exercise is about improving the human condition, we're already talking about modifying towards currently-observable traits, so we do actually have some ability to predict consequences.

    If you're saying that people don't behave the way we want them to behave, that's worth discussing. Maybe the Chinese didn't think parents would select for gender but were simply wrong about that. But it doesn't mean the consequences were unimaginable. We can discuss what it would mean for America if the ratio of men:women increased from ~1:1 to 1.15:1. Some imaginable undesirable consequences are being discussed in this very thread (like income inequality effects).

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    NToJ, your comments reflect a sense of comfort that consequences of genetic modifications will be bounded, and narrowly so. I doubt many ecologists share that comfort. Their science teaches that the "stated fear" is well justified by a high probability of unexpected consequences. You may not like that as science, or you may not agree with what probabilities ought to be counted as "high." But you don't have any reasonable justification for an assumption you can apply generally of narrow bounds for genetic and ecological consequences in subsequent generations.

  • Toranth||

    The ecological concern is that "we don't know" - rather than what you seem to claim, which is "something will go wrong". That's a nice thing to keep in mind when doing genetic engineering tests, but it is wildly overblown in most of the cases we're talking about here.
    In the first case, genetic screening does not introduce any new traits into the population. It just adjusts the rate of existing traits.
    Also, most of the traits that we're talking about here are not beneficial traits. Not even slightly.
    Even the poster child for "beneficial diseases" - sickle cell anemia - is a net negative for almost all individuals. The malaria resistance is minor, and easily surpassed by technology. Meanwhile, those with the disease suffer and die faster than those that are completely clean.

    If 'ecologists' have specific problems with specific changes, then it might be worth reviewing their findings. But trying to suggest that evidence-free unbased fears about a nebulous future-something that doesn't exist right now is both anti-science and irresponsible.

  • NToJ||

    "I doubt many ecologists share that comfort."

    You live in a bizarre world where you subject any belief that contradicts your priors to Cartesian doubt, but anything that confirms your priors needs only to be stated to affirmed. I don't fucking care what you doubt, anymore.

    "Their science teaches that the "stated fear" is well justified by a high probability of unexpected consequences."

    I'm not sure ecologists are going to have much to add about genetic research. But you should know the genetic research is already happening, in controlled environments, on rodents, so we can track unanticipated consequences.

  • M.L.||

    I agree and I'm glad someone posted this so I didn't have to write it. I would even go further in the call for humility and caution and also in raising moral concerns to the extent that early human lives are disposed of in the process.

    "Inequality" is a fundamentally invalid or at east incomplete criticism/objection about the distribution of resources, I think, because it is based entirely on covetousness and relative standards rather than any objective standard. You have to do more work to show a counterfactual where people in general are better off under an objective standard, and it has to be over the long term. Higher inequality with higher objective standards/results for all is better than low inequality with lower standards/results for all.

  • Don Nico||

    Ilya,

    Let's be honest. The picture with you post notwithstanding, you are talking about designer white babies.

    Fertility enhancement has now been around for decades, but is still well out of reach for most working class families.

  • Bob from Ohio||

    Both Obama daughters were IVF. Its not color or race, its money.

    "most working class families."

    are white. So its not about color or race at all.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    And, compared to the "total cost" of a kid, it's not even that much money. ~$10-15K for IVF vs ~$200-250K (or more, depending on how much colleges choose to charge your family) to actually raise the kid.

  • NToJ||

    "Fertility enhancement has now been around for decades, but is still well out of reach for most working class families."

    So can working class families afford ineffective Tay Sachs treatments? Or a life time of support for their child with down syndrome? If, in both instances, the child ends up being cared for primarily by the state, we're already paying for it.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    The more designer babies, the more expensive babies are, and, the lower utility from having another child, therefore, fewer babies are born.
    Result: exacerbating the (already a demographic timebomb) birth dearth in the Global North relative to the poor Global South.

  • ||

    Pretty much. The left's goal is a one world government ruling over an 85-90 IQ brown population.

  • NToJ||

    If we start the discussion with Tay-Sachs disease, permitting it to persist does nothing to help any demographic timebomb. Children with Tay-Sachs do not live long enough to breed themselves. If anything, Tay-Sachs itself contributes (modestly) to the demographic timebomb, since it delays the birth of children that will one day be fertile.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    Imagine that, thanks to technology, the Jones family has a child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease that might otherwise have afflicted her.

    It's worth thinking about the mechanics here. The Jones family will have a *different* child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease that might otherwise have afflicted *them* They're going going to kill the first child.

    That's the typical issue with designer babies, vs inequality.

  • NToJ||

    And male masturbation. It's mass murder, you see.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    Obviously, you didn't pay attention in sex ed.

  • NToJ||

    Also you can perform Tay-Sachs screening on unfertilized eggs.

  • Lee Moore||

    So what ?

    The suggestion was not merely that :

    the Jones family has a child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease...

    but also

    ....that might otherwise have afflicted her

    There is no current or proscpective technology that can protect a child that might have had Tay-Sachs from having Tay-Sachs. There's no cure or gene snipping yet available. All the docs can do is screen for the disease and dispose of affected embryos (which would be the "her" in question.) Or by disposing of the at risk egg, which would prevent the creation of an at risk "her." Neither possibility helps ensure that :

    the Jones family has a child free of the Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs Disease that might otherwise have afflicted her

  • NToJ||

    That's pedantic but ok. It is a true fact that, through pre-implantation screening, the Jones family has a child free of Tay-Sachs, against a counterfactual world where they would have had a different kid with Tay-Sachs. That's the win we are celebrating.

    There's no "child" being killed. It's an egg not being fertilized.

  • Lee Moore||

    Sure, but to a third of the population "pre-implantation screening" means something totally morally different to "pre-fertilisation screening." The pedantry as to whether a child is being killed or not is quite important to a third of the population, and Somin's formulation walks by that point without even noticing it.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Random thought;

    Do we really want to burden society with a generation of 'designer babies' - smarter, hardier, etc. - raised by the kind of self-absorbed twits that will be able to afford them and inclined to spend the money?

  • Bob from Ohio||

    Its not "inequality" that suggests caution, its morality.

    Not that I expect a libertarian to worry too much about morality.

  • bernard11||

    Good points.

  • NToJ||

    There is a pretty easy moral argument against permitting preventable human suffering.

  • gormadoc||

    I like this thread. We got ourselves a good "libertarians don't care about morality" while liberals and conservatives twist themselves in knots trying to justify not preventing preventable and chronic harm.

  • Armchair Lawyer||

    Ilya,

    The issue of mass human genetic engineering/embryo screening is one that need to be very cautiously explored. And this is because you're experimenting with the future of the human species. And the social effects of such engineering/screening can be immense, and not necessarily anticipated. And the problem with a "arms race" (as with your height example) is very real.

    We've already seen limited effects here, with the issue of gender selection in China and India, where a slight preference for males has created a large gender imbalance in the following generation. The resulting social upheaval is notable.

    It's not clear that giving everyone a 15 (or 50?) point increase in IQ is necessarily a good thing. There's evidence that higher IQs lead to higher rates of depression and other mental diseases. Again...caution is of extreme importance here.

  • gormadoc||

    "higher IQs lead to higher rates of depression"

    Correlation is not causation and there isn't consensus on the matter, anyway. Other studies report the opposite and many of the studies that don't have serious systematic errors, like testing Mensa members as if they are representative of the higher IQ population at large.

    The social upheaval in China and India has existed for centuries; the gender imbalance is a symptom, not a cause.

  • Voize of Reazon||

    Gender imbalance is a symptom of gender preference that has existed for centuries, but new technologies provide new tools to realize that outcome. Gender selection is illegal in India, but there are exceptions for gender-correlated disease, and there is the option to go outside the country. Pre-implantation screening is available, but the "genetic disorder" they are screening for is a second X chromosome.

  • NToJ||

    The cultural preference will fade since it is based on a baseline of approximately even men:women. Once a country gets off that, the addition of more men to the family becomes less attractive. In China, for instance, men pay the dowry, and the cost is going up. If your male son is never going to leave the home because of his hopeless prospects for starting his own family, it's necessarily going to become less attractive to have men. We are already seeing some of that in India, more of it China. Of course these trends can take a long time to change, and the negative consequences last literally a generation. But it's not some unsolvable problem. Doing away with the cultural gender bias is step one.

  • Lee Moore||

    for instance, men pay the dowry, and the cost is going up. If your male son is never going to leave the home because of his hopeless prospects for starting his own family, it's necessarily going to become less attractive to have men

    One would then expect the rich to have more sons and the poor to have more daughters.

  • Armchair Lawyer||

    True, correlation isn't causation. However there are several studies that correlate higher IQ with higher rates of mental disease, including depression. It would certainly be an interesting study to genetically increase people's IQ levels, and look for higher rates of mental disease as a result. Today however, we don't have the tools to do that experiment.

    Is it absolutely true? No. But it is something to consider and be wary of.

    As for India and China, the use of sex-selective abortion is a new technique in the last 50 years, and it has created a notable gender imbalance, which is now coming of age. This gender imbalance is well above previous levels noted.

  • mad_kalak||

    The double-think required to write this and not advocate for immigration restrictions from counties with low average IQ is astounding!

  • mad_kalak||

    Prediction: the Chinese are going to wholly embrace designer babies, and the rest of the West will feel obliged to follow.

  • ReaderY||

    Take a look at purebred dogs and horses. They are perfect at specific behaviors under specific rules, winning particular specialized kinds of races and beauty contests. But they are terrible at most other things, and sickly. Many wouldn't be able to survive without someone to take care of them. A mutt, on the other hand, is much more likely to survive adversity.

    Optimization to a small set of traits is not good for a species. I don't think it's really good for individuals of that species either. It may be OK for pets and kept animals. But not for those who have or want to have the ability to face life on their own.

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