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The ‘Chinese eugenics’ nonsense continues via VICE magazine


A little while ago I wrote about Geoffrey Miller’s racist brain fart on Chinese eugenics, in which he attempted to disguise his fear-mongering with a bizarre message that we ought to admire and emulate China’s supposed eugenics programs. It’s pretty frightening that some people today still seem to think that eugenics is a good idea, a point of view that puts them in the company of Nazism and other respectable ideologies.

Anyway, VICE magazine (which I’d previously thought was quite a good magazine) decided to continue to spread this message with an interview titled “China Is Engineering Genius Babies”, by Aleks Eror. This article goes a lot further than Miller’s did in promoting the idea that eugenics is a policy to be admired and emulated, lest we lose out to China (which is, surprise surprise, going to “take over the world”).

The VICE article talks about a project in China which is apparently collecting the genes of intelligent people to try and figure out how to breed more of them. This is very reminiscent of Nazism. Now, I don’t know if this is or isn’t going on in China, but either way, it’s certainly not something to be admired. Aside from the fact the eugenics is totally flawed and would never work to achieve its claimed goals, it’s completely immoral as an idea.

The basic premise of eugenics is that certain genetic groups are undesirable and need to be eliminated. Turning this round and saying that certain groups are desirable and need to be promoted (as Miller and co claim) doesn’t make it any better. It’s exactly the same idea. Ultimately you’ve got to impose top-down control on human reproduction on a vast scale: it’s about artificial human breeding programs. I’m just amazed that people don’t immediately see how utterly perverted it is as an idea.

The VICE article even reveals that Miller contributed his own genes to the program in China. He’s basically saying “Yeah so what we need to do is delete all the undesirables and create more people like me, so the world will be a better place.” One commenter on my last post on this described Miller as “a proper nazi”, and it’s not an outrageous claim in light of this. More from that commenter:

“Miller’s fear mongering is more like an idealisation of what he fancies to be the Chinese state and culture.

I thought the strangest part of his piece is he takes it for a given that eugenics works, and the only reason it is not done in the west is some kind of backward political correctness.”

That’s what’s wrong with this. This has gone beyond whether or not China actually is doing this kind of stuff. It’s the insane attitude of Miller and VICE that is so shocking – they seem to think that countries not carrying out human breeding programs are somehow putting themselves at a disadvantage and ought to step up to the mark as soon as possible.

Some lovely quotes from the VICE interview

Here’s a few choice quotes from the VICE piece to give you a flavour of this stuff:

“…they’ve spent a lot of money researching human genetics to figure out which genes make people smarter.”

The idea that something as complex as intelligence is controlled by a few genes is total nonsense and nothing more.

“They seem mostly interested in people of Chinese and European descent.”

Specifically no black people, then. I wonder why…

“…you can sample one of the cells to figure out the expected intelligence if it’s implanted and becomes a person.”

Sure you can.

“You can test multiple embryos and analyze which one’s going to be the smartest.”

Really?

“Even if it only boosts the average kid by five IQ points, that’s a huge difference.”

IQ is also a load of shit.

“How does Western research in genetics compare to China’s? We’re pretty far behind.”

Well that settles it, better start sterilising the undesirables! They’re life unworthy of life!

“they’re creating new systems of universities that emphasise more creative approaches to learning”

Another ‘opposite-of-true’ gem from Miller.

 

Shame on Miller and shame on VICE for publishing this stuff.

 

Some fun with Aleks Eror on Twitter

The first I knew about the VICE piece was via this article by Akshat Rathi. Akshat called Aleks Eror (author of the VICE piece) out on Twitter, and the three of us got into this ridiculous exchange, in which I got accused of being a nipple-hating, uppity square (no, seriously):

 

I don’t think I even need to comment on what Aleks Eror said, there – it speaks for itself.


  • Jack

    “The basic premise of eugenics is that certain genetic groups are undesirable and need to be eliminated.”

    You set up a straw-man here. The proposed action behind the Chinese eugenics is not to eliminate groups, but to select for groups.

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      Either way you’ve got to change the proportion of the groups within the population as a whole. For it to have any effect, you have to lose the unwanted ones out of the population. If you just increase the ones you want it’s meaningless – you can’t select for one group without causing detriment to another.

      • Jack

        I mean, the Swedes selected for blonde hair and blue eyes, to the detriment of brown hair and brown eyes. It didn’t result in a catastrophe… neither will this. If it results in a world that is smarter and happier, then it will be a good thing. If it turns out that the children aren’t smarter, healthier, and happier, then they’ll just stop. Either way, no harm is being done. What specifilaly are you so bent on preserving in any case?

        • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

          Are you suggesting that Scandinavians are blonde due to eugenics…?

          Scandinavians have been blonde for millennia; eugenics was carried out in the early 20th century.

          Even then, hair and eye colour actually are handled by a relatively small number of genes, and the results are very easy to define and quantify. This couldn’t be further from something as intangible and complex as intelligence. Hair and eye colour also carry less of the value judgement that intelligence does.

          What I’m “so bent on” arguing against is the idea that trying to apply artificial selection pressures to populations of human beings can ever be a good thing, scientifically or ethically.

        • Marc Jones

          I think the glaringly obvious difference between your example and what’s being discussed here is that with eugenics there is a conscious effort what to select for and what not to select for. While I don’t have a reference, I can be pretty certain that there wasn’t someone in the Swedish government manipulating their populace to bring blonde hair and blue eye colour genes to the fore. The selection was likely a cultural one.
          As for your “no harm is being done” argument, what about the children which result from such eugenic experiments? Who knows what genetic traits you drag along when you select for a particular trait. For a real world example just look at pedigree dogs and the horrific health problems they endure.

          • Jack

            Point taken about the pedigree dogs. But I would just say that this type of selection is very similar to what cultures have done over thousands of years. Why do Asians have thick, dark hair? Because it was selected for.

            The whole drama surrounding Genetic Engineering!! is a bit overhyped, anyways. What we are talking about is giving parents the option to select which attributes, among the millions of possibilities that their sperm and eggs can create by chance, they want– basically choosing one of many possible offspring they could have had by chance. So they are still using their own attributes, but leaving less to chance. No one is trying to set out to create a new sort of genius Frankenstein through true engineering (from the ground up).

            In my view, this is yet one more thing that is going to lead to the haves having way more than the have-nots. It’s going to increase the gap between those born into wealth, and those not, absolutely, which is why I favor a sort of government role in this: to hopefully institute something to make it available to all via healthcare, or whatever. But this is what sounds so frightening to everyone else: because we know what happened last time a govt. took a strong interest in engineering… Which simply wouldn’t/isn’t happening today.

          • Marc Jones

            Okay, I think I’m beginning to understand your point. Give everyone the chance to have ‘designer babies’ and the barriers to success will be hurdled by all, thus abolishing the economic divides between people. I have 3 main issues with this idea.

            i) Just having a child with favourable genetics doesn’t mean anything unless you raise them correctly. That is, of course, if the genetics you selected for actually have the effect you want them to.

            ii) The system leaves itself wide open to abuse by governments. All it takes is for the level of government subsidisation to depend on which traits you’re choosing and we’re into scary territory.

            iii) Randomness is what makes life the wonderful, exciting thing which it is. Being able to choose exactly what you want your child to be largely removes this randomness and paves the way for a homogeneous, boring society.

  • Jack

    “The idea that something as complex as intelligence is controlled by a few genes is total nonsense and nothing more.”

    So let’s just completely abandon the idea of ever understanding intelligence! It’s a hopeless pursuit! Nothing to see here folks! Keep a move on!

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      Of course we should be aiming to understand it. I.e., understand that it’s far more complex than what could be controlled by a few specific genes.

  • Jack

    “IQ is also a load of shit.”

    If IQ is such a load of shit, then what exactly is it showing so incredibly consistently?

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      It demonstrates someone’s ability to put triangles in triangular shaped holes and identify very superficial logical patterns. It doesn’t test creativity, thinking outside the box, emotional intelligence, artistic talent, willpower, etc. etc. – surely all of these are important elements of being an intelligent human being.

      What IQ does is design a test to answer one question, then provide the results as the answer to a much larger, different question which has never been adequately defined.

      E.g. from a quick Googling:

      “Stephen Jay Gould criticized IQ tests and argued that that they were used for scientific racism….

      “the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups—races, classes, or sexes—are innately inferior and deserve their status.”

      • Jack

        I definitely understand your fear of creating a “slippery slope”… but that said, people with high “IQ”s — whatever you want to call it, or however you want to define it (maybe it should be separated in the public mind from the word “intelligence”) is extremely important for an individual’s (and society’s) educational, professional, economic, and even social success. Further, modern society is not friendly to people with IQs (however you want to define that, again) between 75-90, for example. They are more likely to drop out, go to jail, or live in poverty. We live in a very complicated world now. The fact is that, also, they are not savants in some other sense as I feel you imply in your criticism of IQ as a measure, even though I agree that those things you list should be researched as well as components of intelligence (“creativity, thinking outside the box, emotional intelligence, artistic talent, willpower, etc. etc. – surely all of these are important elements of being an intelligent human being.”)

        • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

          That’s probably because there’s a deeper underlying cause that means that people from well-off backgrounds and with more advantages in life are more likely to study and be interested in spurious things like IQ tests and be well-equipped to do them. It’s not because they’re inherently more intelligent than others. It’s like saying that being a criminal is genetic because people from certain backgrounds are more likely to end up in jail.

          I think people who focus on IQ massively simplify these issues and overlook the huge societal factors at play. As I say, this is massively more complex than IQ could ever hope to encompass, and IQ tests are frankly a joke in the face of that complexity.

          • Jack

            So people from well-off backgrounds enjoy sitting around and studying for “spurious things like IQ tests”? News to me!

            It’s fairly disingenuous of you to imply that the only reason that well-off people have high IQs are for “spurious” reasons when you have to know that psychometricians control for these sorts of variables, and in fact draw their study populations at random (RCT). I work in the social sciences (healthcare/academia) btw.

            As for your disbelief that a propensity to criminality might have a genetic component: (and this from approx. 30 seconds on google scholar)

            Psychopathy is genetic
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2242349/

            Psychopathy is correlated with criminality (yes I understand the difference between correlation and causation)
            http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0447.1996.tb09833.x/abstract

            http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=492906

            And you don’t have to even be literate to take an IQ test.

          • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

            “no psychiatric or psychological organization has sanctioned a diagnosis of ‘psychopathy'”

            That isn’t a meaningful term. In fact, the majority of psychiatric diagnoses are based on simple descriptions of symptoms rather than any real objective basis. These diagnostic criteria seek to medicalise a huge proportion of human experience, and imply that anything falling outside these narrow bounds needs to be altered to conform with what is “normal”. Your argument seems to go beyond even that, and claim that we ought to prevent these abnormal people from ever existing by removing them from the gene pool before they are born.

            Of course mental health problems are a real thing, but I think that this approach of categorising “normal” and “abnormal” helps no-one, least of all those suffering from mental health problems.

            Continued: “many psychopaths are not violent, and psychopaths are, despite the similar names, rarely psychotic.”

            Again, I think you’re promoting very damaging and erroneous stereotypes about vulnerable groups in society, and trying to use dubious science and loose associations to back this up. There is enough stigma attached to mental health without people claiming that it is some sort of fundamental genetic failure and that people are doomed to become criminals if their genes are ‘wrong’.

            You then take this further by implying that the solution to this is to weed out these supposed genetic fates with eugenics. Surely you can see how unethical and inhumane that is, and how it devalues human life and experience?

  • Jack

    I guess one last thing I would say is that it is my understanding that high IQ’s often correlate to enhanced creativity, thinking outside the box, emotional intelligence, artistic talent, willpower, etc., unfair as that may be. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way our popular culture began to conflate intelligence with Aspergers, and hence the fallout in which we assume intelligent people are simply arrogant brains with no personality or life to them.

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      Correlation is not causation.

  • Jack

    To respond to your comment that VICE seems “to think that countries not carrying out human breeding programs are somehow putting themselves at a disadvantage and ought to step up to the mark as soon as possible.”

    http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/are-the-wealthiest-countries-the-smartest-countries.html

    “For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.”

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      What a wonderfully convenient way to claim that poor countries being poor is their own fault for being stupid. Seriously, this stuff is just so revolting.

      Isn’t it more likely that people in poor countries have got bigger fish to fry than learning how to arrange shapes into nice sequences and solve sudoku puzzles?

      • Jack

        Again, you try to find malice where there is none. Personally, I was most interested in the top 10 countries (all developed), as I saw those as being on an equal playing field, so to speak.

  • Jack

    And not to beat a dead horse, but a more intelligent society would create a more equitable society: people with IQ’s over 115 can generally do any job (well); whereas people with IQ’s lower than that are very much limited in the scope of professions that they may choose. To which it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to find out that 55% of new mothers with IQs below 75 are forced to go on welfare (because income is so heavily IQ dependent), while only 1% of new mothers with IQs above 125 find themselves having to do the same. The economic and social costs of low IQ are very high indeed, in addition to being unfair.

    And unfair as it may be, some societies have been selecting for intelligent traits for hundreds of years longer than others. If nothing else, the bureaucratic test has been promoting this in China forever. Compare that to, say, to what an isolated Amazonian tribe has been selecting for (as an extreme example).

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      It sounds like you’re bordering on some horribly racist ideas there. Are you saying that you think Chinese people have been artificially bred to be inherently more intelligent than Amazonians? That’s pretty disgusting.

      No wonder you’re not willing to put your real name to these comments.

      • Jack

        As a German-Jewish-Via-Argentina-Korean hybrid (raised in Qatar for a large chunk of my childhood), I find it immensely amusing that you attempt to shut down the conversation calling me a racist. I merely stated that it seems unfair that some societies may be at an unfair advantage in the modern day due to cultural forces which over the course of thousands of years have resulted in a population whose IQs are clustered 20 points to the right of the spectrum than other groups. You seem to think that someone with a low IQ could be plopped at birth into a wealthy home with every advantage, and that somehow this lucky baby would have the same outcome (IQ) as any other child. Not so: countless studies have affirmed that, while poverty does definitely decreases IQ, high SES does not translate to a tremendous boost for a child with a lower IQ. You need look only to IQ studies of adopted children to confirm this.

        You seem more concerned about the possibility that people might be robbed of their human rights/ human dignity. I applaud you for that. But to attack IQ and claim that it is meaningless, and worse, racist, is to do the people you wish to defend a disservice. What will you do when the science proves otherwise? Denial and burying your head in the sand won’t help anyone.

        I work at a research university where gene therapy is the new big bad boy on the block. Medicine has known this for some time: many of the studies I have been involved in have shown very large differences between African-American and white populations with regards to effectiveness of pharmacological treatments. In fact, the doses often must be adjusted to account for this. In a world where it is turning out that almost everything is genetic… why would intelligence be the only thing *not* influenced by genetics?

        • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

          One’s own race in no way precludes one from being racist. I find it surprising that as an academic you are unaware of this point, considering how common it is in sociology and race studies. E.g. see the work of Peggy McIntosh and Tim Wise.

          And then you make a not so subtle link between the “very large differences between African-American and white populations” and the genetics of intelligence.

          It’s not difficult to see what your real beliefs are here.

          How do you react to this point: “When standardized IQ tests were first developed in the early 20th century, girls typically scored higher than boys until age 14, at which time the curve for girls dropped below that for boys.[9][32] As testing methodology was revised, efforts were made to equalize gender performance.”

          That makes it pretty clear that the IQ test has been designed and refined to prove the beliefs of its designers. This is completely backwards science. If it has been revised to equalise scores across genders, we could also revise it to equalise scores across nations or whatever other arbitrary distinctions the current IQ test creates. Would you still respect its results then?

          • Jack

            I wouldn’t, and I in no way was trying to make this into a Black/White debate with regards to intelligence; I was bringing up the subject of ethnopharmacology, and how people with different racial backgrounds actually metabolize medication differently. I bring up Black and White only because those groups each comprise about 40% of our patients at our university hospitals, and so the papers that are written tend to compare those groups. Increasingly, we are also seeing medications prescribed following genetic testing: some medications work for people with specific genetic profiles, but not for others.

            As for being a racist, I meant only to humorously point out that my profile would point to someone who has had more access and experience among different cultures that 99% of other people. If you want to take issue with the substance of my arguments in favor of the notion of IQ, and the value of using what we know about the genetic component of IQ to help parents select the best possible traits for their probably only child, thats fine. I just thought that that sort of ad hominem attack was a cheap shot. You want to imply that I take my position out of malice, which is not the case at all. I don’t forget that IQ is not a racial trait in the sense that East Asians, for example, are smarter than White Europeans. That is clearly folly, as they both contain enormous numbers of people with far less than average IQ. A quarter of the white population, and about 20% of the East Asian population, in fact. So to break it down racially is to oversimplify the matter. If anything, since it is married couples making these selections, and not some sort of govt. program, these are going to be decisions made intra-racially, increasing the intelligence gap between those with means and those without within their races. If you look at this subject through in intra-racial lens, as I do, you might find it a bit more palatable. I do see a sort of brains-race playing out over the next several hundred years, however, and I wouldn’t want my descendants to be on the losing side of it, though.

  • Jack

    The last thing I’ll say, and then I’ll stop cluttering your comments section, is that if somehow we select for people with higher IQs, and we suffer a tremendous cultural loss because some baby Mozart or Picasso was not born– we will never know the difference. The same argument that you seem to make has been made by the pro-life (anti-abortion) crowd forever. I actually don’t think this is much different conceptually than abortion. What you seem to want is a continuation of the exact state and proportion of IQ and every other personality trait as it exists now: well, due to modern medicine, these proportions are vastly different than they were 100 years ago (as certain populations have waxed or waned dramatically). But the possible benefits of this for individuals as well as society as a whole are great.

    • Marc Jones

      It’s not the fact that the world will ‘miss out’ on something because of a eugenics programme, it’s that the whole idea of a eugenics programme is ethically unacceptable.

      You state:
      “more intelligent society would create a more equitable society”
      “possible benefits of this for individuals as well as society as a whole are great”
      “[IQ] is extremely important for an individual’s (and society’s) educational, professional, economic, and even social success.”

      While all potentially true, the costs which would accompany it would be devastating, the largest of which are a loss of free will and a devalued outlook on what life is. You’d end up with situations where someone is not allowed to have children because of arbitrary criteria dictated by higher powers, a scary prospect.

  • Jack

    I also wanted to say that even though I may have come across in a way that is a bit adversarial, I really am a huge fan of your blog, and I have really enjoyed reading your translations.

  • Patis

    What’s really important from all this is the “ethical” and “immoral” handling you all are giving this subject. This christian leftover called “extreme ethics and morals” is what is putting western world in second place regarding societies like Chinese with none of this considerations in sight. You religious people should start to analyze certain truths about eugenics having nothing to do with ethics or morals but with nation wide health implications. For example, in epep you have a guy who agree with your concerns but is open to unquestionable, real benefits in general health from eugenics.

    I cannot see any fear-mongering from the article, easily scandalized people are the only susceptible here. It’ll be too late when we put our christian leftovers aside, our churches had already been shattered when we dare to install lightning rods… it was immoral, unethical and inhumane to think we cannot trust the god… ha, ha, we trusted him however Catholic buildings were the only ones being destroyed… we trust him putting his representative behind 2 inches anti ballistic glass to PROTECT him…

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg (葛修远)

      Who said we were religious? I’m not religious at all, quite the opposite in fact. Please read what’s actually being said here rather than making assumptions.

      Are you saying that you think only religious people can be ethical or have morals?

  • http://iknow.fm/ Andrew Cook

    Well, it’s a start. They still need to find what makes a genius a genius.
    If I’m a genius at computer science, does that make me a genius at playing violin? When you compare the DNA of construction geniuses, music geniuses, math geniuses, etc, is there a genius component that is common to all of them and can that component be adapted to any area, effectively ensuring that an embryo will turn into a math genius (for example)? Would that ‘genius’ even be stable – i.e. will it have mental issues and/or suicidal tendencies?
    It’s like Einstein said about that fish. I’m afraid they’ll throw away perfectly genius embryos, but then, I’m no genius, so I’ll let them work on this.

  • Weili

    “It’s better than dicks on Twitter”

    lol

    gold

    /highfive

  • BetterJS

    Late to the conversation but…
    I feel that if Eugenics ever gets enough of a foothold to actually be put into practice, it will be the first generations of altered people who will become it’s biggest opponents.

    I know that is just a personal prediction but If I am right, you all owe me a dollar.

  • miked

    Stumbled upon your blog when searching for “geoffrey miller chinese eugenics” on google, Hugh; your blog was the second result.

    Here is some of the opposing view, if you are interested:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182557/#__ffn_sectitle

    http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/zones-of-thought/

    http://www.humanbiologicaldiversity.com/#IQ