"Eugenics, the art of breeding better men, imperatively demands reliable measurement of human traits of body and mind, of their inter-relations, and of their modification by environmental factors."
The previous post on Distrust of Psychology contained several quotes from a 1904 editorial on the dim view of psychology taken by many physiologists of the era. It was written by Robert M. Yerkes, who was the editor of the Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology. Yerkes himself was committed to establishing psychology as a respectable field (Yerkes, 1904):
For those of us who have at heart the establishment and advancement of comparative psychology as a science coordinate with physiology there is the clear duty to make our work eminently worthy of scientific recognition and reliance.
He was a notable primatologist who later became involved in human intelligence testing as part of America's World War I effort to screen army recruits. In concluding the prior post, I stated:
Yerkes was a keen observer of Psychology and a strong supporter of its importance as a natural science. Unfortunately, he also promoted eugenics in the 1910's and 1920's.
This prompted two comments on my knee-jerk reaction to "eugenics". Has the term been rehabilitated, unbeknownst to me? Is it fortunate that Yerkes believed in the racial inferiority of African Americans, based on the culturally biased intelligence tests he developed (Yerkes, 1923)?
Is modern-day amniocentesis to screen fetal DNA for Down's syndrome and other (usually fatal) trisomies really the same thing as limiting immigration from specific countries based on the population's lower "intelligence" (as assessed by flawed tests)?
"Far more interesting doubtless to the practical eugenist than occupational differences in intelligence or specifications are the racial differences which appear when the foreign-born American draft is analysed into its principal constituent groups. The difference even of median score or letter grade distribution are so great as to be significant alike to the American people and to the eugenists of the world."
Recently on Twitter, evolutionary psychologist and provocateur Jesse Bering posed the question of whether a case could be made for modern-day eugenics. I originally thought he was being trollish, or perhaps had taken a page out of filmmaker Lars von Trier's comedy playbook (whose Nazi jokes got him banned from Cannes).
Since Bering is an openly gay man, I thought the question was especially preposterous. Who gets to decide the traits and "disorders" slated for elimination? But then I read the essay on Chinese eugenics by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller -- a response to the question WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?
China has been running the world's largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China's ever-faster rise as the global superpower. I worry that this poses some existential threat to Western civilization. Yet the most likely result is that America and Europe linger around a few hundred more years as also-rans on the world-historical stage, nursing our anti-hereditarian political correctness to the bitter end.
So the resurgence of interest in eugenics is serious? And not just among white supremacists?
The BGI Cognitive Genomics Project is currently doing whole-genome sequencing of 1,000 very-high-IQ people around the world, hunting for sets of sets of IQ-predicting alleles. I know because I recently contributed my DNA to the project, not fully understanding the implications.1 These IQ gene-sets will be found eventually—but will probably be used mostly in China, for China. Potentially, the results would allow all Chinese couples to maximize the intelligence of their offspring by selecting among their own fertilized eggs for the one or two that include the highest likelihood of the highest intelligence. Given the Mendelian genetic lottery, the kids produced by any one couple typically differ by 5 to 15 IQ points. So this method of "preimplantation embryo selection" might allow IQ within every Chinese family to increase by 5 to 15 IQ points per generation. After a couple of generations, it would be game over for Western global competitiveness.
What do you think, is the BGI Cognitive Genomics Project a menace to "Western civilization" as we know it? Or is Miller's scenario a fantasy contingent upon on a vast array of genetic information that is currently unavailable2.... or even unattainable in the foreseeable future?
1 A very-high-IQ and yet didn't understand the implications??
2 Major problems with one recently published effort are outlined in False discovery: How not to find the genetic basis of human intelligence.
Yerkes RM. (1923). Eugenic bearing of measurements of intelligence. Eugen Rev. 14:225-45.
Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]