Dawkins Sticks His Foot In It…Again

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Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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  1. Avatar North
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    says:

    Man what a stupid thing for him to say. Yeah if we wanted to breed humans to have floppy ears or be, on average, taller or shorter we could certainly try to do so and reasonably expect to get some results along with a mountain of horrific abuse. But most of the traits Dawkins would want to breed for aren’t so easily measured to selected for. Also with humans having such a longer life cycle than dogs or horses the logistical challenges would be enormous even if the breeding pool could somehow be made obedient to the inhumane diktats of the breeders.

    Over all I agree Michael- it’s amazing how fishing stupid smart people can be. Lucky thing for him we don’t have some policy of banning people who say idiotic shit from breeding. He’d be outta luck.Report

  2. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    Dawkins scores a lot of own-goals for team Science.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    It just shows for me how durable this idea is, of some aristocracy of humans either naturally occurring or man-made.

    Eugenics isn’t just some idea that percolates up from data. It always starts out as a fantasy, like perpetual motion or synthesizing gold and then has science fitted to it.

    Which also implies a rebuke to the idea that truth and reason naturally vanquish superstition and nonsense. Its like these stories of brilliant professors being taken in by the Nigerian scam or something.

    Maybe that’s the best argument against eugenics and IQ supremacy, that even the most objectively intelligent people are so gullible.Report

    • Avatar Ozzzy! in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      If you swap ‘Eugenics’ with ‘Democracy’ or ‘Capitalism’ or ‘Socialism’ in this comment, it reads pretty accurately too.

      Is that your point? That it’s complicated?Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Ozzzy!
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        says:

        I don’t understand your comment.

        We have working models of democracy and capitalism and socialism. We don’t have any working models of eugenics or even what such a thing would look like.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          I think I’d be able to explain it. You know how someone might bring up “Free Trade” and someone else pipes up and points out that Free Trade has never existed?

          Perhaps you’ve seen this phenomenon with your own eyes.

          There’s a neighboring phenomenon that uses the Soviet Union or China or Venezuela or Cambodia or Cuba or North Korea or Romania as an example of a criticism of Marxism and someone pipes up “Ah, but that wasn’t *REAL* Marxism!”

          Perhaps you’ve seen this criticism as well.

          In the same way, you can point out examples of why Democracy has never existed, nor Capitalism, nor Socialism.

          It involves using a definition like a motte and/or bailey. Sometimes the term “Free Trade” is expansive enough to include the trade relationship between the US and Canada under NAFTA.

          Sometimes it isn’t.

          It’s weird.

          How are we defining Eugenics here? Is it broad enough to include how short dudes don’t do well on dating sites? Or is it so narrow that it includes the Nazis but only the Nazis?

          Here’s a link to a Business Insider article that compares and contrasts dog breeds from today and from 100 years ago.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            Political ideas and religions are frank about how they originate; a moral intuition of How Things Oughta Work.

            So right at the outset they reject any attempt to prove themselves via the scientific method.

            So yes, Eugenics is like political ideologies, except it claims to be otherwise. It poses as the objective indifferent results of science, when really is it just human moral intuition.

            Once it loses the veneer of Science, it becomes revealed as just “Hey, my tribe is totally better than yours!”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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              says:

              Well, part of the problem is that we’re just throwing terms like “work” around willy-nilly.

              What does it mean for eugenics to “work”?

              Then we can say “oh, yeah, it totally doesn’t work” or “I think it’s really problematic that you’re linking to a study of endogamy in India, that’s not what we’re talking about”.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The lack of rigor and clarity is, for eugenicists, a feature not a bug since their lines of logic are derived backward from a goal, similar to flat earthers or creationists.

                Because fundamentally their goal is to segregate society into tiers of worth. This requires an a priori leap of faith.

                What “works” for them is a world in which they are recognized as an aristocracy. So the metrics and criteria must be left vague and arbitrary so as to shift and evade any attempt to refute them.

                Medical science already has a list of objective criteria for “improving” the human race. Things like eliminating illness and suffering, and delaying the ill effects of aging.

                But scientists are also open about where their objective work reaches the boundary of subjective religion .
                For example, should we engineer humans to eliminate dwarfism?

                A scientist won’t answer that. A eugenicist will, which is why it should rightly be considered a faith.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Because fundamentally their goal is to segregate society into tiers of worth. This requires an a priori leap of faith.

                What “works” for them is a world in which they are recognized as an aristocracy. So the metrics and criteria must be left vague and arbitrary so as to shift and evade any attempt to refute them.

                You’re describing Hillary donors. Their gated communities already segregate them as their own tier.

                When my old housemate was working at the Salk Institute, he said Francis Crick was talking about curing stupidity. Crick’s reasoning is that the brain’s structure is determined by genes, and as we learn what all the relevant genes do, we could probably fix what goes wrong in some people. He got a bit of push back on it because it sounds a bit spooky, but that doesn’t mean we won’t end up doing it.

                There are also of course cases where we segregate by intelligence. The Nobel Prize ceremony, for example, likely isn’t a representative sampling of the human population. Based on limited studies of astronauts, the IQ on Mars is probably going to vary between 130 and 145. If they became a separate self-sustaining colony, the average IQ of Mars would probably stay in that range, two to three standard deviations higher than Earth’s norm.

                But those don’t really fall under the rubric of eugenics or selective breeding.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                The lack of rigor and clarity is, for eugenicists, a feature not a bug since their lines of logic are derived backward from a goal, similar to flat earthers or creationists.

                I imagine that that’s a great opportunity to distinguish ourselves.

                What level of rigor/clarity do you think is achievable for a couple of educated people on a message board?

                I think we should try to achieve it.

                Don’t you?

                For example, should we engineer humans to eliminate dwarfism?
                A scientist won’t answer that. A eugenicist will, which is why it should rightly be considered a faith.

                Would rigor/clarity allow us to discuss the question or does rigor/clarity demand that we not talk about it?

                I mean, if I found evidence that there are people working to eliminate Tay Sachs, am I allowed to say “good!” or is the proper response horror or what?Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I recently watched a good BBC series called “Travels in Euroland” where the presenter (I think a former Labour MP) spent time with right-wing populist supporters all over the continent. In Holland, he covered the huge controversy over whether their Christmas tradition is wildly racist. There, Santa’s helper is Black Peter, played of course by Dutch in black face. The segment went on and on, and the Brit was explaining that such an overtly racist thing makes him uneasy, as it would anyone in Britain, and they would never adopt a Christmas symbol that could be seen to disparage any group of people.

                The whole time I was wondering if the Brit would get off his high horse for a moment to think about Santa’s elves, and what Peter Dinklage might think of the whole elf thing. Blindness about holiday traditions isn’t just a problem in Holland. ^_^

                Society sometimes has these conflicts where “we” decide to eliminate a sub-population. Currently it’s going on in the deaf community due to the widespread adoption of cochlear implants, and earlier it occurred with leper colonies. At the time, the lepers were kind of upset that we destroyed their communities, but I can’t recall anyone missing them lately.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I’m not sure what you are arguing for or against here.
                Are you asking if we should have discussions about the ethical bounds of medical science with rigor and clarity?

                Or are you trying to defend Dawkins’ statement?
                Or is there some other point that I’m not seeing?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I am arguing that if the lack of clarity and rigor work to the advantage of eugenicists (your claim), we can remove their advantage by adding clarity and rigor.

                And we can add clarity and rigor by, among other things, defining terms that they fail to, talking about things that they want obscured, and actually answering questions.

                Questions like: “Is the elimination of Tay Sachs disease a good thing?”Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Well, medical ethics is an actual thing, and the medical, scientific, and philosophical practitioners have wide ranging and robust debates and discussions about these very issues.
                And they do it with much more clarity and rigor than you and I could.

                But like flat earthers, eugenicists tend to shun those sorts of circles and prefer to pitch their scam to the laypeople.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                You know what’s a weird phenomenon I’ve noticed?

                When there is a particularly thorny hot button debate topic of a particular flavor, there are multiple sides. Let’s call one of the sides The Consensus and let’s lump all of the other sides into one and call them The Other Side. (There are multiple sides in The Other Side but let’s lump them all together for the sake of convenience.)

                When The Other Side wants to discuss this or that or the other, it’s pointed out how complicated these things are, how much training you have to go through to understand the terms, so on and so forth.

                But then, 20 minutes later, some minor celebrity comes out and is given a platform to give a speech on the importance of The Consensus. Isn’t it great that she feels this strongly about this Hot Button Debate? She’s an inspiration to us all.

                And we pivot from “you need special training” to “man, it’s awesome that she feels so strongly about The Consensus!”

                Anyway, I think it’s possible for laypeople to talk about ethics.

                Even medical ethics.

                And people who want laypeople to not talk about medical ethics are, in fact, using “clarity and rigor” as buzzwords when the last thing that they want is either clarity or rigor.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Who are you talking to?
                Me, or some other person who says laypeople shouldn’t talk about ethics?

                The subject of this essay and blog post was that Dawkins stupidly hinted at support for eugenics.
                And how tainted this subject is, precisely because of eminent people like him dancing around it, instead of engaging in a good faith discussion of medical ethics.

                Ordinary people can also use clarity and rigor, starting with, “What is your point?”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Oh, I’ll go back to my answer the last time you asked this question, then.

                I am arguing that if the lack of clarity and rigor work to the advantage of eugenicists (your claim), we can remove their advantage by adding clarity and rigor.
                And we can add clarity and rigor by, among other things, defining terms that they fail to, talking about things that they want obscured, and actually answering questions.
                Questions like: “Is the elimination of Tay Sachs disease a good thing?”

                That’s my point.

                I can imagine that it’d be much more interesting for someone hoping to obscure clarity/rigor by talking about me personally than about the topic, though.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                You want to talk about Tay Sachs?
                Sorry, I honestly don’t know enough about it to have any sort of opinion.

                But more broadly, one of the most pressing problems in ethics is to distinguish between things which are problems which should be eradicated, and things which are conditions which we must accept.

                The eugenicists of the 20th century tried to formulate a prescriptive approach where they assumed an Ideal Human without any consultation or engagement with the wider community.

                Not surprisingly, the Ideal Human was themselves and the list of things which should be eradicated was nothing more than a list of their own biases and preferences.

                Which is why if we want to talk about Tay Sachs, or dwarfism or any other human attribute and decide whether to eradicate or accept it, we need to engage with those who have a stake in the matter and anyone who might be affected by an effort .

                There isn’t some Grand Unified Theory of Human Perfection that allows us to have a discussion without the wider community.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Resources exist that can help you educate yourself, you know. Here’s a webpage from the NIH that talks about it.

                Tay-Sachs disease is a rare inherited disorder that progressively destroys nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord.

                Ew, that sounds bad.

                But more broadly, one of the most pressing problems in ethics is to distinguish between things which are problems which should be eradicated, and things which are conditions which we must accept.

                When I was part of the Southern Babtists, there was this old trick that got used a lot. It was the whole Old Covenant/New Covenant distinction.

                Homosexuality? They talk about this in Leviticus!
                Eating shellfish? Well, we live under a New Covenant now.

                How did they make this distinction?

                Well, as far as I can tell, they did it based on what inconvenienced them the most.

                So when it comes to making distinctions between “problems which should be eradicated” and “things which are conditions which we must accept”, I can’t help but remember that particular shell game.

                When I hear that there is a movement to eradicate Tay Sachs, I think “Good”. Then I wonder “How?” and I find out that one of the solutions is genetic testing and dating sites based on the results of the genetic tests.

                Then I’m stuck thinking “well, that’s one way to do it”.

                Rather than something like “horror” at “eugenics”.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                If I really wanted to form an opinion about Tay Sachs I wouldn’t go to the NIH website.

                I would talk to people who have it, their families and friends.

                I’d talk to people who are at risk of it, and people who might be affected by the proposed measures.

                How do they feel about it?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                So you read “progressively destroys nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord” and still didn’t have enough information to form an opinion?

                If I told you that my cursory searches on Tay Sachs indicates that one of the potential symptoms of Tay Sachs is “never learning to talk”, would that change your opinion on the necessity of needing to talk to people who have it before reaching the conclusion that “It’s Bad”?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                What you’re doing here is similar to the religious people you referenced.

                You’re researching Scripture (the NIH) then constructing a theological argument one way or the other.

                This can’t possibly lead to a good place since you are excluding the very stakeholders of the issue.

                Our opinions on this are always going to be, as you say, biased by what inconveniences us.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                “So you read “progressively destroys nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and spinal cord” and still didn’t have enough information to form an opinion?”

                “This can’t possibly lead to a good place since you are excluding the very stakeholders of the issue.”

                npcmeme.jpgReport

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                You’re researching Scripture (the NIH) then constructing a theological argument one way or the other.

                Can you possibly name me a source that you would find to be appropriate-enough for me to quote and reach a conclusion about this degenerating nerve disease?

                Also: It strikes me that if someone were using this level of skepticism about Environmental Science, they would be called a “denier”. Do you see how someone could reach that conclusion?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Uh, didn’t I list the stakeholders already?

                Don’t they have enough authority for you?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Yeah, but when I pointed out that one of the things that the disease does is “prevent one from learning to talk”, you failed to address whether that creates a logistical problem.

                Does it?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                No, since like many medical patients, they have families and friends who can speak.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                So, just hammering out before we get to the Google, what will be sufficient for you to say “okay, I now have enough information to say that Tay Sachs is bad”?

                Three people who have loved ones with it who say “Tay Sachs is bad”?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                We already know it is bad; What we don’t know is if the ways to combat it are acceptable to those who are most affected by it.

                See, I keep bringing this back to the notion that this can only be addressed by a wide ranging group of stakeholders, and you want to keep it narrowly focused on Chip and Jay chatting online.

                About an issue neither of us faces, and whose mitigation costs we will never pay.

                What’s wrong with just accepting that you and I can’t resolve this and deferring our opinions to those who really have skin in the game?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                “What’s wrong with just accepting that you and I can’t resolve this and deferring our opinions to those who really have skin in the game?”

                hey remember that thing where Jaybird tries to talk about abstractions and hypotheticals and you guys get all mad at him for refusing to Pick! A! Single! Real! World! EXAMPLE!

                and now here he is picking a single real world example and you’re saying “well whuh whuh whuh we can’t really talk about that here because the people it directly affects aren’t around”

                and it looks like maybe all along the reason you wanted him to pick! a! specific! etc. is that you wanted to say “well your specific example involves actual people who aren’t present and can’t offer their insights and that means I don’t have to address anything you brought up , upside-down-smiley-face”Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                As I say below, we can most definitely talk about it here;

                We just have to understand that our perspective is blinkered and biased by our lack of experience with it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                What’s wrong with just accepting that you and I can’t resolve this and deferring our opinions to those who really have skin in the game?

                What do you mean by “resolve”?

                Because if we can reach the conclusion that Tay Sachs is bad, we can understand better why some people might be working to eliminate it and respond by saying “good!” and not “But the only socially acceptable positions are that eugenics is bad or that we don’t have standing to discuss it.”Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                “if we can reach the conclusion that Tay Sachs is bad”

                We have.
                “we can understand better why some people might be working to eliminate it”

                We do.

                “and respond by saying “good!” ”

                Yes, I think we both agree it would be very good for them to work on solutions.

                Is there on on the table that you are supporting?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I didn’t use the word “solution” with regards to Tay Sachs.

                I said that people were working on eliminating it.

                And that my response was “Good!” and not something more like horror.

                Is that something that we are now able to discuss?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Sure!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Harvard University geneticist George Church has created a dating app that would sort people based on their genetic markers.

                Short version: his dating app would make it so that two people who both had markers for a particular disease would not be matched together.

                It would pre-sort away people with your same recessive gene.

                In the absence of a cure, this strikes me as an elegant solution.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Sounds like it.

                (did we just agree? It feels dirty, somehow)Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Chip

                You realize that’s eugenics

                You just said “good” to eugenicsReport

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                Gentlemen.

                After thoughtful consideration, I have concluded that, no matter how shocking or controversial it may sound, I stand in favor of allowing people to choose to use a dating app that narrows their possible choices.

                There. I’ve said it, and I stand by it.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                “And how tainted this subject is, precisely because of eminent people like him dancing around it, instead of engaging in a good faith discussion of medical ethics.”

                oh I get it, this is really about ethics in medical journalismReport

        • Avatar Ozzzy! in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          Chip it’s pretty obvious.

          I’m commenting on the fact that in your statement you can interchange democracy, socialism, eugenics, and hell competitive bridge for that matter and it still makes sense. I’m sure there is an aristocratic word for this, but what it means that the comment isn’t worth much.

          It’s pap. Word salad. Blerg. Nada. Unhelpful. Lacking in rigor.

          I hope that clears it up.Report

  4. Avatar DavidTC
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    says:

    Eugenics works if we a) have a few very specific things we are selecting for, b) have a way to test those things objectively, and c) exercise total control over the breeding.

    Literally none of those are true for people.

    B and C are something that gets overlooked a lot, in fact. Because some of the crappiest gene pools belong to the people with a lot of power and money, for example, various royal families have had a lot of hemophiliacs, which is an objectively bad genetic condition. It doesn’t confer any advantage at all and almost meant a death before reproductive age, so the only reason it survived in that gene pool is because royalty had a hell of a lot of help. We do not have any sort of objective ‘survival of the fittest’.

    And that’s an extreme example, but it’s true at almost every level. Because if you actually start looking at eugenics in any objective sense, you have to notice that, in actuality, poor people tend to be heartier, because if they aren’t…they get sick and die, as opposed to the wealthy, who get sick and get really expensive medical treatment. If you’re a poor person who lived to adulthood on crappy fast food and no health care, you’re genetically way better at this ‘living thing’ than the wealthy person who is deathly allergic to peanuts and is on three different blood pressure medications.

    I mean, hell, I myself am _alive_ because my parents had pretty good health insurance when I was born, which saved my life, and thus my crappy genes and the heart conditions that exist in my family could live for another generation. (Well, that’s not likely for me, I don’t ever want kids, but hypothetically.)

    But, of course, ‘We should sterilize some of the rich who are only alive due to very good medical care that others can’t afford.’, (despite being somewhat hilarious as a conclusion), is not a conclusion eugeneticists will come to, because they’re literally trying to justify the opposite belief. They are thinking of culling _less_ successful people, whose success they have hallucinated is due to intelligence.Report

  5. Avatar James K
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    says:

    There are certain things that social scientists get taught that physical scientists don’t, because there are things you need to know when you study people that don’t matter so much when you’re studying electrons or strands of DNA.

    One of those things is that “good” and its derivatives are slippery. In order for them to mean anything you have to establish a set of evaluative criteria and different people will have different criteria. This means that there is no such thing as objectively superior genes. Sometimes you can get a broad consensus, but there will be contentious cases.

    To put it another way, selective breeding works on animals, but it works for animal breeders.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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      says:

      Are there any genetic diseases that are objectively things that we don’t want?

      Is “avoiding bad” good?Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        As I said, there will be some things that have broad social consensus as being bad or good, but of course even this can be treacherous.

        We’re on pretty.safe ground with onatinggenetic diseases that cause death or severe impairment, but sometimes there can still be contention.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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          says:

          (“onatinggenetic”?)

          I’m down with arguing that this is a slope that has proven slippery in the past and given how slippery it was for others, I doubt that it will fail to be slippery for us.

          But the idea that we need be actively opposed to stuff like genetic testing for markers for various diseases and saying “you two people probably ought not date” strikes me as willful ignorance at best.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            Sorry, that was a severe failure of my phone’s autocorrect. That was supposed to say “eliminating genetic”.

            I’m on board with voluntary genetic testing, I’m on board (with some caveats) for self-directed genetic modification.

            It’s the “you shouldn’t date” part where I start to get antsy.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to James K
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              says:

              For the record, the distinction I’m making is between “you shouldn’t date” and “you two shouldn’t date each other”.

              It’s the latter that strikes me as unfortunate but. (The former is kinda nuts.)Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                “… because she’s your sister.”

                I think we’re on pretty safe ground on most of this.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                What about the (still hypothetical) ‘You both are carriers for this recessive disease, so we will create an fertilized egg from two of your gametes that do not get the trait from both of you…and we go even farther and make sure it doesn’t get even one of them’?

                That sorta solves that problem, and even if only the people ‘at risk’ (Aka, who are both carriers) do that, that would slowly remove the genes from the gene pool.

                Of course, you can’t have that sort of thing without having sex selection, and that by itself is going to cause a hell of a lot of problems, so maybe I’m thinking about the wrong thing there.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    When you breed only the best people to the best people, you wind up with Charles II of Spain.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      Charles wasn’t bred for “best” he was bred for “most”

      “The Habsburgs had a genius for marrying princesses and inheriting their lands when no direct male heirs were available”

      But, on point… its the definition of “the good” that drives the breeding program.Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    Lots of horrible things “worked”, in the sense of “achieved their stated primary objective”. Prohibition worked; there was almost no drinking while it was in effect, and even after Repeal there was less drinking than there had been before. Stalin’s agricultural policies worked, in the sense that the places where he put people had more agricultural output than they had previously.

    They didn’t work well, and there were all kinds of awful side-effects, but to say they didn’t work is not true, and that’s what makes the argument against them hard. Because “it worked, but not as well as we wanted” can have all kinds of excuses and re-plans and “if only we fought harder” things, and arguments that it didn’t work are easily countered by pointing to the fact that it did.Report

  8. Avatar Dark Matter
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m not getting notified of all OT subjects, just some of them. How do I sign up for notifications?

    RE: Dawkins
    My assumption is he’s selling a book and needs to raise his profile.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    An interesting thread that explains that Eugenics just wouldn’t *WORK*. And “work” is defined! I don’t agree entirely with what he has to say (e.g., he used autism and schizophrenia as examples of things that people would want to avoid rather than Tay Sachs, the example that I would ask about… and my criticisms don’t stop there) but he does a lot of heavy lifting here.

    Report

    • Avatar Ozzzy! in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      The bene gesserit actually started with the planned sharing of genetic material between Davosers and Occupiers.

      QED.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Another reason is that humans are exposed to very different environments, so most of trait variation is not due to genetic factors but to differences in environment.

      For many traits, including cognitive ability, this is simply wrong. Twin studies in developed countries, including the US, typically find that 70-80% of variation in adult IQ is attributable to genetics, with most of the remainder attributable to nonshared environment (seemingly random stuff we can’t control or explain, not stuff like parental income).

      It’s also worth nothing that, despite the name, eugenics works just as well for traits transmitted via shared environment as it does for traits transmitted genetically. If criminals tend to have children who commit crimes, it doesn’t matter in the least whether that’s genetic or environmental—if we reduce the fertility of convicted criminals, there will be less crime in the next generation.

      With a recessive disease it may be possible to eliminate cases of the disease from the population using a combination of carrier testing, prenatal screening and selective termination. However this is not eugenics because the variants are still present in the population.

      This could also be done to reduce the frequency of recessive alleles, although at this point it’s probably not worth it. It’s worth noting, also, that there are some dominant genetic diseases, like Huntington disease and most forms of familial ALS. If you know that you have Huntington disease and you choose to have a child without PGS, you are a garbage human being and you deserve to die of Huntington disease.

      He’s correct that the biggest logistical problem is that humans have very long generation times. Genetic engineering would render eugenics obsolete before it had a chance to bear fruit.

      I still think we should sterilize people convicted of violent felonies, though. We don’t need violent criminals dropping the kids off at the gene pool, so to speak.

      Also anyone who’s ever participated in a Twitter mob. Just one generation of that was more than enough.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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        Hated in the Nation, but unironically.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Brandon Berg
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        I still think we should sterilize people convicted of violent felonies, though. We don’t need violent criminals dropping the kids off at the gene pool, so to speak.

        What about the descendants of a person convicted of a violent felony? Bobby has two young kids, Billy and Betty, then Bobby commits murder. Should Billy and Betty be sterilized to keep the gene pool clean?Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater
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          That would produce results faster, but it’s problematic because they haven’t actually committed any crimes, which means we don’t have the easy justification we have for sterilizing the actual criminals. So no. But the trade-off here is that people will be murdered. Not by this particular Billy or Betty, but multiplied it by 100,000, and you have some corpses showing up that wouldn’t otherwise have.

          The bloodline of Twitter trash must be purged without exception, though.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        If criminals tend to have children who commit crimes, it doesn’t matter in the least whether that’s genetic or environmental—if we reduce the fertility of convicted criminals, there will be less crime in the next generation.

        If what’s going on is _environmental_, then it seem significant that a lot of children of criminals, even one that go on to become criminals, are not _raised_ by said criminals. If there’s a area where 40% of the kids who grow up raised by single mothers become criminals, and also most of the men roaming around are criminals, then sterilizing those men would…still result in the same percentage of kids becoming criminals, because it’s the same environment. I guess the argument could be there might be less kids _overall_, but…would there be? Do we have any real evidence of that?

        And regardless, at that point the argument is really: We need to sterilize the _poor_, not the criminal.

        That’s the argument you’re actually making there, like it or not.Report

      • Avatar Swami in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        I too disagree with much of the article. Eugenics would clearly work, and we don’t need to know which genes do what any more than livestock breeders knew two centuries ago. If we select for the desired traits, whatever that might be, and bred people with those traits, we would quickly get more people with desired trait.

        Yes, we would probably get undesired side effects.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Swami
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          Yes, we would probably get undesired side effects.

          Giving the gov this kind of power puts us deep into Nazi territory. If I’m a politician appeasing my religious right base, then why shouldn’t I be using serious eugenics against their religious rivals or even my own political rivals or my rivals’ base?

          If we select for the desired traits, whatever that might be, and bred people with those traits, we would quickly get more people with desired trait.

          We already do. Human intelligence is our “peacock’s tail”, the vast levels we have is used for navigating our complex social environment which is key for attracting a mate. Someone at the bottom of the mental stability/sanity/inteligence pile(*) has a lot of difficulty in “being successful” and that includes finding a mate. Our brains are hugely expensive, so expensive that if we didn’t need them for basic reproduction we would lose them.

          (*) I don’t mean “minimum wage”, I mean “has problems with doors or basic communication”.Report

          • Avatar Swami in reply to Dark Matter
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            Yeah, and that is why Dawkins and everyone else isn’t recommending eugenics. It is a bad idea to give someone this power. A terrible idea.

            But…. I suspect parents will be doing this in the very near future. They will use our imperfect but not impotent knowledge of the genome to make choices on which babies to take to term. Decentralized, voluntary Selective breeding may not be eugenics, but it will lead to huge changes to human populations in very few generations. Again, not all desirable or intended.

            (Adding on, I notice you said something similar but even more insightful right below)Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      eh. I’ll quote my comment from earlier: when someone says “it works, except for (thing) that makes it not work”, the very first thing they’re saying is that it works.

      Like, “humans have long generational times!” okay, so it’s a long project, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. “it’s hard to identify the proper subjects!” mandatory genetic screening at the whole-country level. “de novo mutations happen!” okay, so add “produced a de novo mutation” to the list of things that you screen for in your “these genetic profiles should not have children” law.

      I mean, if you want to say that something is impossible, then you need a better reason than “because we don’t want to”, because once someone comes along who does want to, suddenly it’s not impossible.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        Some people really hate to acknowledge trade-offs. Something can’t be bad but have some good results. If something is bad, it must be utterly incapable of producing any good results. No cloud has a silver lining.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        Yeah, the main thing that I kept noticing is that there were engineering solutions to all of the problems he mentioned except for the moral ones.

        Which is, I suppose, why it’s so important to hammer on the moral ones.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        This reminds me of the Computational Problem that libertarians talk about, where they note that the degree of control needed to completely direct all the factors of production is impossible because the marketplace of human desires is so complex.

        The point the doctor makes in his twitter feed is that the chromosomes that produce undesirable traits are so complex that to establish a government genetic database which could track literally every human genetic makeup and accurately predict the offspring of any given mating would be far more difficult than predicting the Five Year Plan of consumer production.

        I think when people say “impossible” this is what they mean, that a task would require such a freakish distortion of our world that it goes beyond our ability to imagine it.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          We are already catching criminals by their relatives four and five generations removed putting their genes up for public review. It would be easy, almost trivial, for everyone in the world to put their genes in some public database. This may even happen over the next century.

          We have already identified a number of nasty genes, this will also increase. After that it is trivial to decide you won’t have kids with people whose nasty recessive genes match your own.

          You don’t need to predict everything in order to have a lot of benefit.

          Now if we want to enter into designer baby territory, and we’re going to get there too, then it’s no longer necessary to worry about recessives.

          If it’s taking the best genes (and where you don’t know what is “best” you can flip a coin) from both parents and exclude diseased genes then that’s probably fine.

          Where we truly get into twilight zone is with ordering genes off the shelf. I googled “dense bones” and found a guy who silly tough bones because of his genes, apparently without much in terms of side effects. You can do the same with muscles, most people have muscles designed to atrophy if they’re not used… presumably to resist starvation when the next famine happens, but there are genes for muscles which don’t do that and the people with that are significantly stronger than normal with less effort.

          There is a genetic component to intelligence, the issue is complex, however this hits the radar as something which is only complex until someone figures out the answer.

          This is where society is going. It will take a while, but the technology will drive this and it will be fine. We should be cool with the idea that various genetic diseases are destroyed. We should be cool with the idea that our children’s grand children will be much healthier than us simply because of their genes. We’re looking at the next generation’s equiv of vaccinations.

          Even if we assume these are good(?) ideas at some level, it seems like a bad idea to give these abilities and choices to the government. The gov has a history of abusing these sorts of things, and letting it openly commit genocide seems like something which invites abuse.

          Having said that, I’m a lot better with the idea that parents will be able to select their children’s genes. If parents deliberately inflicting sickle cell anemia on their kids becomes a thing, then we can deal with that specifically… but I doubt it will become a thing.Report

  10. Avatar KenB
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    says:

    Twitter led me to this essay about the kerfuffle, and it’s a nice analysis of the overall category of argument, discussing in terms of “decoupling” vs “contextualizing” and tying back to the whole Klein vs Harris unpleasantness.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to KenB
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      That was a good essay.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to KenB
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      says:

      And tying back to discussions here, about books, where some are saying “this book made me feel bad and that means it’s a bad book and there can’t be anything good in it” or “the people that this book is about are bad and therefore the book is bad”.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to KenB
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      says:

      And that essay led me to this essay:

      https://unherd.com/thepost/without-god-its-harder-to-defend-against-eugenics/

      a lot to think about on this topic, no?Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Aaron David
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        says:

        Yes, and it has been thought about, quite often.

        The author of that essay uses “God” interchangeably with a belief in human dignity and worth. She assumes that the belief in human dignity and equal worth is a necessary prerequisite for religious faith.

        Which for the most part* may be true, but those beliefs aren’t exclusive to deists. I think that the vast majority of unchurched people, whether lapsed churchgoers, agnostics, or atheists have a firm faith-based belief in the fundamental equality of all persons and their inherent dignity.

        This belief may be a necessary prerequisite of religion, but religion isn’t a necessary prerequisite to the belief.

        *The historical justification for slavery, mass exterminations, and other horrors by religious people suggests that if they so desired, a religious argument in favor of breeding humans like cattle could be whipped up in a jiffy.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          The historical justification for slavery, mass exterminations, and other horrors by religious people suggests that if they so desired, a religious argument in favor of breeding humans like cattle could be whipped up in a jiffy.

          That, exactly.

          God is on all sides of every argument. He’s a rhetorical technique or tool, not a cop policing his followers.Report

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