Questions and Answers on Eugenics

by Marian Van Court

Table of Contents
1. Equality
2. Social Status
3. Low IQ
4. Sterilization
5. IQ and Bias
6. Political Correctness
7. Alleviating metabolic disorders
8. A dangerous idea
9. Ignorance
10. Values
11. Fear
12. What is intelligence?
13. The disconnect



1. Doesn't it say in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal?

This is an objection which is frequently brought up. It goes "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." This means they are equal before the law, that government can't (or shouldn't) take away these fundamental rights. The historical record is quite clear that the Founding Fathers meant equal before the law, not that everyone was born equal in intelligence, talent, or athletic ability. Their other writings amply attest to the fact that they did not believe in biological equality--between individuals, or between races. A number of them were slave-holders. In a letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson rejected the aristocracy based on one's birth as an artificial one, and spoke of "the natural aristocracy of talent and virtue," which he felt was our country's most precious gift. (And isn't that a lovely turn of phrase to express what he valued most highly?!)

2. When you say that high IQ people are having fewer children, aren't you equating social status with intelligence?

No, but you're correct if you're thinking that there's also a social class gradient for number of children (that, on average, high SES people have the fewest, then average SES, then low SES have the most children). This SES gradient exists, but so does an IQ gradient.

In 1984, I did a study (with Frank Bean) of IQ and fertility in the United States. It was published in the journal Intelligence, 9, 23-32, 1985, "Intelligence and Fertility in the United States: 1912 to 1982". [Anyone who wants a reprint may contact me.] In this study (N>6000), we used a very short IQ test, and correlated the score with number of offspring for 15 cohorts born between 1894 and 1964. All correlations were negative, 13 were statistically significant, and 7 were beyond the .001 level. At this rate, we lose about 1 IQ point each generation. I'm currently working on another fertility-IQ study, and finding similar results. We don't need to be able to identify specific genes for intelligence in order to conclude that genotypic intelligence is declining, because we know intelligence is highly heritable.

3. Is there something inherently bad about having a low IQ?

Yes! From the standpoint of our whole society, it's very, very bad. I personally have known people with low IQs whom I loved and respected, some so honorable, hard-working, and pleasant to be with I'd choose them over an unpleasant or obnoxious high-IQ person if I had to be stranded with only one companion on a desert island. But collectively, in terms of society, they constitute a tremendous liability. Low IQ people are much more likely to be criminals, chronically dependent on welfare, unemployed, illiterate--in fact, they're way over-represented in every category of social problems. They cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually. This may sound abstract, but it all translates very clearly into human misery!

The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray, is a brilliant book. I hear it's now out in paperback for only $16. It's looks a bit daunting because it's kind of long, but it's wonderfully well-written, and easy to read. It explains the role of IQ in our society far better than I can here. Anyway, the authors found that when they moved the average IQ of their sample down statistically by just 3 points, from 100 to 97, all social problems were exacerbated: the number of women chronically dependent on welfare increased by 7%; illegitimacy increased by 8%; men interviewed in jail increased by 12%; and the number of permanent high school dropouts increased by nearly 15%.

Everyone should be treated with respect, even retarded people, but compassion requires us to face the fact that they are a big drain on our economy, not to mention the economy of the future. This is why low IQ is inherently bad.

4. In the British Medical Journal (# 7108, September 6, 1997, p. 563) there's an article entitled "Thousands of women sterilized in Sweden without consent." The Swedish government is investigating why thousands of women were forcibly sterilized on eugenic grounds from the 1930s to the 1970s. There are similar allegations about forced sterlisations in Switzerland, Austria and Finland. Is this the kind of thing you support?

There's not enough information in this article to evaluate these programs. The fact that political correctness has spread to Europe--that they now say "Oh, isn't this terrible?" is irrelevant. What really matters is whether the programs were actually fair and humane. Over the years, I've tried, without much success, to get articles on eugenics programs in European countries that continued on long after WW2. There don't seem to be many articles (or at least I haven't been able to find them), and then there's the problem of having them translated. Since I know so little about these programs, I can't comment on their fairness or efficacy. Getting more information about them is important, though, because whether they were sound, misguided, or somewhere in between, surely something can be learned from their experiences.

This article conjures up horrible images: a young woman--selected for no good reason--is dragged from her home, kicking and screaming, pinned to the operating table, and sterilized. But it's really hard to imagine that such things happen in Sweden. Sweden certainly appears to be a highly civilized country. Could it be that in every imaginable respect, it's a highly civilized country, except for these isolated, totally atypical acts of barbarism? Or is it just possible there's a higher ethical principle operating here that we can see only if we probe beneath the surface?

The sad fact is that there are women in this world who are mentally incompetent (either severely retarded or mentally ill), and who are also fertile. They present a serious ethical dilemma. It's easy to condemn Sweden's actions, but it's not so easy to find alternatives that are demonstrably better.

There's a very real danger that if such women aren't sterilized, they'll get pregnant, because history has shown that there are plenty of unscrupulous men ready to take advantage of them. In mental institutions, women are sometimes impregnated ("raped" would probably be more accurate) by attendants, guards, or janitors. Then, the child is taken away from the mother (is this a good thing?) and given up for adoption. In the past, in most cases, the adoptive parents weren't informed if the biological mother was a schizophrenic who had been raped by an employee of the institution (is this fair to the adopting parents?). Most of the children born of such unions will be alright, but as a group, they are far more likely to develop psychopathologies of various sorts.

We really don't know all the details about what happened in Sweden and the other European countries mentioned in the article. I'm not arguing that these programs were faultless. I'm just saying that the issues involved are difficult and complicated. An article that reports that "thousands were sterilized without their consent" could be verymisleading.

And what precisely does this phrase "without their consent" mean when talking about mentally incompetent people? By definition, mentally incompetent people cannot make decisions on their own. So what if they did give their consent? What would such consent mean, if they don't understand what they're consenting to? Maybe, just maybe, the authorities in Sweden realized they'd have decide for the women--they didn't bother to ask their permission, because they knew that to do so would be meaningless. I suppose one could try to explain to the women how babies are made, and why it might be better if they didn't have one, and then say "So, do we have your permission to be sterilized now?" But the whole thing could only be a charade as long as they didn't fully comprehend what was being said.

Pregnancy and childbirth, in and of themselves, are not terrific experiences!! They involve nausea, depression, mood swings, bladder problems, severe discomfort towards the end (just from being so fat), and hemorrhoids, to say nothing of the pain. This is self-evident to the women who have undergone it. To attempt to prove it seem kind of silly, but I suppose we could do a survey asking a random sample of women with children, How much fun was your last pregnancy and birth, on a scale of 1 to 10? Few women would argue that pregnancy and childbirth are fun. Surrogate mothers are paid considerable sums to undergo it for infertile couples, presumably because there arent lots of women volunteering to do it for free. So I think its a safe assumption pregnancy and childbirth are not inherently highly- rewarding experiences, except perhaps as they are a patrt of the process of producing a child to love.

Theyre something to be endured as a means to an end. But if a woman goes through 9 months of it, has a baby, and then is told, "Sorry, we have to take your baby away from you for its own protection," and the mother never sees her baby again, this is a very sad story!! It's a wrenching experience, and it is arguably far worse than having a simple operation to prevent pregnancy in the first place, one which many thousands of women opt for every year when they don't want more children.

Lets be clear about this. By sterilizing mentally incompetent women, were not depriving them of the experience of MOTHERHOOD -- they are already denied that by the fact that they would be totally unfit mothers. Rather, were depriving them of the dubious priviledgeprivilege of PREGNANCY and CHILDBIRTH, which, as the majority of women would attest, is doing them a favor. In addition, were sparing them the profoundly painful experience of having their baby taken away from them at birth, never to be seen again.

So we have 2 choices here: either these women can be sterilized, or they risk having children for whom they cannot care, who will be forcibly taken from them, without their consent!! The children will also have a substantially increased chance of developing mental problems. I believe the former is the more humane, and the more ethical, all things considered. (The fertility of mentally incompetent men is not as big a problem because severely retarded or insane men generally have a very hard time finding women to have sex with.)

It looks like we are going to HAVE to FORCE them to do something -- either to be sterilized, or to take their babies away from them at birth. Either that, or the babies can be brought up in an insane asylum. I think the former is much more kind. There's no getting around this choice, pretending it doesn't exist. What do you think?

The question remains, who will make this decision? Since the government seems to screw up nearly everything it gets its hands on, the decision should be made by the parents or closest relative. If there is none, perhaps by the institution. This needs to be worked out.

Society can and does make decisions for mentally incompetent people all the time--for example, to institutionalize them. To allow them total "freedom" means to abandon them. It means allowing them to wander the streets mumbling to themselves, hovering in doorways, easy prey for criminals, and likely doing harm to themselves or others. In my opinion, it's in their best interest, and in the best interest of any future children they may bear, and society at large, if these people do not procreate.

5. Everyone knows that IQ tests are biased--what makes you think they're not biased?

Here's an example of real bias: Say an IQ test is standardized in England, and in the vocabulary section there are words like "lift" [as a noun] and "lorry" and "scones." If this same test is given to American kids, these items would stand out rather conspicuously. When you looked at the data, you would recognize immediately that: 1. answers to these questions were merely random guesses, 2. kids who scored high on the test as a whole wouldn't be any more likely to get them right than those who scored low, and 3. older kids wouldn't do any better than younger kids. (We'll assume, for the sake of simplicity, that their exposure to these words is uniformly zero.) This means they're worthless questions, with no predictive value, for the American kids, because all they do is add "noise," thereby reducing the reliability and validity of the test. Furthermore, if nobody ever bothered to look at the data and delete these items from the American version, these items could legitimately be said to be "biased" against American kids.

By analyzing the data, it's possible to determine definitively whether a test is, or is not, biased against any group, or whether particular items are biased. (It gets much more complicated, but this is a kind of "Bias-Made-Simple" explanation.) Also, there's the important question of whether the test predicts success equally well for all groups. If a test doesn't satisfy the criteria for bias, it's not biased. People's feelings, and what may appear on the surface to be bias, have nothing to do with making this determination.

In Arthur Jensen's definitive work on the subject, Bias in Mental Testing, he found that IQ tests are not biased (using statistical criteria), except that the tiny unreliability of the tests slightly favors low-scoring groups. Also, it's hard to imagine how the argument of bias towards Caucasians could be refuted any more effectively than by the fact that Japanese kids do better (on average) than American kids.

6. What you're advocating is the kind of thing David Duke would endorse!

It's a pathetic commentary on freedom of speech in this country, but given the current political climate, only brave people with a large degree of independence can speak unpopular truths that go against political correctness. Why? Because people can and do lose their jobs. Remember "Jimmy the Greek?" He made some comment about blacks that wasn't even derogatory, but he was immediately fired, and never seen or heard from since. The whole country witnesses these events, and we're all cowed by them. It's kind of like Fascism, or Communism, only the censorship was created from within, and there are no laws on the books. We need to understand better what is fueling this insanity. At any rate, if David Duke knows the facts, and he's smart enough and brave enough to endorse eugenics, then great, he's to be commended for it.

7. Wouldn't it be impossible to make a serious dent in the incidence of recessive metabolic disorders through eugenics?

Yes, that's a good point. Most children born with them come from parents who didn't know they were carriers. If everyone who actually had the disorder didn't have children, it still wouldn't make much difference. But nowadays, there are many powerful new ways to deal with these problems. Parents can be tested to see if they're carriers, and if a fetus is affected, they have the option to abort. Or, they could have in vitro fertilization, and implant only the fertilized egg that was not affected. These procedures are part of contemporary eugenics, which really has many more options than early eugenics had.

8. There are good reasons to reject eugenics, even if it's scientifically valid. One is that the world is not ready to handle this research. It's true the media have a kind of filter that is heavily biased in favor of equality, so pro-eugenics views are hardly ever heard. However, there's a reason this filter exists: it's more important for the majority of people to have a good life than it is for them to consider dangerous or volatile ideas.

Ah, now you've hit on something! You very aptly describe the suppression of these ideas as a "filter." I agree absolutely that this belief--that the public should be protected from radical ideas, particularly ones the media themselves find distasteful-- is a major reason journalists and others have lied to the public about IQ. But as reasons go, this one is not nearly good enough!! Don't journalists have an ethical obligation to report the facts? Snyderman and Rothman showed that in this debate, the ultra-liberal media have actually kept expert opinion from the public.

While mentally incompetent people must have decisions made for them by others (because, by definition, they're incapable of making rational choices), the public can hardly be considered mentally incompetent. Are you suggesting that the public is too stupid and too unstable to be trusted with the truth? This is precisely the reason why many in the anti-eugenics camp distort or suppress the truth about IQ. Also, what a handy rationalization for journalists and others who are simply too cowardly to express an unpopular truth! They don't even have to admit it to themselves. Instead, they can congratulate themselves on being "real humanitarians.

To me, the attitude you express conveys a chilling arrogance, and utter contempt for the humanity of the public. It indicates they (you?) don't value truth, or freedom, very much. Because you "care" about them, you want to decide what's best for them to believe?! Would you want people to "care" about you that way? Who are you--who is anyone-- to decide what truths the masses can, and cannot, be told? Do you believe in freedom of speech? Or is it only for certain people?

9. Maybe there are valid reasons why many people are ignorant about sociobiology and eugenics--ie, because they are scared of their implications.

I think you're right. But wouldn't it be much better to know exactly what the facts are, and then start worrying? Maybe it's not as bad as we fear. Has it ever been a good strategy to stick our heads in the sand, like an ostrich? And really, the facts are basically the same things people have always believed in since the beginning of time. Now science has confirmed what common sense told people for millennia, so there's no reason to think these beliefs will somehow bring about the end of the world. The idea that everyone is born exactly equal on everything that matters is totally new. Before Marx and Freud, it would have been laughed at, and it will be laughed at in the future, because an illusion--especially one this blatantly obvious--can't sustain itself indefinitely.

10. There are many admirable human qualities that aren't measured by IQ tests. There will never be consensus on what all of those qualities are. What gives any of us the right to decide which ones to phase out?

I believe there's already a consensus on the fundamental traits we value--for example, what traits would you want to see in your children? Most people would say they want their children to be healthy, intelligent, sane, law-abiding (not criminals) and conscientious--meaning possessing good character (honest, hard-working, concerned for well-being of others). Have any parents, anywhere, ever said, "We're hoping our son will grow up to be a psychopath?" These values would be the same 100 years ago, and 1000 years ago.

Another way this consensus is expressed is in governmental expenditures on hospitals, research on diseases and mental illness, prisons, police, etc. We as a society are already very clearly trying to change people, using environmental engineering in a not-very-effective attempt to make people smart, law-abiding, sane, and healthy. Why not do something that actually works?

A "right" implies there's something in it for us, when in reality, there's nothing in it for us. I believe that we have a responsibility to future generations, a moral obligation, to help them, just as we want to make sure they have clean air and water, and a sound economy. We already agree on what is good, and what is not. There's absolutely no doubt about it--we are quite sure that we wouldn't want to be diseased, retarded, a criminal, or insane--so it's no great leap of faith to assume people of the future don't want that, either!

11. What you say may be true, but still, you frighten me!

I realize eugenics upsets many people, and I'm sorry. I know from long experience that besides frightening people, it also makes them extremely angry, believe me! I wish I could say what is true without upsetting people, but I can't. The reason I have devoted myself to eugenics is because I believe there's an enormous amount to be gained from it, and that eugenics can bring about a vast increase in happiness and well-being. But in the short term, just mentioning the word upsets people--there's no doubt about it.

I'm not unsympathetic to people who are horrified at the thought of eugenics, because they think it's some form of cruelty, and cruelty in any form is something I personally abhor. The two traits I value most highly are honesty and kindness. I believe passionately in eugenics because I see it as the most immense kindness. People who think of eugenics as some form of cruelty wrongly associate it with the Nazi's. This is an unfair association, since 28 other countries had eugenics legislation, but did not commit genocide, or anything like it.

12. What is intelligence?

One simple, straightforward definition is that intelligence is problem-solving ability. There are other ways to define it. Egalitarians may object, "Since we can't all agree on a definition, it's a useless concept." Not true! Intelligence is like heat. We know the difference between hot and cold, and we can measure fine gradations of heat. But, they may ask, what is heat, really? It's molecules rushing about. OK, but what is that really? Some people say, "It's too hot in here!" while others will say, "It's too cold!" Does this mean we must discard the concept of heat? No. Almost any definition of any word could give rise to disagreement. We don't have unanimity on definitions of many important constructs which we use every day, but we carry on nevertheless, and we are much better off with them, than without them.

Egalitarians also love to say, "But IQ isn't everything!" That's true. (Is there anything which is everything?) But IQ clearly is something very, very important. Prediction is the gold standard in science. Those who pooh-pooh it have a difficult time (or maybe I should say "an impossible task") explaining why IQ is the single best predictor of success in life. How could anything which measures nothing--or even something trivial--predict success so well?

13. It seems like there's a total "disconnect" on this issue between science on the one hand, and popular opinion, on the other.

You're absolutely right. There are 2 arenas in which the Nature-Nurture debate is taking place --the scientific one, and the public one--and the outcomes are exactly opposite. Scientifically, the egalitarian (nurture) position that heredity has no influence on behavior, that everyone is born exactly the same, and that the environment determines everything--is totally bankrupt. Proponents of this view have been not just beaten, but clobbered by overwhelming evidence-- from numerous twin studies, adoption studies, and studies like the one by Charles Murray (on this website). The egalitarians have been clobbered despite the fact that the "playing field" is absurdly uneven in their favor--it is far easier to get funds for research if you take an egalitarian stance, your articles will be greeted with great interest and approval, and you won't have even one-thousandth the problem finding a publisher for your book, which will get good reviews and sell lots of copies. In spite of all that, the egalitarians have been thoroughly trounced in the scientific arena for the plain and simple reason that they're wrong.

But in the public arena, it's just the opposite. The egalitarians, with help from the liberal media, have clearly won the day. The egalitarian strategy has been all along to snipe at the research of the hereditarians. [I use "hereditarians" to mean people who believe heredity exerts a strong influence on behavior. No hereditarians I've ever heard of believe the environment is unimportant.] Egalitarians use ad hominem attacks, portraying hereditarians as hateful, bigoted villains who deliberately distort their data in order to make other people feel bad. Egalitarians have no compelling evidence, and they know it, so their best tactic is to confuse the issue: "Nobody can ever know for sure." "It hasn't been proven." "Who can say what intelligence really is?" They like to say that heredity and environment are so hopelessly entangled, how could anyone figure out the relative influence of each? [Easy--by studying identical twins reared apart.] Their obscurantist strategy is powerless against vast areas of new research (e.g., on biological correlates of IQ), so they simply ignore them. They point to small flaws in one twin study, for example, to try to invalidate it, but neglect to inform the reader that a dozen more studies found exactly the same thing. They give examples of questions taken from IQ tests, often items discarded 20 years ago, saying they're "obviously biased," as if it's sufficient to simply make the assertion and leave it at that. But do the egalitarians really want to get at the truth? Ask yourself this question, "What research have Gould, Lewontin, Rose, et al ever produced to prove the egalitarians are correct?" Answer: None.

Among researchers in the field of IQ, it's been common knowledge for years that the leading proponents of egalitarianism are not merely mistaken or misinformed, they are thoroughly dishonest. They deliberately mislead people into accepting egalitarianism, an ideology consistent with their own political beliefs, and one which they arrogantly decided is "good for" the masses to believe. (And in so doing, they make lots of money--they must be in hog heaven.) Not only is their position true, they insist, it's the only moral stance. I ask you: doesn't this sound suspicious? Are we talking about truth here, or about religion? How can a question of fact become also a moral duty to believe? Brilliant and sincere scientists, such as Jensen, Lynn, Rushton, Herrnstein, and Murray, who consistently report the truth even though they know it's unpopular, are the evil villains in the little "morality play," while the egalitarians, of course, are the "good guys." It's ironic the way they take on pious airs while blatantly lying. The reader must surely be thinking by now, "What kind of insanity are we witnessing here?!" I'll tell you what kind--it's called temporary insanity, because the egalitarians won't be able to suppress the truth forever.

Judging from their past behavior, it wouldn't be at all unreasonable to imagine that the egalitarians would conduct studies and lie about their results--if they thought they could get away with it. But they can't, at least not for long, and here's why. If they conducted a twin study, for example, to prove that genes don't influence behavior, that IQ has no genetic component, or whatever, if they tell the truth about their results, it either won't prove much of anything (because they messed it up), or more likely, it will prove they're totally wrong. Still, they might get a little mileage out of it by interpreting their results in some convoluted way. But if they fabricate a study, and lie about their results, then they'll get into big trouble, because other scientists will attempt to replicate it, and get the opposite results. Eventually, their dishonesty will be revealed, and they will lose what piddling credibility they have left in the scientific world. (That's part of the beauty of science! It's an excellent system for uncovering the truth.) So basically, all the egalitarians are left with is sniping at the hereditarians, and droning on and on No one can never know for sure.

Everyone knows that if a person listens to only one side in a bitter divorce, he/she is liable to come away with a totally biased impression. (The wife's friends will say "The husband is a monster!" and the husband's friends will say "The wife's a psychopath!") But even though we know better, we still fall prey to believing what we hear based on just one side, and we do it all the time, because there are only so many hours in a day, and we can't probe deeply into every question. On the issue of genetics and behavior, the egalitarians and the liberal media have totally dominated public discourse, so for decades, only their side has been presented to the public. Is it any wonder the public accepts what they say uncritically? It's certainly not anyone's fault for believing it. If I didn't happen to be involved with IQ, I'm sure I'd believe it, too.

But then maybe someday, I might think to myself, "Why not see what the other side has to say?" Many, many people are incapable of doing this, because they're terrified the other side might be right. Then, not only would they feel like fools ("embarrassed in front of themselves"), they'd have to re-assess many of their beliefs. Anyway, just imagine I summoned up the courage to venture into forbidden territory, and I read one really good book, such as The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray. I'd think to myself "Gee, what a totally different world this is! It's not a long, rambling, tendentious bunch of propaganda like Gould's The Mismeasure of Man--it's well-organized, clearly stated, interesting, even engrossing. Hmmm . . . kind of exciting! It's like real meat-and-potatoes here, whereas that other stuff . . . was more like . . . cotton candy. And look--all these interesting graphs and tables! I guess that's because this is, well, science." And when I'd finished, I don't think I'd feel foolish at all - I think I'd be plenty angry that I'd been lied to about genes and behavior for my whole entire life.




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