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October 02, 2003

Eugenics for Intelligence

Aarhus University professor Helmuth Nyborg made a statement that rang around the world today as he called for the government to practice selective breeding among humans to prevent the cognitive decline of the human race.

While many will be quick to equivocate his statements to Hitler's policy of eugenics, Nyborg preemptively says that Hitler practiced extermination along racial lines, removing the intelligent with the not-so-intelligent from the gene pool.

"Intelligence is hereditary," said Professor Helmuth Nyborg, the dean of the Psychology Institute at Aarhus University. "The 15 to 20 percent of those at the lower levels of society -- those who are not able to manage even the simplest tasks and often not their children -- should be dissuaded from having children. The fact is that they are having more children and the intelligent ones are having fewer."

The story has been picked up by many major news sources around the world, including The Age, The Straits Times, The Washington Times, and The Telegraph.

Posted by A. Beaujean at 10:31 AM




Ole's forthcoming book Unnatural Selection will presumably argue the case for declining intelligence levels. I haven't really looked into the topic yet, but what I don't understand is how such a case squares itself with the Flynn Effect which demonstrates that intelligence levels have been rising.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at October 2, 2003 11:41 AM


"Prof Nyborg's claims met widespread criticism. "This is something that is contrary to all moral principle," said Berthel Haarder, the immigration and integration minister, adding that it was "unacceptable"."

What is immoral, the assertion that dumb women have more kids, or non-compulsory incentives to dissuade it?

Posted by: duende at October 2, 2003 11:46 AM


sometime in the next 50 years the world population will stabilize. currently, though there might be dysgenic trends (the more educated you are, the fewer descendents you will leave), the absolute numbers of human beings is increasing. barring ecological catastrophe or post-humanism-i will be curious to see if there might be problems when the absolute rather than relative number of people with a combination of locii that contribute to high intelligence starts to decline....

Posted by: razib at October 2, 2003 01:33 PM


The Flynn Effect is a curious thing. From what I have read, it is independent of g, and seems, more likely, to just be an increase in specifc content knoweldge. For example, a big test I know of had a question, with a decent discrimination value, about chads. Since November 2000, this question lost its ability to discriminate as now almost 95% of American test-takers know what a chad is. So, dysgenics and the Flynn Effect do not seem to be mutually exclusive, although more data needs to be collected here.

Posted by: Alex B. at October 3, 2003 08:14 AM


I'll be the contrarian as usual. On this issue the libertarian-secularists and eugenicist streaks of GNXP are diametrically opposed. One of the primary factors, perhaps the most important single definable factor, in the flattening of birth rates is the woman's ability to choose for herself. This comes along with development, secularization, and the education of women.

A side effect is what you're talking about. On the one hand, poor, uneducated, traditional women are not free to choose; and on the other, even within the middle class, the more intelligent and ambitious women probably have fewer children. Because, as I've said many times, childbearing is a bad deal for parents, especially mothers, both economically and in terms of personal options. (Look at Jacqueline's singles ad below; incidentally when I posted there I was not ragging on Jacqueline personally, but just snarkily trying to raise this issue with GNXP.)

So the outcome is that libertarians who are ragingly indignant at motorcycle laws and anti-tobacco campaigns as intrusions on freedom are starting to talk about government anti-fertility campaigns among certain groups. (Are pro-fertility campaigns also dreamed of -- offering Heroes of Libertarian Motherhood awards to mothers of more than ten children? Are the tribal fathers of GNXP going to end up muttering ancient prayers for "many healthy boy babies"?.) State intrusion on fertility has always been one of the touchiest issues politically, and represents one of the extremest development of the nanny/welfare state denounced by liberartarians.

Against this is the sociological fact that parents of fewer children are much better able to educate them. And children in developed environments where education is available end up smarter. I personally do not have the key to sorting out the nature-nurture ratio, but here at GNXP I see a compensatory pro-nature anti-nurture advocacy which seems unlikely to answer that question either.

Down the page is a slam at sociology per se. I am not an advocate of sociology specifically, but the study of historical, social, cultural, and institutional constraints on human development needs more attention than it gets here.

For example, suppose I say that Mozart was born into a musical family in a society which highly valued music and offered unusual career opportunities for talented musicians. Mozart's father, also named Mozart, was a specialist in music teaching and Wolfgang was his guinea pig. He put his son on the circuit immediately -- at the beginning Wolfgang performed in a kind of vaudeville with jugglers and dancing bears. Mozart was supporting his family on the market starting about age 4).

When you ask about the sources of Mozart's genius, some of the answers are in what I just stated. You can call them banal sociological truisms, but they shouldn't be ignored, as they tend to be here at GNXP.

The groups GNXP worries about tend to be low-wage workers in an economy which needs low wage workers. (There are also cultural reinforcements which keep these peoples uneducated -- the tribal "Have many healthy boy babies" meme is one of the big ones.) People who move up and down the West Coast picking the crops are doing necessary work, but that's a way of life that's hard to escape from (though many, in fact do -- requiring the importation of new fruit workers).

The lowest economic class (propertyless day laborers and beggars) everywhere has always been despised, and in most cases despised groups are poor. (Exceptions do occur!)

Posted by: Zizka at October 3, 2003 08:45 AM


historical, social, cultural, and institutional constraints on human development needs more attention than it gets here.

gets attention elsewhere, ad nauseum, i see no reason to clutter this blog with what you get a typical college classroom, or the type of commentary that is normal bloggage in other parts (we do a lot of qualifying as it is...i see very few of the environmentalists [or those who speak to those issues] always having to state, of course, biology is important as well...)

as for your libertarian vs. eugenicist dichotomy-there is some truth in that. i favor two things: lack of state support for large families (stupid people aren't that stupid, new jersey's anti-welfare initiatives of the mid 90s showed that poor women respond to anti-natal incentives) & private initiatives like c.r.a.c.k..

Posted by: razib at October 3, 2003 10:53 AM


Razib, compensationalist thinking is good in polemic, but not really a good heuristic. If you really want to sort out what's happening, you have to look at both sides of the equation. On the nature-nurture scale I'm something like 30/70 where you are more 80/20 I would guess, but regardless of the number, you have to understand the 20 in order to understand the phenomenon.

Some people here seem to have accepted a multiculturalist definition of culture, which limits it to experience, personality, "relationships", and consumption items in a sort of artsy/ touchy-feely way. But the rule of law is cultural; private property; the nation-state; monogamy; scientific paradigm; etc. One reason I'm not a multiculturalist is that, not matter how much I might like Hispanic or Islamic music, cuisine, literature, architecture, etc., I cannot accept those peoples' political culture, family culture, and other fundamental social institutions. Very few multiculturalists really think institutionally that way, and so they produce something that's pretty silly.

Gotta go, but when we look at the success stories of E. Asia, we're not just looking at a successful gene pool, but at a lot of successful institutions -- below the national level this above all means families devoting themselves and making big sacrifices to their children's education.

Posted by: Zizka at October 3, 2003 11:17 AM


On the nature-nurture scale I'm something like 30/70 where you are more 80/20 I would guess, but regardless of the number, you have to understand the 20 in order to understand the phenomenon.

no-it depends on the trait. i'm not going to get take serioiusly a "sociology of why we eat." that's stupid. (to give an extreme example) on the other hand, i'm not going give you an "evolutionary pscyhology of why men in the west wear pants instead of kilts." intelligence on the other hand-depending on how you look at, fits somewhere in the middle (heritability, the variance of the phenotype in a population attributable to genotype variance is kind of different than the common sense "it is 50% genetic" for any given person). we look at the genetic angle-partly because that's where our strengths are professionally-partly because we feel like we need to set some limiting conditions on some public policy debates (for instance, even for common-sense non-genetic reasons, people should admit that some children are going to be left behind-not all children are above average).

in short, man is more than an animal, but his humanity is contingent on his animality.

additionally-i think you're mischaracterizing the tenor of the blog-when i post about "liberalism" or many topics related to international cultures, i'm not a reflexive biological determinist. i think there might be biological constraints, and i might mention it, but many of my historical or political essays are only lightly informed by biology-the main variables i point to as determinants of the historical trajectory of the culture are the contexts of geography, demography, religion, etc..

Posted by: razib at October 3, 2003 11:34 AM


To a certain extent, when GNXP came to consider biological determinants at all, some leaped to the conclusion that you carry this farther than you really do. (Including some who wanted to be your friends for the wrong reasons). I don't mean to overdo that myself. As far as I know, the location of the nature-nurture borderline, or the distribution of hereditary traits other than IQ, hasn't been discussed much here so far, and certainly it is not known in much detail.

I tend to feel that people here explain things genetically/racially before exhausting the institutional/cultural explanations. Of course, that's your schtick here, and that's cool. My schtick is to be the devil's advocate on these questions.

Just to help move things along, let me list a bunch of environmentalist assumptions that I do NOT believe:
1. Criminals are not guilty -- society is to blame.
2. The range of cultural and social possibility is infinite, unconstrained by biological human nature.
3. Social science is analogous to physical science and should be used to develop government social engineering progams.
4. Individuals have no major genetic differences in capacity or temperament.
5. I also now agree that often government benefits and charity encourage harmful behavior by enabling it. However, that argument is often pushed too far.

These points are not straw men -- many do believe them even today (they were new ideas 70-100 years ago and still very strong 20 years ago), but by and large I don't. (On #3 I am more interventionist and welfare-statist than most people here, but I don't use a science/engineering model).

The crux of my problem is that sometimes here genetic interpretations are applied to human differences which are social or economic in origin -- particularly the intersection of the problems of the lower class with traditional ethnic antipathies. Most peoples have some despised inferior group thought to be hereditarily inferior (Irish in XIX c. England, burukamin in Japan, hill peoples in China, etc.), and the dispassionate study of these kinds of groups is always very tricky. Both because of PC, but also because of inherited animosities on both sides.

I really love to come to this site because of the range of historical issues discussed. I never have felt that GNXP was guilty as charged on the racism issue, but there have been times I thought that a bit of unnecessary carelessness was being displayed.

Posted by: Zizka at October 3, 2003 02:29 PM


tend to feel that people here explain things genetically/racially before exhausting the institutional/cultural explanations

i will post on this-i think that it depends on trait-there are certain simple behaviors that are universal that should be explained biologically-on the other hand, complex traits are more iffy....


The crux of my problem is that sometimes here genetic interpretations are applied to human differences which are social or economic in origin -- particularly the intersection of the problems of the lower class with traditional ethnic antipathies. Most peoples have some despised inferior group thought to be hereditarily inferior (Irish in XIX c. England, burukamin in Japan, hill peoples in China, etc.), and the dispassionate study of these kinds of groups is always very tricky. Both because of PC, but also because of inherited animosities on both sides.


I really love to come to this site because of the range of historical issues discussed. I never have felt that GNXP was guilty as charged on the racism issue, but there have been times I thought that a bit of unnecessary carelessness was being displayed.

this is true to an extent. the problem is that many people will read SOME posts without taking the context of the blog as a whole (ie; we are a group blog-and we as individuals change our opinions, and scatter them across many posts).

btw-i have become progressively more suspicious of IQ tests cross-culturally compared. ogbu's work on burkamin & ipan japanese IQ differential (15 points in japan, 0 in the united states) is very interesting-and i will blog on his work at some point, but frankly, i am enjoying the respite from racial controversies....

Posted by: razib at October 3, 2003 04:34 PM


Congratulations on an interesting sight. I wonder why Cavalli-Sforza doesn't carry out a cluster analysis on his data.

You may like to link your readers to my book on intelligence, The g Factor, as below?

Best regards, -- Chris Brand.

Chris Brand, Psychorealist, author of THE g FACTOR (Wiley DePublisher, 1996).
(The 2000 edition is available FREE at http://www.douance.org/qi/brandtgf.htm.)

Posted by: Chris Brand at October 6, 2003 11:41 AM