July 02, 2015
Opposition To Smarter Babies In United States

A Pew survey finds quite high rates of opposition in the United States to choosing genes that will make for smarter babies and smarter adults: 83% opposed to genetic editing in favor of smartness.

Strong majorities of both men and women are opposed to modifications aimed at increasing a baby’s intelligence, although opinion is more negative among women (87%) than it is among men (78%).

This result hardly differs by educational level or political party affiliation.

By contrast, I think boosting offspring intelligence will be a boon. The power of higher intelligence is enormous. Children will do better in school, grow up to be much more productive at work, earn more money, commit less crime, and live longer healthier lives. Boosting the intelligence of children will boost many desired measures of societal health.

I expect opinions will shift once prospective couples gain the means to choose embryos that will result in smarter babies. It is one thing to answer a survey about a matter in the abstract. It is quite another to be faced with a real decision with consequences that will affect you and yours for decades to come. The elites especially will do what it takes to make smarter offspring who are more capable of maintaining levels of family achievement across generations. If regulatory regimes block genetic editing (with CRISPR-Cas9) or embryo selection for better cognitive characteristics then I expect the upper classes will just travel to countries where such biotechnologies are allowed.

In China and developed countries in East Asia I expect both the broad public and the elites in government to eagerly embrace biotechnologies for making smarter babies. So East Asia may pull well ahead of the West with much smarter societies. Fear of this result might spur Western elites to promote the use of these biotechnologies.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 July 02 02:45 PM 

Brett Bellmore said at July 3, 2015 4:59 AM:

I personally have opposition to posts vanishing after they accumulate comments, and without any explanation. What's up with that?

Placebo said at July 3, 2015 9:09 AM:

What happened to legalization of polygamy post?

Brett Bellmore said at July 3, 2015 4:21 PM:

There's a comment missing from the antibiotic era post, too.

I wonder if the system glitched somehow, and had to be restored to a backed up state that was prior to the legalization of polygamy post?

Randall Parker said at July 3, 2015 10:40 PM:

Polygamy post: I moved to to parapundit.com since I did not actually intend to post it on futurepundit.com. I sometimes do things that dumb. I thought when I deleted it there were no comments in it. That's what the admin dashboard told me. Sorry about that. I'll try to be more careful next time.

Antibiotic era post comment missing: I do not know why. I delete a lot of spam posts. I do not think I deleted a non-spam post.

Brett Bellmore said at July 4, 2015 6:27 AM:

Ah, that makes sense, I've added that site to my blog list.

"Fear of this result might spur Western elites to promote the use of these biotechnologies."

Not likely, I think. The Western elites will just move when the West goes down. They've abandoned the long term game already, they're just doing what they can to loot the ruins while there's something left to loot.

Frankly, if Asia has any sense, they won't permit them entry.

jp straley said at July 7, 2015 1:04 PM:

Opposition to such genetic technique will end when non-optimized persons have to directly compete with the optimized. The technique is portable, and determined prospective parents will merely cross political borders to avoid laws that limit such choices.

JP Straley

jp straley said at July 7, 2015 1:06 PM:

Opposition to such genetic technique will end when non-optimized persons directly compete with the optimized. The technique is portable, and determined prospective parents will merely cross political borders to avoid laws that limit such choices.

JP Straley

Jim Owen said at July 11, 2015 6:43 PM:

Given the present state of the US education system, higher IQ would probably not make much difference. Unless you want much smarter ignoramuses.

Micha Elyi said at July 11, 2015 7:18 PM:

Just look around you, Randall Parker, and see the revealed preference of Americans for intelligence. American culture values intelligence far less than athletics and intellectual skill far less than athletic skill.

Think twice, and think about what American schools would be like if intelligence were as sought after as athletic talent, if young people of superior intellectual talent were taught, practiced, and challenged as much as youths with superior athletic talent are.

Hans Niemand said at July 11, 2015 7:22 PM:

A higher IQ doesn't mean automatic success. It likely promotes social alienation among age-peers and offends the pride and vanity of the tenured/unionized/pension-seekers in front of the classroom.

If a gene can be mapped which enables the accurate throw of a football 60-70 yards the only trouble in that young life will be a wet trouser from having his ass kissed all day long.

Klaar said at July 11, 2015 7:49 PM:

assortative mating, geek with geek, in many US cities might be leading to clusters of autism spectrum disorder. Not sure that editing genes to accomplish the same---smarter offspring---will be much better.

log said at July 11, 2015 7:51 PM:

Gee, I wonder if smarter peeple would get along better, and resolve conflict by absorbing abuse instead of perpetuating it? Or if they'd simply be more efficient predators of humans. Or some other third thing.

As Syndrome said - "When everyone's super... no one will be."

skellmeyer said at July 11, 2015 8:11 PM:

What has Mensa or similar organizations ever done for society?

David White said at July 11, 2015 8:47 PM:

A wise man once will have said, "For every Julian Bashir, there's a Khan Singh waiting in the wings."

I'm actually more worried about short-sighted Darwinian policies accidentally weeding out something we might need in two to three hundred years' time. What if some contagion arises that poses an existential threat, but individuals with Down's Syndrome possessed enhanced resistance thereunto? It'd be a bit of a pity to have eliminated that from the gene pool. Far-fetched, but one tends to get the idea. You start freely editing these things, you end up lowering diversity in the gene pool. In the long run, I'm not convinced this is a great idea.

I'm also wondering if this isn't how we will have ended up with Eloi and Morlocks.

Randall Parker said at July 11, 2015 9:12 PM:

Micha Elyi,

Teachers generally prefer to teach smarter students because it is easier to do so. The problem is that most of the students aren't bright enough. When they aren't smart they aren't curious and resent being taught stuff they can barely understand. A class full of 140 IQ kids aren't going to be anti-learning or anti-thinking.


What is the relevance of Mensa? The correct question: what have geniuses ever done for society? The answer: Made most scientific discoveries and inventions and radical innovations.


One can be extremely smart and not be autistic. I've met many such people.

Jim Owen,

Super smart kids are self-teaching. They just need books. Though bright peers would help.

Hans Niemand,

If parents with really bright kids move into the same school district then their kids can have bright peers. Once parents can make 140 IQ kids on demand that's what they'll do.

Robin Munn said at July 11, 2015 9:42 PM:

Micha Elyi -

I value intelligence quite highly, but would be opposed to genetic modification designed to boost it, because I believe it wouldn't work. 1) We already know that there's no single "intelligence gene", but that intelligence is a combination of many different genes working in concert. 2) Because there are so many genes working in concert, and the number of possible combinations grows factorially. 3) Some combinations of the intelligence gene almost certainly lead to worse outcomes for the individual, such as schizophrenia and autism. 4) Despite what many people think, higher intelligence doesn't usually boost an individual's quality of life all that much, unless he/she would otherwise have been severely retarded and the intelligence boost put him/her in the normal range. 5) Therefore, the risk/reward analysis of trying to boost intelligence says "don't do it" until we know how to avoid the bad combinations. Otherwise, you're putting an individual at risk of very annoying and difficult conditions, for a potential benefit not to him personally but to society. And any idea that says "individual happiness must be sacrificed for the greater good of society" smacks of fascism.

Now, maybe my analysis is wrong on one or more points. Could be. But I am an example of how "I don't think we should try to choose genes for higher intelligence" does NOT have to imply "I don't value intelligence."

Diggs said at July 11, 2015 10:47 PM:

Smarter people will make more advanced weapons, quicker. I'm not opposed to that at all, having been in the Army for twenty-two years using some of the best advanced weapons. But really, if you are going to equate higher intelligence with greater utopias, you are fooling only yourself. Hopefully you'll choose genes for your kid that makes them less susceptible to believing in unicorns and fairy dust.

skellmeyer said at July 12, 2015 7:38 AM:

My point about Mensa is simple - aggregating "geniuses" in one room doesn't improve society. Sure, isolated genius is helpful, but perhaps the isolation is precisely what makes their genius shine. There is also the problem of defining "genius". Is it scoring well on standardized tests, a la Mensa? Or is it genius in maintaining positive attitudes in the face of all kinds of adversity? In which case Down's Syndrome is undeniably a form of unappreciated genius.

But we kill the latter geniuses while we emphasize the former genius.
What guarantee is there that we are any good at deciding what kind of genius it is that we need?

Jaquish said at July 12, 2015 10:04 AM:

People were probably answering the question as "Do you want other people's kids to be smarter than you and yours?" If you were to ask those starting a family "Do you want your children to have well above average intelligence, and accept a few genetic modifications to assure that?" the statistics would be different. Never underestimate the power of envy in shaping a society. The free society, where individuals mind their own business, is a defense from the corrosive effects of envy.

Peter Kenny said at July 12, 2015 12:04 PM:

I suppose it's considered non-smart to raise ethical considerations here, but: "embryo selection for better cognitive characteristics" would seem to mean: conceive the child, test him or her in the embryonic stage, and abort the little creature if it fails the test?

skellmeyer said at July 12, 2015 12:18 PM:

Notice that we want people who are smart, not people who are honest or just.
Couldn't it be that some people are more virtuous by nature?
You might get a smarter society, but that doesn't mean you will like what you get.

mr burns said at July 12, 2015 4:43 PM:

a culture steeped in postmodernism is a culture that denies the existence of truth and that words have meaning. This culture permeates our colleges, media, entertainment and has infected the supreme court. Intelligent people aren't wanted.

a1 said at July 13, 2015 4:06 AM:

I'm more interested in proven ways to boost my intelligence NOW.

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