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Genius Babies

The internet headline was “engineering genius babies” out of China. Not true. But the reality is very interesting. We’ll check it out.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

The headline flying all over the digital universe was head-turning: “China is engineering genius babies.” “Superbabies” was the follow-on. And it was not exactly correct. But it wasn’t entirely wrong, either.

And it’s not just China stepping toward that brave new world. China is studying the genetics of intelligence, and how to apply them.

The whole world – the U.S. very much included – is studying genetics and reproduction. How to avoid defects and disease via the test tube. Will sex for reproduction soon look primitive?

This hour On Point: Superbabies.

- Tom Ashbrook


Nita Farahany, Professor of Law, Philosophy, Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University School of Law, and a member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Lee Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, Co-editor of the journal of the International Mammalian Genome Society, Fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and author of “Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World” (1997).

Dr. Steve Hsu, member of the core team at BGI’s Cognitive Genomics Lab, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University.

From Tom’s Reading List

Vice.com “At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles which determine human intelligence. Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and potentially bump up every generation’s intelligence by five to 15 IQ points.”

Slate “China is not “engineering” babies. Even if it were, Chinese scientists wouldn’t know how to genetically engineer a genius. And even if they did know how to genetically engineer a genius, the fact is that you can’t ensure genius, because genius depends on environment as well as genes.What is true, though, is fascinating, exciting, and troubling. Scientists are already developing the capacity to screen human embryos for a wide variety of genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia.”

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  • Expanded_Consciousness


  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    My eldest son can build a car from scratch from the bottom up, my youngest boy plays the drums as well as, just about anyone can. My daughter can manage to talk me out of my last dollar. None of them are a genius by any standard measure. How can any parent truly know what genius is, and therefore what they want their child to be, if they themselves are not “smarter” than the children they wish to have ?

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      You don’t have to be a genius to know that Einstein was a genius.

  • Shag_Wevera

    I don’t think I’d want to be a genius.  Enough is expected out of me with an IQ of 109.

    • dxp2718

      If you were a genius, more would be expected of you, but you would also be capable of more. So you wouldn’t necessarily be expected to put in any more effort than you’re putting in now – in fact, you might need less to achieve “expected” results.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Humans aren’t smart enough to define genius, so how can they design genius?

    Designers design the car they want, not necessarily the best car possible. So, parents may soon be able to design the baby they want, but not necessarily the best baby. There hasn’t been a super-genius born yet, to tell us what true super-genius is. A cat would design a really fast and skilled super-cat, but it wouldn’t be smart enough to make the evolutionary leap and design an Einstein or even recognize the genius of Einstein. So, how are dumb humans going to be smart enough to design, recognize and value the true qualities of super-humans? Most dumb humans just want babies that look like a Hollywood star, tell jokes like a stand-up comedian, win at sports like an Olympian, and win at Wall Street like Gordon Gekko.

    People want skilled humans, not true super-humans. I don’t trust the designers (the parents). They will design super-skilled freaks (Frankenstein’s Monsters), but not really super-humans in the higher sense.

    • dxp2718

      They won’t be Frankenstein’s monsters. They’ll be normal humans that could have occurred naturally; they’re just altering the probabilities of certain traits. Any child “created” through this method could have happened by chance, naturally, just with a smaller likelihood. (And not much smaller if you’re talking about selecting one out of 4-12 IVF embryos.)

      • Expanded_Consciousness

        It will soon go beyond what occurs naturally, as soon as it is possible to do.

  • Jim

    i do not like it. No one should be playing the creator of life. in fact i see a serious ethical issue:

    the gap between the have and the have not will completely widened if this genetic development takes place.

  • geraldfnord

    Given a winner-take-all society, many of whose powerful are
    ideologically opposed to a safety-net, and so one in which being average
    will mean a crappy working life and a worse retirement, it will be very easy for any parent who might have access to any medical treatment that would boost their infant’s intelligence to decide that they would be negligent _not_ to use it, even to sacrifice therefor.

  • dxp2718

    It’s easier just to use sexual selection. Smart people procreate with other smart people and have smart babies. Those smart babies grow up to attract smart mates, and so forth. Smart people tend to value intelligence, so will attempt to pick a mate as smart or smarter than they are (if one exists). Thus the intelligence level should rise within these subsections of the population – no morally-questionable engineering required!

    • MarkVII88

      Manipulating reproductive outcomes by selective breeding based on the traits of the parents is absolutely nothing new.  I completely agree with you that smart tends to beget smart (and conversely) and that people select mates based on traits they hold in high esteem. 

    • BellcurveOli

      It happens that smarter and more accomplished women have fewer children, if they have children at all.  Also, trying to beat “regression to the mean” across generations takes tremendous amount of work for each and every generation and I suspect most people, even smart ones, don’t have the perseverance to carry it through.  That’s good for the society in general, allowing socioeconomic mobility over generations.

      • dxp2718

        Regression to the mean doesn’t apply to sexual selection, or really any directed breeding for certain traits. Breeders have been “designing” custom domestic animals for milennia; this obviously wouldn’t be possible if there were some sort of “regression towards the mean” going on. As for “smart and accomplished” women not having babies, that may be true on average, simply because women feel they need to choose between career and family, but plenty of smart women are either choosing family over career, or managing to do both. The biggest problem, though, is that non-smart women (and men) are breeding like rabbits. But it would be unethical to control that.

    • Vigilarus

       Two words: trophy wife.

  • MarkVII88

    What considerations are being paid to the “negatives” of trying to “engineer” genius babies?  Will these individuals be super-smart but all suffer emotional or social phobias as well?  Will they wonderful, innovative ideas and be really great at complex theories and applications but fail to grasp mundane things like paying bills on time or renewing a driver’s license?  The notion of manipulating the genetics of intelligence seems kind of like trying to have your cake and eat it too.  We all know how well that tends to work out.

  • PaulfromHydeParkMA

    I shudder to think how the lives of the “genius” babies are going to be if they are dunned through their whole lives by parents and others who know of their provenence. This is another example of humans taking the capabilities of science too far. It’s similar in a way to learning everything about one’s partner or spouse. Most choose to keep a few secrets to maintain some mystery or intrigue. We humans should just accept that the act of procreation can be really fun and the outcome should, basically, be left to fate and nature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

    Man, the ethics on this topic stink to high heaven.  I was impressed with the first guest’s ability to neatly side step Tom’s questions, but I don’t buy his argument.

  • terjeanderson

    Eugenics by any other name.

    It was misguided in the early 1900s, and no less misguided now.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Are you at all concerned about the genetic factors that may influence the other aspects of a person’s psyche and govern how humans integrate into society and affect our ethics and morals?

    Can society afford an ubergenius with no moral or ethical compass motivated only by their drive to empower, enrich and aggrandize themselves? We’ve got plenty of not-so-smart examples of such pathologies in Congress and their effect on the nation. We don’t need to breed the likes of Hannibal Lecter or worse.

    • brettearle

      I actually think that we might be better off if DeMint and McConnell were genetically re-programmed.

      However, we cannot assume that Ethics and Morals will be thrown in the lab trash heap, when composing our perfect human.

      Part of being human is having morals and ethics.  If you are going to make Humans, you have include such attitude and behavior.

      The scientists will simply have to find the Ethics gene, FIRST–before molecular pro-creation can commence. 

      Just as long as Lindsay Lohan doesn’t set policy in this area….

      • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

        LL maybe a good example of someone who is almost too stupid to live; she seems bent on self destruction in slow motion. Luckily she hasn’t killed anyone yet in her painful journey into oblivion.

  • Meb12

    We live in hilarious times.  On the one hand, North Dakota legislators decide that a fetus is a person at conception. On the other hand, scientists are willing to help people choose the “good zygote” and get rid of the rest of them.  Hmmm.  These people occupy slots in the same culture!  Unbelievable.

  • JenB13

    What about emotional and social intelligence? Is there a gene for this? In this (science fiction-like) future, would this be a consideration?

  • ToyYoda

    Is there a tradeoff?  If someone manufactured to be a genius, does that mean he may be susceptible to certain kinds of disease of physical disabilities?  Will he more likely be mad?  Autistic?  etc.

  • CatInBoston

    As if wealth inequality weren’t enough of an issue already. Is there any scenario in which this wouldn’t drastically widen the already huge disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’?

  • viacarrozza

    This subject always makes me think of the famous ‘fruit fly scientist’ who experimented tirelessly with genetics (fruit flies create new offspring very quickly).   He never could build a better fruit fly.  For every ‘plus’ he pushed (better eyesight for example) there would always be a minus in the result.  Dogs are certainly a good example of this.  Wolves, engineered by nature through natural selection, are perfect canines…Our dogs have all kinds of problems depending on what they’re bred for. Also, people always assume that ‘high IQ’s’ breed and create kids that are super smart too.  There is evidence that there’s a higher rate of autism, Asperger disorder and other social problems in these populations.  I’ve heard geneticists talk of so-called ‘super-kids’ born of couples from different races who are smart AND well-rounded and sociable.  Anyway, it seems that natural selection is the best game in town. 

  • brettearle

    Let’s assume, for the moment, that God exists….

    For all of us, out there, who believe God exists:

    Is this what God would want?

    Genetic manipulation that would make biological procreation obsolete.

    I don’t think so….

    Can you imagine God saying:

    “Ho-hum….I think I’ll create Sex, make it pleasurable, so as to get Humans to procreate….

    “That ought to do, at least, until the Geneticists take over and make my children, instead of me.

    “Yesirree….I can then take a L—-o—n—–g vacation.  Yes, I can.  I so deserve it….

    “PSSST…. But does Mankind `deserve’ it?….”


    • ToyYoda

      Why does it matter?  If you believe in God, you are forbidden to judge whether mankind deserves it or not, that is up to God.

      • brettearle

        Where is it written that you can’t question God?

    • Vigilarus

      Who says that the parents can’t still have lots of sex?  It’s not like religion has been a huge advocate of enjoying sex.

      According to Genesis, mankind was evicted from Eden to have to sweat and till the soil.  Are agricultural combines a wicked repudiation of God?

      • brettearle

        You took the quote too seriously.

        Maybe God will make a public statement, after the first baby genius comes off the conveyor belt–so that God can either reaffirm his position or else modify it.

  • Meb12

    How can you ever tell your kids about such an activity? Imagine how you would feel if you found out your parents would have discarded you if you didn’t meet the criteria.  

    • ToyYoda

      But would this be something new?  Don’t some (if not lots of) parents do that now?  when they screen for diseases?  If a fetus doesn’t meet their health criteria, they are jettisoned?  I’m not making excuses, but I’m wondering why you’d worry, when I think it’s already done now.

    • Vigilarus

       But you’ve been discarded, then you wouldn’t know. (Unless some caring Republican adopted ya as a snowflake baby)

  • ericd725

    what about couples who can’t afford this

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    When the “genius babies” realize how much smarter than their parents they are it’ll be like “Village of the Damned” all over again. I suppose nobody will deliberately breed for traits like compassion & aesthetic intuition.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    In the hands of Americans, parents will dream of their selected kid going to Harvard or MIT. In the hands of a dictator, world domination will be the goal.

    • bethrjacobs

      high iq doesn’t mean you will go to ivy league school

  • bethrjacobs

    Expand better to take the money away from this idiocy and take care of every one then there will not be an issue

  • bethrjacobs

    Heterozygous recessive traitsIn some instances efforts to eradicate certain single-gene mutations would be nearly impossible. In the event the condition in question was a heterozygous recessive trait, the problem is that by eliminating the visible unwanted trait, there still may be many carriers for the genes without, or with fewer, phenotypic effects due to that gene. With genetic testing it may be possible to detect all of the heterozygous recessive traits, but quite possibly at great cost with current technology. Under normal circumstances it is only possible to eliminate a dominant allele from the gene pool. Recessive traits can be severely reduced, but never eliminated unless the complete genetic makeup of all members of the pool was known, as aforementioned. As only very few undesirable traits, such as Huntington’s disease, are dominant, one, from certain perspectives, may argue that the practicallity of “eliminating” traits is quite low.[citation needed]There are examples of eugenic acts that managed to lower the prevalence of recessive diseases, although not influencing the prevalence of heterozygote carriers of those diseases. The elevated prevalence of certain genetically transmitted diseases among the Ashkenazi Jewish population (Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, Canavan’s disease and Gaucher’s disease), has been decreased in current populations by the application of genetic screening.[39]
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  • bethrjacobs

    defund science now if this is where it is going

  • bethrjacobs

    idiot my mother’s IQ is 165 mine about 120 same for my sister

  • bethrjacobs

    Diseases vs. traitsSee also: List of congenital disordersWhile the science of genetics has increasingly provided means by which certain characteristics and conditions can be identified and understood, given the complexity of human genetics, culture, and psychology there is at this point no agreed objective means of determining which traits might be ultimately desirable or undesirable. Some diseases such as sickle-cell disease and cystic fibrosis respectively confer immunity to malaria and resistance to cholera when a single copy of the recessive allele is contained within the genotype of the individual. Reducing the instance of sickle-cell disease in Africa where malaria is a common and deadly disease could indeed have extremely negative net consequences. On the other hand, genetic diseases like haemochromatosis can increase susceptibility to illness, cause physical deformities, and other dysfunctions, which provides some incentive for people to re-consider some elements of eugenics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mohamed.aqyar Mohamed Aqyar

    Do you think that there will be no perfect child if people use this technology. My reasoning is that as technology keep improving, the next child would be better? How can it change the satisfaction of a family with their children?

    • bethrjacobs

      The Nazis couldn’t make this work you can’t make parents like this who want  perfect kids happy

  • Mathias Detamore

    What does this do for diversity? Say that the gene for homosexuality or gender nonconformity is discovered, do we then selevtively exterminate gender and sexual minorities? There are serious ethical implications to this that we cannot disregard. There are questions of power that come to mind and cultural domination.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    What will happen if human abilities eventually equalize among societies members? How will you decide who goes to Harvard and who goes to community college? Who gets the most powerful jobs and who does the less important jobs? The only reason smart people are seen as smart is that there are dumb people. Without dumb people, everyone becomes the same and average. The new normal.

    • Bibliodrone

       I agree on the new normal. But our contemporary society isn’t highly meritocratic as it is. There are many factors besides any level of innate intelligence which determine who gets into Harvard.

    • ToyYoda

      We already have the ‘Harvard problem’.  Lots of candidates who are qualified for top colleges never get in, since there is limited seatings.

    • Vigilarus

      If everyone were to become equally highly intelligent, Harvard would lose its cachet.  It currently holds such high esteem as a (flawed) signalling marker of intelligence since the politically correct have banned intelligence tests for employment decisions even though they’ve been positively correlated with job performance.

      • Expanded_Consciousness

        Right now Harvard students score high on intelligence tests, grad school exams, LSATs, etc.

  • mhleta

    I’m so glad this wasn’t an option when my husband and I were starting a family. We had a hard time agreeing on what kind of bathroom tiles to put in our house. Just imagine the difficulties that would have come with choosing whether to have a boy or a girl, one that looked like my father or his mother, tall, short, red head, blonde. [Imagine the hurt feelings that go along with those conversations. Man: I really don't want our child to have freckles. Woman: But I have freckles. Man: Yeah, I don't want that. Woman: Oh really? Maybe I don't want you!] We have two lovely daughters, one blonde, one brunette, both on the short side even though my husband and I are tall. Wouldn’t change a thing about either of them.

  • gretchen123

    This is such an interesting and timely conversation. It is intensely personal for me: I’ve had type 1 diabetes since age 7, and would have been an obvious throw away embryo. But I am smart, artistic, successful, relatively attractive, and a good person. My husband and I have two amazing, funny, lovely little girls who would never have existed. Is my life and my self less worthy because of my diabetes?

    • ExcellentNews

      Of course not, and the technologies developed by people like Dr. Hsu will enable you or your descendants to edit out the genes that predispose you to something as simple as diabetes-1. Just hold on and don’t succumb to the anti-science rhetoric from the left or the right…

  • DrTing

    baby- no selection, stupid lazy sperms, no need to swim miles & miles, can
    easily fertilize the eggs in vitro.

    comparison? IVF babies vs. Naturally born babies?

    Some data showed IVF babies not be
    as smart as Naturally born babies?
    believe Nature always wins- give strongest & smartest new hybrids

  • debhulbh

    Q. to ask what would the measure for intelligence be? and would Joyce, LeonardoDaVinci, VanGogh, Einstein, be thrown out in that measure

    • bethrjacobs

      they all would be they all have huge flaws

      • ToyYoda

        What would Da Vinci’s flaw be?

        • viacarrozza

          Leonardo was both beautiful and brilliant but he was born out-of-wedlock of a wealthy upperclass notary and a peasant girl!  Illegitimate children were not allowed proper educations (or surnames) so little Leonardo roamed the tuscan hills of Vinci and formed in a way that would have been impossible had he been ‘engineered’.  He would have ended up as some unremembered clerk had he not come to us as a love child!

          • ToyYoda

            I’m talking more flaws that are usually attributed to the person.  Being  born out of wedlock is a circumstance not a flaw of Da Vinci’s.  It’s not a flaw like alcoholism or autism, and not something you could select against on genetic screening.

            Regarding Leonardo’s education, Leonardo worked at Verrochio’s workshop, which was instrumental in his intellectual development.  Being an apprentice at a workshop was the standard of the day, is that not a “proper” education?

          • viacarrozza

            Yes, I see your point.  I was trying to say that although Leonardo had all the most desirable traits (he was an engineer himself!) it was his unique upbringing that had a hand in making all he did possible.  If he had been engineered (for the very same traits he possessed) he might not have become the genius he was (if his educational trajectory had been traditional).  In the early Renaissance, working in an artist’s workshop was considered an artisan’s education (barely a step up from a laborer’s!).  It was not a proper gentleman’s education.  But this is what I believe allowed Leonardo his freedom of focus to ponder the mechanics of the universe!  As you know, both Leonardo and Michelangelo changed this narrow view of the artist as artisan/laborer.  Because of them, the artist (not just the art) was viewed as divine. Of course today, working under the great master Verrocchio, would be any artist’s dream.

        • bethrjacobs


          • ToyYoda

            Bisexual? that’s new.  The speculation is that he was homosexual not bi.  But it’s all just speculation.

            From my experience sketching at various art studios in my city, my money would be on Da Vinci being homosexual, that is *if* he was “flawed” in this manner.

          • bethrjacobs

            I didn’t say I think it is wrong but “eugenics” does

    • viacarrozza

      Michelangelo was ill-tempered!  He’d be a black-listed embryo !

    • harro_prease

      Joyce, Leonardo DaVinci, VanGogh, Einstein. all of their fathers decided to masturbate before the day they are “suppose” to create those people. what is the difference?
      there is no such things as fate. only from hindsight do people like you are scared what if those geniuses wasn’t born.

  • closetothetruth

    The shocking Eugeinicst elitism just expressed by Dr Hsu around minute 45 of the program–that scientists know smarter people are better and only look at the good sides of things–reveals exactly what is going on with this very frightening direction in society. Those who already have power and influence know they are better than the rest of us and will continue to do whatever they want to make those differences even more extreme, and the rest of us be damned. Authors have been writing about the negative effects of such human engineering for centuries; scientists like Hsu will go ahead and do it, ironically ignoring the best thoughts of many people (including scientists) who warn against it.

    Hsu’s continual denial of being involved with the other part of the company is also quite disingenuous. If he finds the applied part of the project unacceptable, he should say that, rather than deferring by saying he is only part of the analytical side. 

    • harro_prease

      Scientists like Dr Hsu, studied harder than you, and that is why he is what you call “elite” it is funny how westerners think lazy beggars should be equal to those who worked hard all their life to achieve greatness. your minds has been poisoned by rhetoric of democracy. 

  • Jimfred99

    Choosing from different embyo is only one of the to steps in the genetic possibilities being developed. Much more aggressive genetic techniques are already being done in other area of biology.

    The other technology that need to be considered is the actual modification of the genetic to get the traits that are desired. This could initially come from pulling together the chromosomes that have desired traits in the different embyo. It could lead to splitting the different dna and recombining them and even pull dna segments from other people. A child could be the product of 3 or more parents.

    Where will the ethical line be drawn? Probably the most controversial would be pulling genetic material from other animals or even plants.

  • Scott B

    How do we know that the gene sequence that says “tall, blonde, smart, blue eyes, like jazz” doesn’t also trip the “prone to migraines and club foot”. All this gene playing still comes down to G-C-A-T on our DNA strands.

  • closetothetruth

    Han Chinese is among the most racist and Eugenicist sovereign power in the world. There is no “Chinese”: there are at least 58 ethnicities that the Chinese government is actively replacing with the dominant ethnicity.

  • MarkVII88

    Why are so many commenters outraged at the idea that wealthy people are going to be the only ones for whom this technology will be available?  That’s the case with so much in our world right now (housing, security, education just to name a few) that it doesn’t seem sensible to expect anything different with a new, emerging, highly controversial technology.  Human genome sequencing used to cost millons apiece, now it costs thousands.  In another 10-15 years it could cost hundreds of dollars and be accessible to a huge new group of people.  Why would this genetic engineering technology be any different?

  • Bibliodrone

    There are many different viewpoints on the issue of human enhancement. As with so many things, there is no single right answer. Over time different groups will pursue different avenues of enhancement. Some others will probably choose to avoid it completely.

    Is this the beginning of a new, relatively rapid  period of human speciation?

  • bethrjacobs

    so since people use the technology the woman’s point is a stupid point especially when the average person is not a scientist tied to who knows what kind of funding

  • DeJay79

    Lee Silver, you blew Tom’s mind! wow

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      Don’t worry, Tom. Even though you are a smart bloke, we will put your blown apart mind back together again in a way that makes you even smarter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dreamingmatthew Matthew Stephenson

    The technology needs to happen and it will move humanity forward, but it would be best if we managed social inequality first. Otherwise it will only be the offspring of the wealthy that have disease free smart kids, who will in turn have wealthy, healthy, disease free smart kids. In other words, if you are not rich now, forget about having grandchildren that are anything other than randomly selected. cross your fingers and hope they can compete.

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      On the other hand, look how the prices of computers and other technologies quickly comes down and becomes available to almost all. The technology at play here isn’t something so complex that it can be kept in a bottle. It doesn’t use rare resources. It ain’t nuclear technology. The genie will come out of the bottle quickly and it will be available to every country and every economic class.

    • samuelpepys

       I was amazed by the discussion, in which everyone used the word “we” as if the 99% were likely to get a crack at any genetic engineering.  Maybe science professors make enough money for that kind of elective medical attention, but I doubt most on the panel even are in line, never mind the rest of us.  So major and/or chronic illness, always expensive, will soon enough be one more thing we don’t share which the rich, who control elections and the policies of both parties.  It will be the rabble, the invisible, who need serious medical care, and as we’re watching now (and indeed have been since the 80s), it’s not a lucky thing to have needs that don’t also affect the millionaires of the Senate and in the White House, or their big donors.

  • SandraKathleen

    How about engineering for KIND people? Nothing has been talked about regarding “preferred” traits…and how that skews social and political change.

    Intelligence does not mean “wisdom” or “insight” — there’s a world of difference. Further, I’m not sure wisdom and insight — and art, if you will — come entirely from the genetic code: rather, it is the result of one coming to terms with those “shortcomings” that would be genetically “disposed” of.

    Where I think genetic coding might be of help, is in developing those genes that enable one to remain healthy despite a faulty gene or to circumvent rampant pollution.

    • ericd725


    • brettearle

      I think a case could be made for a proclivity for Insight and Wisdom, as not only genetically wired; but also, as part of the Molecular Intelligent Mosaic.

      But Geneticists–quite justifiably for all I know–might dispute my claim.

  • Roberto1194

    What benefit can be derived from intelligence when done with so little regard for the Wisdom of such manipulations?
    Please Tom!!! Your having a discussion of this subject with NO participants that provide perspectives on the deeper meanings and issues, is itself a sign of the unwise, confused thinking and ignorance of these motivations!This is selfish, deluded, striving behavior.These very intelligent guests embarrass themselves with their willful bias and moral/ethical/spiritual blindness!

    • brettearle


    • Vigilarus

      Yes, we need a proponent of conking people on the head and showing them nothing but reality television because we need to dumb everyone down before things get out of hand!  This intelligence business has gone far enough.

    • harro_prease

      you are trying too hard. the story of life is simply one of probability, which sperm gets to fertilize which egg is simply coincident. life began as a coincident, first ape walked up right is simply a coincident. first human to use fire is simply a coincident. no wisdom there it’s simply the combination of right environment with the right skill sets that the first human made tools. 

      what if Einstein’s or Newton’s dad decided to masturbate 1 time more than he “should” before he had sex with their wife?  People like you make the world just that little bit worse. people like you who try too hard to be philosophical and tries to bring mystical religious or god into a discussion about science and how it can make the world a better place.

      If god exist he then he did a superb job in creating the universe and the right environments for stars planets to form. Einstein’s dad’s masturbation habit is none of his concern.

  • jbfromsc

    Isn’t selfishness considered a bad gene trait?

    • brettearle

       Not if you’re Ayn Rand

  • ToyYoda

    Everyone complains that people are stupid, now we don’t want the technology to make smart people.  :)

    • DeJay79

       that’s because the complaint is meant to make the speaker feel better about themselves by comparison. If everyone else actually becomes smarter then the rest of us are “dumber” by comparison.

      • Vigilarus

        If everyone smarter than me were to be eliminated at my behest, then I would feel so very….

        stupid for denying myself the fruits of their labors.

    • brettearle

      There are also many complaints that tell us that intelligent people are horribly misguided.

  • ericd725

    despite the scariness of the implications, we need the “rich” to fund the “smart” to further research this subject.

    • brettearle

      And if this comes off the conveyor belt as legal, standard operating procedure, the Misfortunate families among us ought to get first crack at it.

  • SandraKathleen

    Smart does NOT = “good.” By itself it is an amoral trait. One could argue that some of our most “successful” serial killers were very intelligent. 

    By itself, intelligence is nothing. It is only within the context of living with other people, developing empathy — a conscience, and seeing oneself humbly that the “benefit” of intelligence can be maximized as a “good” trait.

    • Roberto1194

      Thanks for your wise comments Sandra.

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      Depends how you define intelligence (cf. the work of Howard Gardner and his multiple intelligence theory).

    • brettearle

      There are many personally disagreeable men and women, who are brilliant, who have made positive contributions to Mankind.

      Unfortunately, Empathy isn’t always necessary.  It’s simply the nature of their skill.

    • ExcellentNews

      Smart = Good. That’s what the data shows. The data also indicates that “smart” is in the genes and not elsewhere. Everything else is just wishful thinking. Sorry!

  • Montag_451

    I was completely enraged and disgusted listening to this broadcast today. The people that support and fund these programs, including the guests who spoke on the show today are the descendants of NAZI’s who want to continue the work of engineering a super race of human beings. Does anyone remember the NAZI’s and what they tried to do, and also what they did trying to accomplish their goals?!!! These folks are meddling with forces and powers of which they are not even qualified to speak. There is absolutely nothing good to come of this in the future. If this type of work continues to proceed, it will open up a Pandora’s box that will destroy humankind as we know it. Human’s today, you are on notice, in a few years you will be on the endangered species list. 

    INTELLIGENCE does not equate with WISDOM. 

    • Vigilarus

      Intelligence does, however, have demonstrable links to less criminality, more stable relationships, greater productivity, longer-term thinking, deferred gratification, and greater creativity.  While intelligence may be no guarantee of wisdom, it is more common among the intelligent than the stupid.

      Your invocation of the Nazis is not only a false analogy, it also elides the fact that their anti-Semitism was rooted in resentment of the disproportionate commercial and academic success of the Jews, who have the highest measured IQs of all.  Nazism was a manifestation of the forces of anti-intellectualism, nationalism, and tradition against enlightened modernity, tolerance, and social change.

      Oh, and Godwin’s Law.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Castro/100000461594221 Ryan Castro

    Because of the human condition to MAKE MISTAKES, the odds of creating a complete genetic disaster/abomination are too great. Too many variables can lead to the creation of our own demise. 

    • brettearle

      “Too many variables” have ALREADY led to the creation of our own demise:  By that I mean the “genetic disaster/abomination” that has created human beings who plunder, kill, cheat, mistreat, and who otherwise have lost their moral and ethical gene, before they were born.

      I shudder to think what would happen if some of these miscreants, more and more, get a hold of these Genius Creation Labs, after they make it all the way through post-doctorate training.

    • dxp2718

      You do realize they’re not designing humans from scratch, right? They’re conceiving a bunch of embryos naturally (in a petri dish, but from egg and sperm extracted from the parents) then testing them to determine what traits they have. The couple then selects their favorites to implant; they’re merely altering the probability of conceiving children with various traits, but all of the children conceived this way could have been conceived without technological help, just with a slightly lower probability.

  • Eric Trout

    Dr. Steven Hsu today was the perfect picture of the cluelessly amoral scientist who is ruining our society today.


    While Dr. Hsu insisted
    repeatedly that his research group’s purpose was merely to understand how the
    human brain works, *his* human brain is apparently unwilling to admit that
    scientific research is not compartmentalized from engineering and real-world
    consequences, and that corporations, the military, and selfish individuals will
    appropriate his discoveries for purposes which he, in his value-free academic
    way, did not even address.


    It was refreshing, if
    alarming, to hear Dr. Hsu speak so frankly about how, yes, the custom-designing
    of babies may produce some undesirable social and technological results; and
    yes, rich people will benefit from the technology first and foremost.  But it is ridiculous to suggest, as Dr. Hsu did,
    that we will pass through an initial period of unequal gains to the rich, or
    that government may step in to wisely legislate and regulate the problems that
    these new technologies will cause.  Dr. Hsu
    was so unusually forthright about these issues, and so clearly out of line from
    the standard, obfuscatory corporate doublespeak, that I wouldn’t be surprised
    if he soon finds himself guided to backtrack on his comments, or to be looking
    for a new job.


    As to Dr. Hsu’s quaint
    notion about the equitable distribution of these new reproductive technologies,
    it simply won’t happen.  While something
    like a third of the world’s population is still waiting for its share of the
    most basic of human technologies, namely, clean drinking water and basic
    sanitation, I would not hold my breath waiting for custom embryo selection to help
    the 10 million children who die of diarrhea-borne illnesses and dehydration
    every year.  Their natural-born,
    unimproved lives will continue to end before age 5 for generations to come, as
    long as the Chinese government continues to fund research such as Dr. Hsu’s,
    instead of installing more public water systems.


    Dr. Hsu is also just
    a little too coy in his notions of wise public policy.  If he would drop his absurd value-free
    academic mien for a minute and give Thought No. 1 to how things really work, he
    would realize that law and regulation always lag far behind
    corporate-controlled technology in the US because few of our legislators and
    our own citizens know much about science and technology at all.  Thus, by the time the lawmakers start to
    consider the problems of technology, the moneyed corporate interests have
    already defined, controlled, and entrenched themselves in the issue, and all
    too often, they have bought the politicians too.  This is why the ethical dilemmas of assisted
    reproductive technologies are duly considered by “ethicists” in a
    wonderful chin-stroking way and then promptly ignored, why these technologies
    are barely regulated in the US at all, and why the only reproductive technology we have
    effectively prohibited in much of the country is, in fact, the old, low-tech
    practice of abortion.  But don’t get me
    started there.


    In the coming wave of
    21st century eugenics, scientists like Dr. Steven Hsu are not merely part of
    the problem; in their blundering brilliance, they are inventing the problem.


    • ExcellentNews

      Wow. That rant reminds me that the right wing does not have a monopoly on “nuttiness”.

      “Clueless” scientists like Dr. Hsu hold the promise of salvation for mankind. Without genetic engineering, we will never uplift ourselves above our animal condition and inheritance. Morality or amorality itself is in the genes – just like intelligence - and does not come easily or naturally.

    • harro_prease

      don’t worry, the Chinese government will fund this project  they aim to uplift the entire intelligence of the Chinese don’t worry about the rich poor divide, instead worry about how non-Chinese children are less intelligent 50 years from now because their grandparents think it’s “unethical” to make them smarter or healthier. self-righteous religious trolls will be the down fall of the western dominance, you had fun in the last 200 years you killed looted colonized massacred, now it’s time to get back to the right order of things. 

      btw as technology matures it gets cheaper, I can imagine 50 years from now this process of selection will be cheaper than a happy meal. 

  • Michael Smith

    This is just another technological breakthrough that seems all too likely to end up in the wrong hands. Dr. Hsu seemed to be defending the science behind this advancement, but seemed also to not care who is funding it, or what their intentions may be. I think that as a scientist, this indolence is not a safe attitude. If the people funding this research decide that they want to misuse this technology for their own advantage, these scientists become no better than well-meaning, but timid, German scientists of the 30′s and 40′s. I’m not blaming Dr. Hsu for anything, but it seems he is very naive, or at least unwilling to accept the fact that funding for scientific research comes from powerful people who expect to directly benefit from the findings of such research. 

    At the same time, this technology is exciting and scary. I can’t help but think of the movie Gattaca, and how the ‘have-nots’ will be at even more of a disadvantage in this new future. Another parallel I find is that once this technology becomes harnessed on a medium-to-large scale, we will see humanity become a macrocosm of the steroid problems facing baseball and cycling. …And we thought unfair advantages were only detrimental in professional sports! Just wait…

  • doingbetter

    Humanity, while having a number of
    exceptional traits, also has a dark side found nowhere else in nature.

    The settling the great plains of North America
    resulted in demise of the buffalo and something approaching genocide for native
    North Americans.  Nazi Germany was going
    to create a “master race” – the result:  genocide
    for Jews, gypsies and so on. Today, China’s developing a middle class yet
    associated with that is a high probability that African bush elephant will be
    wiped out in the chase for ivory to make into trinkets.

    Creating the ”‘super intelligent mind” class will have a great downside
    potential. As noted by one of the commentators, the super rich (to which I will
    add politically powerful) will likely lead the charge and for the average
    citizen that could lead to hell on earth; e.g. 1% of the population with a huge
    proportion of a nation’s, if not the world’s financial resources; a sense of
    entitlement; and, a significantly above average intellect could only lead to economic
    slavery (master race defined not by ethnicity but by economic status and
    intellect). Then what  Armageddon (should
    the masses rise up).

  • BryWal

    It’s my understanding that civilization and a huge population has put an end to evolution through natural selection for humanity anyway.  (I’d love it if “On Point” addressed this simultaneously while exploring human genetic engineering.)
    For example; in hunting gathering cultures people need 20 / 20 vision.  The hunter needs to see the patch of white that is under the deer’s tail as it dashes away through the trees, and blends in.  The gatherer needs to see the distant tuft of leaves that indicates an edible tuber underneath.  Near sightedness comes into a population with agriculture.  The highest incidence of needing corrective lenses for nearsightedness exists amongst Chinese, Egyptians, and Jews; the populations which started using agriculture first.  Eating no longer depends on having good vision, but on planting seeds.  This is just one genetic trait that has been weakened since we left the rigors of nature. behind us.  Civilization makes us less hearty because we can compensate.  Hunting gatherers live on the edge.
    So since we’re downgrading our genetic inheritance through civilization, why not weed out mistakes that nature would have weeded out anyway?
    Not that we’ll be ethical about it. . . .  Once available, genetic engineering for children will be both well used and abused, as we do with all of our other amazing technological powers. . . . 

    • dxp2718

      Natural selection, also known as survival of the fittest, has not entirely disappeared with civilization. Yes, we do care for those who would not survive in the wild, but our civilization makes it incredibly easy for people to kill themselves and each other (think: guns, poison, knives). Basically we still have survival of the fittest, but instead of the fittest to survive in the wild, it’s the fittest to survive within our society. Sexual selection is an entirely different matter; people select their mates based upon traits that may or may not have anything to do with survival in the wild or in society. Those traits are “selected for” simply because people like them. Self-segregation into mating pairs with similar traits allows us to have different demographic segments other than gender and age.

  • Vigilarus

    We shouldn’t fear increasing human intelligence, but the
    threat of increasing stupidity. 
    Intelligence is no guarantee of enlightenment, of course, but it does
    make it much more likely that a sufficiently intelligent person will ascertain
    that greater self-interest lies in cooperation, peace, opportunity, and
    beneficial innovation.  Climate change is
    a primary example of the dichotomy between willful greedy ignorance and  those who understand that “defecting” in this
    most pressing ‘ prisoner’s dilemma ‘ will ultimately be harmful to their own
    circumstances and offspring, however much they attempt to insulate and shelter
    behind accumulated wealth and power.  We
    all live downwind, so to speak, on a planet of intertwined ecosystems.  Conversely, ignorance, fear, doubt, and
    pursuit of conflict are rooted in a failure of understanding and imagination-
    stupidity, in other words.  Sufficiently
    transcendent intelligence enables individuals to resist propaganda and
    manipulation, form evolved social institutions, and create new solutions.

    The notion of wicked geniuses using their intelligence to
    create new forms of destruction is a scare scenario invoked by
    anti-intellectuals and intelligent manipulators when the politically correct
    (usually for ulterior motives) are not able to sell the counter-evidential
    absurdity  that intelligence is nothing
    measurable or relevant to positive lifestyles and human fulfillment.  However, even if high intelligence does
    enable some individuals to more effectively exploit others and create new forms
    of injustice, such as has often been the case with Wall Street, then this gives
    all the more reason to increase average societal intelligence to counter these
    manipulations.  Intelligent, informed citizens
    in sufficient numbers could serve as a check on malevolent intellects. 

    Steven Pinker’s _The Better Angels of Our Nature_
    extensively and convincingly shows that general increase in societal
    intelligence has led to a decline in violence and injustice over human
    history.  There is a long  way to go, but things have been much worse in
    the past.  A retrograde threat to this
    trend is the decline in fertility of the most educated and intelligent, whereas
    the most fundamentalist and the most cognitively impaired are having greater
    numbers of children.  If we are able to
    provide a means through genetics, drugs, and environment to boost the intelligences
    of these offspring, then we should embrace it whole-heartedly.

    If there is no value in increasing intelligence, then should
    we try to dumb down the population, and maybe excise brain tissue from
    intelligent children?  Would that be a
    good thing if intelligence is so bad?  
    Or do we just so happen to be right in the sweet spot of intelligence?   What a happy coincidence if you believe that
    to be true.    


  • Michele

     I think it’s interesting that it is men who are deciding that women won’t have children the natural/old-fashioned way in the not-too-distant future.  Speaking as a woman there is a biological drive to have children that is present in many, many women (not all).  While deciding to have a child may be in large part an intellectual exercise in today’s society (career, financial considerations, marital status, etc) there is also a powerful biological driver behind the desire.  Do we now have to take a drug to curb that because the need for perfect children developed in a lab trumps our own biology?  Or will we be told that it’s all in our heads?  Like doctors used to tell women that menstrual cramps were all in their heads?  Not that men can really relate to that drive, but I love how the desire of women to actually birth a child was not even discussed.  Once again women are marginalized in a discussion that is intrinsically about us.

  • bethrjacobs

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_quotient take the research money back from: Nita , Lee and  “Dr. Steve” and give it back to us the tax payers before some one or thing really gets hurt don’t these three fools know what eugenicists really think of Jews and Asians and women? When it comes down to it this false science was created to get rid of the first two groups and control the last one period.

  • ExcellentNews

    While the headline was sensationalist, it is not that far from what is to come. China is already leading the world in terms of genes sequenced per year. China’s BGI is sequencing whole genomes of people with IQ>160 and has over 15,000 scientists working on hundreds of projects with the blessing and full support of the government. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    And what about the US? Well, you saw at the recent Republican convention a bunch of nutty apes with shiny pompadours and expensive suits stand up and proclaim that “evolution is just a theory” with the stars and stripes in the background. So, by the time the first Chinese super-babies are born, we can probably look forward at a US where diabetic 300-pounders waddle through the creationist museums, sipping from 64-oz plastic soda containers (made in China) with some drool dribbling from the side of their mouth. All under the benevolent sponsorship of the Corporate Oligarchy and the Righteous Right Wing of course… 

  • nhsundevil

    Tom – this is my first comment. I’d like to say that you have an incredible show and I know you work hard to always uncover multiple sides of every issue, usually with your guests. In this show, it sounded to me like you were the sole individual speaking on behalf of nature, while everyone else was trying to promote and quantify the benefits of the gene selection technology. I guess I was surprised, and I suspect that you were too, that the ethicist seemed to share a common viewpoint with the technologists. 

    Even with the listeners that called in, most were focused on the potential benefits, not the ethical questions. I’m a scientist myself, but I think that the ethical questions deserve more of a discussion. Are we all so focused on “getting ahead” in today’s world that we are willing to leave ethical questions unanswered? My recommendation: have one or more follow up shows to further develop moral, ethical, and unintended consequences side of these issues. I suspect that you are already thinking about how to do this. Thanks for standing in the way you did on this show.

  • TyroneJ

    China might want to study the genetics of ethics. From my experience, if that country’s people need anything, it’s ethics.

  • Regular_Listener

    Granted that we are not close to beginning to do this, but trying to select/edit fetuses for high intelligence is a pretty troubling move.  Haven’t we been down this road before?  Now I like intelligence and I always enjoy the company of smart people, but – and I say this for the sake of discussion, not that I wholeheartedly believe it – could it be that we are already intelligent enough?  Mabye what we need, as Tyrone said, is better ethics – and decency and sanity.

    Will there be good jobs for the superbabies?  I know a number of people with high intelligence and impressive degrees who are not performing functions in society that require great mental ability.  But maybe intelligence and education are good things in and of themselves, regardless of whether they are rewarded with material success.

  • h2015

    Tom Ashbrook was very unprofessional and, dare I say, Luddite, while giving this interview. An irrational fear of science and progress has no place at NPR, and I suggest that Tom learn to be a bit more open-minded in the future. The amount of journalistic sensationalism in this piece made it seem more like Glenn Beck than something produced by a reputable news organization.

  • lucheen

    I was glad that Tom pressed these guests, but they sounded like salespeople for this technology, particularly Steve Hsu but even the ethicist. It’s frightening to think of how little thought that these scientists seem to give about the societal and cultural implications of this vision. 

    I thought that the most interesting question was the one posed by the woman who asked how this would contribute to wealth inequality in this country. Unfortunately, it was towards the end of the show and got short shift.

Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

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Aug 29, 2014
Ukrainian forces guard a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko called an emergency meeting of the nation's security council and canceled a foreign trip Thursday, declaring that "Russian forces have entered Ukraine," as concerns grew about the opening of a new front in the conflict.  (AP)

War moves over Syria, Ukraine. Burger King moves to Canada. Nine-year-olds and Uzis. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

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