Archive for March, 2012

Richard Lynn is an Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Ulster (Ireland).  Much of his research involves the controversial issues of the heritability of intelligence and the correlation of intelligence with race in human beings.

Dysgenics and Eugenics

He kicked off his talk by describing eugenics as “something Hitler believed in…leads to the gas chambers, and is not to be approved of…”  He defined eugenics as the improvement of hereditary qualities in humans, and dysgenics as the degeneration of the hereditary qualities of a race or stock.

Francis Galton worried that the health, intelligence, and moral character of humankind were/are deteriorating.  Inherent healthiness, he argued, was waning due to the relaxation of natural selection against sickly individuals by improvements in medicine such as surgical intervention, antibiotics, etc.

Most interesting to Lynn, Galton suggested a negative association between intelligence and fertility (or the number of offspring produced).  He was concerned that the intelligence of developed European nations was fading due to demographic transitions as less intelligent (dysgenic) peoples immigrated into North America and Europe and out produced the intellectual elite.

Lynn is inclined to agree with Galton.   Intelligence tests performed in the 1920’s suggest a negative correlation between IQ and fertility.  And just recently in the US in 2004, a study was conducted comparing IQ, level of education, and the number of children in white women, black women, white men, and black men. Shown below are the resulting correlation coefficients of the study.


White Women

White Men

Black Women

Black Men















A similar study was performed in the UK just last year.


with children

w/o children










These studies reaffirm the hypothesis of this negative association. Lynn is inclined to blame contraceptive measures for this phenomenon of dysgenic fertility.  Rubber condoms, invented in 1865, he argues, were/are typically only used by the middle and upper classes due to expense and proper sex education.  Once a reliable method of contraception had been invented, dysgenic fertility became inevitable, especially with the onset of the welfare state which provided the means for lower income families to support more children. 

Looking at the tables above, the trend of reduced fertility with increased IQ seems more pronounced in women than in men.  The emancipation of women led to low fertility among the more intelligent and ambitious in the female sex.  Women who choose to pursue careers often postpone trying to start a family until they are in their 30’s and have difficulties conceiving or genetically defective offspring due to their age and are thus out-produced by their less intelligent counterparts.

But what will the effects of increased dysgenic fertility be?  For much of the 1900’s, developing countries experienced an increase in phenotypic intelligence (measured IQ) due to improved quality of living (known as the Flynn effect).  However, much of the 1st world has reached its Flynn effect saturation point and scientists such as Meisenberg predict a decline of the world’s intelligence by as much as 1.3 genetic IQ (the portion of IQ due to strictly genetic contributions) points per generation.  

At this point, Joanna and Anna pointed out that you cannot conduct reliable heritability studies using the entire world as a single population, or at least, they have not seen them be done.  There are too many conflicting environmental effects between sub populations of human beings to gain any real knowledge about the genetic background that contributes to IQ.

Flynn then goes on to suggest that much of this decrease in IQ in nations such as the US and UK will be the result of a reduction in the percentage of Caucasian Europeans in these populations.

While the average IQ’s of those of European or Northeast Asian descent are higher than those of Hispanics or African Americans in the US, Joanna and Anna argued that you cannot assume that those minorities have necessarily maxed out their Flynn effect.  The living conditions in Hispanic and African American communities are not comparable to those of many Europeans and Asians.  Perhaps the disparities in IQ are more attributable to environmental contributions than genetic effects due to race.

Dysgenics is a problem, and eugenics is its solution.  There have been many ideas and policies suggested and implemented over the years to combat the decline in the genetic quality of human beings.  Galton postulated financial incentives for the intellectually elite to reproduce.  In 1907, the state of Indiana made sterilization mandatory for criminals and the mentally handicapped, and many other states followed suit.  Restrictions on immigration were/are enforced and illegal immigrants were/are repatriated.

In the future, if and when the genes for a variety of desirable traits are identified, Flynn imagines people will choose to utilize embryo selection methods to enhance the phenotypic quality of their children.  Most of the group found this implausible, as many traits are the result of the interaction of many different genes and epigenetic effects.  Also, much as excessive artificial selection has crippled many dog breeds, selecting for individual loci could have much greater negative effects on the overall phenotypic quality of those offspring.

Women could also choose to reproduce through sperm banks with contributions made by intellectually elite men.

Flynn states that in the future, this dysgenic fertility will continue.  In his final statement, he argues that the best hope for the human species is to establish oligarchical states similar to China.  Eugenic policies cannot be achieved in Western democracies.  

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This week was focused around a presentation by Dr. Aurelio José Figueredo, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona. The presentation was entitled Life History Strategy and the Evolution of Eugenics.

The fundamental concept behind life history theory is the allocation of limited resources within an organism. This means organisms must make trade-offs. A classic example of this is body size vs. growth rate. Resources can allocated towards a large body size with a slower growth rate or a very fast growth rate with a smaller body size. The way in which these resources are allocated can vary both interspecifically and interspecifically. Two strategies seen nearly ubiquitously across the animal kingdom is R and K selected reproduction. Both traits can be environmentally or sexually selected for.

R- selected, or fast life history strategy:

  • More energy to offspring than somatic maintenance
  • More energy to mating than parental care
  • More energy towards more offspring rather than survival of existing offspring

Fast life history individuals therefore produce numerous precocial offspring that may vary more in quality and have lower survivorship. This strategy is selected for in unstable environments where mortality is extrinsic (predation, etc.).

This tends to produce:

  • Limited attachment to kin and social groups
  • Exploitative personal style
  • Low kin-selected altruism
  • Low parental care
  • High social defection
  • High social antagonism
  • High social aggression
  • General selfishness towards social partners

K-selected, or slow life history strategy:

  • More energy towards somatic maintenance than reproduction
  • More energy towards parental care than mating
  • More energy towards survival of offspring than producing more

And therefore produce more quality offspring, with higher survivorship but fewer in number. This strategy is selected for in highly stable environments, with the largest source of mortality being intrinsic (defect, etc.).

This tends to produce:

  • More stable relationships with kin and social groups
  • Kin-selected altruism
  • High parental care
  • High social reciprocity
  • General altruism to social partners

In humans, slow life history strategies have been linked to higher levels of physical and mental health, executive functioning, emotional intelligence but not general intelligence. These, and other social indicators have been studied multiple times using different measures that correlate and interact differently. Both life history strategies are reinforced by other individuals of similar type.

Given the ways that life history strategies may influence personal relationships, it likely also drives how humans compete with their own species. Dr.Figueredo proposed that eugenics may be a competitive strategy for slow life history individuals to compete with fast life history individuals. Fast life history individuals may interfere with slow life history individuals simply as a unintentional consequences of their behavior. Fast life history individuals put forth low somatic effort, which raises socialized health and welfare costs, have a high mating effort which threatens slow life history offspring and have low parental effort which results in neglected and abused children. However, slow life history strategy individual also interfere with fast life history individuals, though it may be a more intentional effort. These interferences include requirements for health and automobile insurance, anti-teen pregnancy and socialized abortion services, and child protective services.

Dr. Figueredo ended his presentation with two questions:

Is the entire eugenics movement a competitive strategy of slow life history individuals?

Given this information, should we re-evaluate when the eugenics movement actually began?

Discussion began by deciding how eugenics fit into life history strategies. It was thought that perhaps eugenicists tend to be slow life history individuals and do not like fast life history individuals. To decrease competition they impose regulations or limitations on the reproduction of fast life history individuals and generally attempt to slow them down. Eugenics could then be considered an enforcement to prevent deviation from the slow life history strategy.

It was also noted that if we accept this possibility, we must be aware of our own life history strategy when debating the moralities attached to both strategies. The morality may also vary across societies and countries, both within and between groups.

The remaining time was primarily filled by questions that we did not have time to discuss. These included:

How do these life history strategies relate to class?

Do people have the right to defend their own life history strategy?

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This week’s meeting focused on scientific and ethical considerations surrounding the heritability of intelligence. The readings for this week included excerpts from “The Bell Curve”, a famous and controversial book that, among other things, makes claims about the heritability of human intelligence. The first portion of the meeting focused on scientific aspects of the heritability of intelligence (as measured by IQ), and on long-term trends in IQ measurements. Here heritability is defined as the proportion of the total phenotypic variation in a specific population in a specific environment that can be attributed to genetic factors. Much of the available evidence used in forming estimates of the heritability of IQ results from studies comparing monozygotic and dizygotic twins, or from studies of monozygotic twins raised separately in adoptive households. Both types of studies involve certain drawbacks, in that the heritability estimates could be influenced by factors such as tendencies among parents to treat monozygotic twins more similarly than dizygotic twins  in the first case, or by the effects of having a shared prenatal environment in the second case. Another important caveat is that heritability estimates can be strongly affected by the environment in which the participants live. For example, estimates of the heritability of IQ are consistently higher in studies involving participants with high socioeconomic status compared to studies involving participants of low socioeconomic status. However, in spite of these various difficulties, a number of different studies have arrived at similar estimates of the heritability of IQ, indicating that variance in IQ may be at least partly due to genetic factors. Another important consideration is that heritability is defined as a ratio, and the actual value can be affected by both the numerator (variability due to genetics) and the denominator (total variation including variation due to environmental causes). The response to selection only depends upon the variation due to genetics (the numerator), and therefore eugenic arguments do not require high heritability, just high genetic variation with respect to the train in question.

Interestingly and seemingly counter to the predictions of eugenic theorists, studies of long-term changes in intelligence have revealed that IQ scores have actually been rising over time, a phenomenon known as the “Flynn effect.” Various explanations have been proposed to account for this, including improvements in nutrition, education, and reduced parasite load. Also, while IQ scores are rising, it is not clear if the same phenomenon is occurring with respect to g, highlighting the distinction between IQ and g.

It was pointed out that the ideological commitments of people studying the heritability of intelligence can profoundly impact the way in which they collect and interpret data on the subject. For example, Samuel Morton, conducted a study measuring human skulls in the 19th century and reached conclusions with respect to human variation  in cranial volume (which he believed to be related to intelligence). Following this, Stephen Jay Gould reworked the original craniometric data in “The Mismeasure of Man” and concluded that the original study was flawed and that the original conclusions were both wrong and biased by Morton’s preconceptions regarding differences in intelligence between different human populations. However, a recent re-analysis of the data (that employed an elaborate blinding procedure in an attempt to prevent the inherent biases of the researchers from influencing the analysis) reached conclusions more in line with those of the original study. Hence, the fact that these issues are controversial and emotionally charged makes it difficult to make a high-level scientific assessment of the available data. It was also noted that proponents of eugenic thought can be found throughout the entire left-right political spectrum, implying that a person’s philosophical positions with respect to eugenic arguments do not necessarily correlate with his or her positions on other economic and social issues.

Near the end of the meeting we shifted the focus of the discussion towards addressing the various moral and ethical considerations surrounding the heritability of intelligence and the associated eugenic and dysgenic proposals that have been made. A central question is simply “what is the goal?” In other words, what is the desired outcome of any hypothetical intervention aimed at raising the intelligence of a population? For example, end goals could include higher job performance and economic productivity (g is a high predictor of job performance), high overall happiness (which is certainly not the same as economic productivity), a more egalitarian society, a society with greater economic mobility, and so forth. These goals are not always mutually compatible. For example, there is evidence indicating that high social mobility coupled with assortative mating can rapidly lead to genetic stratification along economic lines and the emergence of a caste system with high levels of economic inequality, an unintended negative outcome. A related question is that of why we tend to see intelligence as desirable or valuable in the first place, and why there is a tendency to conflate intelligence with intrinsic worth. It was pointed out that our value judgments tend to coincide with our mate choice strategies, e.g. we tend to value intelligence, beauty, athletic prowess and anything associated with high levels of resources (or high “mojo,” as we decided to refer to it). It was also pointed out that high-IQ and high desirability as a mate are not always correlated, with members of the high-IQ society Mensa listed as examples.


Post contributed by DL.

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