Jeremy Rifkin: The third industrial revolution

We need to implement reglobalization from the bottom-up in order to achieve a more sustainable global economy. Geopolitics is an extension of the Enlightenment view of human nature, the idea that we pursue our utilitarian pleasures and individual self-interests. In geopolitics, the nation-state becomes a macro view of that. Nations deal with nations by being rational, detached and calculating, pursuing self-interests, excercising power and acquiring more capital and wealth. That’s why Copenhagen failed. The world leaders weren’t thinking biosphere, they were thinking geopolitics. Everyone was looking out for their nation’s self-interest.


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Scarcity Bites – A Decade Too Soon!

Peak Plutonium?

It is our contention that energy is not the only resource that will be scarce in the immediate future. We envisage scarcities of food, water, and a whole variety of minerals that are crucial to the operation of a modern economy. Our thinking so far has focussed on the 2020s as the decade in which scarcity starts to be felt (we call it ‘Scarcity Bites’), but recent events have drawn our attention to a much earlier manifestation.

A recent article in The Independent (see below for link), has drawn our attention to the case of the Rare Earth Elements (REEs), a group of 17 rare metals that are essential to the manufactures of the modern economy which are in a situation of scarcity (demand outstrips supply). The picture is further complicated by China being the main source of the REEs (it supplies over 95% of the world total of REEs) and following a policy of restricting their export. This conjures up some fascinating possibilities for the future.

Source: The European Futures Observatory.

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Nature: 2020 visions

For the first issue of the new decade, Nature asked a selection of leading researchers and policy-makers where their fields will be ten years from now. We invited them to identify the key questions their disciplines face, the major roadblocks and the pressing next steps.

Contributions include: Peter Norvig on search, David A. Relman on the microbiome, David B. Goldstein on personalized medicine, Daniel M. Kammen on energy, Daniel R. Weinberger on mental health, Leslie C. Aiello on hominin palaeontology, George Church on synthetic biology, John L. Hennessey on universities, Jeffrey Sachs on global governance, Adam Burrows on astronomy, Gary P. Pisano on drug discovery, Joshua R. Goldstein on demographics, Paul Anastas on chemistry, Richard Klausner and David Baltimore on the National Institutes of Health, David R. Montgomery on soil, Thomas M. Baer and Nicholas P. Bigelow on lasers, Robert D. Holt on ecology, Jeremy K. Nicholson on metabolomics.

Source: Nature.

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Search for Biological Immortality

Most recently, Dr. Gupta embarked upon a remarkable quest to investigate “new discoveries in the search for immortality to help you age less today.” For his investigation, he interviewed scientists around the globe from Okinawa and Russia to laboratories throughout the United States. His findings resulted in both a book and documentary titled Chasing Life (Warner Wellness).

Source: Life Extension Magazine via Nanodot.

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The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering

Three years ago in The Atlantic, the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel wrote a critique of genetic engineering titled “The Case Against Perfection.” Now he has turned it into a book. The title is the same, but the text has changed, and sections have been added. That’s what human beings do. We try to improve things.

Sandel thinks this vision of freedom is flawed. Part of freedom, he argues, “consists in a persisting negotiation with the given.” To abolish the given by re-engineering not only our world but also ourselves would “leave us with nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will.” This is a profound insight. But it’s not fatal to freedom. It’s fatal to perfection.

Source: NY Times.

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The Commercialization of Eugenics

The recent book by Debora L Spar, The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception, is exceptional in its neutral position on modern eugenics and its commercialization. It is rare to find a well-written and well-researched book, that tackles a politically sensitive issue, that does not bring the author’s bias into the discussion. She, unlike others, uses the term eugenics openly and explains the history of why it had to go underground for so many years—the Nazis lost the war.

She opens, “These children of the future are already among us. In 2001, nearly 41,000 children in the United States were born via in vitro fertilization (IVF)—’test tube babies’ in the older vernacular. Roughly 6,000 sprang from donated eggs; almost 600 were carried in surrogate, or borrowed, wombs. In 2003, Americans adopted 21,616 children from abroad and produced a handful of homegrown, biologically unrelated twins. All these children were conceived in a very different fashion from their parents. And all of them, through one means or another, were purchased.

“It is difficult to conceive of a child as commerce. For even at the start of the twenty-first century— even in an age driven by technological advances and dominated by market capitalism—we like to believe that some things remain beyond both markets and science, that there are some things money can’t buy. In economic terms, these things—like love, truth, kidneys, and infants—are defined as being inalienable: the people who ‘own’ the assets have no ability to profit from them. In moral terms, they are things that we as a society have chosen not to sell, assets or attributes that somehow are more valuable than any price they might fetch. This prohibition seems particularly strong for children. Who, after all, could put a price on a child? Who could imagine selling one? Across the world, baby-selling is strictly prohibited, defined as a crime more egregious, more unthinkable, than slavery….The Baby Business does not insist that this market is either good or evil. It simply argues that it exists.”

There are so few authors that will bring you the data without then telling the world what is wrong and how to correct it. Not Spar, she is too rational. She states, “Usually, this is the point in any provocative book where the author lays out a road map for reform. Having led readers through hundreds of pages of description and analysis; having criticized others’ theories and bemoaned the current state of affairs, the author concludes with a plan, an argument about precisely what should be done to fix the problem at hand. But this author is not going to do that. Why? Partly, it’s because offering a plan at this point would be unreasonable: the baby business is running so quickly and expanding so radically that time is likely to render any detail moot.”

Later on I will get into the behavioral ethicists bemoaning of the immorality of these new genetic technologies, but they have already lost the battle to stop this technology. People want it, it is difficult to uncover if it had to hide, the rich will go to other countries to get the eugenic results they desire, and in the end it will be as normal as birth control—which was also seen as a moral outrage when it was first made readily available.

Today, many women tend to work first and get married and have children later, but fertility drops off rapidly with age. When they finally have the opportunity and the desire to have children, they are often unable to do so—they lack sufficient eggs. “An average twenty-eight-year-old woman, for example, has a 72 percent chance of conceiving after a year of effort. An average thirty-eight-year-old, by contrast, has only a 24 percent chance. Put differently, female fertility drops 20 percent after the age of thirty, 50 percent after thirty-five, and 95 percent after age forty.”

Fortunately, hormone therapy now makes harvesting ripe eggs possible. Savvy young women who have the forethought to do so, can have there eggs harvested and frozen for use later on in life when they are ready to have children. If they never have children nothing is lost. But when they do, the eggs will be available no matter how old they are—even if they have to use a surrogate womb and a donors sperm.

Sperm banks and the more recent egg banks, keep eggs and sperm frozen until needed. Spar explains that these commercial enterprises are growing in size and only the largest will remain in business. She explains, “Much of this revenue goes to covering the banks’ fixed costs: donor screening, specimen storage, and the paperwork involved in tracking large numbers of anonymous, identical-looking ‘products.'” Donor screening of course is the eugenics involved in supplying sperm and eggs to those who want them. The public generally denies that genes make the person, but a tremendous amount of effort is put into detailing every aspect of the donor’s eggs or sperm. Apparently, the usually quite intelligent people who avail themselves of these services do not really believe the equalitarian hype of the media, academia, and government propaganda.

Fortunately in the United States, fertility clinics are strictly for-profit enterprises, and it is the combination of money and the desire for these services that’s driving the current eugenics’s phenomenon. And even if laws could be passed now to shut them down, they would just move over the boarder. And the money is good—”between $6,000 and $14,000 for each round of in vitro fertilization”—with average conception of about three rounds per patient.

What is truly shocking about this technology is how recent much of it is, how much farther it will go, and the accelerating pace it will take—just like personal computers. For example, in the need to be able to freeze eggs as easily as sperm, Spar notes, “Watching from the outskirts, a Harvard Business School student named Christina Jones realized that the potential market among her friends and acquaintances was huge. Having already launched and sold several software businesses, the thirty-four-year-old Jones poured $300,000 of her own money into research and began in 2002 to assemble ‘the best-of-breed components for premium egg freezing services.’ Armed with an exclusive license for cutting-edge cryoprotectant technology, Jones’s firm, Extend Fertility, jumped into the egg market in the spring of 2004, offering full-service egg retrieval and storage for $15,000 plus annual storage fees. At the time of launch, Jones predicted that egg freezing would rapidly become ‘bigger than IVF.'” That was just two years ago!

Once fertilized eggs can be created, sorting for the best of the best becomes possible. For example, not only could a couple purchase vials of the best Ivy League sperm, they could fertilize a dozen eggs and select the very best—or selecting from the best of breed—a eugenicists’ dream. Preimplantation genetic testing then can occur at many levels. Best of best sperm, best of best eggs—by selecting the best of best embryos.

One of the most controversial components of the new eugenics will be renting wombs for raising one’s children. As Spar explains surrogacy contracts, “the surrogate agreed to assume all the risks of pregnancy, refrain from intercourse during the insemination period, refrain from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco during the pregnancy, undergo amniocentesis or abortion at the contracting parents’ discretion, and accept a lower payment for a stillborn child….These couples were paying roughly $25,000 to $45,000: a $10,000 fee for the surrogate, $15,000 for the broker, and all expenses….The price of surrogacy, however, remained relatively steady throughout this period, settling at roughly $20,000 per pregnancy….Who will these women be? They will be young (to carry a successful pregnancy), they will already have borne children (because parents want surrogates who understand the experience), and they will almost certainly be poorer than those who contract for their services. Some of these poor, young mothers will live in the developed world. But many more, demographically speaking, will live in the poorer nations of the developing world, where opportunities for poor, young women are even scarcer. To put it bluntly, a surrogate earning $20,000 in California is earning only about 40 percent more than a fulltime, minimum wage worker. The same surrogate in Mexico, by contrast, would be earning roughly twenty times as much as the minimum wage. If we take the market lens, surrogacy should be outsourced, much like garment manufacturing or IT support.”

“International surrogacy” seems like a natural. All one needs are some willing young poor women; make sure they reside in a hospice by hiring people to watch over them during the pregnancy. When the child is due, the owners of the child fly in, wait for the birth, and after a short time at the resort-like hospice, fly home. Is this really any different than mail-order brides? Rent a bride or rent a womb—it is all very similar.

Prenatal testing is not as eugenically glamorous as some of these other procedures, but it will be more universal and is often state sponsored. It is one thing to seek the “best of the best”—it benefits all of society if fewer genetic defectives are born. Spar notes that, “Prenatal testing also shows signs of robust commercial competition. In 2004, for example, Baylor College of Medicine announced plans to offer its patients the largest panel of prenatal tests available: $2,000 to screen a fetus for fifty indicators of mental retardation…. [P]arents are treating detection not as a medical service but as something akin to a luxury good—an accessory to childbirth, rather than a need. More importantly, some small number of them are also using prenatal detection as a path to a new form of private eugenics: choosing, for a price, the children they want to keep and those they want to avoid.” Genetic testing is now becoming routine and growing rapidly. Whether outside the womb or in, parents want to know the quality of their future children—and the commercialization of that desire will drive the technology.

Any attempt to regulate this personal eugenics will fail, because the nations that embrace it the most will have the healthiest and brightest children to compete globally, and less money wasted on the genetically disabled. Spar notes that people who really want eugenics are readily crossing boarders to get it. Most Western countries have laws that have tried to hobble this or that practice of eugenics, but people just go somewhere else to get the service—and they are usually the fitter people to start with, thus increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots in terms of eugenic quality. There are for example over fifty clinics in the world that screen embryos prior to implantation. Soon, well-off people will look down on their cohorts if they do not likewise test for defects.

The United States is still one on the most unregulated countries, and the technology is far outpacing any attempts to regulate the eugenics’s programs now in place. Spar notes, “Only in the United States can a young woman ‘donate’ her eggs for $50,000. Only in America can two gay Britons pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of conceiving ‘their’ child in a third-party womb.” I ponder, could two males soon be able to create a chimera of themselves—a child that carries genes from the donor egg and both males? Could lesbians do likewise? These are interesting times. Chimeras have that fascinating conundrum of explaining how one soul could be in each of two embryos that merge, creating a person with two souls? Do identical twins each have a half soul or the same soul?

This brings up the issue of the sanctity of life and the bioethicists’ numerous arguments against eugenics. Spar notes that, “At the University of Chicago, biologist Leon Kass argued that ‘this blind assertion of will against our bodily nature—in contradiction of the meaning of the human generation it seeks to control—can only lead to self-degradation and dehumanization.’ Similarly, Paul Ramsey, a leading Protestant ethicist, pronounced, ‘Men ought not to play God before they learn to be men, and after they have learned to be men they will not play God.'”

A eugenicist can rebut that without eugenics humans will never be intelligent enough to be rational, combining intelligence with wisdom. So without eugenics, we will continue to slide into a dysgenic morass where low IQ populations out breed and will replace the more intelligent ones. However, if humans reach a high level of rationality, then they will be able to understand that since there is no God, we can play at anything we desire as part of our creative selves.

And Spar notes just how wrong Kass is about how humans link reproduction, children, and sex: “As matters turned out, the supply of both of these components grew as a result of their unbundling. In other words, women were considerably more interested in providing eggs if they didn’t also have to undergo pregnancy, and they were more interested in serving as surrogates if the child they carried was not genetically theirs. By removing the traditional-link between egg, womb, and mother, gestational surrogacy thus reduced the legal and emotional risks that had surrounded traditional surrogacy and allowed a new market to thrive.”

And later she notes: “For the first time, parents could now choose not only whether to have a child and with whom (the focus of eugenics) but also whether to give birth to a specific child, one blessed or cursed by a revealed genetic fate. If eugenics had grasped for control over parents, then genetics gave power to the parents, allowing them to decide which child to produce.”

Over and over again, people are initially outraged or frightened by new technology, but then very quickly accept it as quite normal. We are a highly adaptive creature, not one that is programmed to accept some ethical or moral system.

The record to date is that contrary to Kass’s assertion that this technology will lead to dehumanizing, it has led to quite the opposite. Those who embrace eugenics pay exceptional notice and show a great deal of perseverance in making sure that they have healthy, bright, attractive, tall children and are willing to use all available technology to get what they consider to be the perfect child.

It has also been shown that children and adults alike want to have high status, and that status develops during adolescence based on stature, attractiveness, intelligence, etc. (See No Two Alike by Judith Rich Harris, 2006)) What parent wouldn’t want their children to have higher status, dominance, and a happier life being free of disease, and free of the struggle to pursue anything they want. With intelligence, athleticism, beauty….it is all the more probable that a person will achieve their goals in life.

There is a great deal of angst concerning eugenics because it will be sought out by normal parents, it will certainly turn into an arms race, and because of its inherent inegalitarianism, it will be fought on many fronts. Now note the inherent contradictions with regards to eugenics. Anyone who has debated or discussed the issue knows that many people, who understand eugenics from its historical perspective, still call it pseudoscience. At the same time, many on the Left are now calling for an equal distribution to access to this “pseudoscience.” They have a real dilemma—for decades the heritability of intelligence and eugenics have been denied and attempts to bury these notions are now failing quickly.

Spar states what happened in the past to excess children, “In some parts of Europe, the putting-out system was vibrant enough to encompass most of society’s ‘surplus’ children. Putting-out didn’t work, however, for some of the toughest cases: the infant children of unwed mothers, the bastards of illicit love, or the orphans of famine or war. Many of these children were quietly killed or abandoned.” And the killing of unwanted children goes on today in many parts of the world. (See Mother Nature by Hrdy on all the many ways that children have been disposed of, used as slave labor, buried alive at birth, etc.)

Spar states the ethical issue clearly: “At a conceptual level, it is easy to bemoan this market, to insist that reproduction—like truth or love or honor—should never be sold. It is also easy to decry the cutting edge of reproductive science, arguing that it breaks the rules of nature or threatens, as Leon Kass once predicted, to lead to ‘voluntary self-degradation, or willing dehumanization.’ Such arguments, however, are increasingly unrealistic: the baby business, as this book has shown, is alive, well, and growing. It’s hard to imagine that we could ever put this particular genie back in its bottle. Moreover, it’s not at all clear that we should. For the baby business—unlike, say, the arms race or the heroin trade—produces a good that is inherently good. It produces children, for people who want them. Some paths to these children may be less virtuous than others. Some parents may not deserve the children they get. Yet the underlying dynamic—parents getting children—is certainly not bad.”

When I look around me, I see dehumanization in the form of the ghettoization of too many unfit. My worldview sees humanness as wholeness in health, character, intelligence, etc. Like so many other things, everyone could come up with a different description of what they view as humanness, so let the free market decide how each of us should pursue our reproductive methods as long as we have the resources to pay for them.

Spar goes on: “Similarly, although one can argue that any imposition of the marketplace into the realm of reproduction is inherently wrong, again this is an assertion rather than a fact. Empirically, we have no way of knowing whether expensively procured children feel any less cherished than those created for free. We don’t know whether their parents, or even other parents, were degraded by the market forces that contributed to their birth. By what right, then, can we claim degradation on their behalf?”

Early results of research on how adopted and children born using donated sperm or eggs do not feel any different. They sometimes have questions, at certain times during their life, where they might want to find out who their parents are or the person[s] who donated their genes. What has been shown is that these attitudes change quite rapidly. The disgrace of illegitimate children in the past has now morphed into many women of means having children without getting married. It has become a status symbol when chosen—rather than happening by mistake.

There is a true irony in how humans become indoctrinated. After losing World War II, and having effectively been stigmatized as the eugenics-genocide monster state, Germany has a fear of the subject and has restrictions against egg transfers, surrogacy or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Now, if they continue with this madness, they will be left behind with defective children, duller children, etc.

On the other hand, Blacks and Jews have been the most active proponents of expanding genetic testing due to sickle-cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease respectively. Researchers have found almost 900 diseases linked to a single gene defect (one gene one disease). Testing for these diseases is not only eugenic, it is kind. If possible, a child would prefer to be disease free and pain free. The material for making children is abundant, why not select the very best?

Israel is even more advanced: “Israel essentially views assisted reproduction as a national good. Accordingly, it permits most forms of high-tech reproduction, regulates them with a light but transparent hand, and pays for all fertility treatments until a given couple has given birth to two children.”

Numerous books have now been published on eugenics and on reproductive technologies. It is interesting to note that invariably, sperm and egg banks only recruit donors from elite universities because when people go looking for the desired genes, they know that such things as intelligence, attractiveness, athleticism, stature, and even hobbies and interests are highly genetic (about 50% for behavioral traits, 80% in adulthood for intelligence). If intelligence was not highly genetic, why wouldn’t sperm and egg banks recruit primarily average people with good health records rather than great SAT scores?

Spar notes that, “When parents purchase eggs, for example, they are clearly selecting along genetic lines. Why else pay extra for that attractive Ivy League donor? Sperm is also marketed by genes, as evidenced by information regarding the donor’s height, weight, and favorite hobbies. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis, in that regard, is only another step forward, a higher-tech means of achieving more accurate results. If parents will pay for smarter eggs and taller sperm, why not pay more to guarantee that the child who results from this high-potential pairing really does carry the optimal set of genes? In economic terms, perfected children make perfect sense.”

Granted, if one wanted to have a child that was primarily athletic rather than intelligent, it might be better to look somewhere else than elite universities for athletic genes. So we have a contradiction: most people still deny—explicitly—that intelligence is primarily genetic, and yet virtually everyone in the egg/sperm donor business openly acknowledge that at leas for them, genes are extremely important for a host of traits desired. This to me is very telling, for it shows that people do believe that intelligence is genetic but prefer to deny it because of the issue of differences between the average intelligence of different races.

There are some problems with current eugenic technology. Spar notes, “Even pregnancy and birth rates, moreover, don’t tell the full story of success, because recent research indicates that children conceived via IVF may carry a higher risk of birth defects. One Australian study, for example, found that IVF babies were twice as likely as naturally conceived infants to have multiple major birth defects. Others report higher rates of rare urological defects and increased risk of early childhood cancers. IVF also leads to a much higher rate of multiple births—37 percent, according to one recent study—which itself leads to more complicated pregnancies and a greater chance of premature or under-weight births.”

Overall however, with a combination of genetic testing, and improvements in IVF technology, the children will be on average more disease free than natural childbirth without testing.

Matt Nuenke, May, 2006

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Conservative Eugenics and Human Evolution

Crow’s essay (1966) on “The Quality of People: Human Evolutionary Changes” posed a number of important problems concerning the evolutionary future of the human species. Particularly important are the problems resulting from the slow increase in frequency of mutant genes in human populations which must inexorably follow in the most obvious democratic and humane termination of the population explosion.

Leonard Ornstein

Mount Sinai Graduate School of Biological Sciences

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in a somewhat different form in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, (Ornstein, 1967). The editors of BioScience asked Dr. Ornstein to allow its publication in this journal as well because they felt it deserved the attention of a larger audience of biologists.

Among knowledgeable biologists, much confidence is placed in our current understanding of the broad outlines of the evolutionary process in populations of sexual organisms. Evolution is seen to result from the interplay of the genetic endowment of the members of an interbreeding population with that population’s environment.The genetic endowment is continuously subject to recombination as a result of processes associated with sexual reproduction. Occasional random physical rearrangements, duplications, etc, provide opportunities for linking together of especially adaptive recombinations. Rare random point mutations of the coded genetic message provide the seeds for adaptive inovation. Those mutations and rearrangements that provide their carriers with some adaptive advantage will, on the average, gradually replace the parental stock. Those mutations which, on the average, confer a selective disadvantage to their carriers are generally eliminated–or held at a low incidence–in competition with the parental stock. Thus, evolution results from balanced interaction of random mutation and selection (Dobzhansky, 1951).

In the absence of mutation, a non-human species would ultimately be expected to become extinct if its fixed genetic resources were inadequate to permit it to adapt to the kinds and magnitudes of environmental changes to which it might be exposed to over periods of millions of years. In contrast, man, with his unique ability to revamp his environment, now depends upon cultural and technological mutations to provide even greater plasticity for coping with natural environmental change than that provided by the adaptive innovations which are sparked by random genetic mutation. Therefore, the absence or elimination of mutation in humans need not constitue a biological threat.

In the absence of selection, however, any species (including Homo sapiens ) would be expected to degenerate gradually through a process closely related to genetic drift (Dobzhansky, 1951). The resulting increasing accumulation of mutations would produce wider and wider departures of the individual phenotypes from one another and from the parental type. The mechanism is quite simple. The overwhelming majority of mutations which occur in a selective environment are deleterious and are therefore eliminated, tending to keep the population relatively monotypic. Selection plugs the multiple leaks that are forever occuring in the genetic dyke and channels the flow of life thermodynamically uphill along adaptive paths. In the absence of selection, the dike would slowly crumble and the flow would dissipate down a multitude of exentropic gulleys, producing a vastly refashioned species. The only directions or styles that would be apparent in this kind of evolutionary process would be those which reflect changes in those genetic code words which for whatever reasons, mutate at the highest rates–and these mutations will almost always represent phenotypic departures from the parental type. And later generations of mutations would represent still further departures from this more heterotypic base.

Now what can reasonably be meant by “in the absence of selection”? If death were eliminated and fertility maintained indefinitely, there would be, at least initially, no selection–however, in an extremely short period of time, a species would exhaust any “real” environmental resources–and this hypothetical kind of “elimination of selection” thus would be too short-term to be relevant to our present discussion. But there are two other ways to eliminate selection: (a) a mechanism which maintains a stable population size, in the presence of random fluctuations of fertility, by random elimination of offspring, independent of the genetic endowments of the individuals; and (b) a mechanism which maintains a stable population size by uniformly and randomly limiting fertility of individuals, independent of their genetic endowment.

If the elimination of offspring occurs before birth (e.g., abortion and some forms of birth control), it is essentially equivalent to a limitation on fertility, or what is commonly called birth control.

With this frame of reference, we will now consider two facts of life which, although in and of themselves are quite encouraging from a humanistic point of view, nonetheless conspire to generate the next great threat to humanity.

There is a growing agreement that some form of birth control will provide the only reasonable solution to the population explosion and the limited resources of our planet. All efforts to increase food production to relieve, at least temporarily, population pressures should be encouraged. But no one supposes that exponential population growth can be matched by food technology. Therefore, in the long run, enthusiasm for such efforts is not likely to be permitted to reduce attempts at population control. Those who divert attention from the real and pressing problem by appeal to science fiction–expecting “to reap the resources of the universe”–will hopefully soon begin to appreciate the sobering cost estimates of even a trip to a nearby star (von Hoerner, 1962).

The ranks of those who at least pay lip service to the principles of equalitarianism and classless or open-class societies are swelling rapidly both within bona fide democracies and in major totaitarian states. It seems not only undesirable from a humanistic point of view that this trend should be reversed, but reversal is also unlikely.

The expected solution, if any, to the population explosion therefore will probably involve the almost universal application of birth control and voluntary (although socially and/or economically rewarded or coerced) individual commitment to the maintenance of a reproductive rate of two offspring per pair of adults, independent of the genetic (or other) endowment of the parents. If such a program is successful in maintaining a stable population and avoiding racial, class and individual biases in the rates of reproduction (and therefore in the composition of future generations), the human species may eliminate selection and thus be on the road to ultimate biological degradation and probable extinction!

Is there a democratic way out? Lederberg (1966) has stated that “It would be a tour de force to demonstrate any change (increase) in the frequency of a specific harmful gene in a human population that could be unambiguously traced to relaxation of natural selection against it. In comparison to the pace of medical progress, these exigencies are trivial.” Crow also has pointed out that “An increase incidence [of homozygotes for a rare recessive harmful gene] of 2% per generation would mean about 40 generations for the incidence to double. This is more than a thousand years. The genetic consequences of the successful treatment of diseases caused by rare recessive genes are slight.” The tone of such remarks is calculated to lull the reader into a state of evolutionary complacency. Yet, on the following page, Crow’s tone turns. “However, I must introduce two cautions in this perhaps over-optimistic discussion of simple examples. One is that the increase is geometric, not arithmetic, and over a long period will become important” (itallic supplied).

Effective tools for recognizing the human cariers of recessive genes (the great majority of new mutations are recessive and harmful) have only been discovered within the past few years. Changes in the frequency of such genes due to mutation in large breeding populations (the human population now is effectively a very large breeding population) occur very slowly. Therefore an extremely large random sample of each of two successive generations would probably be required to demonstrate a change unambiguously. Lederberg’s first statement is therefore correct.

His second statement, however, requires more careful examination. “Trivial” by what standards? Examine the case of a disease such as diabetes. Assume that diabetes is due to a recessive gene in the homozygous state. Prior to the discovery of insulin, a large fraction of diabetics died before reaching sexual maturity (or soon enough thereafter to lower the probability of the survival of their offspring). The human efforts, in terms of research and medical care, and the economic and other social costs of the production of drugs which control diabetes clearly are trivial when compared to the suffering of millions of diabetics and their families that was endured before the development of such drugs. Medicine has, in this case, effectively begun to neutralize the harmfulness of diabetes genes. Their frequencies and the frequency of afflicted carriers will therefore automatically increase among future generations due to unapposed mutation pressure (Dobzhansky, 1961). In a similar way, eye glasses, artficial kidneys, and all the devices, transplants, and drugs of the coming euphenic revolution will reduce or eliminate the harmfulness of many genes. But the genetic base from which harmful mutations arise has until now been kept relatively homogenoeous by selection. Therefore, the numbers and kinds of mutations that at present can occur are constrained by the homogeneity of that base. As this special variant of genetic drift slowly takes over, the base will become more and more heterogeneous, and euphenic correction of each new mutation will become more and more a problem of the custom engineering of individual medical or biochemical crutches or prostheses. Insulin solves the problem of a very large number of diabetic individuals and the social cost per individual is very small.*

*The production of insulin has been coupled with, rather than competitive with, food production. It is, however, perhaps instructive to note that until very recently, the maintenance of an average diabetic over a 30-year period required the production and destruction of about 1000 head of cattle.

This is likely to gradually become less and less the case for the correction of newly arising mutations. It may not be possible to predict, with any accuracy, the relative rates of progress of medical and euphenic research as compared to the rates of increase of problems with which medicine will have to deal as a result of the elimination of selection. In the short run, the benefits from the development of crutches will clearly outweigh the costs, but in the long run (and how long is problematical) the costs are likely to become prohibitive. It takes little effort to conjure up glimpses of the bizarre brave new world–a world of enormous individual variability, each individual (human?) uniquely wired up and supported by his own special set of transplants and external biochemical plant. A glimpse into a relatively modern hospital will convince one of the rapidity with which this vision is being realized at present, although admittedly for a relatively tiny fraction of the world population. But later, a major portion of technology and virtually all of society’s resources would be consumed by that technology. An individual that would be recognizable as a member of Homo sapiens would be rare indeed. Are such exigenicies “trivial”?

The cultural relativist might argue that provided such a culture does not exhaust its resources in trying to keep itself alive, its values and way of life may be just as good for its members as ours are for us. I would counter that if we can now, by judicious planning, provide greater adaptive flexibility and fewer biological and economic burdens for our descendants, as judged by our standards of value, then we cannot entertain the relativist’s rationalization with a clear conscience.

What alternatives exist? Lederberg (1966) states “Eugenics is relatively inefficacious since its reasonable aims are a necessarily slow shift in the population frequencies of favorable genes” (italics supplied). He and others (e.g., see Dobzhansky, 1962) have rightly emphasized the problems of defining “favorable” genes in our present state of genetic ignorance. The problems of defining “unfavorable” genes may often be equally difficult. If the genes for schizophrenia were responsible, in the heterozygous state, for attributes of the kind of intelligence which we believe we value, eugenic attempts to reduce the frequency of schizophrenics from their present levels of 1% to 2% might reduce average intelligence of the population as a whole. This might produce an undesired and unexpected by-product which would outweigh the desired reduction in human misery and in the social burden that elimination of schizophrenia should represent. Would schizophrenia genes average out as favorable or unfavorable? And would we want to increase or decrease their frequency? Because of the difficulty in defining “favorable” genes as well as “unfavorable” genes, I question Lederberg’s implication of the absence of other reasonable (short-term, i.e., within the next 10,000 years?) aims of eugenics.

In discussing the evolutionary process, Crow reminds us “…that for many, and probably most traits there is little selection toward systematic change in a fixed direction. Most natural selection is not changing things. Rather it is acting to remove deviants in both directions from the mean, or adjusting to fluctuations in the environment, eliminating recurrent harmful mutations, or maintaining polymorphisms. Considerable selection is needed to maintain the genetic status quo, even without any progressive evolutionary changes” And later on he asks, “…must we soon begin genetic steps if the human phenotype is not to deteriorate? And should we be content merely to keep ourselves from getting worse?”

I believe we must begin by being “content merely to keep ourselves from getting worse,” and that perhaps the only reasonable short-term and conservative aims of eugenics, taking into account the impending reduction in natural selection and our present state of ignorance of human genetics, are: (1) the approximate maintenance of the present distribution of gene frequencies and frequencies of “linked” combinations of genes, and (2) the reduction of the frequency of those rare mutations which clearly confer severe phenotypic disabilities that are not easily compensated by present medical technology. Such conservative aims should be vigorously pursued, provided that the individual and social costs are not excessive.

If we had methods for decoding and reading the complete set of genetic messages of each and every individual and for recording this data in a central computer file, it would be possible, in principle, to examine the message sets of any two prospective mates to compute recommendations as to the number of offspring they should have in order to help to contribute to the maintenance of the genetic status quo. For most couples, the recommended number of children would be two; for many, one or three; and in rare cases, none or more than three. As Crow (1958) previously demonstrated, variances in reproductive rate of this sort can provide very “considerable selection”. The computer would be programmed to take past frequencies of both intentional and accidental departures from the recomended values (continuously updated from birth records) into account in formulating recommendations. Some such program of conservative eugenics is probably the only kind of eugenic program that would have a chance to start to function successfully in democratic societies.

Some reasonable eugenic measures have begun to be put into effect to hold down the frequencies of rare genes that produce severe disabilities. Those with the highest natural mutation rates pose the greatest threat, and it is just those which tend to be among the first to be singled out for attention. This is the kind of genetic counselling program to which informed and humane physicians are often privately committed.

It is clear that the evolutionary process itself has selected, in some cases, for reduction of effective mutation rate to compensate for increase in generation time and decrease in number of offspring per mating. We are now beginning to understand something of the workings of some mutation-rate control mechanisms such as excision of nucleotide codons which constitute coding errors and replacement with correct codons (using an unmutated complementary strand as a model?). Increased redundancy in the genetic code (e.g., polyteny and polyploidy and gene duplications) may have provided natural means for reduction of effective mutation rates through the action of such genetic reading and editing mechanisms. And in so far as we can discover artificial means to reduce natural mutation rates, the rate of genetic drift can be slowed.

New high-resolution electrophoretic techniques for the separation of proteins (which are the direct translation of genetic messages) and techniques for fingerprinting of the peptide digests of pure proteins begin to permit us to collect significant amounts of data on gene frequencies. These techniques more often than not permit the identification of heterozygous carriers of otherwise pheotypically recessive genes. Routine cataloguing of the accessable proteins of blood cells and serum and other body fluids of each individual (to be followed up later by routine analyses of the proteins of samples of tissue biopsies or cultures from such biopsies) will begin to lay a foundation for the kind of genetic analyses of human populations that is required to guide conservative eugenics.

Although the pace of genetic drift in large populations is initially very slow, the development of the kind of biomedical information-retrieval system and genetic decoding techniques required to stem the tide of drift may also be very slow, and attempts to discover practical means for reducing mutation rates may be even slower in reaching fruition. Therefore, the sooner a very much more substantial social commitment is made to the pursuit of such ends, including making adequate genetic education a required part of all high school curricula, the more secure will be the future of humanity.

Removing the spectre of suicide by nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare and putting a damper on the population explosion (which includes world-wide democratic application of birth control and the elimination of poverty) come first and second on my personal list of social priorities. Attending to our evolutionary future comes a very close third. Learning to live with leisure and computers follows. A 1000 BEV Alternating Gradient Synchnotron, trips to the moon and planets, listening for messages from outer space (Project OZMA), etc., all seem trivial by comparison. As for large-scale application of “algeny” and positive eugenics to the improvement of mankind, I believe, with Lederberg (1966), Dobzhansky (1962), and Hotchkiss (1965) that these must wait at least until we are both technicallyt more proficient and genetically vastly more knbowledgeable.

References Crow, J.F. 1958. “Some possibilities for measuring selection intensities in man” Human Biology, 30: 1.

Crow, J.F. 1966. “The quality of people: human evolutionary changes”. BioScience, 16: 863-867.

Dobzhansky, T. 1951. Genectics and the Origin of Species. Columbia University Press, New York.

Dobzhansky, T. 1962. Mankind Evolving. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.

Hotchkiss, R.D. 1965. “Portents for a genetic engineering”. J. Heredity, 56: 197.

Lederberg, J. 1966. “Eperimental genetics and human evolution”. Bull. Atom. Sci., 22: (10) 4.

Ornstein, L. 1965. “Subnuclear particles: a question of social priorities”. Science, 149: 584.

Ornstein, L. 1967. “The population explosion, conservative eugenics and human evolution”. Bull. Atom. Sci., 23: (6) 57.

von Hoerner, S. 1962. “The general limits of space travel”. Science, 137: 18.


1997 Postscript:

Thirty years later, the above arguments about the priority that Conservative Eugenics deserves still hold.

In the interim, the gel electrophoresis methods which I co-invented have been successfully extended (by others) to the resolution of nucliec acid fragments that differ by single nucleotides, and serve as the main analytical tools for reading the genetic code. The multi-year, 3-billion dollar Human Genome Project is well on the way to sequencing the “complete set of human genetic messages” and the first generation of the required kinds of computers and computer programs to do the job already exist. To make execution of my recomendations practical will require methods that reduce the 3-billion dollar cost by about five more orders of magnitude, and the years to at least days, that appears feasible to me within the life-time of the next few generations. It hasn’t been my priorities that have driven this revolution, but curiosity and the wide-spread belief in the power of the new technologies for euphenic (mainly medical and agricultural) applications and the possibilities for “gene repair” (algeny). But for the long run, conservative eugenics still warrant the higher priority.

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