May 2, 2017

The future belongs to the stupid


Dysgenics is the study of factors that contribute to changes to the genes of the present generation that will cause the next generation to have a lower IQ (Flynn, 2013). For instance, the decrease in genotypic intelligence is assumed to be the result of dysgenic fertility –  a negative correlation between intelligence and the number of children (Lynn and Harvey, 2008). The figure below shows national IQs (left side, the darker the higher the national IQ) compared with national fertility rates (right side, reddish/purple 6-7 children; blue/green 1-2 children).

Such claims and predictions have provoked a lot of discussion. For example, Herrnstein and Murray (1994) in their controversial book “The Bell Curve” showed that in the US, women with an average IQ of 111 had 1.6 children, while women with an average IQ of 81 had 2.6 children. They further argued that a loss of three IQ points means an increase in welfare dependency by 7%; illegitimacy by 8%; men interned in jail by 12%; and the number of permanent high school dropouts by nearly 15%.

Yet another interesting line of reasoning was put forward by Cattell (1987), proposing that Western societies are breeding for pacifism and pleasure rather than aggression and that only warlike societies will transform humankind into a higher species. This was disputed by Flynn (2013), providing the example of Pol Pot who between 1973 and 1976 killed millions of Cambodians. Although his criteria were just political they to some extent discriminated those with superior IQ (the main criterion was occupation/education – people  wearing spectacles and possessing a bicycle). If he would have used IQ tests the decrease in intelligence would be about 6.5 points, whereas the educational criteria used in a semirural society would mean a drop of only one IQ point. Sunic (2009) provides another instance from history accusing the former Yugoslav communists of killing Croatian intellectuals and by that lowering the national IQ of Croatia to 90 points. A provocative question: Did Hitler lose the war because he killed or expelled so many Jews?

Setting the holocausts of world history aside, there is concern that ordinary patterns of reproduction will lower genotypic IQ. The estimates are about half IQ point per familial generation (about 25 – 30 years) for the US and UK (Lynn and Vanhanen, 2012). Meisenberg (2010) analyzing the NLSY79 survey[1], concluded: “Assuming an indefinite continuation of current fertility patterns, an unchanging environment and a generation time of 28 years, the IQ will decline by about 2.9 points/century as a result of genetic selection. The proportion of highly gifted people with an IQ higher than 130 will decline by 11.5% in one generation and by 37.7% in one century.”

In contrast, actual measurements of intelligence (phenotypic intelligence) show that IQ is increasing which was dubbed the Flynn effect (Flynn, 2013).  We will discuss the Flynn effect in more detail in our next blog, at this point just a brief summary will be presented for better understanding. The effect, although still not well understood, is often explained as favorable environment enhancement of human intelligence, which enables people to create favorable environments. Hence, small rises in IQ caused by education were translated into even greater environmental improvements, which raised the intelligence of the next generation even higher. But as the pessimists fear, this compensation cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. On the contrary, the environmental improvements are likely to stop giving positive returns. When their impact is exhausted, and if dysgenic fertility continues, phenotypic intelligence will begin to decline and worsening environments will further reduce intelligence. Another point put forward by Lynn (2011) was that although the soil is continually enriched, this does not make insignificant the fact that the seeds have deteriorated.


The opposite of dysgenics is eugenics with the main goal of improving the genetic inheritance of the human race, for instance cognitive abilities (Flynn, 2013). Its literal meaning—good birth—suggests a suitable goal for all prospective families and  societies, however the relation to Germany's Nazi regime gives eugenics a strong negative valence (Goering, 2014).

The eugenic idea can be tracked back to Plato who recommended a state-run program of mating intended to strengthen the guardian class in his Republic. The modern version of eugenics had its start with the 19th  century British scientist Francis Galton. He wanted to “improve human stock” through scientific management of mating – to create better humans. The eugenicists considered a twofold strategy to deal with the problem, which they designated positive and negative eugenics. Positive eugenics consisted of policies designed to persuade the more intelligent to have greater numbers of children. Negative eugenics consisted of the dissemination of knowledge of birth control and the sterilization of the mentally retarded (in the language of that time, this included individuals who were poor, mentally insane, feeble-minded, idiots, drunken and more). Sterilization for eugenic purposes was first introduced in Indiana (US) in 1907 and subsequently in most of the American states and throughout most of Europe and became popular when the Nazis came to power in Germany. In the second half of the twentieth century, public opinion turned against eugenics and from the 1960s onwards eugenics became virtually universally condemned. However, involuntary eugenic sterilizations of “feeble-minded” women in a variety of US states didn't officially end until the 1970s, and may continue covertly in some state institutions (Goering, 2014).

There were also several contemporary attempts to renew eugenics. For instance, with the creation of a sperm bank collecting sperm from Nobel laureates, others deemed “geniuses” and Olympic level athletes (Repository for Germinal Choice). The sperm bank produced about 219 children. The most popular, whose life was exposed to the public, is Doron BlakeAs a newborn he could mark time to classical music with his hands. By age 2, he was using a computer. By kindergarten, he was reading Hamlet and learning algebra. At six his IQ was off the charts. He trained to become a teacher and is at the moment self employed. The Repository for Germinal Choice closed in 1999, two years after the death of its founder Robert Graham. There are now many others, such as the Fairfax Cryobankclaiming that it is easier to get into an Ivy League school than it is to get into their donor program.

Further, advances in genetic technology to test/manipulate for a large array of genes related to a wide variety of diseases and traits opens the possibility of “the new eugenics” of biotechnology. The most promising development would be embryo selection, whereas genetic modification is a less viable option. Most countries have not yet legislated genetic modification in human reproduction, but of those that have, all have banned it. On the other hand, embryo selection involves producing a large number of embryos and reading their genomes to find the one that most closely matches the parents’ desires. It is estimated that in 20-40 years the technology for safe, effective and cheap preimplantation genetic diagnosis will be available. Another prognosis is that this will lead to obsolescence of sex for procreation. The problem at the moment is that, although intelligence is on average 50% heritable (40% at the age of 4 years and 80% at the age of 65), there is no single gene that would regulate intelligence, which is probably polygenic (for more information, see Posthuma’s presentation).

Richard Dawkins (From the Afterword, The Herald, 20 Nov 2006argued that the broad public disapproval of designer babies is actually hypocritical. In his opinion there is no moral difference between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons, or between the training of fast runners and high jumpers and breeding them.

Regardless of our opinions and ethical concerns, “In technology, whatever can be done will be done” (Grove, 1998).


Cattell, R. B. (1987). Beyondism: Religion from science. New York, NY: Praeger.
Flynn, J. R. (2013). Intelligence and human progress: the story of what was hidden in our genes. Oxford, UK: Academic Press.

Goering, Sara, "Eugenics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Grove, A. S. (1998). Only the paranoid survive: how to exploit the crisis points that challenge every company and career. London: Profile Books.

Herrnstein, R., & Murray, C. (1994). The Bell Curve. New York: Random House.
Lynn, R. (2011). Dysgenics: Genetic deterioration in modern populations (2nd ed.). Belfast: Ulster Institute for Social Research.

Lynn, Richard; Vanhanen, Tatu (2012). Intelligence: A unifying construct for the social sciences. Ulster: Ulster Institute for Social Research.

Lynn, R., & Harvey, J. (2008). The decline of the world’s IQ. Intelligence, 36(2), 112–120.

Meisenberg, G. (2010). The reproduction of intelligence. Intelligence, 38(2), 220–230.

Sunic, T. (2009). Dysgenics of a Communist killing field: The Croatian Bleiburg. Brussels Belgium: European Action.

[1] Cognitive ability was measured when respondents were aged 15–23, while the number of children was obtained at ages 39–47.


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