Bit rich isn’t it?

Breakthroughs in IVF could ‘threaten our humanity’ by prompting parents to demand designer babies, Robert Winston has warned.

The fertility pioneer said that he feared a time when the rich could alter the appearance and ability of children by tinkering with their genes.

When you’re the man who more or less invented a way for the infertile rich to have children at all.

And yes, it is only the rich who can have this treatment: no one’s opening fertility clinics in Somalia now, are they?

55 comments on “Bit rich isn’t it?

  1. “The fertility pioneer said that he feared a time when the rich could alter the appearance and ability of children by tinkering with their genes.”

    Well, maybe. Designer babies have been just around the corner for the past 20 years or so. Probably still will be in 20 years time.

    Even assuming it becomes technically possible, so what? People aren’t going to design their offspring to be uglier, stupider, or more prone to illness, are they?

    What would be the problem with having more attractive, smart, healthy people in the world?

    To a limited extent, we already have some control over what traits our children will be born with. The NHS offers free screening for Down’s Syndrome to every pregnant mother, giving them the opportunity to have an abortion rather than bear a handicapped child.

    Genetically engineering a child to be fit and healthy isn’t more ethically problematic than terminating a child in the womb because it has a chromosomal abnormality. Is it?

  2. The fertility pioneer said that he feared a time when the rich could alter the appearance and ability of children by tinkering with their genes.

    I guess they’ll just have to go back to using their wealth to attract the best looking bird they can, then.

  3. ““The fertility pioneer said that he feared a time when the rich could alter the appearance and ability of children by tinkering with their genes.”

    I’d have a lot more fear of politicians being able to fiddle about with our genes.
    And wouldn’t they just love to. A million clones genetically programmed to be receptive to Polly Toynbee twaddle.

  4. Reproduction is expensive and timeconsuming so why not get the best return on that investment?

  5. The designer, healthier, smarter babies will be balanced up by the products of first cousin marriages I’m Luton, Birmingham and Bradford.

  6. Steve – “Even assuming it becomes technically possible, so what? People aren’t going to design their offspring to be uglier, stupider, or more prone to illness, are they? What would be the problem with having more attractive, smart, healthy people in the world?”

    Well the blunt form of this already exists. One of Denmark’s quieter and unsung exports is sperm. Partly that is because it is harder to get Child Support out of a Danish w@nker than a British one – sensible Brits don’t donate any more. But also because of the nature of the Danish material. Women want tall, blond, blue eyed Nordic types. In their hearts of hearts a lot of women are crypto-Nazis.

    Can’t think why the short, dark, ugly, hairy doctor of Jewish origin would have a problem with that.

    “The NHS offers free screening for Down’s Syndrome to every pregnant mother, giving them the opportunity to have an abortion rather than bear a handicapped child.”

    Opportunity? Try to say you don’t want a termination.

    “Genetically engineering a child to be fit and healthy isn’t more ethically problematic than terminating a child in the womb because it has a chromosomal abnormality. Is it?”

    Well yes it is. A terminated child is terminated. An engineered child will live. With whatever consequences the engineering brings. I don’t think we know enough to foresee all the consequences of fiddling with genes. It could be Thalidomide all over again.

    Not to mention I am in no hurry to move into our post-Human future where half the population are actually genetically superior Supermen.

  7. There are potential problems with having only a master race of perfectly fit humans. Who takes out the rubbish?

    Just imagine what the world would be like if everyone were super-bright and hothoused like John Stuart Mill. It’d probably be a world in which lots of extremely underemployed people all went crazy. On Mars. And still no one would take out the rubbish.

    So underneath the rank hypocrisy that it’s other people should be having stupid fat and ugly children, there is some rational basis to the concern.

    As things stand I see no shortage of stupid fat and ugly people reproducing to their hearts’ content. Their opportunity cost is after all far far lower (in some cases negative) than that of those people who would be doing the world a favour by having more, or indeed any at all. If they could afford it after paying for the kids of the stupid fat and ugly.

  8. SMFS – “Women want tall, blond, blue eyed Nordic types.”

    Do they really? I thought it was tall, dark haired strangers. Small case in point: apparently the recent Thor films are a huge hit with the ladies. Not so much because of the big beefy blond Aryan-looking guy who plays the eponymous hero, but because of the slim, dark haired English chap who plays the baddie Loki. See also: the inexplicable fanny magnetism of Benedict Cumberbatch.

    Either way, shortarses have to be rich or funny to get women.

    “Try to say you don’t want a termination.”

    We told them we didn’t even want to test for it, wasn’t a problem. The NHS isn’t browbeating people into abortions.

    “It could be Thalidomide all over again.”

    Could be. But presumably they’ll create a race of nazi super mice to test it first. Anyway, it’s the rich who’ll be taking their chances with the first generation of this technology, before it goes mainstream – if ever. So that’ll add some incentive to ensure it’s safe so as to avoid doctors being sued / taken to private hunting estates and shot.

    “I am in no hurry to move into our post-Human future where half the population are actually genetically superior Supermen.”

    Why not? Almost certainly it would be a richer, more high tech and more cultured society. About half the population at present has an IQ in the double digit range, and where has that got us? I don’t want to sound all eugenic-ey, but thick people don’t add a whole lot of value.

    Smart people tend to make the world a better place. So, more smart people, please.

  9. Bloke in Germany – “Who takes out the rubbish?”

    Those artificially intelligent killbots Stephen Hawking warned us about.

  10. It’s not really inconsistent from the multi-faceted Winston’s perspective because as a doctor he bravely pioneered new procedures and as a socialist he is free to tell other people what they should or shouldn’t do.

    There should be a name for this apparent anomaly. Perhaps we could call it the Tuscan Paradox?

  11. Tim Newman – “Feminists.”

    Time for the Goodies’ Apartheight?

    Steve – “Do they really? I thought it was tall, dark haired strangers. Small case in point: apparently the recent Thor films are a huge hit with the ladies. Not so much because of the big beefy blond Aryan-looking guy who plays the eponymous hero, but because of the slim, dark haired English chap who plays the baddie Loki. See also: the inexplicable fanny magnetism of Benedict Cumberbatch.”

    Well Benedict Cumberbatch has to do with women’s odd fascination with Da Gayers I expect. Which he may or may not be but he plays the part well. And he has blue eyes. As does the guy who plays Loki. Thor flopped though so I am not sure what you can read into it.

    “Either way, shortarses have to be rich or funny to get women.”

    Depends on the shortar$e I expect.

    “We told them we didn’t even want to test for it, wasn’t a problem. The NHS isn’t browbeating people into abortions.”

    I know people who definitely felt brow beaten into it.

    “Could be. But presumably they’ll create a race of nazi super mice to test it first.”

    How could you test it on mice? It is a human genetic change. It will only work properly in humans.

    “Why not? Almost certainly it would be a richer, more high tech and more cultured society. About half the population at present has an IQ in the double digit range, and where has that got us? I don’t want to sound all eugenic-ey, but thick people don’t add a whole lot of value.”

    Because I am not a genetically superior superman. Although I get to play one because everyone else isn’t as well. I don’t want to be stuck carrying out the garbage. Besides, when it comes to genes, natural is better.

    Why do you think it would be a better society? The seriously smart don’t add all that much from what I can see. A vital component – innovations – perhaps, but generally smart people are pains in the ar$e, difficult to get on with and generally not a social asset. More is probably done by the Upper Seconds than the Firsts. Except for that odd little flash of genius.

    Steve – “Those artificially intelligent killbots Stephen Hawking warned us about.”

    He warns out about aliens too. Maybe if some turn up we can trick them into slavery and they can take the rubbish out. After all, given the way that we have treated the marginally dumber, those of us who are not genetically enhanced ought to be worried about ending up as bars of soap.

  12. Steve: shortarses have to be rich or funny to get women

    Where should we look for John Bercow on the Rich – Funny axis?

  13. “Small case in point: apparently the recent Thor films are a huge hit with the ladies. Not so much because of the big beefy blond Aryan-looking guy who plays the eponymous hero, but because of the slim, dark haired English chap who plays the baddie Loki.”

    That’s because – being the baddie – he gets all the best lines. Thor comes over as, well, a touch dim.

  14. LJH,

    “Reproduction is expensive and timeconsuming so why not get the best return on that investment?”

    Quite.

    The Prof already acknowledges that we already do genetic selection in utero based on Down’s Syndrome. And that’s partly about improving investment – abort a bad one and maybe you get a good one next time.

    If someone in the world had an in untero gay test parents would fly out to get it done even if we disapprove of it here. And that would include many tolerant people.

  15. The Meissen Bison – “Perhaps we could call it the Tuscan Paradox?”

    Or we could call them the Primrose Hill Mob.

    SMFS – Thor was a flop? I thought they made a sequel.

    I can’t really be arsed watching superhero films anymore. Superman and Spiderman get rebooted every five minutes and Iron Man wasn’t even a proper alcoholic. Even though it had Robert Downey Jr in it – a man who knows his way around booze.

    “Because I am not a genetically superior superman. Although I get to play one because everyone else isn’t as well. I don’t want to be stuck carrying out the garbage. ”

    I think it’s better to be a free rider in a richer and more advanced society than a net contributor to a poorer and more primitive one. But your mileage may vary.

    “Besides, when it comes to genes, natural is better.”

    Have you seen people on buses? It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings.

    “Why do you think it would be a better society? The seriously smart don’t add all that much from what I can see. A vital component – innovations – perhaps, but generally smart people are pains in the ar$e, difficult to get on with and generally not a social asset.”

    IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Smarter people make the world better on a daily basis, and not just because they’re more inventive (although that’s a huge plus). A smarter public means more competence in every sphere of activity, from doctoring to plumbing. More competent people means a more pleasant society, because it works better.

    “More is probably done by the Upper Seconds than the Firsts. ”

    So people who got 2:1’s would have you believe. 🙂

    “After all, given the way that we have treated the marginally dumber, those of us who are not genetically enhanced ought to be worried about ending up as bars of soap.”

    The dumbest people in our society don’t have to work for a living unless they want to. Their housing, food, medical care, and money for alcoholic libations are all provided care of higher IQ taxpayers. They can have as many children as they want without paying for them. They have no existential worries. Their living standards are incredibly high compared with how even above average folks lived just a couple of generations ago, and it’s all been made possible by the intelligence of cleverer people and the excess wealth they create.

    Doesn’t sound like a bad deal for dumb folks to me.

  16. Steve – “Thor was a flop? I thought they made a sequel.”

    Did they? At the risk of sounding all Pauline Kael, no one *I* know saw it. Oh no, wait maybe I did. It was the 15th highest grossing film on 2011. I would call that very close to a flop.

    “I can’t really be arsed watching superhero films anymore. Superman and Spiderman get rebooted every five minutes and Iron Man wasn’t even a proper alcoholic. Even though it had Robert Downey Jr in it – a man who knows his way around booze.”

    Male characters have been castrated by loud feminists. They can’t save the girl any more because, you know, feminism. The girl has to kick some ar$es herself. On top of which, Hollywood clearly hates the West and White people generally. Who actually pay for the tickets. So they are asking to be put out of work. How could they ruin Iron Man with Robert Downey Junior? He showed good effort at the start, but he weakened.

    “I think it’s better to be a free rider in a richer and more advanced society than a net contributor to a poorer and more primitive one. But your mileage may vary.”

    Better to be a slave in Virginia than a free man in Liberia?

    “Have you seen people on buses? It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings.”

    I know. And it is only going to get worse. The only plus side of immigration is the aesthetics.

    “A smarter public means more competence in every sphere of activity, from doctoring to plumbing. More competent people means a more pleasant society, because it works better.”

    Up to a point. Smart doesn’t necessarily mean more competent. It could mean Bobby Fisher.

    “So people who got 2:1′s would have you believe. :)”

    Don’t ask me. I didn’t get either.

    “The dumbest people in our society don’t have to work for a living unless they want to. Their housing, food, medical care, and money for alcoholic libations are all provided care of higher IQ taxpayers.”

    Well by taxpayers. It is a highly unstable existence though because it is at the pleasure and whim of richer people. Who might decide to cut them off. Or sterilize them. And even as it is, it means being bossed about all the time. I am not so sure they wouldn’t be better off in work. They are pets.

  17. JuliaM – so it’s his evil brain they’re after?

    I will never understand the female fascination with sexy bad boys who don’t play by the rules.

    The Meissen Bison – I think women love John Bercow because they mistake him for Peter Dinkelage. Or possibly Mork from Ork.

    Either way, he’s a wee shite.

  18. I will never understand the female fascination with sexy bad boys who don’t play by the rules.

    From what I can remember from my university days, women don’t like sexy bad boys who don’t play by the rules per se, they like sexy bad boys who don’t play by the rules that they can then change into good boys. A lot of women see men as an improvement project, and apparently it means a lot to them if they can changed them for the better. I lost count over how many weeping females I encountered who had failed in this mission.

    But it’s an age thing. When I was at university, the girls all thought the engineers were boring nerds and went off with the guy who grew his own weed. A couple of years after university I found girls liked boring engineers who just happen to have a good job, spare cash, and career prospects and they were no longer interested in the guy who is still growing his own weed, and smoking most of it.

  19. I’d imagine parents would want boys to be more masculine and girls to be more feminine, so increasing the spread of male IQs and decreasing that of females.

  20. ‘ But presumably they’ll create a race of nazi super mice to test it first.’
    That’s going to end well.

  21. The Daily Mail wrote: “The hugely controversial theory of eugenics suggests that humans can be improved by preventing people with supposedly undesirable qualities or genetic defects from reproducing.

    Similarly, those seen to have ‘desirable qualities’ should be encouraged to have babies.”

    Neither of which would have anything to do with couples wanting to fiddle with the makeup of their offspring. Eugenics is only a threat if it has the force of the state behind it. Otherwise, it is just private people making private decisions that impact on themselves and their offspring only.

  22. Anyone who thinks it’s all about genes hasn’t been paying attention.
    It’s not about single genes for beauty, brains, extroversion or whatever, it’s at least about multiple genes and surely about epigenetics as well. After all, a queen and a worker are genetically identical in the hive or the hill, but obviously different.
    IVF is hard enough already, not to mention snipping and splicing the DNA to “design” babies.
    Steve is right. This technology will still be only twenty years away a century from now.

  23. About half the population at present has an IQ in the double digit range, and where has that got us?

    Now, I thought the point of IQ was that it was recentered periodically so that the average (mean, median and modal!) remained at 100. Ergo, about 48% of the population will always have double digit IQ?

    ‘ But presumably they’ll create a race of nazi super mice to test it first.’
    That’s going to end well.

    Make them listen to Douglas Adams while they are young. Then they can go and have another Earth built somewhere and we can ship them a B Ark full of socialists?

  24. JuliaM,

    “That’s because – being the baddie – he gets all the best lines. Thor comes over as, well, a touch dim.”

    I recently read someone describing Thor as “babbling in Odinspeak like a Shakespearian stroke victim”.

  25. At the previous peak of civilisation in Classical Greece you would expose the obviously deficient babies to the elements so that they died. Even in twentieth century Britain, in the era before most births happened in hospital, it was common enough to let the obviously handicapped ones die.

    Now we abort lots of babies, however healthy they would have proved, and spend a fortune of someone else’s money keeping poor little mites alive.

    Habits change.

  26. I’d bet we get self replicating robots sooner than we get designer babies.
    And designer prosthetics before we get either. These will be expensive and so reserved for the rich. Why, you might ethically ask. Because the rich have got the money.

  27. I’m with Stigler on this.

    The 400lb gorilla in the room is that most straight parents, even tolerant, liberal ones, would prefer their kids to be heterosexual if the medical technology allows the choice.

    A desire for grandchildren and the continuation of the genes will be at the heart of it.

    The PC brigade aren’t going to be in favour.

  28. Well just speaking personally, every time I watch Hemsworth as Thor, I turn slightly gay. I think Hubblestone’s appeal to women is the “charming bad boy” thing which he does very well. I like those movies a lot by the way, but then I love the whole thing Marvel have done with their movie universe. DC haven’t got a hope of emulating it.

    The popularity of Bendydick Cummerbund I find inexplicable. Never has an actor been less khan than he.

    As to the subject of the article itself, I think it’s inevitable and good that we will have genetic choice, but also imperative that it is in the hands of parents rather than the State. The problem is, unless we can get all the Progressives on that Mayflower to the South Sandwich Islands, they will want to be the ones making the decisions. This is highly problematic in a practical sense. Genetic choice for the State is a nightmare; for individuals, a great leap forward.

    The major problem with it at this stage is the idea of genetic manipulation of the brain. We know very little about the brain’s functions, and neither can we agree on a reference specification of what it ought to be. One person’s “impulsive and enthusiastic” is another’s “ADHD”. Human progress seems to have been heavily driven by people who would be considered- by a conformist middle class mandarinate wonk- to be “personality disordered”. So we really should leave that alone, at least until we can pack all the cranks in the psychology industry on a Mayflower to the South Sandwich Islands.

    But anyway, technologies are transitional. They are replaced by better things. The steam age is (in most applications) over, for instance. The major problem with genetic choice is that you have the problem of parents deciding on behalf of their children, and if the children don’t like what they are, it’s no longer the fault of dumb luck, but of parental choices. That’s going to cause some interesting family arguments.

    So it has to be a stepping stone to something else. I’ve thought a lot about all this for a vaguely plotted utopian novel I’ll never write. You know the type, a person wakes up in the future and then spends chapter after chapter walking around while Exposition Characters explain everything in detail.

    “Of course in your time, selfish individualism meant people carried umbrellas, uncaring of the wetness of their fellow men. Now, thanks to global socialism, when it rains awnings are stretched across the pavements to ensure that everyone is equally dry”.

    “And who unfurls the awnings?”

    “This is performed by the young men in the government’s Industrial Army, who are proud to serve their fellow men…”

    So the obvious way of overriding the problems of parental genetic choice is biotechnology that will enable people to change physically during their lifetimes. Be taller, be shorter, bigger boobs, look like Bob Hoskins, “Ann Widdicombe” is the biofashion this year, change your skin colour, etc… which I envisage being achieved by (a) giving everyone the same genome, which will be effectively written from scratch and contain all the necessary genetic “subroutines” to produce any kind of human and (b) imbedding a control unit in the cell to switch genes on and off, triggering division, apoptosis, etc. Skin will contain chromatophores. No more makeup! Be blue all over and stripey! All of which will be controlled from your iPad, or equivalent.

    By which point of course everyone will be immortal and free of the risk of disease of all kinds. They will look back on our lives- the misery of disease, the fear of death, the monstrosity of ageing, and wonder how we ever coped with the horror of it all.

    I feel kind of resentful that I am in the last few years of Humanity 1.0, and will only just miss the future. But I think we should make a point of being positive about this, and resisting the luddites who, guaranteed, will try to ban it for “playing God”.

    We have a right and duty to our descendants to play God. Also, it didn’t do George Burns any harm.

  29. Also, what’s this “for the rich” thing? Everything starts with the wealthy being early adopters, but there’s no reason it should be particularly expensive once the market gets to work on it. If it’s allowed to.

  30. SMFS-

    It was the 15th highest grossing film on 2011. I would call that very close to a flop.

    Really, anything that isn’t in the top 14?

    It’s a flop if it doesn’t make money. Like any other business, that’s the only meaningful definition of failure.

  31. Thor: The Dark World (2013) took in c$650 million on a $170 million budget. Thor (2011) took in $450 million on a $150 million budget. Both films have around 7/10 on IMDB and “fresh” ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. If you want a film to make the returns that “The Avengers” or “The Dark Knight” did then Thor was a flop. But if you your list of flops includes “Waterworld”, “Star Trek: Nemesis”, “Battlefield Earth” AND the two Thor films then your sense of floppiness is off.

  32. Bloke in Surrey,

    General rule of thumb is that a movie has to make 3 times budget to be a hit. It’s complicated by marketing costs, product placement income, merchandise and that international sales make less than domestic ones etc. but if you hit 3 times, you probably made a decent profit.

    Actual income is irrelevant. Films like Philomena and Dallas Buyers club were profitable because they cost very little to make (both were made for less than what Robert Downey Jr gets for a film).

  33. stigler,

    “Actual income is irrelevant. Films like Philomena and Dallas Buyers club were profitable because they cost very little to make (both were made for less than what Robert Downey Jr gets for a film).”

    That’s obvious. There’s a reason The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity get brought up whenever anyone discusses what the most profitable movie of all time. However even when one factors in P&A etc costs Thor did very well – hence why they are making a Thor 3 (rumored for release in 2016).

    A flop is film that either disappoints or completely crashes and burns at the box office – Star Trek: Nemesis was a flop as it barely recovered its production costs at the box office despite being a Star Trek film. Battlefield Earth was a flop as it made a fraction of its budget at the box office (even when one accounts for the fraud). Neither Thor film was a flop.

  34. …no one’s opening fertility clinics in Somalia now, are they?

    No need to do genetic engineering there, their choppers are long enough already, unlike some guys in the west that need a sports car to make up for the fact they use tweezers to find Percy to pee.

  35. Steve – “I will never understand the female fascination with sexy bad boys who don’t play by the rules.”

    Who is better able to kill a saber toothed tiger with their bare hands? Some muscle bound moron with tattoos or a computer geek? We have a billion years of evolution behind us and boys who were nice and obeyed the rules thrived for roughly 200 years of that.

    Tim Newman – “A lot of women see men as an improvement project, and apparently it means a lot to them if they can changed them for the better. I lost count over how many weeping females I encountered who had failed in this mission.”

    It is the way they can rationalise the conflict between what their genes demand they do and what they know is sensible.

    “But it’s an age thing. When I was at university, the girls all thought the engineers were boring nerds and went off with the guy who grew his own weed. A couple of years after university I found girls liked boring engineers who just happen to have a good job, spare cash, and career prospects and they were no longer interested in the guy who is still growing his own weed, and smoking most of it.”

    They were no longer *openly* interested in the guy smoking the weed. Or to put it another way, when they were young, they slept around with the boys they liked. Bad boys. But they got to a certain age and needed someone to pay their bills. So they married some desperate loser who had never seen a real breast before but was willing to pay for their credit cards. Doesn’t mean she likes sleeping with him. And if I were him, I would quietly test the children. Because it doesn’t mean she has stopped sleeping with the boys she does like either.

    It is just a way to reconcile the demands of the genes with the needs of a capitalist society.

    Rub-a-dub – “I’d imagine parents would want boys to be more masculine and girls to be more feminine, so increasing the spread of male IQs and decreasing that of females.”

    Larry Niven has been here before – non-sentient Kzinti-like females? Could work, you know.

    Eddy – “That’s going to end well.”

    I think I would prefer being enslaved by super intelligent mice over super intelligent people. I for one welcome our new Muridae overlords!

    Gareth – “Eugenics is only a threat if it has the force of the state behind it. Otherwise, it is just private people making private decisions that impact on themselves and their offspring only.”

    I disagree. Obviously it has an effect on everyone. But even if it is just the children, it is a problem. There is a claim that Ashkenazi Jews have been breeding for intelligence for some 2000 years or so. They do well on IQ tests. But they also have much higher rates of genetic diseases that effect brain and spinal tissue. Tay-Sachs for instance. Not to mention various mental diseases.

    Should parents be allowed to inflict the costs of a certain number of chronic diseases on society just so their child can be smarter?

    Should a parent be allowed to engineer his child to be a super athlete if it means the child dies at 35? A lot of people do it to themselves. I take a fairly libertarian approach to athletes who want to win at all costs. If Flo Jo dropped dead at an early age, as she did, she is only hurting herself (and family). But should you be entitled to inflict an early death on all your descendants?

    bloke in france – “It’s not about single genes for beauty, brains, extroversion or whatever, it’s at least about multiple genes and surely about epigenetics as well.”

    It may be a matter of single genes. We don’t know. There may be a single gene for testosterone for instance. I could see people adding it to their daughters in order for them to match the East German Olympic records. Well, to their sons really.

  36. TheJollyGreenMan – “No need to do genetic engineering there, their choppers are long enough already, unlike some guys in the west that need a sports car to make up for the fact they use tweezers to find Percy to pee.”

    Someone has just done a study on fishermen in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Apparently having a large chopper was a predictor of a wife cheating.

    No I don’t get it either. I suspect investigator error.

  37. Ian B – “Really, anything that isn’t in the top 14?”

    I would think that is a pretty safe rule for Hollywood these days.

    “It’s a flop if it doesn’t make money. Like any other business, that’s the only meaningful definition of failure.”

    But in Hollywood, making money is kind of hard to define. However BiS seems to be right and it made money. They did make a sequel. And are making sequel to the sequel. But without director Kenneth Brannaugh.

  38. Making a sequel definitely means it wasn’t a flop. You have to completely ignore anything Hollywood studios claim about how much money a film has made — it’s all bollocks, because the last thing they want to do is ever admit to having made a profit. Return Of The Jedi has officially never made a profit, for fuck’s sake — but was most certainly not a flop, evinced by how much money its rights can be sold for. If they’re making a sequel, that means the people who know how much money the film really made (but will never admit it) reckon it’s worth making another.

    Regardless of the accounts, I loved both Thor films, much to my own surprise.

    On the subject at hand…. Whenever you ask people about this, they say the same thing: “Oh, no, everyone will have blond blue-eyed Nordic babies.” But, if you ask them what they’d like their own kids to look like, some want blonds, some prefer dark hair, some prefer dark skin, some want tall, some want short. Black parents don’t usually want white babies, for instance. Everyone appears to be frightened that everyone else will create a homogenous master race, but in fact people want roughly as much variety as already exists, just with less spina bifida.

    Meanwhile, the fact is that, thanks to a combination of advanced healthcare and choosing procreation partners based on esoteric non-evolutionary factors such as taste in music, we have been undermining the species’ genetics. Nowt wrong with that, but then neither should there be anything wrong with using the same advanced healthcare to push things back the other way. The same way we’ve invented the dental brace to undo the downside of inventing easily chewed food.

  39. My own view is that if designer babies and, particularly, my further future prediction of the “designer self” comes true, there will be enormous diversity. There just won’t be any ugly people. Except for the progeny of a few Guardian readers trying to prove that “beauty is inside”, and that effect will last for precisely one generation.

    It’s a win-win.

  40. Squander Two – “But, if you ask them what they’d like their own kids to look like, some want blonds, some prefer dark hair, some prefer dark skin, some want tall, some want short.”

    People lie. They reconcile themselves to reality. It is no big deal. They just do. I wouldn’t take what they say too seriously until they have a choice. Of course they are going to say they want a child that looks like its father. Doesn’t mean they do.

    “Black parents don’t usually want white babies, for instance.”

    You want to take bets on that? Black parents will invariably want as pale a child as possible. It is the very strong preference for the men in picking a baby mother after all. How many wealthy Black men do you know with a spouse paler than them?

    “Everyone appears to be frightened that everyone else will create a homogenous master race, but in fact people want roughly as much variety as already exists, just with less spina bifida.”

    There is little evidence of this – and the risk remains that we will inflict spina bifida on everyone by mistake. We do not know the side effects of these choices.

    “The same way we’ve invented the dental brace to undo the downside of inventing easily chewed food.”

    The dental brace does not pass down unknown side effects on every single one of our descendants. Or at least half of them.

  41. SMFS-

    Your potential side effects argument isn’t a valid one. Obviously anyone developing or using a technology wants it to do what it says on the tin, and not have harmful other effects.

    Your example of the Jews is a poor one; If it is the case that they have developed higher incidences of genetic abnormalities due to inbreeding, clearly nobody doing unnatural selection would allow those dangerous recessives through to the next generation. In fact, I would say it’s near certian that the first application of this technology will be the removal of them. The problems of natural consanguinity simply don’t apply when you’ve got control of every allele on the genome.

  42. IanB – Watching Thor is turning me slightly gay.

    Funny you should say that. I was watching Thor2 the other night and wondering why Loki is the only vaguely fanciable person in whole charade. All the female actors seem to be playing shy young gay boys rather than women.

    “You lied to me. I’m impressed.”

    See, that should be a woman’s line.

    Oh, and Winston’s just click baiting. The link between genes and expressed characters is emergent, you’ll never figure it out by looking at the genome.

  43. Ian B – “Your potential side effects argument isn’t a valid one. Obviously anyone developing or using a technology wants it to do what it says on the tin, and not have harmful other effects.”

    As with Thalidomide. Are you claiming it was perfectly safe? Are you claiming we have perfect knowledge?

    “Your example of the Jews is a poor one; If it is the case that they have developed higher incidences of genetic abnormalities due to inbreeding”

    That is not the claim. The claim is that the selection for intelligence *itself* carries with it higher risks for diseases involving spinal and brain tissue. It is not inbreeding. It is a by product of intelligence. Sure 90% of Jewish children are smarter, but 10% of them get too much of a good thing and are drooling idiots.

    “clearly nobody doing unnatural selection would allow those dangerous recessives through to the next generation.”

    The Jewish Orthodox community is doing this with Tay Sachs by the way. They are avoiding marriages where both partners carry the gene.

    But that is not the issue. It is not what I claimed. Steroids may make you stronger. They also shrink your testicles and destroy kidney function. One is not separable from the other. If we want to select for more muscle mass, we will also be selecting for an earlier death. If we select for smarts we may also be selecting for schizophrenia or spina biffida.

  44. SMFS,

    > People lie. They reconcile themselves to reality. It is no big deal. They just do. I wouldn’t take what they say too seriously until they have a choice. Of course they are going to say they want a child that looks like its father. Doesn’t mean they do.

    But I didn’t say anything about wanting a child that looks like its father. I just said people have a wide range of different tastes, and that therefore, given designer babies, the human race will not all end up looking identical.

    > Black parents will invariably want as pale a child as possible.

    Two things. Firstly, I said that some people want some things, others want others, and I used the word “usually”. You’re responding with the word “invariably”. That’s a hell of a high burden of proof you’re placing on yourself there.

    Which you cannot meet, because, secondly, you’re taking a fact about human instinct that evolved back when the furthest tribe anyone encountered was from fifty miles away and applying it to the world of cheap air travel and mass migration. You can concentrate all you like on wealthy black men with white partners, but there are still loads of wealthy black men with black partners and wealthy white men with black partners too. People’s tastes are far more varied than their evolved instincts. Hey, Stephen Hawking managed to leave his wife for another woman, and there are hundreds of people out there choosing their sexual partners based on how plush their teddy-bear costume is. Instinct is interesting stuff, but any attempt to rely on it for the whole story in the modern world leads to failure, because humans have culture.

    > Steroids may make you stronger. They also shrink your testicles and destroy kidney function. One is not separable from the other. If we want to select for more muscle mass, we will also be selecting for an earlier death.

    By the same logic, aspirin is a painkiller that thins blood; it is therefore impossible to develop a painkliller that doesn’t thin blood, and it is impossible to genetically engineer a higher pain theshold without also engineering thinner blood. One is not separable from the other.

    Except of course they are. You’re taking a couple of facts about just one drug and claiming that they are forever linked not just in that drug but everywhere forever by some sort of universal law. May as well say you can’t have antibiotics without bread mold. A large part of the progress of modern medicine has involved proving that your idea is utter bollocks.

  45. Squander Two – “But I didn’t say anything about wanting a child that looks like its father. I just said people have a wide range of different tastes, and that therefore, given designer babies, the human race will not all end up looking identical.”

    And I am saying that no one is going to say they want a blue eyed blond child if their short fat Danny de Vito look alike husband is standing next to them. People’s tastes are probably not that wide.

    “Two things. Firstly, I said that some people want some things, others want others, and I used the word “usually”. You’re responding with the word “invariably”. That’s a hell of a high burden of proof you’re placing on yourself there.”

    True. Maybe a touch too high there.

    “Which you cannot meet, because, secondly, you’re taking a fact about human instinct that evolved back when the furthest tribe anyone encountered was from fifty miles away and applying it to the world of cheap air travel and mass migration.”

    I am not sure I am. I am not sure about causation. It may be constant exposure to mass media for instance.

    “You can concentrate all you like on wealthy black men with white partners, but there are still loads of wealthy black men with black partners and wealthy white men with black partners too.”

    In every competition there are losers. Which I am fine with. But in this competition you will remove the losers from the gene pool. Wealth Black men matter because they are the ones with choices. And they invariably choose paler women. Not always White but virtually always paler. What some men at the bottom of the feeding pool do is neither here nor there.

    “People’s tastes are far more varied than their evolved instincts. Hey, Stephen Hawking managed to leave his wife for another woman”

    So SH left his wife for a younger model. You were saying people are more than their evolved instincts? Really? His nurse was attracted to the influential, famous and very very rich man? You don’t say. What was that about instinct again? SH is precisely proof of my point. They should not have got together. There was no logical or moral reason for it. But hey, a gene’s got to do what a gene’s got to do.

    “and there are hundreds of people out there choosing their sexual partners based on how plush their teddy-bear costume is.”

    I bet there isn’t. Plushies seem to be a joke made by a TV producer that has taken on a life of its own. But hundreds? I doubt it.

    “Instinct is interesting stuff, but any attempt to rely on it for the whole story in the modern world leads to failure, because humans have culture.”

    I agree. But when it comes to sex, it is amazing how weak culture is – except when it works with genetics.

    “By the same logic, aspirin is a painkiller that thins blood; it is therefore impossible to develop a painkliller that doesn’t thin blood, and it is impossible to genetically engineer a higher pain theshold without also engineering thinner blood. One is not separable from the other.”

    But that is not the same logic. Not for, for instance, testicle shrinkage. Flood the body with fake testerone and the body decides it does not need to produce more of its own.

    “You’re taking a couple of facts about just one drug and claiming that they are forever linked not just in that drug but everywhere forever by some sort of universal law.”

    I used the word “may” often. I am not making a strong a claim as you think. We may be able to tinker without any problem. We don’t know. That is the point. We don’t know what we might do to the children. So we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t do it anyway in my opinion. But with imperfect knowledge we should not be making life changing decisions for others. We have good reason to think that the natural fiddling we have done has had some problems. Artificial may well too. After all, even the simplest change to the genes usually involves more than just one button switched from on to off.

  46. > His nurse was attracted to the influential, famous and very very rich man? You don’t say.

    She wasn’t attracted to the tall blue-eyed blond, was my point. And you agree. Great.

    > And I am saying that no one is going to say they want a blue eyed blond child if their short fat Danny de Vito look alike husband is standing next to them.

    What on Earth is your point? That short and fat are opposites of blond and blue-eyed? Nothing you’re saying is even the remotest evidence that some people don’t prefer black hair or brown eyes. Which they do. Lots of people don’t even like blond hair. Which was my point: people claim that “everyone” will want blond blue-eyed children, even though they themselves often wouldn’t. The fear is based on associations with Naziism, not real preferences. The idea, that, given designer babies, the population of Mongolia will turn blond and blue-eyed is nonsense. Yet it’s a strangely popular idea.

    And, since you yourself have now made the point that success trumps looks for women, you don’t actually think that everyone will end up looking the same. So why are you arguing?

  47. A few observations-

    All else being equal I prefer brunettes.

    All else being equal, I prefer “darker” caucasian to “lighter caucasian” skintones. To my taste, the “english rose” looks a bit pallid. I wonder if the preference for candlelight in romantic situations is that it warms up the skintones; an effect that first occurred to me one time looking at my naked beloved by candlelight. Other people admire the English rose look. There are many variations on “beauty”.

    SMFS is not being very intelligent about genetics. Many Jews are very intelligent but do not suffer genetic disease. This confirms what we know already; that the “bad” alleles that cause those diseases have come along for the ride, being accidentally selected alongside the positive ones for intelligence. The whole point of a technological selection is that one could avoid such effects.

  48. Squander Two – “She wasn’t attracted to the tall blue-eyed blond, was my point. And you agree. Great.”

    I don’t foresee a lot of parents condemning their sons to lives in wheelchairs on the off chance he can pull some psycho nurse.

    “What on Earth is your point?”

    That you cannot believe what people say about child preference. For what I thought were perfectly obvious reasons.

    “Which was my point: people claim that “everyone” will want blond blue-eyed children, even though they themselves often wouldn’t.”

    And my point remains that the observation is biased by the fact that they have husbands to consider. They cannot say, in public, they are disappointed in their children. Even if they are.

    “And, since you yourself have now made the point that success trumps looks for women, you don’t actually think that everyone will end up looking the same. So why are you arguing?”

    Because you’re being obtuse. And if you cannot see why your comment is pants, I feel sorry for you.

    Ian B – “SMFS is not being very intelligent about genetics. Many Jews are very intelligent but do not suffer genetic disease. This confirms what we know already; that the “bad” alleles that cause those diseases have come along for the ride, being accidentally selected alongside the positive ones for intelligence. The whole point of a technological selection is that one could avoid such effects.”

    No, you are not understanding my point. We do not know that. We do not know that at all. The claim – and it is not mine – is that the genes that cause more brain cells *also* cause more brain-cell-related diseases. Not a bad allele along for the ride. But the same actual ones. If we select for one, we get it, but we also get his evil alternate personality as well. As I have said a number of times now. It is not a hard concept to understand Steroids are great. But they do damage your liver. That is not an adulterant in the steroids. It is the steroids themselves. Sickle cell is a protection against malaria, theoretically. Great if you live in an area with malaria. Not so great if you live in Birmingham. It is not another sets of genes that is causing it. It is the same ones. You don’t have the protection against malaria without the health side effects.

  49. SMFS-

    A person with a particular genetic condition, such as Tay Sachs has a particular allele- two of them in fact, it’s recessive- so you don’t give the child that allele. It’s not hard.

    John Von Neumann was a genius. He didn’t have Tay-Sachs. You choose the genetic composition that gives you the desirable effect without the undesirable one.

  50. > I don’t foresee a lot of parents condemning their sons to lives in wheelchairs on the off chance he can pull some psycho nurse.

    I agree, but it is you who keeps conflating the issues of what people want for their children and what people look for in a mate. So this is a good example of how the two are in fact quite different.

    > And my point remains that the observation is biased by the fact that they have husbands to consider. They cannot say, in public, they are disappointed in their children. Even if they are.

    Yes, yes, I get that (although you’re wrong, for reasons I’ll explain in a sec). What I find utterly baffling is your implication that every single woman in the world who has a non-blond non-blue-eyed mate is disappointed in him. Henry Cavill’s girlfriend, for instance. All I am suggesting is that people have different tastes, which they do. Ian B prefers darker shades of white skin; I prefer the proper Celtic pale skin that makes the English roses look dusky, not that I’d say no to Halle Berry or Khulan Chuluun. Some people dislike freckles; I love them. Some people prefer straight hair; some like ringlets. A lot of women love bald men; some can’t stand baldness. Given choice, people will make different choices. You are very much opposed to this idea, insisting that there is just one physical human ideal and anything that deviates from that is a disappointment for every single person on the planet. And I know you’re now going to say that you never said that at all, in which case, again, what is your point? Because my only point is that, given choice, the entire human race will not, as is often claimed, end up looking completely identical; different people will make different choices because they have different preferences.

    You’re wrong about considering husbands for two reasons. Firstly, obviously, single mothers also have varying tastes in physical appearance. Secondly, not everyone places physical appearance at the top of their list of priorities. What I wanted for my kids was for them to be nice kind people. Intelligence and looks are great, but, given the choice, I would far rather have had a kind ugly moron that a spiteful beautiful genius. And I’m not that unusual. You’re forgetting what is a big factor for people: their experience of others. Some people whose childhoods were made completely miserable by good-looking bullies will want their children to be gorgeous so they can exact a sort of revenge by making other children miserable in turn. Other people, given the same experience, will associate good looks with shitheads, will not want their children to be shitheads, so will want them to look nothing special.

    Thanks to school, to this day I associate sport with bastards. If someone is good at a sport or chooses to spend their spare time taking part in a sport for fun, my immediate intuitive reaction is that they must be an utter bastard. I then work to overcome that if it turns out that they’re actually OK. But would I choose physical prowess for my children? Would I fuck.

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