Interview with Julian Savulescu on Genetic Selection and Enhancement

Should we use genetic testing to choose what type of children to bring into the world, and if so, how should we choose? Is it acceptable to choose a deaf child? Should we choose our children on the basis of non-disease traits such as intelligence if that were possible ? Does genetic selection put too much pressure on prospective parents? In this interview with Katrien Devolder (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics), Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, defends his controversial view that we should select those children, from among the children we could have, that will have the best chance at the best life.

[This interview is audio only]

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3 Responses to Interview with Julian Savulescu on Genetic Selection and Enhancement

  • Timothy says:

    With Professor Liam Dolan and Professor Jane Langdale, Co-Directors, Plants for the t Century Institute. Julian Savulescu believes that if we can genetically alter the next generation, not only should we be free to do so, it may even turn out that in some circumstances we have an obligation to go ahead and do it.

  • Keith Tayler says:

    As the questioner at the end of this talk points out, Savelusco’s opinions breakdown when the issues become ‘grey’. I continue to be amazed at the evidence and reasoning Savelusco uses to support his (grey) beliefs, not least of course is his use of IQ in a manner that still echoes Galton’s eugenics of the past. His belief into the research of the “libertarian approach” that claims, inter alia, that 1-3 point increase in IQ will cause a significant increase in GDP draws on some very questionable theories and extremely poor “evidence”.

    Here is not the place to discuss at length the controversy surrounding the ”g-factor”. Suffice to say that Cyril Burt is by no means the only IQ researcher, or indeed psychologist, to have fitted the data to confirm the theory.(1) Even under properly controlled conditions, it is irrational to believe that IQ testing and research is a “precise” science given the problem of defining and measuring g, the problem of Flynn-correction, the influences of education and environment, the ease with which individuals are able to learn how to substantially increase their IQ scores, etc..(2) Nonetheless, we may find it useful to have approximate measurements of cognitive abilities that appear to be effective for some intellectual tasks and occupations over a given period of time in a particular socio-economic environment. But does that warrant us to engage in historical and international population IQ comparisons for the purpose of confirming theories like the ‘evolutionary theory of intelligence’, ‘cross-country differences of intelligence’ and ‘cognitive capitalism’?

    In their book ‘IQ and the Wealth of Nations’ (3), Lynn and Vandanen attempt to confirm these theories by taking estimates of IQ for nearly every country on the planet and comparing these against estimates of per capita GDP at intervals since 1820. This and its sequel, ‘IQ and Global Inequality’, have been heavily criticised as they are little more than works of fiction and show no understanding for science, history, the free-market economics of Adam Smith et al, or today’s “capitalism”. Indeed, when they did have some real data they ‘chose’ to select the data that supported their numerous prejudices. (4)

    The theory of ‘cognitive capitalism’ tends to use data from between 1970 to 2010, but there is still, albeit perhaps on a lesser scale, a problem of not having hard data and estimates. GDP growth, even at its relative low rate in the Western hemisphere, does not look much like a smart indicator in a world that can no-longer survive the continuation of fossil fuelled GDP growth. The use of GDP since 1970 by these theorists is not the indicator of free-market success they would have us believe, for it would be rejected by Smith as most of it has been appropriated by the top 1% of the population and the greatest growth by far has been in heavily state controlled “capitalist” economies. He would rail against the privatisation of profit and socialisation of loss, the endemic levels of cronyism and corruption, and what he called “prodigals and projectors”. Similarly, the notion that taking a high number of patent applications as a sign of a healthy cognitive capitalist economy would also be strongly rejected by Smith because they are monopolies and should therefore be outlawed or kept to a minimum. We should also remember that most US patent applications are made by corporations, are not “non-obvious”, and restrict research.

    In short, as he did in the ‘Wealth of Nations’, Smith would treat any theory that claimed to show that the intelligence of the masters of industry, legislators, dealers, bankers, i.e., the “ruling orders” of today’s most advanced capitalism nations was inherently higher than other nations as being sheer humbug and vanity. For Smith the environment, education, division of labour, what we do for a living makes us what we are and forms free-market economics (Marx developed this further). If, as at present, the economy was seriously dysfunctional and corrupted, both Smith and Marx would correctly blame the ruling orders for the failure, not flatter them with theories like cognitive capitalism, or suggest, assuming it was possible, that we should choose individually or collectively to genetically engineer even more cognitive capitalism. Indeed, just as Galton’s eugenics took the values and intelligence of the upper-class British as its epitome, so cognitive capitalism takes the values and intelligence of the “upper-class” America as its. The former was at the time and the latter is now anachronistic.

    1. Horgan, J. ‘Psychology’s Credibility Crisis: the Bad, the Good and the Ugly.’ Scientific America. July 1, 2016
    2. As a computer science student in the 1960s, I was taught how to increase my IQ by 20+ points (computer science was IQ obsessed at that time). I also realised that scores would vary substantially up and down over time, which would invalidating most test procedures.
    3. Lynn.R and Vanhanen, H. ‘IQ and the Wealth of Nations’. Praeger Publishers, Westport, Connecticut; 2002. Followed 2006 by ‘IQ and Global Inequality’, Washington Summit Publishers. WSP are a white nationalist publisher. In 2008 (‘The global bell curve.’ Augusta: Washington Summit.) Lynn advanced his ‘evolutionary theory of intelligence’ which claims that there is an extremely high correlations of skin-colour with intelligence across nations – the whiter the skin the higher the intelligence.
    4. Wicherts.J, Borsboom.J and Dolan.C. ‘Why national IQs do not support evolutionary theories of intelligence.’ Personality and Individual Differences, 2010; 48 (2)
    5. (a) Rindermann. ‘The g-factor of international cognitive ability comparisons: The homogeneity of results in PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS and IQ-tests across nations.’ European Journal of Personality, (2007) 21, 667−706. (b)‘Intellectual classes, technological progress and economic development: The rise of cognitive capitalism.’ Personality and Individual Differences, (2012) 53, 108–113. With Thompson, J. (c) Cognitive capitalism: The effect of cognitive ability on wealth, as mediated through scientific achievement and economic freedom. (2011) Psychological Science, 22, 754–763.

  • Angelina says:

    Is sex-selection harmful or injust? Julian Savulescu outlines four methods used in sex-selection and explores the ethical issues surrounding each.