Genetic Screening to Enhance IQ Should Be Embraced

This article caught my eye mainly because of the clear stance presented in the title. Though it deals mostly with the subject of genetics, I felt that this article related to our class because it touches upon the common human desire to be bigger and better. Evolution revolves around that idea as well, because through time we acquired traits that helped us adapt to changing environments. Even now, there is debate over what we can do to make us even better. One of our class bloggers last week posted about genetic enhancements for babies in future generations, enhancements that would supposedly be for the better of mankind. These articles interesting are because there are so many different ways to interpret them, but also because they spark debate and bring interesting perspectives to light.

The problem with something that tampers with genetics, however, is the ethical issues that accompany it. Savulescu points out this problem in the beginning of the article, despite his stance that genetic screening should be embraced. In the middle of the article, however, Savulescu states (with reference to those with an IQ below the “threshold” of 75) that “if we could enhance their intelligence, say with thyroid hormone supplementation, we should.” I felt that this was poorly written; he states this as if he has a say in what people want to do with their bodies. Yes, it may be statistically true that those with an IQ between 75 and 90 are at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring jobs, earning money, and being recruited for the military, but it is not up to anyone else to decide what you do with your brain and your genetics. I would also like to point out the fact that there is no cited evidence of thyroid hormone supplementation having been tested on any humans yet; thus, we do not actually know whether or not it would “enhance intelligence.” What does it even mean to “enhance intelligence”? Would you get better at math and science? Would your social skills improve? There’s a blurred line here when it comes to defining “intelligence,” and Savulescu fails to speak to that issue.

Savulescu also states in the paragraph before the “Nature and Nurture” section of the article, that “the interventions I am arguing for would only benefit those with an IQ of 70-85 – so it would in fact reduce inequality.” Here I would question why he thinks the enhancements would ONLY benefit those with an IQ in that range. Though this genetic screening is aimed at supposedly enhancing the IQ of those in that range, there is no implication that it would only benefit them. Savulescu does not elaborate on the relationship between the increase in IQ and and the reduction in inequality, either. He also mentions that “enhanced education” and “environmental modifications” are alternatives to genetic screening, but I feel that those terms are very broad. What exactly does “enhanced education” refer to? He doesn’t take into account the fact that there are many that are homeschooled, and others that can’t afford to attend schools that are viewed as better in terms of preparing students to do well later in life. Does “environmental modifications” refer to a student’s home/social life, or the literal environment? At the end of article, he also says that “All we can do in life is try to reduce the chances of bad things happening, and increase the chances of good things happening. That includes using genetic information to ensure children have the best shot at a good life.” I do agree with the first sentence, but will genetic enhancements ACTUALLY ensure that children will have the best shot at a good life? There’s more to a “good” life than intelligence.

Savulescu is very opinionated in this article, and this is obvious in statements such as “in my view, we ought to test embryos for such gene variants.” I respect his views and his take on genetic enhancements, but I feel that he could have approached the subject with a more open mind and with less of an emphasis on statistical data. Statistics are not always reliable and can only get you so far in research.

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18 Responses to Genetic Screening to Enhance IQ Should Be Embraced

  1. At the end you said “Statistics are not always reliable and can only get you so far in research.” I would argue that statistics are the primary source of research material. Also, If someone has their leg amputated (or are born without one) they are at a disadvantage and are provided with a prosthetic. The prosthetic is provided in an effort to make up for the disadvantage. What is the difference between something like that and helping people with lower IQ’s?

    • jwmigook says:

      You bring up a good point. I think I should have worded that sentence better. I agree that statistics are crucial in research material, but I meant that I have come across a lot of skewed statistics. I have also been told by some of my former teachers that some of the statistics I’ve looked at in the past that I thought were reliable, were actually misleading.
      With regards to your second point, I’m not saying that it’s bad to help people with lower IQs, but that the way Savulescu talks about genetic enhancements as if all those with “threshold” IQs need to undergo genetic screening. I didn’t really agree with his tone. Sorry for the lack of clarification!

    • jwmigook says:

      I would definitely say that Savulescu does not speak to the consent of individuals with lower IQs, so that does show a lack of respect. I would also say that he is somewhat blindly supporting a scientific process that doesn’t have evidence of success yet, and tries to justify everything about it by using a lot of statistics.

      • butterjones says:

        In regards to the issue of consent:
        I think that it’s not even so much an issue of consent– I’m sure that it is highly unlikely that anyone would ever be required to participate in such screening and genetic manipulation
        (I mean, yes, there’s the issue of the unborn baby not giving consent. But that’s an entirely different can of worms altogether). The problem is more that issues of genetic enhancement actually eliminate the relevance of consent. If people are given the option to give their child a genetic boost, then the matter quickly less about the actual, specific enhancement and more about leveling the playing field– not letting their child be the disadvantaged one left behind. It stops being a question of whether it is morally sound to make an enhancement, and becomes a question of whether it is moral to refrain, if no one else does. Does that make sense? I don’t know if I presented that in a convoluted way…

  2. waterbottle19 says:

    I agree that an increase in intelligence does not necessarily mean an increase in happiness or a more fulfilling life, but the statistics in the article suggest at least those that are more intelligent have a greater chance than those less intelligent. I also agree that the author has no say over what people do to their bodies. However, who would really turn away an increase in intelligence? Looking at the statistics, wouldn’t it be the logical action to take? I also think the author’s implicit argument that this helps the poor is flawed. He states this won’t help the rich but instead help those with low IQs, implying the less wealthy have lower IQs. Even if this is true, his argument doesn’t hold up. Below is a link to a website stating the average price of a prenatal down syndrome genetic test, a test similar to the one proposed in the article.
    It costs $2,000! How could the poor possibly afford that? That is just the test as well and does not include the proposed medication to counteract the genes for lower intelligence.

    • jwmigook says:

      I do agree that those less intelligent most likely have less of a chance at a happier/more fulfilling life than those that are more intelligent. I just feel that this proposed genetic screening is still very much under the works, and that Savulescu is supporting a process he doesn’t really know much about yet. I’m sure many of us have wanted an “increase in intelligence,” but I think at this point it’s too soon to tell if the outcomes of genetic screening will be more advantageous or disadvantageous.
      Thanks for pointing out that flaw in his argument. I didn’t notice his implication that the less wealthy have lower IQs, and I don’t agree with that. I like that you pointed out the costs as well, because it takes into account the fact that not everyone can afford to undergo genetic screening and genetic tests of any kind due to financial limits, even if the process does end up being successful.

    • butterjones says:

      I totally agree with you, waterbottle– I noticed the same thing! Even though Savulescu claims the procedure would “even the playing field” by only enhancing those IQs in the less-than-average range, he doesn’t take into account the economic disparity that would prevent this equalization. The dumb, wealthy people could get smarter, but unless there were specific, preventative measures taken, those with less means would get left behind (and theoretically, get poorer?)

      Also, there’s the issue that genes function like a grading curve. This is why evolution is continuous. Even if people become more “fit”, that doesn’t eliminate the fact that there’s a spectrum. Someone must always be below average (this isn’t lake Wobegon); someone must always be “least fit”. Thus, if the less intelligent people are made smarter, the average simply rises (simple math), and there’s still people left below that mark. Our society isn’t designed for 100% employment. We could have smarter people doing “dirty jobs” or left unemployed, but people would still be doing these jobs.

      Side note, though: just because someone is doing a “lesser” job or is unemployed certainly doe not mean they are one of the “less intelligent” members of society. Maybe this is statistically true, but there are infinite other factors that contribute to where someone “ends up”.

  3. serrobert says:

    I have noticed that a lot of what has been posted blog wise in the past couple of weeks has to do with genetic variation. I think again that to assume that our lives and our circumstances are dictated by are genes is an absurd notion. While genes do contribute to your situation in life, I like to think that anyone can stand up and be who they want to be regardless of their genetics. That said, I ask this question. To what extent has the further discovery of the genetics opened up Pandora’s box, and what does this say to those who may be disadvantaged? That they can never change their life and that this is their fate when in reality they are the masters of their own destiny? I would like to think that regardless of my genes, my intelligence and my body are my own and crafted of my own will and desire. Perhaps that is a better way to look at life than one made up of the random combinations of amino acids.

  4. regan1984 says:

    I must say, jwmigook, that I too am very displeased with the way that Savulescu is looking at this idea of genetic screening. It almost seems like he sees intelligence as a commodity, something to be bought rather than gained through work. I am also a little annoyed at the fact he described those with IQ’s around the threshold of 75 as having reduced well-being I’m sure for the most part he is probably correct but that’s an assumption that is quite strong. I am a tad discussted with the way he described those with an IQ of 75 as well. While he mentioned that an IQ of 75 is considered borderline mental retardation, he spoke as if they were another species separated from normal people. Therefore, increasing intelligence, especially for a person who is mentally retarded, just because someone has an IQ lower than 75 might not even work due to preceding conditions. Thus, it may actually end up harming the person more than it could benefit them. Lastly, going off of waterbottle19’s comment about the down syndrome tests, Savulescu’s entire ending paragraph about nature and nurture assumes that everyone will have the funds to have access to such genetic “benefits”. Despite this however, the idea that human lives and intelligence are something that can be changed and bought are very controversial concepts that I do not believe Savulescu had much knowledge about.

    • regan1984 says:

      In terms of serrobert’s comment, I’m beginning to see a trend as well. However, it also seems that our future is going to be quite devoid of actual humanity. I personally don’t want to see a world of test tube babies that are perfect in everyway. Imperfection, in my eyes, is perfection.

    • moneytrees3001 says:

      I think the ideas Savulescu puts forth become much easier to stomach if we get over the idea that intelligence is this special, creative human energy. To make sure our children are healthy enough to be functioning members of society, women already take prenatal vitamins like folic acid to keep the embryo healthy, and often use drugs to make sure they can give birth without complications. We use these chemicals to make sure our children are not at a disadvantage in society-Savulescu wants the same thing. Lack of intelligence, as he points out, can be a serious deficiency, and with these treatments it can be fixed.

  5. serrobert says:

    I agree with regan1984 I too fear a future of test tube babies and genetic screening for every single little thing.

  6. moneytrees3001 says:

    I like how Savulescu acknowledges the strengths of the critiques of his article before offering his own analyzation of them. He acknowledges that IQ enhancement would lead to inequality, but explains how he envisions the treatment being available only to those within a certain IQ range. We haven’t gotten to “countering” in Rewriting yet, but I believe this is a pretty good example of that, as it pushes the reader to acknowledge multiple sides of the argument, while advancing the author’s own opinion.
    I’d also like to take the connection to class inequality a little further, because I feel like that’s an unavoidable problem with treatments to improve IQ. New technology can revolutionize social structures and affect countless lives when first released. However, as time passes, the efficiency or advantages the technology brings becomes a part of the social norm, and even more efficient products must be developed. This concept was very applicable to the lives of American housewives in the 1960s. When the vacuum came out, women rejoiced that they would no longer have to spend so much time cleaning; but with this extra time they were then expected to take more care with the cooking. Each new product promised more time, but was followed by a shift in social norms that simply raised the expectations of women’s work at home.
    This idea of raising expectations could apply to Savulescu’s ideas. Once the less intelligent have their IQ raised from 75 to 95, the rich will want to raise their IQ from 95 to 105, and an IQ of 95, once thought to be healthy, will now indicate “mental disability.” This pattern of raising standards can continue as long as thyroid treatments are able to continue raising IQs. The treatment that was supposed to give less intelligent individuals a chance in life leaves them right where they started, the bottom rung of society, trapped in unavoidable class inequality.

  7. graduallychanging says:

    Jwmigook, I would like to begin by complimenting the manner in which you “came to terms” with Julian Savulescu’s article, “Screening to Enhance IQ Should Be Embraced.” I noticed that your account of his article consisted of summaries of Savulescu’s key points, analysis of his writing style, and your opinion of his argument. Your organization and level of detail reminds me of the process laid out in Harris’ “Coming to terms” chapter in “Rewriting.”

    Moreover, I would like to address some of the points you made regarding Savulescu’s idea to respond to the Thr92Ala gene.
    In your article you stated, “I would question why he thinks the enhancements would ONLY benefit those with an IQ in that range.” I think you may be misunderstanding that Savulescu only recommends environment changes and hormone supplements for the people that have IQs in the 70 to 85 range. He does not state that it is likely for the people within an IQ range of 70-85 to be the only ones receiving the treatment, but that they are the only people that need the treatment in order to be on the same level as the average person.
    Later in your article you noted, “but will genetic enhancements ACTUALLY ensure that children will have the best shot at a good life?” The answer to your question was addressed by Savulescu. In his article, Savulescu lists a few of the challenges that people with an IQ in the range of 70-85 tend to face. People with higher IQs are less likely to face these challenges and he promotes throughout his article the notion that people (embryos included) with relatively low IQs should be treated.
    The comment in your article that particularly captured my attention was the following: What does it even mean to “enhance intelligence”? By splitting the term into two parts, you are left with “enhance” and “intelligence.” The former means an improvement while the latter refers to the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. According to “How Are Scores on IQ Tests Calculated?” the test scores are based upon the scores of the people that take the test. The same article also explains that the average score is 100. Based on the manner in which the tests are scored and the IQs of the people prior to treatment, the treatment enhances intelligence by helping individuals with low IQs reach the average level of intelligence, as defined by the IQ test.
    Whether or not IQ tests are an accurate measure of intelligence is another discussion in itself.
    Credit to my disbelief in IQ tests goes to Stephen Jay Gould through his book, “The Mismeasure of man.”

    Link to “How Are Scores on IQ Tests Calculated?”:
    Stephen Jay Gould’s insightful book:

  8. regan1984 says:

    Im not sure, considering how I understood your argument, that I totally agree with your statement moneytrees3001. I agree with your example of the effects of the vacuum and how social expectations of women in the household changed, but is it really comparable to genetics? The vacuum was the next step from hand cleaning. What is genetic screening the next step from? Furthermore, again going back to jwmigook’s comment he gives no explanation to how thyroid hormones affect intelligence.

  9. regan1984 says:

    Yes, women do take many different medicines to make sure that their embryos don’t have significant diseases or conditions, but many times these diseases or conditions are life threatening. Intelligence is something that isn’t permanent, it can be changed with effort, given the fact that a person isn’t inhibited too much buy a specific condition. I would rather be alive and work to be smart than be dead altogether.

    • moneytrees3001 says:

      That’s just it! These medications are no longer something used in special cases; they’ve become the accepted norm for pregnant women. Every pregnant woman takes these pills, and is considered to be doing their child a disservice if they don’t. If thyroid treatments become popular, they will also enter the social norm, becoming something that pregnant women are just expected to do.
      Also, the intelligence we’re talking about in this article is permanent. People with thyroid deficiencies are doomed to have lower IQs. They will never be as smart as babies with normal development.

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