GENES, DESTINY, AND BIG BROTHER

UM Professor David Lykken has spent his career studying the role of nature and nurture in shaping people. And he believes his research shows the best society would be one in which the state decides who gets to have children.
by Jennifer Vogel

           CP: What do you think of Charles Murray's contention inThe Bell Curve that people who are poor or socially marginalized are there because they are genetically inferior in some way?

           Lykken: The science is perfectly standard science. It is perfectly legitimate, and the conclusions they come to are pretty well accepted by most of the people who study in this field. You have to be careful about stating those conclusions. I don't think that they use the term inferior anywhere in the book. But they do say that it is the case that the reason why people in lower sociological levels have lower IQs is not because they were disadvantaged, but because people with lower IQs tend to sink economically and socially in a lower direction. The heritability of a trait tells us as much about the culture as it does about human nature. To find a high heritability means there is not a lot of environmental difference any more. It means we are giving kids a good chance to reach their limits, that we are giving them opportunities across socioeconomic levels.

           CP: Some inner-city neighborhoods compare in infant mortality statistics and poverty to some third world countries. That's a far cry from the suburbs. Are you saying that those conditions don't make any difference, don't keep people from achieving?

           Lykken: I think they make a big social difference. Are they responsible for the low IQs for children coming from those areas? The answer is that there is no reason to think so. The only thing that might have an effect would be bad prenatal care and various kinds of nervous system or brain injuries due to bad early care and nutrition. There is no reason to think the IQs are a consequence of the unemployment rate. It's more likely the other way around.

           CP: You blame lack of fathers for wayward youth, but I've also seen studies that show that most people in prison, for example, grew up poor. You don't think lack of opportunity or hopelessness has anything to do with choosing a life of crime?

           Lykken: You talk about poverty and of course there is a great tendency for people to think that poverty is what leads to crime. There is no good evidence for that. Crime rates, historically, in this country, in this century, have been highest during good times and lowest during depressions, and that is a surprise. Take the people who commit the drive-by shootings that we are worried about. They are not poor people who are hungry. They are people who can buy a car and a gun and who can play these cowboy games. It's not a question of poverty producing crime. It's a question of too many children being deprived of their birthright to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by parents not doing their job.

           CP: I understand you've been lobbying the legislature about your views on genetics, specifically as it relates to the licensing of parents.

           Lykken: I got a call some months ago from a legislator from Duluth--[Mike] Jaros, an interesting guy. He's a Bosnian immigrant from years back and speaks numerous languages including Latin. An interesting guy. He had heard something about my views and was wondering if I would like to suggest some legislation. He's thinking of introducing it next session. My proposal would be a licensure requirement.

           The only result of having a child without a license is that you would be expected to be visited by child protection workers annually. They would check progress for 18 years and a file would be kept on all unlicensed babies. I believe that the difference between that group of kids, the social pathology, drop outs, abuse, teenage pregnancy, the difference between that group and the licensed children would be so enormous that the public would have to sit up and say we can't let this continue and take the next step.

           CP: What's the next step?

           Lykken: The next step is to remove the unlicensed babies at birth before bonding takes place and place them up for adoption. That would mean that thousands and thousands of parents--one out of six couples are infertile. Many go shopping for babies in Korea and other places. They wouldn't have to do that anymore.

           Many say this sounds radical and authoritarian. What I hope is that it will get people to start thinking. What is more important, the rights of the child or the rights of the parent? If they don't care about children or rights, and all they care about is cost, the statistics show that the sociopaths are costing us annually $200 billion. Aggregates over the years. It's going to increase. In 20 years, it will be $400 billion each year. Whether you're concern is for tax dollars or for the babies, I think you have to agree that something needs to be done. This proposal is so innocuous. All it means is to start some systematic data collection.

           CP: You talk about elevating the rights of the child over the rights of the parent, but aren't you really talking about elevating the rights of society over the rights of the parent?

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