Jonathan Anomaly

Embryo Selection talk @ UT Austin McCombs School of Business

Genetic enhancement: Science, ethics, and policy

Alright, let's get started. Thanks everyone for coming. It's great to have with us Jonathan Anomaly. What's interesting is that I have been running the center now for 6-7 years now and we have sometimes people who protest about the things we put up about crazy views or something. Often we have a talk and there is a clear side where I personally stand. I have an idea of what's right and wrong. Today we have a talk where I honestly have lots of qualms or issues about. This is a frontier of super-exciting things and it brings ethical questions. I'm glad that Jonathan is trying to figure this out and I think trying to figure it out is how we make progress on questions like this. Take it away.


Thanks Carlos for having me again. Four years ago I was here talking about public goods and education. That was a long time ago.

The excuse for today's talk is a book that is coming out tomorrow-- it was supposed to be yesterday-- it will be published tomorrow. It's the second edition of what I would call a "PPE" approach to gene editing and genetic selection. PPE is philosophy, politics and eocnomics and the intersection of those tools in those disciplines. People like John Stuart Mill thought it was important not just to understand human behavior and how people respond to incentives, but how do you construct different political orders like monarchy or democracy? At the end of the day, we are moral creatures, normative thinkers, and we need to make a decision about what other people's best policy is.

I am not going to shill my book today, it turns out. I want to talk more generally about the big picture issues that this is going to raise. I want to talk about heritability and what we know about it. I don't mean my discipline but rather behavioral geneticists and statisticians and so on. What kind of public and private social issues that this kind of technology will raise? This technology is eventually going to be gene editing but mainly right now I am talking about embryo selection for complex traits.

I am part of a stealth startup that is in fact doing embryo selection for many of the traits I am talking about today.

What do we know about heritability?

  1. All traits are heritable.

  2. Psychological traits are polygenic: they are ((rather, can be)) influenced by many genes of small effect.

  3. The effect of genes on most of the traits that we care about swamp the effect of our environment.

This is a summary or reinterpretation of a paper from 23 years ago now by someone at the University of Virginia who studies behavioral genetics. These are the basic laws of behavioral genetics. Most of the traits we care about are highly polygenic where tiny genetic variations sum up to the likelihood of having more or less of a trait. Even height is influenced by thousands of small variations each of which adds a little bit or substracts a little bit.

Most of the complex traits we care about are additive. It's not just that one mutation causes a huge impact; it can, like in monogenic diseases. We call it monogenic because it usually has a huge genomic effect or phenotypic effect. There's no "one gene for intelligence" or "one gene for height". Rather it's hundreds or thousands of mutation points that have an impact on traits, including psychological traits.

Finally, the effect for genes for a lot of the traits that we care about including psychological seem to swamp the effects of the environment.

Twin studies

We have at least one behaviorial geneticist in the room. 150 years ago, we started studying twins separated at birth. It was a proposal by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin: if we could separate twins at birth, measure their traits and observe them then we could learn about heritability. This stuff was formalized a century later when we had thousands and tens of thousands of twin pairs and we could follow them throughout their life course. The natural way of doing this is of course through adoption cases, or situations where twins were separated at birth. Twins separated at birth can later find each other and it turns out they sometimes have very similar personalities and outlooks. What kinds of occupations do they often end up in? What about educational attainment? Does it influence the direction, or just the variability?

When you study things like height, and this is the thing that nobody wants to acknowledge, but IQ, but the IQ scores end up very very similar with some exceptions. If they are born in extremely deprived environments, such as without nutrition or idioized salt, then basically IQ scores don't matter. You need a basic threshold of nutrition and so on, and then it turns out that IQ scores are highly correlated between identical twins regardless of environment.

Genome-wide association studies

GWAS studies involves taking DNA from a lot of people, such as in the UK Biobank, you do whole genome sequencing, and then you phenotype these people. You measure them. What traits do they have? Diseases? You need truly enormous sets of people to be able to start to match these to genetic traits.

We can learn a lot about genomics from biobanks. We have them in Europe, Taiwan, US, and Japan, etc now.

Heritability estimates

Height is 90% heritable. General intelligence (g), ~75% heritable. Political orientation, 40% heritable. Big Five personality traits, ~50% heritable. (OCEAN). So this is percent of variation. When we talk about heritability, what we are really talking about is the variation within a population that can be traced to genes rather than other factors. Heritability is a difficult concept to grasp. We think of it as inheritance, and yes it is related to inheriting genes from your parents. But an interesting case is that after WW2, the Dutch hunger that influenced height in the subsequent 20 years. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world. But the Nazis starved them out for a year or two, and the next generation of children were 2 inches shorter in life. In an environment like that, the heritability score will go down rather than remain constant. You have genetically the same population but you get a different heritability score. Nutrition and the environment influences height; you will get more variation. Some people were well fed, while others were not in that environment. So you get different results. This is also true for height, IQ, etc. What it means typically is that once you hit a threshold of adequate nutrition, parenting, you're not severely deprived of the necessities, then heritability scores go up and then they stay more or less fixed.

Q: So these numbers are for Western populations and educated, the WEIRD?

A: Yes. Exactly. Although it will hold true for Japanese and Koreans too. They are adequately fed and have educational opportunities and so on.

I think the one that shocks people is Big 5 personality traits. Most people don't think this is true, but it is. UT Austin is an epicenter for this. You have a psychology department that is studying this. There's a big GWAS study on these Big 5 traits like conscientiousness and neuroticism. We are starting to find the genetic roots of these things.

Once you know the genetic traits, then you can start to select for them. I think that a lot of people don't think that personality traits come from genes and they think it comes from school. Do they have kids yet? Yeah, probably not.

Q: Why is intelligence so much more heritable than conscientiousness?

A: Yep. The Big 5 is the best test out there but there's no universally accepted test. How do you test for conscientiousness? It might be less perfect than testing for IQ. But heritability might go up, because the test may be so bad. It's worth saying that... Robert Plomin.. behaviorial geneticist.. the non-inheritable component may not be parenting and may not be schooling. Schooling has very little effect, even less than parenting or peers. For a lot of the things you think about, peers probably have a bigger effect than parenting or schooling. Schooling has an effect on some of these, but not others.

In adulthood, what you do is if you're pre-disposed to be very high on neuroticism you end up seeking out environments where there are other people like you. That's called the nature of nurture. Introverts don't want to be around extroverts all the time. It influences the kinds of environments you might pick for yourself. This can be puzzling to think about.

Religiosity is heritable. Something like 30-40% heritable. You're going to be Muslim because your parents are Muslim? I don't know.

Q: Are these numbers going up over time as we get better at tracking heritability or GWAS or anything?

A: I don't think that.

Q: This is measured heritability?

A: Yes. That's right.

Q: Not based on twin studies?

A: It's based mostly on twin studies. For some of these traits we have better and better genetic data but it's very new over the past 5-10 years for these giant data sets.

Q: Presumably there's high measurement error in twin studies and small sample sizes?

A: No, the samples are huge. The bigger issue is how you measure things. Neuroticism is an interesting one. Extraversion? Low self control high aggression? Externalizing behavior. That one. This is an odd term. Psychologists use it all the time to diagnose patients. What is externalizing behavior? It was developed to figure out which kids are misbehaving in school. It includes violence, but what is externalizing in non-violent ways? These often have explanatory power or maybe they are useful to diagnose people to hook them on drugs or something. I think most of them are not like this but some things in the DSM are like that. Some of these just aren't as genetic as other things, and they really are influenced more by random development stimuli or things in the environment like parenting or peers but some of them are going to be more genetic than others. Some of it is going to be how we measure, and the other will be imperfect information. But as the environment gets better and you have adequate schooling, adequate nutrition, and some degree of choice, then heritability will go up until it hits a peak, and then it will stay there.

Q: If you could extract all the predictive information on intelligence from a genome, it would explain 75% of the heritability?

A: Possibly more. It is closer to 80% at convergence. It's not well understood. Some of it might be random developmental noise like inability to predict how genes express themselves. It might be influenced by womb environment or childhood environment. Some of that is environment but it is not necessarily parenting or educational environment. It might be epigenetics. Some people think it's 50% or something, but no maybe it's just a few percent.

Q: Sexuality? Let's go.

A: Okay. Why not. I don't recall enough off-hand. But I do know that it is definitely heritable. Homosexuality has been well studied in males as being heritable. I'm not an expert on this. I don't want to repeat too much. There is no doubt that there are genetic foundations but it's not nearly as heritable as a lot of these traits.

Anecdotes are cheap, but I taught long enough to have many thousands of students. At Duke I had two different twin pairs and in both cases only one was gay and both had the same parenting and schooling and one pair was on the soccer team together. After university, one of the pairs came out gay and the other one came out straight. If we do that 20,000 times then maybe we will have enough data to figure this out.

How to influence children's traits

  1. Mate selection

  2. Gene editing (CRISPR prime)

  3. Embryo selection (IVF + PGT)

Often people think there is something new about using genetic technology or embryo selection to influence children's traits. But as Darwin pointed out, we are hardwired to find certain traits attractive in a spouse. We are thinking if not indirectly about genetics. What is beauty? Across cultures, symmetry in a face tends to be beautiful. Some ratios like waist to hip and also in the face. Youthfulness tends to be an indicator of fertility. Lack of wrinkles, I guess? Lack of skin blemishes? Averageness. It is obvious from evolution why we might want symmetric faces-- asymmetric faces might be high genetic loads or high parasitic load or deleterious mutations or something or high oxidative stress or an indication of your immune system not functioning well. But why averageness is beautiful? That's weird. It's relatability? But why evolutionarily? Homopoly on a species scale? The averageness is take 100 faces and blend them all together and that averaged face is more attractive than the outliers. Think about supermodels with these weird features like extremely high cheekbones and you think that's the beautiful one but no it's actually averageness or symmetry.

Q: There are other traits where some trait is obviously better like height.

A: We are getting there.

In mate selection, it's clear that we are using phenotype as an indicator of health or other traits. What do women find attractive in male personalities? What do women want in a man apart from physicality? What is the most attractive trait in a guy? Sense of humor. But what is a sense of humor? It's creative displays of sense of humor. Being a good storyteller is really hard- you have to remember certain things, you have to misdirect them and then you spin a story a different way and come to a conclusion that is surprising and then boom that is the joke. It requires creative intelligence. There are other personality traits of interest too of course.

Gene editing is the thing that people have talked about the most. But most of the traits we care about are not going to be influenced by gene editing. If we try to edit lots and lots of genes, there are off-target mutations with some probability. There's already a successor to CRISPR called CRISPR prime. Everyone remembers the 2018 story in China where they modified twins. This was a single trait, not thousands of mutations. I'm all for gene editing if it becomes viable and there are no off-targets. But it was irresponsible at the time because of the high potentiality of mutations or off-targets or some poorly understood downstream. For now, gene editing doesn't work because of the off-target mutations.

We can get good correlation stories from GWAS studies but not good causation stories. No doubt we will be able to solve this problem with machine learning. Right now it's a giant mystery, on the scale of neuroscience in the brain. How does the brain work? Who knows. Neuroscience is telling stories right now, and that's where we are with the causal stories in genetics right now. We can associate traits with variants but we don't know how to sort it out yet.

Interestingly, this is not a problem for embryo selection. All we need is to be able to predict and have predictibility.


The best gains from IQ predictors will give you a 2.5 IQ point average gain from embryo selection. This is the best available predictor. There are private ones that can beat this in terms of numbers of points pretty easily. If you are doing IVF and you can get 10 embryos, you can get a 15 IQ point spread which is one standard deviation of IQ. For the average couple, and if they are doing IVF and getting 10 embryos, they can expect a 7.5 IQ point gain over just random.

What really matters is not just IQ, you often care about multiple traits. You will probably look at the outliers on the left side of the bell curve and probably reject those, and not necessarily go straight to the far right of the distribution.

Q: Setting aside some of the more disturbing implications of this at the moment, how would you know? If you were to create 10 embryos, how would you know which have the highest IQ or other traits or something?

A: Oh, I skipped through some of the details here. Many of the people in this room will do IVF, even electively to take advantage of this technology or because you waited too long and now you have to use IVF.

The way it works is you first induce ovulation through a set of hormone shots. It's a simple process that we have had for 40-50 years now. After day 5, you take a biopsy of the embryo once the cells have differentiated. You take a biopsy from the trophectaderm. We have been able to test for monogenic conditions for quite a while now, like for Tay-Sachs or Down's syndrome or others or trisomies or aneuploidies. Now what we can do, is take that same biopsy and sequence it at a much deeper level and generate predictors from large biobanks through GWAS. You can develop a polygenic risk score and a polygenic risk score tells you what's the probability that this embryo will develop diabetes or something. For type 1 diabetes, you're basically guaranteed to get diabetes if you have the genetic trait. But for type 2, you might develop it if you eat too many carbohydrates, but in the future probably nobody will have type 2. You can generate a polygenic risk score and then you choose the embryo based on the scoring.

Since there are something like 8,000 diseases influenced by genes, even if there are only 100 common diseases, there are in fact 1000s of this. If we had predictors for these 1000 traits predictors or something, people will probably pay attention to a top few, and then have a longevity index of a polygenic index that puts together all the risk scores from all the different predictors and figure out which embryo will have the best quality-adjusted life years and then you do an expected utility analysis. You set all the embryos on a bell curve and you can say which one is scoring higher on the longevity index. Then you can compress all these disease predictors into one overall index. This is one way we might visualize it and merge the risk scores based on the parent's wishes.

Q: How much does this depend on the parent and where they are on the distribution?

A: That's a great question. For reasons that I don't understand, in statistical genetics, the variation for IQ does not depend at all on parental IQ. For disease risk, it will depend on parent's distribution placement.

Q: Like the mean of the parents?

A: Exactly. There are some complications I don't want to get into, like regression to the mean which applies to height and IQ. Two very tall parents will on average have tall children but they will still on average be shorter than the parents. Chinese height is very different from Dutch height in this regard. Or the pygmies in African rainforests where the average height is 4 foot 11 or something like that. The mean to which you regress will depend on your parents and the ethnic group to which you belong. The gains possible from embryo selection are invariant with regards to parental IQ, even if there is further to fall or rise depending on where these people are on the bell curve.

Q: I have heard and I am curious if you know anything about this - there are ways in the pipeline of increasing the number of embryos.

A: Yes.

In vitro gametogenesis will supercharge selection

The best way to do it is through IVG. What this involves is taking adult cells and turning them into pluripotent stem cells. They are pluripotent because they can become virtually any kind of adult cell. Maybe they can become eggs. Maybe we can advance the technology to the point where women can take a vial of blood or bone marrow and create eggs from that. Maybe they can go from 5 or 10 embryos to thousands of embryos and then have more to select from. This is not science fiction. This has already happened in mice and rats. There are two companies working on this right now for humans. It will be feasible in the next 5 or 10 years. I don't think the FDA would necessarily approve it but people might go to Prospera in Honduras to do it and many other places in the world. Or Mexico. Exactly.

It's very likely. This is the point of the talk and my book to take a PPE approach. If you think you can stop this through regulation, you might be right that you can slow it down but it will increase inequality and make it more dangerous. It will give strong advantage to those who are willing to go to these far away places who are willing to take risks to get this, whereas it would have been a better service and better regulated if it was done in your home country.

IVG will solve the problem of number of embryos. There are some technical issues. There are going to be some challenges. When you take some adult cells and reverse age them, you do take .... you have some mutations from those somatic cells. Also methylation issues. There are some issues here.

Benefits of minimizing genetic disease

I guess this is pretty obvious but you can have longer, healthier lives and do more of what you care about. In the public, there's economic productivity and benefit rather than cost on health systems. In 20 years, I think countries will encourage embryo selection. The State turns education into a public good, but it doesn't mean that education was a public good. Once you turn something into a public good, there's a separate question of how you provide it.

Once you create NHS in Britain and if everyone accepts that the government is where you go for healthcare, then that will put strong pressure on the government to subsidize embryo selection and minimize disease rates and minimize their costs. China has already announced that for the public good for children that they will subsidize IVF. I think once certain companies come on the market publicly that China, Israel, and Singapore are going to see the benefits of it and subsidize not just IVF, but also embryo selection for polygenic traits because they will correctly recognize public benefits to these even if they are incorrect about why they are public benefits.

A libertarian could go the opposite direction and say these are all private goods, but only if there is no NHS. If you like public healthcare, then you might want to support embryo selection. If you don't like embryo selection, then maybe you shouldn't support nationalized healthcare.

Q: Could you repeat that list so that I know where to invest in?

Benefits of enhancing intelligence

Private: longer life, better health, more income (Plomin & Deary). More stable relationships, less criminality (Beaver, Boutwell, Murray). Public goods - economic productivity and scientific innovation (Bostrom), and cooperation in collective action problems (Jones).

People get fired for talking about this in academia. There are these enormously well studied benefits both public and private benefits of intelligence. Intelligence can predict better health outcomes overall. Why would you suspect smarter people tend to live smarter and healthier lives? They tend to make better decisions. Probably correlation with patience and self-control but what if there is an indirect genetic story. Working in safer occupations. Maybe some people have a protein folding disorder like Tay-Sachs which might make you dumber not because it controls intelligence but maybe it messes up your immune system and then you get sick and it hurts your brain. Criminality and IQ are highly correlated. Again this is one where people don't want to believe it. This is after controlling for socioeconomics.

The public benefits of intelligence might be obvious. Have you guys played prisoner's dillema or other games in your classes? Yeah. One of the interesting findings from Garret Jones and others that have studied this is that in repeat prisoner's dillemas or public goods games where you can find the freeriders and punish them... smarter people tend to be more cooperative and take the equilibrium strategy not because they are more altruist, but because they have more self-interest. They see the advantage to themselves of delaying gratification and playing the equilibrium strategy and finding partners who are more likely to play equilibrium strategies and punish defectors. Jones calls this the O-ring problem. Space shuttles are hard to build and require high IQ high trust teams and apparently one of the space shuttles crashed because there was a single O ring missing on Challenger.

What other traits can we influence?

We can influence mental traits, aesthetic traits, and health traits.

Reasons to support genetic selection

I want to give reasons in favor of selection and some reasons to worry about it.

Nature does not select for human happiness. It rewards all kinds of traits especially in modern environments which could be considered pathological for the individual or the group. I think I first read this from Steven Pinker that psychopathy is an adaptation in modern large scale environments. In a small tribe, you find the psychopath and kill them. Why would you let them live? You just kill them because they cheat constantly. But in large societies, of millions of people, a psychopath can fool just enough people to get his way. It's funny when you look at the DSM for psychopathy it's not just manipulativeness but superficial charm is part of the diagnostic. It's a suite of traits that are highly adaptive in some environments. Nature says great you're a psychopath, you can get more children. Maybe you tell a woman you have more money and power than you have, great, but in a small tribe that doesn't work does it. Nature can take a nasty course when you let nature take its course.

Civilization preserves harmful mutations by subsidizing the disabilities. In the Descent of Man, there's a passage that says, in modern societies rich societies we have not only healthcare but we have even in the absence of NHS we have charities. If you see someone's child who is sick, you want to help them. We have better technology. If you have poor eyesight, you get glasses. Whatever genes are predisposing you to problems are being reinforced and passed along, which they would not have been in more primitive less wealthy environments. In Descent of Man, the weak of mind or body are soon eliminated and we civilized men do our utmost to check the process of elimination like for asylums and so on and try to save the life of everyone until the last moment. This will be highly injurious to the race of man. He was also looking at breeders and populations and that is why he was thinking about--- when you think about breeding domestic animals, you get crazy traits that you select for like the large chicken that we breed for meat but its legs can't support it. But when we let people mate at random, but preserve harmful mutations, then harmful mutations are going to build up in the civilization. What is the response? .... there is a short essay called The Race Between Germline Gene Editing and Genetic Meltdown. Genetic meltdown is a natural part of the civilizational process. The third option or the Tubey option is to embrace intentional genetic selection or gene editing.

I wrote an essay called the "Conservative case for genetic enhancement". Many of you have heard of GK Chesterton who was a writer in the mid 20th century who had this logical fallacy or Chesterton's fence which is that... a fence whose purpose you don't understand but still has purpose and is best left alone. He was thinking about social reformers or communists and the social reformer might see a fence while walking and his first instinct might be to burn down that wall and it's an impediment to progress. It might even be true, but we should try to understand why that fence is there in the first place. Many conservatives say we shouldn't engage in enhancement or selection because we don't know everything about genes. I will reply with another Chesterton book. I call this Chesterton's post... I wrote an essay about this a week ago, "The conservative case for genetic enhancement". Conservativism is based on the notion that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. If you leave something alone, you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a fence alone, and you want it to remain painted white, then you must constantly be cleaning it or painting it or something otherwise it gets dirty. Or a boat, you constantly have to be repainting or changing it, and there's a Theseus ship's paradox there even. If you see that deleterious mutations have to be accumulating in modern populations, then how do you keep people as they are now? You can't reject selection- you would have to embrace it to keep people as they are now. I don't mean to say we should randomly edit everyone's genes, of course.

Evolutionary mismatch: the rise of diabetes and the rise of mental health problems. These are a case in which we have these adaptive traits, we change the environment radically and now we create the modern problems ... so either we should change nature or change our environment or even change both. Your environment depends on millions of other peoples changing their choices. This is a typical Hayekian argument. We change our own choices separately. We are going to be doing both: calibrating environments to nature, and nature to environments. I think this is a reason in favor of selection.

Red queen effects: In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen says here you have to run twice as fast just to stay in place. This is a metaphor in this case for arms races. China, Israel, and Singapore are going to be doing this. Other people in your society will be doing this. This changes the moral landscape and questions we should be asking. Again this is a nod to my field of PPE. Philosophers tend to answer from the armchair, but not ask about economics. What is going to happen after a set of people make their choices? What happens if one set of people outlaw this, and others go forward? You can't just make your decision relative to everyone acting in the way that you want them to act or taking your same decision. If other governments do this, you will have to run twice as fast to stay where you are right now. I am confident that other peoples are going to pay very close attention to this.

Dysgenics is another reason. If you save every child through intervention in healthcare, of course the mutations that lead to those problems will lead to those problems. In modern liberal society, people have noticed that there is an inverse correlation between education and IQ and wealth and fertility. Smarter people tend to delay fertilization and having children. Everyone laughs when they see Idiocracy but then they deny it in public. The old eugenicists said we need to engage in mass sterilization campaigns or something-- that's not the only solution available. But you should probably at least acknowledge there is a problem of dysgenics.

Q: What about Flynn effect?

A: Flynn effect captures the environmental effect on IQ. But we can measure phenotypic aspects of IQ, and the genotypic roots of IQ expressed through IQ scores. As the Flyn effect goes up, it's plateauing in Europe and the West. Educational attainment and the genetic foundations of EA are going down even though IQ isn't going down as fast.

Reasons to worry about genetic selection

The worries tend to be about sex ratios (imbalances), height (arms races), immunity (monocultures). .... Sex ratios matter in terms of violence. If you have a larger population of males, then they will fight against each other for mates. Women are much more worried about harm including mental harms to other people and they have expressed... Cory Clark has done research on this. She is a psychologist at Penn and what she and others have shown is that women are much more willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of feeling that you are part of the community. In certain environments, this is clearly a good thing, especially in children's environments like kindergarten. Are you really going to redpill your child in kindergarten and tell them how it is? Probably not. But forget classrooms-- in terms of research, if you are sitting on an editorial board and you are finding a result that is uncomfortable and some people are going to be pissed if they read it and it turns out it's probably true or something-- women will say they will express it for some greater social good or something... maybe that's the right answer sometimes. But that's an example of where sex ratios can change social norms. That's an obvious collective action problem: if billions of people choose males or females, etc...

Height. Women prefer tall men. That's obvious. Taller men are considered more authoritative and smarter. More likely to get a job, a date, and more likely to be believed. You are considered more credible if you are taller. It's really wild. There are big advantages. Even if you don't care about height, if you are going to have a son then you should probably care about his height so that he can get the girl and the money. What's the problem with height? Taller boys as they get taller and taller, there are health effects of being very tall like joint issues or back problems. There's no real advantage of being tall. In fact, there is overall big health advantages of being short. Just being tall is considered better, for some reason. We're back to red queen: here we have to be twice as tall just to keep up.

In immunity, there's a collective action problem with respect to monoculture. WD Hamilton the biologist-- one of his last books gives an explanation for why sex exists at all. Why not just use mitosis or clone yourself? Why did evolution come up with meiosis or sex? Parasites evolve faster than you do. They have higher frequency life cycles. They will proliferate and attack a particular kind of immune system and kill you. If you keep changing your genes, and shuffling them with CRISPR or with meiosis, you have a bit of time.

Solution: Regulatory parsimony

My solution to collective action problems is to get rid of regulations actually. When legislation is necessary to prevent serious harms, resulting from collective action problems, we should aim for simple rules that apply to everyone. We should also take the least restrictive alternative among the feasible set of laws. When we need these rules, we should make them simple and easy to intrepret. Complex laws tend to be easier to navigate for more rich and powerful families. They reproduce the problem of learned helplessness-- you need to hire people to interpret laws or something rather than encouraging you to figure out what the solution is.

Complex laws are easier for powerful people to navigate. Too many laws can crowd out social norms. This is the idea that for example with the height case there is a self-equilibriation. If we all realize taller boys have cardiovascular issues, will anyone select above 7 feet? In fact, a social norm will probably develop against selecting for more than 7 feet unless you hate your child or something. I think the problem solves itself. I am not giving a blanket libertarian argument. Often social norms are more adept at solving social cooperative action problems rather than government fiat.

Embryo selection for IQ

Last year in Science Magazine there was a survey on American attitudes on IQ. Would you gene edit your children if it was completely safe and you could boost their IQ or other traits? Huge numbers of people say yes to this. Americans are usually much more shy about this. But when they were asked three questions in this survey- would you use tutoring to boost your kid's chance to get into an ivy league school most people said yes, and 20% of those said that's also immoral. But more than half of young people said yes they would do embryo selection to help them get into ivy league schools. Would you do embryo selection for cognitive ability? Nearly half said yes. And this is people answering with little knowledge about this; they asked if other people are doing this would you be more likely and the numbers jumped even higher. I suspect this is going to become more and more real very quickly and there will be a huge preference cascade. People in public will say no don't do it, and then some information might get out and then it would be irresponsible to not do it. I think that's the direction we're moving in.


Q: What about Taylor Swift?

A: No comment.

Q: What about China's attitudes?

A: It's shockingly high in India. 85% said yes.

Q: Do you anticipate this happening in short timescales in Israel or China?

A: Yes. Embryo selection on IQ and other traits. Not editing, though. But the companies will be Americans for the most part. There aren't that many people to build predictors for a lot of these traits. The data sets are more and more restricted.

Q: If China wanted to do this, wouldn't they have the most data immediately over night?

A: Yes. State funding will create a massive arms race for this. It will also impact attitudes.

Q: What is the state of research on the link between time preference rate, IQ, and economic outcomes?

A: The first two are correlated. People with a high time preference tend to invest more for future outcomes rather than short term gains. Smarter people tend to have lower time preference.