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The Genius Factory

The Genius Factory

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The Genius Factory

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  1. The Genius Factory Ellen Antoniewicz

  2. Eugenics • Thomas Malthus outlined the first key ideas of what would become eugenics • The misery of the poor was due to their nature • Their suffering and early death was positive because it prevented them from passing on their innate weakness • Francis Galton created the science of eugenics through his book, Hereditary Genius, written in 1869

  3. Eugenics Continued • Developed in Britain, practiced in America • Spread to other countries as well, Germany was especially interested in the ideas of Nordic supremacy and eugenics • Shift from negative eugenics to positive eugenics

  4. Robert K. Graham: Early Life • Born June 9, 1906 in Harbor Springs, Michigan • Frank Graham • The local dentist • Chilly and formal • Fern Klark, gracious and gentle • Robert was the oldest of four children • The Graham family lived on East Bluff Drive • Caddy for the two private golf courses in Harbor Springs

  5. Education and Early Career • Graduated from Harbor Springs High School in 1924 • University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and later Michigan State University to study music • Graduated from Ohio State with a degree in optometry in only 18 months Photo from The Genius Factory by David Plotz

  6. Earlier Projects • Worked at Univis as a salesman for optical products • Founded Armorlite in 1947 • Invented shatterproof plastic eyeglasses • Helped perfect contact lenses, developed the first antireflective coating for plastic lenses, and manufactured the first UV-protective lenses • Grahamland

  7. Personal Life • He had three wives • Elizabeth • Estelle • Marta Ve Everton • Had a total of 8 children • Was emotionally distant with his children similar to his own father • His three daughters, especially those with Marta were very successful • Did not have a good relationship with his sons, and even avoided introducing them to his friends

  8. Graham’s views on genetics • His interest in reproduction and genetics began in his childhood after the death of his idol, Ephraim Shay, the inventor of the Shay locomotive • The Future of Man (1970) • Mankind peaked 15,000 years ago prior to the Agricultural Revolution • Contained the idea for repositories where women could go to be artificially inseminated with superior sperm and combat the spread of idiocy

  9. Graham’s Views on Genetics Continued • Complained that modern American social welfare programs paid incompetents and imbeciles to reproduce • Believed that the lessening of intelligence is what led to the rise in communism • A way to squash brilliance and promote mediocrity

  10. The History of Artificial Insemination • The first recorded use of a sperm donor was in 1884 at Sansom Street Hospital by Dr. William Pancoast • Starting in the 1930s, British doctor Margaret Jackson began providing freshly donated sperm to patients to use for artificial insemination • In the 1950s, doctors began performing artificial inseminations regularly in larger cities • By 1960, Artificial insemination was responsible for creating 5,000 to 7,000 babies a year • Doctors were in charge of finding a donor rather than the parents choosing someone

  11. The History of Artificial Insemination Continued • The process for freezing sperm was perfected in the 1950s and 1960s • Allowed sperm banking to become a business • The 1987 and 1988 Office of Technology Assessment survey of the sperm bank industry • Hundreds of sperm banks • More than 11,000 doctors performing inseminations • Estimated that 30,000 children per year were being born from anonymous donor sperm

  12. The early stages of the repository • Hermann Muller, a eugenicist, created the idea for repositories that contained sperm from men who were both brilliant and altruistic • Muller wanted to create a socialist, egalitarian society, while Graham intended to create a generation of elite people to combat the lessening of intelligence • Graham was concerned with intelligence only • Graham needed to decide how he would measure the world’s most elite men • Decided that the best measure of intelligence was through useful contributions • Chose to only include Nobel Prize winners in the sciences in his project

  13. The repository for Germinal Choice • The Repository for Germinal Choice launched in 1980 with the goal of changing mankind and reversing evolution • The repository had three Nobel prize winning donors • Sperm samples for the repository were initially stored in an underground bunker on Graham’s estate in Escondido, California • Samples were initially given only to married women who had an IQ high enough to qualify for the Mensa society • All but two of the donors to the project in its 19 years of operation were White • Operational until 1999 • 215 “genius kids” were born from this project Photo from The Genius Factory by David Plotz

  14. The reaction to the Nobel prize sperm bank • Nicknamed the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank • Graham was accused of sexism, racism, elitism, white supremacism, and Nazism • Often compared to Hitler • Geneticists: Intelligence was not entirely DNA-linked • Andrologists: Nobel winners were too old to be effective donors • Statisticians said Graham was trying to fool customers who thought that they were guaranteed to have a genius baby

  15. Scandal continues to strike the Nobel prize sperm bank • William Shockley was one of the initial Nobel prize winning donors • The first Nobel prize baby, Victoria Kowalski • Couples continued to apply to the clinic • Applications always exceeded the available sperm samples

  16. Changing Criteria • By late 1980 the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank had no Nobel Prize Sperm donors and no sperm left in storage • No babies were born from the Nobel prize winning donors’ sperm • The Nobelists had three problems in Graham’s view: • There were too few of them to meet demand • They were too old which raised the risk for genetic abnormalities • They were too eggheaded • Customers wanted more than just brains from the donors, they also commonly asked if the donor was attractive and if he was tall • (4:35-6:10)

  17. The Renaissance Men • Michael • Son of a nobelist • Considered sperm donation his job • Had “worked” for approx. 6 doctors and 3 sperm banks • Donor White • A successful scientist • He and his wife were unable to have children • Was over 50 when he started donating • Had over 12 children through the repository Photo from The Genius Factory by David Plotz

  18. The Renaissance Men Continued • Donor Coral • Volunteered in 1984 as a medical student • Approx. 30 children were born from Donor Coral’s sperm • Has six ex-wives and over 18 children (not including the ones through the sperm bank) • Not Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine Photo from The Genius Factory by David Plotz

  19. A genius baby is born • The second Nobel Prize Sperm Bank baby was Doron Blake, the son of Afton Blake • Doron was born in August of 1982 • At 4 months old he had a mental age of 8 months • In response to a reporter asking him if he read Hamlet in kindergarten, Doran replied “Good gosh. Can’t everybody?” • Doran was Graham’s success story and he cited him every time that the sperm bank was criticized

  20. The decline of the Repository for Germinal Choice • The clinic’s organization was terrible and some of their practices questionable • Age Limits • Color codes • Limit on number of children produced • The repository spent about $170,000 a year to collect and distribute the sperm. It was only bringing in between $20,000 and $40,000 from customer fees • Graham died on February 13, 1997 at 91 years old • The bank was then passed to Floyd Kimble who ran it until 1998

  21. Artificial insemination after Graham • Shift toward more informed decisions in choosing a sperm donor • Other sperm banks adopted Graham’s technique of including a short biographical page • Family and medical history • Physical characteristics

  22. What became of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank Babies? • In 1992, Graham sent out a survey to the parents of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank babies • Plotz, has found 30 of the Genius Factory children • Range widely in their intellectual success • Small sample would be considered slightly above the norm in either athletic or intellectual pursuits NPR (7:40)

  23. Discussion Questions • Do you think that the success of some of the Nobel babies was due more to genes or to the type of parent that the child had? • Do you think that sperm banks should be considered a part of positive eugenics, because of their donor descriptions? • Do you think that believing that they have exceptional genes may cause the Nobel babies to be above average?