June 4, 2007

A Celebrity Genome Sequencing Question

Anthropologist John Hawks reflects on reports that co-discoverer of the DNA double helix James D. Watson and gene scanning pioneer Craig Venter have both had their genomes sequenced Hawks notes the chance that Watson and/or Venter will become the default model for future genetic engineering work, potentially spreading their genes throughout humanity. I've never met either man, but I've read a lot about the personality of each, and the notion that either might impose a Genghis Khan-size footprint on humanity's genetic future is not all that reassuring.

So, which living celebrity would you nominate to provide the default template for humanity? Who would you like to see humanity become more like? He or she should be fairly old to lower the chance of a fatal congenital medical problem, but otherwise, the floor is open for nominations in the comments section.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ron Paul!
In terms of character, the man is a temple of integrity.

J said...

Warren Buffett (brilliant, humble, personable)

Audacious Epigone said...

Steve Sailer!

Fine, more mainstreamed then, how about Charles Murray--judicious, temperate, methodical, and ingenius.

Bona fide celebrity: Richard Branson wouldn't be a bad choice--innovative, gregarious (I've a friend who took part in the solo flight he helped finance who confirms what's generally said), not risk-averse, and innately philanthropic. He'd complement Murray well, if the dual profile went with the double helix.

Just don't ask your readers who they would not want!

Anonymous said...

Steve "The Hammer" Sailer!

Vincenzo said...

I'd dig up Arthur Miller: I think he was buried, not cremated. He lived to 89, was a rugged guy who built wood buildings, could do manual woodwork, also not stupid by any measure. Had some successful kids (also sired a Downer boy, but that was probably Inge Morath's gene failure-old eggs).

Must have had phenomenal sperm count, too: managed to impregnate Marilyn Monroe three times in five years (she miscarried). Apparently their sex life was pretty spotty, making it all the more remarkable.

Interesting post:
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.movies.marilyn-monroe/browse_thread/thread/a6cf3c37875a777e/f63be8244b75d3f7?lnk=st&q=ken+griffin+arthur+miller&rnum=1#f63be8244b75d3f7

No major physical problems until a few months before he died.


On the other hand....Marilyn was one catastrophe after another: but you could argue she was worth it.

I say clone 'em both, but don't let them meet.

D said...

Paul McCartney.


A genius in his field while remaning both witty and sane (even normal). Physically healthy, attractive, etc.

Dog of Justice said...

Milton Friedman.

Pete said...

Phil Spector?

Steve Sailer said...

How about historian Jacques Barzun, who will be 100 soon?

Dog of Justice said...

Oops, I fail reading comprehension. "Living" celebrity... (only off by less than 7 months, though)

I'll second the Warren Buffett nomination, then. I like Terence Tao as well, but he's not old.

Thursday said...

Most great artists are kind of nuts: sex addicts like Philip Roth, John Updike, or Edmund White, forget it. Ex-communist nutbars like Jose Saramago, not likely. There are many more of their ilk.

I thought about Cormac McCarthy, probably the most eminent writer out there. He seems to have lived mostly a quiet, industrious life, free from scandal. On the other hand Blood Meridian is pretty, well, bloody, so then again maybe not.

So, my two choices among artists are:
Alexander Solzhenitsyn has lived a heroic and morally exemplary life. His writing, too, is both sane and of the highest quality.
Steven Spielberg is probably the most eminent artist working in any field right now, and he seems to be mostly a sane, balanced, family oriented fellow.

Ron Guhname said...

How about E.O. Wilson?

agnostic said...

We'd have to know how well the person's kids turned out -- maybe a celebrity we all love owes a lot to chance or non-additive genetic factors. But if it were like Darwin's kids, where they were all pretty darn smart and hard-working, then we wouldn't have to worry about that so much.

We'd also have to know about the person's near relatives to make sure the celebrity isn't a fluke in the family -- again, Darwin's family was all pretty accomplished, for example.

I don't know enough gossip about celebrities in any area to offer a choice, but we should bear these ideas in mind when nominating someone.

That said... Cindy Crawford. Looks, brains, charm. Yowza.

Thursday said...

In the sciences, E.O. Wilson seems like a pretty nice guy.

Peter said...

I'd dig up Arthur Miller: I think he was buried, not cremated. He lived to 89, was a rugged guy who built wood buildings, could do manual woodwork, also not stupid by any measure. Had some successful kids (also sired a Downer boy, but that was probably Inge Morath's gene failure-old eggs).

Not to mention the fact that after Morath died, at which time he was in his late 80's, he had a 30-ish live-in girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

Noam Chomsky.

let the flaming begin.

Dennis Mangan said...

David Dreman.

Anonymous said...

michael jackson

Anonymous said...

Sir David Attenborough... or perhaps Sir Edmund Hillary. The future needs such men.

Jason said...

Sir Jonathan Miller. Medical doctor, comedian, steely-eyed rationalist, author, theater and opera director. And yes, gay. Which makes him a particularly good candidate for preserving his other traits through genetic engineering, if that's possible.

Mark said...

Did Arthur Miller really ever write anything that memorable? Quote one memorable line from "The Crucible" or "Salesman" or anything else that he wrote. Of all the writers you could think of, you think of him?

Paul McCartney hasn't written a hit since he parted with Lennon. It's all been dreck.

Buffett's undeniably brilliant, but it seems a little strange - almost OCD, even - that he's done so little with his money.

Would you really want to clone a woman - Marilyn - who had so much difficulty having children? Are you trying to make humanity infertile?

tommy said...

To answer your original question, I guess the Vanilla Mood girls should be the default template for humanity. Why not?

Anonymous said...

None of these. Certainly not Ron Paul. Man's a lunatic. Makes Ross Perot look stable and balance.

I'd go further and say that no one should have their DNA preserved. You can't improve on evolution. We ought to allow it to work.

You know, with natural selection.

Most celebrities are fairly limited. Peyton Manning and John Madden may know and love their football, but so what? Outside of that narrow niche they don't have much to say nor are they very interesting.

It's important that we preserve the generalist abilities because it's impossible to predict the environments of the future.

We ought to be more concerned about IVF producing more genetic damage with older women using medically assisted conception, surrogacy, and the new procedure to allow lesbians to artificially inseminate without male sperm.

Rather than natural selection, you could see reproductive success depend on wealthy legacies, i.e. family money earned generations ago (think Theresa Heinz Kerry). Not a good outcome to contemplate. You'd get a nation of Paris Hiltons.

And on the plus side, Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace certainly had a weird sidestep from his path to creativity. And no one could have predicted Charles Babbage.

Anonymous said...

No single human should have too much influence on the collective genome. If we were to seek out people who live to be over 90 years old with few problems, or children with 4 living healthy old grandparents, that might be something.

Old age isn't the most important part of being human. Why not select for high IQ and lack of mental diseases? Why not for the ability to run very far and fast or for power-lifting ability?

Mike said...

Paul Graham. Healthy, but even more importantly, brilliant on both sides of his brain. Driven. Philanthropic. Personable.

Anonymous said...

Warren Buffett (brilliant, humble, personable)

. . . bigamist.



jm

Mark said...

But if we have to nominate someone living, I nominate The Derb.

He's 60+, knowledgeable in science, a great writer, right on the issues, genuinely multicultural (in the only good sense of the word), and enjoys working with his hands around the house, as all good men should.

Mark said...

I'd go further and say that no one should have their DNA preserved. You can't improve on evolution. We ought to allow it to work.

Human DNA will continue to degenerate to the point where, at sme point, all of our descendants will become utterly dependent on medical science. If humans don't die when critical genes mutate, then those mutations get passed on. 40% of our genes for smell have alreday been rendered useless thanks to the agriculture (see "Before the Dawn").

Since we don't want humans to die when that happens, or become dependent on medicine, the only alternative iis to repair the genes.

Steve Sailer said...

If we're going to dig up somebody, how about Johann Sebastian Bach?

Mark said...

If we're going to dig up somebody, how about Johann Sebastian Bach?

I was actually going to mention Bach...and Euler, Newton, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Churchill, etc. I simply can't think of anyone living who compares to the DWEMs. Moderbity, pop culture and TV has wasted more minds in more ways than we can count.

And Bach was very reproductive.

robert said...

We won't have to dig as deep to pull out George Kennan, he of the sober approach to geopolitics and hearty constitution.

Dave said...

Warren Buffett wasn't exactly a bigamist, though he and his late wife Susan did have an unusual relationship. Susan Buffett, introduced Warren to his current wife, Astrid, and encouraged him to find companionship with her when Susan moved to CA to pursue her singing career. All three of them used to sign the Buffett Christmas cards.

Dave said...

I nominate Norman Borlaug: brilliant scientist, great humanitarian, and he's still working in his 90's.

As a bonus nomination: the great mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, who's in his 80's and has inspired Jonathan Coulton to write a song about him, Mandelbrot Set

Steve Sailer said...

Just to make clear ... I'm not at all positive about genetic engineering and eugenics. As I wrote in VDARE in 2005:

Through genetic selection and modification, we will be soon be able to transform human nature, for better . . . or worse.

Some find this exciting. I find it mostly alarming.

The good news: we still have time to figure out what the physical, psychological, and social impacts of these gene-altering technologies might be - by studying naturally-occurring human genetic diversity.

The bad news: we won't fund research into existing human biodiversity - because it's politically incorrect.

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/050501_genetic.htm

Steve Sailer said...

Regarding the two nominations of Edward O. Wilson, I thought of him too when I saw Watson's name. Wilson and Watson famously couldn't stand each other when they were in the Harvard Biology Dept. together many decades ago.

http://www.racesci.org/racescinow/debatesonevolution/14.html

Wilson is the kind of all-arounder that you might want for this -- not a genius, but a multi-talented workaholic with a healthy ego masked by a genial personality.

Steve Sailer said...

I suspect true genius -- e.g., Newton -- tends to come from unstable lucky combinations of genes and wouldn't be good this kind of thing.

I'm reminded of how Secretariat, the greatest racehorse, was not a particularly successful as a stud. One reason might be because the source of his greatness was an enormous heart, 30% bigger than any other thoroughbred on record. But, you need a lot of unusual "infrastructure" to support such a massive heart or you'll have all sorts of physical problems.

Steve Sailer said...

The Bach family might have the best track record of any patrinomial family in history. Among the 522 most eminent composers in Western history, according to standard references books tabulated by Charles Murray in "Human Accomplishment," JS Bach stands #3. Three of his sons rank #40, #73, and #264. And his grandfather was #317. They are just the tip of the iceberg. Something like 80 Bachs are mentioned in the Grove Dictionary of Music.

The Bach family practiced assortative marriage, contracting marriages with the daughters of musical families. Bach wives were expected to copy scores while having a baby every year or two.

Of course, there may well be other equally distinguished families that don't come to mind as readily because they are linked via the maternal side and thus don't share last names.

James said...

How about a woman? Or they could "pool" DNA couldn't they, and make it an "average" of say some Catholic priests.

I actually find this speculation distasteful now that I think about it.

Anonymous said...

The obvious choice for real Americans and all other citizens of earth is, of course, George Washington.

George was a man of unparalleled achievement. He was wise. He was bold. He was the Man of his millennium. Comparing other "heroes" to George Washington is like comparing a lump of Kingsford to the Hope Diamond.

In a steel cage deathmatch, with the men in their prime, George Washington would single-handedly, blindfolded, and with one arm tied behind his back, annihilate a tag team of Marx, Lenin, Stalin & Castro, and then address the crowd with an extemporaneous speech on liberty that would leave them in tears!

In a political debate, with the men in their prime, George Washington would single-handedly annihilate a tag team of Marx, Lenin, Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank & Alan Dershowitz, and then address the crowd with an extemporaneous speech on liberty that would leave them in tears!

And as opposed to the not-so-well-rounded Alexander Hamilton, George Washington would shoot Aaron Burr between the eyes, and then address the seconds with an extemporaneous speech on liberty that would leave them in tears!

Stalwart George led a ragtag army in an eight year long guerrilla campaign against the greatest military empire of the age - and after glorious victory in the revolution didn't once consider winding the clock back to zero or putting dissenters into gulags.

Curious George was one of the best writers of letters there has ever been. George Washington left behind more quotable quotes and pearls of wisdom than most of the great literary figures (including Philip Roth, by a factor of infinity).

George Washington was the single greatest leader of men in the historical record. Don't even dare argue that statement. You can move Churchill, Ghengis Khan, and all the religious wackos back down the line.

Washington stands like a colossus astride history. Jefferson was a poof! Just kidding about ole Tom. But he gets way too much limelight.

The natural George Washington could snap the natural Arnold Schwarzenegger's arm like a twig! And, sans steroids and modern weight training techniques, Gorgeous George had a better physique. And as opposed to Arnold, if George Washington was a Hollywood movie star, in every flick you'd get all of the incredible action plus in the final scene he give an extemporaneous speech on liberty that would leave you in tears!

Plus the ladies loved George! Before he shacked up with Martha, he scored more white women than Wilt Chamberlain!

A George Washington brought back to life would end the Bush and Clinton dynasties instantaneously - and he could do it flashing the wooden teeth.

Enough said.

Colby Cosh said...

Coach John Wooden has a good mix of the desirable qualities: he is progenitive, long-lived, intelligent, was a handsome Hall of Fame-quality athlete, and is, to understate the matter, as free of personality defects as anyone for whom there exists broad public evidence.

Thursday said...

If we want a woman, then Ursula LeGuin comes to mind. A pretty sane personality, interested in both the sciences and the arts, and she comes from a distinguished family: her father was anthropologist Alfred Kroeber.

Peter said...

I'd suggest Helio Grace. Great athlete, still going strong in his mid-90's, and had a whole brood of successful children.

Mike said...

Just a follow-up on my Paul Graham comment. You may want someone on the younger side: that way their DNA is still in good condition. No sense copying horribly mutated and degraded DNA into people.

And looking at ones family is a better way to find early death/disability/etc genes anyway.

tommy said...

I suspect true genius -- e.g., Newton -- tends to come from unstable lucky combinations of genes and wouldn't be good this kind of thing.

Yes, and environmental circumstances play a role also. Newton was a poor student until he was bullied over it. He ended up beating up the bully who was troubling him and started taking his studies much more seriously thereafter.

If you are looking for a population that displays a high percentage of such geniuses, then digging up that set of Hungarian Jews that included Neumann and Erdös might a good idea. Of course, most of them were terribly neurotic. I would nominate Nikola Tesla, but he was nutty too.

I could name hundreds of worthwhile candidates that are dead, but very few that are living today.

Maybe we should resurrect Vonnegut.

tommy said...

Just to make clear ... I'm not at all positive about genetic engineering and eugenics. As I wrote in VDARE in 2005:

I like the idea of voluntarily eugenics: offering incentives for the less successful to have fewer kids and offering incentives for more successful individuals to have more kids. I'm not too keen on genetic engineering humans for all but the most serious medical problems.

Anonymous said...

I will second Ron Paul Highly moral MD so must be fairly smart.

Steve Wozniak briliant and humble.

What about:

David Robinson all A's highly moral and a professional baskbell player.

Karen said...

Lee Kuan Yew

Anonymous said...

Tom Brady. Maybe he's too young - then probably Bart Starr. You really can't breed creative genius, so why not at least go with a physically fit, stable, intelligent person with drive and leadership skills? Of course Brady seems well on his way to spreading his genes widely with no help from science...

Anonymous said...

As much as I like Bach, how many musical genuises does a society need? Sans wig and breeches, how many women are going to be attracted to a Bach descendant?

Assuming that genetic engineering doesn't entail arranging marriages, this uberman has gotta have some sex appeal. Let's avoid the lonely, misunderstood genius types. You don't want offspring skewed towards the unibomber personality.

Have you considered Tom Selleck? Affable, handsome, strong, healthy, man's man yet appeals to women, excellent communication skills, success in career path, wealthy, good conservative values, no problem attracting mates.

-fifi

Mark said...

The Derb is on a roll:

"Now elite types like the WSJ editorial crowd are getting the terrible feeling they can no longer hold that line, and they're panicky. That's the side that most of the vitriol is coming from; and it's coming because they feel they're losing control of the immigration debate. Peasants with pitchforks (I'm appealing to those mystic chords of memory here) are storming their gated communities, and they're upset about it. U.S. public debate on this topic is rank with class snobbery."

Game, set and match. How can you not want to clone this guy? His DNA is the standard for humanity. (He even had a minor role in a Bruce Lee movie.)

tommy said...

I've heard all about egomaniac Venter, but I haven't heard much about Watson. Steve, what's the story with Watson?

Mark said...

Plus the ladies loved George! Before he shacked up with Martha, he scored more white women than Wilt Chamberlain!

I can't argue with George Washington, except, as with Marilyn, to note that he left no (known) children behind.

Once again: are you trying to make humanity infertile?

Mark said...

Did Arthur Miller really ever write anything that memorable? Quote one memorable line from "The Crucible" or "Salesman" or anything else that he wrote. Of all the writers you could think of, you think of him?

I'd add that, as a high schooler, I actually enjoyed most of the literature we had to read: "Grapes of Wrath," "MacBeth" - even "Silas Marner." But I didn't much care for "The Crucible" and positively hated "Death of a Salesman."

Buffett's undeniably brilliant, but it seems a little strange - almost OCD, even - that he's done so little with his money.

I also have to add that Buffett's children don't seem to have accomplished much of anything, which possibly can be attributed to his loopy wife. Apparently he doesn't even trust his children to manage his estate - he's leaving it to Bill Gates's management.

TSM said...

Arthur Jensen - eminent, productive at an advanced age, inveterately honest, and delightfully unpolitical. He's had a book dedicated to him, authored in part by people who vehemently disagree with his scholarship yet respect him all the same. I've yet to see someone speak negatively of his true character, i.e., after having met the man. He's half-Danish, half-Polish Jew, for what it's worth.

E.O. Wilson's a good pick too, of course. Only bad thing I can say about him, he is a bit too hung up on the environment, eg, refused a debate with Bjorn Lomborg.

Mark said...

More than likely, if there is a need for a "standard template" for human DNA, you'd take the averages from a large (100+) group of healthy, successful, and reproductively successful people, not just one, to control for any possibly harmful mutations - which everyone has.

And if you wanted to get even more exact, you'd select multiple groups broken down by race and ethnicity. In fact, you'd have to do so, because the public outcry would be enormous.

Anonymous said...

Ronald Reagan. Sunny, fit, loyal, capable but not excessively burdened with intelligence--that would be a great mean for the human race.

Anonymous said...

Ronald Reagan. Sunny, genial, good physical condition, loyal. In fact, come to think of it, all the Presidents with second-rate minds but with first-class temperaments would be good fits. Washington, Roosevelt, Reagan.

Second-rate mind isn't an insult, by the way. That probably puts them in the top quartile of intelligence, which is probably perfect for the new human mean. Too much intelligence could have negative results if it were too widespread too fast.

Dave said...

"I also have to add that Buffett's children don't seem to have accomplished much of anything, which possibly can be attributed to his loopy wife."

Mark, do just post extemporaneously or do you ever look things up first? Buffett's sons Peter and Howard Graham haven't achieved Buffett's level of prominence in their chosen fields (how many have?), but to say they haven't "accomplished much of anything" is ridiculous. Both have led productive and accomplished lives so far, Peter as a musician, and Howard Graham as a writer and conservationist.

Warren Buffett didn't decide to leave the bulk of his estate the Gates Foundation to "manage" it, but to spend it. Until the money is spent, it will be invested in Berkshire Hathaway stock. Buffett recently announced that his son Howard Graham will become chairman of Berkshire Hathaway after Warren passes away to continue the culture he has established at Berkshire. Howard Graham, and the rest of Warren Buffett's kids, all manage their own billion dollar foundations.

Proofreader said...

Ernst Jünger:
brilliant, scholarly,creative, survived through two world wars , and lived over a hundred years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Junger

SFG said...

Good point about the second quartile. There are probably a lot of neurological drawbacks associated with having an IQ of 180 or even 150. I wouldn't make too much of the social problems if you were going to use people as a baseline, though; remember, everybody would be like that, so quantum physics would just be normal conversation.

The idea of there being one optimal human being strikes me as a bit off, though. It may have been given a bad name by the PC crowd but diversity is actually a good thing from the genetic point of view, and is the point of sex, most likely. Monocultures of corn (ie fields of corn cloned from a single ear) are very susceptible to disease. And we'd probably want a good mix of intelligence, brawn, personality, resistance to disease... in particular since advanced societies need a variety of roles we need some nerds, some schmoozers, some guys who are strong, some people who are good with their hands...

Riot Nrrd said...

Marilyn probably could have carried a pregnancy to term if she'd started early enough. She evidently had first menses quite early and developed young, but never became pregnant until she was 30. She had severe endometriosis, which points to her basic problem being that she didn't bear a child early on.

There's other reasons to not want to clone her-she was a neurotic of epic proportions-but that she probably is the single celebrity more people would want to clone than any other bringa up a good point. Do we just want the physically sturdiest and stablest people or do we acknowledge that the gift of creativity often brings debts with it, debts in the great scheme of things well worth society paying?

It's probably academic with Monroe, because-ironically-she was embalmed and buried in the best of style: the "eternal protection" sealer coffins popular with upmarket funeral directors in the early 1960s. They seal the decedent so well that the corpse turns into a pressurized, disgusting "stew" that permeates even the long bones of the legs and the pelvis, making it a high probability there will be no recoverable sequenceable DNA at this point. Whereas with the cheap coffins and open liners, the chemicals outgas and the inner bone marrow may be "readable" decades later.

The best DNA recovery is probably from unembalmed corpses buried in permeable wood coffins in relatively dry soil. Several Civil War greats come to mind as likely to have surviving DNA, and in fact it's not impossible DNA can survive a thousand years in such a burial.

Cedric Morrison said...

Freeman Dyson--brilliant, completely sane, and his children are pretty good, too.

There's probably some Richard Feynman tissue stored somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Kate Beckinsale. 'nuff Said.

Dave said...

Marilyn Monroe? What about Grace Kelly instead. Much prettier, and less psychological baggage. Of course, neither is as worthy as Norman Borlaug...

josh said...

Burt Reynolds...

Anonymous said...

Paul Johnson.

Snuffleuffagus said...

Did Arthur Miller really ever write anything that memorable? Quote one memorable line from "The Crucible" or "Salesman" or anything else that he wrote.

A fart on Thomas Putnam!