China possible fact of the day

A Chinese researcher claims that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies — twin girls born this month whose DNA he said he altered with a powerful new tool capable of rewriting the very blueprint of life.

If true, it would be a profound leap of science and ethics.

A U.S. scientist said he took part in the work in China, but this kind of gene editing is banned in the United States because the DNA changes can pass to future generations and it risks harming other genes.

Here is the full story.  Here is further background.


That opens up possibilities to improve humans so much, but also opens up possibilities to such heavy inequalities in society. I wonder how Gini coefficient can account the probability of making your babies inherently immune to most diseases (which is very easy) or improve their cognitive functions (which is much harder, further down the line).

Inequality is bad, say those politicians that want control themselves, yet most people follow sports, which activity worships inequality in vast facilities (stadia) that resemble the cost and complexity of ecclesiastical architecture.
Looking back throughout time, inequality abounds. Consider what the average person had at his disposal a hundred or even fifty years ago compared to now. There is a clear inequality. Does this mean that people should not develop better housing, labour saving devices, better health?

Oh, no, they should. But we should also be aware of the problems such developments would bring to the table. One of the biggest problems for humanity (in my mind), both from the standpoint of meritocracy and any socialism as well (not that it's an only way of looking at things), is that power can be inherited.

Sure, inequality abounds in the past, but that is exactly what caused massive perturbations in the societies that lead to specific countermeasures (either market induced or politically/law induced) against accumulating all power in one hands. But gene-editing opens up possibility of giving a lot more than money to your offspring. Something that can't be even taken away from that person in the future. These new generations could create such a gap, that it will lead to immense hatred from unimproved people. Most likely, this will lead to society instability. I am just asking what actions can humanity take to stop that from happening (other than make it outright illegal). Even if we were to make it illegal, you can't per se, test all people for abnormally "good" genes and then retroactively persecute their parents, decades after the fact.

Weird problem to have, society will be facing challenges, that were impossible before (as it always have been and as it always will be dealt with).

Thanks for that comment.
It is a very good point that edited genes are an inheritance that can't be taken away.
The legal profession makes an enormous amount of money for itself by taking things away from people, through things like divorce, fines and taxation enforcement.
However who is to say that in the future it won't be possible to edit the genes of existing people? Obviously they could be enhanced, but in the past disfigurement was used as a punishment (and still is in primitive societies) so "downgrading" of genes could also be used as a punishment in the same way that other legalities are used today.
Unless, that is, I suppose, anyone can do it once people have worked out how. (Like someone reconnecting their electricity if it has been cut off for non payment, or buying a cheap TV at a boot sale if theirs was confiscated for non payment of license, or drive a car when banned.)

I don't think you get how genes work

' through things like divorce'

Divorce is not an example of the legal profession taking something away. That the legal profession makes vast amounts of money from things involving legal matters is beyond dispute.

However, no lawyer is able to force a happily married couple to divorce, and no lawyer is able to force someone that wants a divorce to stay married.

And fines and taxation enforcement are part of the justice or tax system, though of course the legal profession is generally involved.

I know someone who joined the legal profession out of a desire to help people through difficult times. However after being told to go out and drum up divorce business, she retired as soon as possible. So no, they can't actually force people to divorce but they sure can encourage them.

You can encourage anyone to do anything. However, many people need little encouragement to divorce.

As President Trump demonstrates.

Someone able to make a Trump snark non sequitur in a comment on a topic with no relation to him.

Gotta admit, Charles Blow in the NYT almost had me. He writes of the irony of Mitch being a centrist and a racial healer. I hope students in law school and medical school can outpace this level of thinking cause it's just not very good. Abraham Lincoln was a humanitarian and a war general. He was a better writer than Shakespeare. Mr. Blow simply gets it wrong. Mitch is not saying he's a centrist; he's saying he's anti-relativism. Because there is no such things are moral relativism, only moral psychology. Say all you want Robin Ventura, but Luoul Dang was a better player.

As a genetic ethicists, we believe assortative mating, especially in colleges and universities has profoundly negatively shaped American society since World War II. Our inequalities, income, disease, height and physical attractiveness are now significantly driven by well-paid college graduates marrying one another, and by poorly paid high school dropouts doing the same. We propose eliminating informal assortative mating and replacing it with formal, state sponsored and culturally appropriate, randomized mating until these inequalities are significantly reduced.

The "downgrading" of genes is an interesting angle. It can be punishment or soldiers could be made less affected by pain-

Yeah, everybody says this thing about genetic engineering adding to inequality, but I don't think that people think it through. A big part of the inequality we have now consists of rich families passing down genes that make it easier for the next generation to be rich. For many generations they have done genetic engineering the old fashioned way, by scouting out and bringing in genes that raise the likelihood of having successful kids.

With gene splicing, the possibility to do the same, but to do it much more quickly and effectively, becomes available to "the rest." As such, it could be the great inequality destroyer! For example, genes linked with alcoholism, gambling addiction and other impulse control problems could be expunged from families that are being held back by them. With alterations in the germline, the procedure needs to be done "artificially" once and then it perpetuates without further interventions.

Rich families have the least to gain from germline engineering, because they typically already have the most success-linked genes. They also have the most to lose: Look at how hard Harvard works to bring in qualified students from low-income families. They send out armies of recruiters, remit tuition, etc. Yet despite all this, most of the kids who can get into Harvard come from rich families. Social factors probably play the biggest role, but many of the traits that get you in are linked with genes - genes that are becoming concentrated among the rich. Imagine a country that agrees to pay for parents in a bad economic situation to enhance their kids. Even if if the procedure is expensive, the benefits will stay for generations, and arguably, helping families that get derailed by impulse control problems would pay for itself much quicker. People who care about equality should welcome germline engineering, because it finally gives us a chance to erase one huge, persistent advantage of the rich.

I find this to be a really good point

I find this a really good point as well. It is something I hadn't thought of, so I have learned something today by reading Marginal Revolution.

Even in 2018, there are *still* people who insist that poverty is a genetic defect.

It may not be a genetic defect, but there is strong evidence that willingness to save and defer consumption influences likelihood of becoming or remaining poor. And these are clearly distinguishable in pools of people who start out equally poor or equally well off. And at least part of this propensity is heritable.

Bernie's next program: Free genetic editing for all!

'but I don't think that people think it through'

Well, to be honest, the same people that brought the terms 'Lebensraum' and 'Aryan' into common English language use (along with other terms like 'Blitzkreig') put a lot of time and effort into thinking it through. For example, how to best use Untermenschen to provide the field labor required to ensure a bountiful supply of food to their carefully selected overlords for a 1000 years of glorious inequality.

I realize that some people consider that not so far in the past time period to be just a road bump to the glorious future that eugenics opens up, but to ignore the actions of the most dedicated group of genetically minded rulers is simply to hand wave away what lies behind the idea of creating blue eyed blond superm.... oops, that isn't the model being followed in China, is it?

As a matter of fact, one could believe that some Chinese just might consider the West to be filled with Untermenschen.

Your “gene editing is the Holocaust” shtick is one of the more idiotic of your tics.

The original post he keeps alluding to doesn't even support his point, since Tyler is describing the views of others and expresses concern himself:

Everyone in the era believed in eugenics. In the absence of genetic engineering eugenics are an inevitability if you want to have civilization. Genetic engineering is the only hope for the untermench.

Yeah, this is a good point, which is that the "environmentally lucky, but genetically unlucky" have opportunity to improve gene status and that could help compress and reduce intergenerational inequality (reducing the sticky ceiling effect), which probably gives us a society that's more what we'd like it to look like.

Also consider that health technologies generally have helped compress inequality in the past. Look at height and mortality distributions in the 19th century - you at least get less skew and dispersal more compression of the high end towards the median today, and that's because medical technologies have tended to be more useful to pull the baseline up. It's reasonable to be optimistic this will continue to be the case, if public funded medicine remains oriented to solving problems.

If we do end up using these on non-disease traits, my concerns tend to be more directional than inequality based. That short term individual economic and social status imperatives will screw up and distort what we should go for, even when pushed through public programmes. That we'll select for educational attainment and end up with a society of Ivy League/Caltech snobs, when we should be selecting for g and against mental illness, which would give us smarter, saner versions of ourselves (which academics are not exactly). That sort of thing.

That's a very good way of looking at things (I like the idea). Although I doubt two main points of your argument:
1) It will be cheap enough for general population. By the time it will be that cheap, everyone, who is wealthy enough would have reaped the benefits. More or less, we are arguing whether the progress will be faster than 1 generation. If it's slower, wealthy will reap more benefits. If it's faster, everyone will have the same level of benefits faster than it was possible. I would argue that if mass-market penetration of mobile phones took 20-40 years (depending on the country), the penetration of child DNA altering (takes more time, takes more money, has cultural/religious implications) would take approximately a century, not 20 years.
2) Wealthier people have the best genes. I would provide an easy, but easily observable fact. After the October revolution, Soviets used very harsh actions against anyone wealthy at this point (not 100% of them, but a huge percent). A generation later the country did not seem to be that far behind in industry-technology, compared to where it was before in relation to the rest of the world. If the genes were that focused in wealthy and were that detrimental, we would likely see bigger problems in certain countries over the course of history (it seems to be a much more variable thing).

Sounds like Harrison Bergeron could use a rewrite for the new age.

'Gene editing tool'?

Great trolling, Ty.

Even GMO plant and animals for food are rejected:

"GMO soybean oil is for the poor":

GMO food is generally distrusted (accepted if it means feeding the poor), while GMO babies are desirable for the rich. Perhaps I'm not properly trained in doublethink, can this opposed views on GMOs reconcile?

I'm thrilled to know if this super anxious parents will feed their children GMO salmon or not?

It's not doublethink though. Some people think that GMO is bad, some people want their children to have as much competitive advantage, as possible. Those two groups are not necessarily the same. The great push against GMO is not done by GMO groups, it's done by other agrarian groups. Don't mistake two distinct ideas presented in the media as the same people not knowing what they want.

GMO food is generally distrusted by those who have an outsized voice in the media. Ask the average person what they think of GMOs and you will likely get a shrug.

You have no input in the genetic modifications made to the food available to you. Supply makes that decision, you take or not. You are not big enough to do anything else.

You have all the input in the genetic modifications made to your offspring. You are the market for your transaction.

"You have no input in the genetic modifications made to the food available to you. "

This is clearly wrong. Many products are advertised as non-GMO. Clearly consumer feedback matters.

Granted, the bulk of scientific research indicates that GMO's aren't a danger. But people clearly have options for making their own choices regarding the matter.

Oh, OK. I'll call up my Cargill rep and tell them precisely which genetic modifications I desire for my GMO soybeans and which ones I find unacceptable.

Don't let low quality MR posters make you dull and knee jerk argumentative, JWatts.

Such is life in Xi's America.


If gene editing (in the traditional sense of selective mating) enhances intelligence, what happened to the royals? I suppose I am not surprised by these comments, and the assumption that inequality (in intelligence and athletic ability as well as wealth) is primarily the result of having the right genes. I know many wealthy people, and lots of them are dumber than bricks. Our president came from wealth and attended Penn, and he is an ignoramus. In one or two generations the Chinese went from being uneducated peasant farmers to designers of AI. How did our host get to be smarter than, well, just about everyone? I'm reminded of the corny joke I told several weeks ago about the golfer who scored two holes in one in one round of golf and was given one wish for each hole in one. I won't repeat his first wish, but his second wish was for longer legs (it solved the problem created by his first wish).

Different things can be selected for.

For royals it was inheritance.

You can’t possibly be this stupid.

"You can’t possibly be this stupid."

Evidence would indicate that he can be.

If royalty do not have a somewhat higher average on intellectual ability than the general, unselected population, I would be fairly surprised.

I'm with David Baltimore. Mutations have been observed in multiple CRSPR projects. Playing with the DNA of generations of human beings yet to come (and confidently calling it "progress") is foolhardy.

"If true"

THAT is the real point of that entire article.

You all might want to revisit the 20 year old movie, "Gattaca." It is a vision of a future society where genetic alteration is feasible.

The tragedy is we'd get a ton of advancement simply by not incentivizing dysgenics. But modern society lacks a coherent framework to debate genetics.

Once the Chinese locate the gene responsible for making compliant, submissive citizens, Bob’s your uncle! They could probably sell it to the Democrats here in the unruly US of A.

Someone with the guts to comment on a species-altering and enormously important topic by making a snarky partisan attack.

What is the highest priority of the ChiComs? Maintaining power and control. See, for example, the Social Credit system being implemented there. Don’t you think that genetic modification would be used for the same purposes if it were effective?

Interesting, I wonder if it will work as intended.

For all the advocates of CRISPR on humans, my hesitation is because I have yet to see a legal policy proposal that would promote biodiversity in a world with such technologies. How do we prevent turning the stock of humans on Earth into something like the stock of bananas we currently have: high yielding and desirable, but unsustainable? That's the hard problem, harder than mastering the technical details of CRISPR.

China: First!

C.S. Lewis called it 75 years ago.

I think the real story here is that this is a serious, serious violation of research ethics, pursued by an opportunistic researcher in a loose regulatory environment. There is an open letter signed by a group of Chinese researchers, stating that there is serious risk to the procedure and it's very irresponsible to do it to humans. This is not a story of gene editing ready for humans and a floodgate is about to open. It's a story of gene editing *not* ready for humans, and irresponsible people doing it anyway.

This should be limited to editing out single-gene disorders. Seeing humans breed numerous problems into canine sub-species should be cautionary.

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