"Progressive Eugenics" Series Part III
A look at attempts to bring rebrand eugenics prior to the pandemic and the overlap with those promoting a herd immunity strategy.
Gove’s education reforms saw a group of professional alt-right contrarians become involved in education, including those from the Revolutionary Communist Party and a magazine called Living Marxism which was bankrupted in the 1990’s due to legal costs after wrongly accusing ITV of falsifying evidence of the genocide in Sebrenica.
Embracing libertarianism the group’s members quickly reinvented themselves, establishing a network of organisations which includes Spiked Online edited by Frank Ferudi and the Academy of Ideas run by Claire Fox. Toby Young, who celebrated Living Marxism at the time as defenders of free speech has since worked closely with the Living Marxism crowd as they continue to create an ecosystem of culture war astroturf groups.
Young was appointed in January 2017 as director of the New Schools Network, the Government funded organisation’s aim was to promote and further the Free Schools agenda, although his experience was as a journalist, Young had previously been given control of a Free School. He resigned from the position in March 2018 at the same time as he was forced to step down from an appointment to the board of the Office for Students after attention was drawn to comments he’d previously written. These comments and those of the people who leapt to his defence highlight the attitudes of those who went on to spread disinformation as they advocated letting the virus rip.
In one article showing his attitude towards those with disabilities Young railed against schools being inclusive, describing wheelchairs as an example of ghastly political correctness and suggested the Equalities Act should be repealed “because any exam that isn’t ‘accessible’ to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be ‘elitist’ and therefore forbidden”, however it was an article from 2015 that caused the most controversy.
The “Cognitive Elite”
In an article looking at his father’s book titled The Fall of the Meritocracy Young asks “Has the meritocratic elite become a hereditary elite?” and then goes on to make the argument for “progressive eugenics”. Young assumes the UK with its class system and aristocratic origins nearly a thousand years old is actually a meritocracy, the people at the top aren’t there because of nepotism or privilege of opportunity, they are genetically superior and more intelligent.
“Is there any evidence the children of today’s cognitive elite will become the cognitive elite of tomorrow? Yes,” he goes on to quote the book The Bell Curve by Charles Murray “Most people at present are stuck near where their parents were on the income distribution in part because IQ, which has become a major predictor of income, passes on sufficiently from one generation to the next to constrain economic mobility.” He then quotes another of Murray’s books “The reason that the upper-middle-class dominate the population of elite schools is that the parents of the upper-middle-class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children.” He continues.
Although the book was written about White America, Young believes it is equally relevant to the UK where the majority of wealth is inherited and the fees for the most prestigious schools are more than the median wage. Coming from a privileged background I assume Young counts himself among the “cognitive elite” despite failing to get into Oxford University, until his father personally contacted the university to reverse the decision and secure him a place. The false equivalence between wealth, professional success and intelligence must be a tempting concept to embrace for those who find themselves at the top of the social pile, far better for the ego than thinking they got to where they are because daddy had the keys to open all the doors for them.
The concept of a cognitive elite has a whiff of Ubermench; the idea of superior humans often associated with a programme of eugenics, as the article continues “If male and female members of the cognitive elite don’t pair up in college, they pair up in the high-paying firms and rarefied social environments that they gravitate to.” This assumes equality of opportunity, but the data shows that graduates from private schools are more likely to be appointed to high status positions than those from disadvantaged backgrounds with the same class of degree.
Young says he is not alone in this belief “David Wiletts the former Conservative Universities Minister, believes the rise in assortative mating among university graduates helps explain the apparent fall in inter-generational mobility.”
So social mobility is stalling because mating and meritocracy has sorted us into our natural order? This suggests there is no point trying to address social mobility and would explain why Young and others signed up to a Libertarian ideology that seems to oppose any initiatives to increase diversity while being deeply offended by the concept of unconscious bias.
Universal income is suggested as a solution to the “falling value of unskilled labour,” however “it would probably involve increasing taxes for higher-rate taxpayers, and that’s unlikely to appeal to conservative minded voters, but perhaps some of them might become more relaxed about redistribution taxation once they realise how closely a person’s success is linked to the hand the hand they’re dealt at birth that they’ve done nothing to deserve.” As Universal Basic Income is deemed to be unpopular with voters, Young offers an alternative.
“What I’m proposing is a form of eugenics that would discriminate in favour of the disadvantaged. I’m not suggesting we improve the genetic stock of an entire race, just the least well off. This is the kind of eugenics that should appeal to liberals - progressive eugenics.” He argues embryos could be selected for certain characteristics, like intelligence. “It is not through changing the culture that we will be able to solve the chronic social problems besetting the advanced societies of the West, but through changing people’s genes.”
No “intelligence gene” has been identified, even defining intelligence proves difficult, educators regularly debate exam systems, some see our current exams as being more of a memory test than judging critical thinking, the ability to debate, to write powerful prose, to create music or produce art, can we say that ability or more importantly; in Young and Murray’s view of the world, success in different disciplines all requires the same type of “intelligence.”
Can we consider a crude measure such as IQ tests to be an accurate method of arbitrating who is intelligent enough to join the “cognitive elite”? In their choice of language there is also a suggestion that only Western society is uniquely advanced. Either way, there is a clear ideology that the rich and powerful are genetically superior to the poor, so much so that those of inferior stock require their offspring to be genetically screened in order for there to be social mobility.
“The Return of Eugenics”
These aren’t just the thoughts of Toby Young, in 2016 Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator wrote the article “The return of eugenics. Researchers don’t like the word - but they’re running ahead with the idea and Britain is at the forefront” in which he explains that although Hitler took the concept to the extreme, the intellectual foundations were laid in England.
Looking at the origins of eugenics and the Royal Commission's attempts to quantify the “feeble-minded” he compares it to a modern day study by Adam Perkins at King’s College London, “The group he aims to study are the ‘employment-resistant’: those disposed to a life on welfare as a result of genetic predispositions and having grown up in workless homes. With Galtoneque (Galton first coined the term eugenics) he estimates some 94,040 ‘extra’ people were ‘created by the welfare state’ over 15 years due to a rise in welfare spending. They represent an ‘ever-greater burden on the more functional citizens.”
“The Employment Resistant”
Where to start with this? The “employment-resistant” being the inverse of the “cognitive elite” washes the state’s hands of responsibility for unemployment. Generational unemployment is a trope that isn’t backed up by statistics, there are very few families where multiple generations have never had a job, its true there are families where adults have struggled to hold down a job, however as with Young the assumption is made that the primary factor is one of genetics not environment, culture, or systematic injustice, ignoring nepotism and the old school tie network in a country which still has an unelected second legislative chamber.
It would also be interesting how Perkins calculated the welfare state has created a 94,040 person burden on “functional citizens” whilst we have seen a falling birth rate and a decrease in teenage pregnancies which are often cited as creating a burden on taxpayers by those who seek to undermine the welfare state.
Nelson says there isn’t anything original about Perkins book “He simply joins the dots of recent academic research and spells out what others won’t.” This is a standard Libertarian attitude which has led to media contrarians being nicknamed “edgelords”, they see themselves as pragmatic thinkers willing to consider truths that others aren’t brave enough to accept, it’s why I think all forms of scepticism appeals to even the well meaning people who have bought into the ideology, yet once again it stokes an individual’s ego, and can lead to a sense of superiority and a bulletproof certainty that can be sustained in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Human stock worldwide has been eroded by healthcare and welfare”
The article continues “His footnotes show the growing academic pedigree of the new eugenics: work has been done to identify genes relating to alcoholism, criminality, sporting success, even premature ejaculation. Extrapolations are now made about how far the quality of human stock worldwide has been eroded by healthcare and welfare.” Work has been done, in some cases like characteristics providing an advantage in sport this seems fairly straight forward, a propensity for addiction has been linked to inheritance however the role of individual genes is far less certain and as with some mental health conditions appears to require a trigger condition, but criminality?
Perhaps there are genes linked to aggression, but crime permeates all levels of society, the main difference being the kinds of crime committed, the privileged might be less likely to take up burglary but what about crimes like insider trading, tax dodging and corporate manslaughter?
Has “the quality of human stock fallen worldwide”? The phrase alone is chilling, are we nothing more than cattle to be herded and managed by our “betters”? How do we even define the statement, never alone evidence it. It’s a baseless assumption that says more about Perkins and Nelson's attitudes, do they believe the welfare state causes the genetically inferior to breed and healthcare lets them live?
“Ethically better children”
Nelson says “In academia the world eugenics may be controversial but the idea is not”, before going on to quote Julian Saculescu of the Journal of Medical Ethics “When it comes to screening out personality flaws such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children.” I find the reduction of individuals to merely units of economic activity chilling, we are all flawed to one extent or another and some of the people who have had the greatest impact on the world have been deeply flawed, just consider the creative arts, Churchill was renowned for being a heavy drinker though I guess the supporters of the new eugenics would argue he didn’t cross the line requiring him to be screened out of existence.
Claiming this is a moral obligation for the greater good leads us down a dark path, if some children are “ethically better” then the flipside is that some children are unethical. Once again it seems these flaws are the preserve of the poor, “financial burdens” to the rest of society. In the context of the pandemic the Spectator has been guilty of dividing deaths into those with underlying conditions and the healthy and argued that protective measures aren’t needed in schools because only x amount of healthy children have died. Are the rights of the “ethically better children” more important than those who might become “employment resistant”? Could they even argue that letting the virus rip through schools is a moral obligation?
Sabisky resigns after racial IQ comments emerge
At the start of 2020 whilst Covid was still an emerging threat on the horizon Downing Street faced controversy over the appointment of Andrew Sabisky as an advisor regarding accusations of eugenics after previous comments emerged. Some examples include,
“There are excellent reasons to think the very real racial differences in intelligence are significantly - even mostly - genetic in origin, though the degree is of course a very serious subject of scholarly debate.”
“You will see a far greater percentage of blacks than whites in the range of IQs of 75 or below, at which point we are close to the typical boundary for mild mental retardation.” “
Individual differences in intelligence and academic outcomes are largely a result of genes not environments.”
Other comments included equating women’s sport to the paralympics, suggesting that all girls should be put on birth control when they begin puberty and a blog suggesting men of Pakistani origin had a predisposition to child abuse.
What was interesting with the Sabisky story was what was written about him by others. The New Statesman said “The new Conservative adviser hired by Cummings is perhaps more interesting for who he isn’t than what he wrote as a 21-year-old” making the point the real focus is that Johnson’s then advisor Dominic Cummings was hiring like minded people who wouldn’t solve the issues he’d identified with the civil service, Sabiskys comments were years old and should just be seen as a young man sounding off without much thought.
“Eugenics has become a fashionable idea”
Apparently “Dodgy science around inheritance and eugenics has become a fashionable idea again on parts of the right” although “there is a germ of truth to it”. “In the present day, Sabisky’s views are largely typical of the young thinking right in the UK.” The Spectator’s assistant editor Isabel Hardman suggested the row about Sabisky’s appointment was an example of “cancel culture, where freedom of speech is trampled by hordes baying for yet another resignation”, saying “this raises an interesting question, which is whether deciding not to hire someone on the basis their views on eugenics and race and so on is curtailing their freedom to offer these views on a number of platforms.”
As often happens with cancel culture debates, questions regarding a person’s suitability for a specific role are incorrectly reframed as trying to prevent them speaking on any platform. The same occurred around Toby Young’s appointments, and he appeared across various media outlets to complain about being silenced, it’s a tired deflection away from the core question which is what relevant experience do they have to do the role? Young’s involvement in education was questionable right from the start, why give a man with no experience of education control of a Free School in the first place? The same could be said of the whole academisation programme which has seen hedge fund managers, venture capitalists and the owner of Carpet Right given control of the education of many thousands of students.
The arguments around Sabisky being pilloried for a few old comments is disingenuous of those who defended him. In 2014 Sabisky attended a ResearchEd event where he said Galton “deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest geniuses of the era”, concluding “environments are relatively equal” and “everyone is getting a reasonably fair shot at success.”
Writing the appendix to a book by David Didau on education Sabisky states “Ethnic differences in IQ are much larger and of far more serious social importance. Assuming a white gentile norm of 100 (standard deviation 15), black African-Americans average a score of around 85…the United States has a substantial black population with a long history of educational underachievement.”
“Large permanent individual differences in talent are a fact of life and are not going to go away for the foreseeable future. To a very great extent, these differences are due to variations in the innate qualities of persons and are not the result of manipulable differences in environments.”
When criticised for the content of his book and asked for references to his comments that “there are fairly clear racial differences in IQ” Didau linked to a source by Linda Gottfredson who is on a list of white supremacist scholars produced by the the Southern Poverty Law Center and to the HumanBioDiversity website. The Southern Poverty Law Centre is a leading civil rights law firm that tracks extremist group in America while the HumanBiodiversity website is an archive of white supremacist thinking about genetics and IQ.
The irony that we are seeing some people with limited classroom experience being appointed to influential positions to create education policy primarily due to their closeness to the Conservative Party and their cheer-leading for Gove and Cummings ideological view on education seems lost on those who think that we live in a true meritocracy.
This isn’t an accusation against the whole group of having an eugenics attitude, however tribalist attitudes and a mainly self-concocted dividing line between traditional and progressive education means those who are taking control of education will always close ranks to defend eugenicists within their tribe, just as those in the media leapt to the defence of Young, Cummings and Sabisky. During the pandemic it is this sense of tribalism which has allowed anti-vaxxers and disinformation groups to insert their dangerous narratives into the mainstream debate.
The Organised Eugenics Movement
Sabisky and Young have also attended the London Conference on Intelligence, an invite only event on eugenics run at the University College London until its existence was discovered and came to public awareness. The university held an inquiry into the event however nine of the sixteen strong team refused to sign off the report as it had failed to investigate several more recent secret eugenics meetings. These conferences are occurring across the Western world with an event in Canada also receiving some media attention after Young attended as a speaker where he spoke about the extreme measures employed by James Thompson in organising for the University College London event to occur under a veil of secrecy.
Eugenics and Herd Immunity
Is it a coincidence that those who advocated for “progressive eugenics” and spoke in terms of human stock being eroded by healthcare and welfare are amongst the most high profile people in the UK media who have consistently advocated for herd immunity and mass infection. Accusations that a strategy of mass infection is influenced by attitudes based in eugenics has been vociferously rejected by its supporters including Toby Young and Fraser Nelson, however the Counter Disinformation Project argues that the attitudes that led them to attempt to rebrand eugenics have influenced their views on how to manage the pandemic.
In March 2020 Toby Young argued for allowing the vulnerable and elderly to be killed by covid in order to protect the economy. A day after lockdown he was touting Sunetra Gupta’s “Oxford Report” that claimed there was no need to lockdown because herd immunity had already been reached. A week later he launched Lockdown Sceptics (now the Daily Sceptic) which has provided a platform for covid disinformation throughout the pandemic and is now branching out to climate change denial.
Its was the Spectator, where ITV’s political editor Robert Peston had originally explained the government’s herd immunity plans, and would later publish the Great Barrington Declaration dedicated many articles arguing that the pandemic was essentially over
Spectator sells mass infection
In mid May Ross Clark cited a study in California that suggested 40-60% of people already had cross-immunity to covid from the common cold. He followed this up on 30 May with “Immunity to coronavirus may be far more widespread than thought” citing a study from Singapore that suggested SARS survivors showed an immune reaction to covid. Clark said cross-immunity may explain asymptomatic and mild cases and that real world data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship suggested most people wouldn’t get infected if the virus was allowed to spread unmitigated. He quotes the same pre-print study from California, saying this could be why there were no signs of a second wave in any country, he claimed countries had seen similar waves regardless of measures and that “there is very little evidence to support the benefits of lockdown measures” and concluded “the overall situation might not be as bleak as we first feared and whether now is the time to get the country moving again.”
5 June Spectator publishes a 30 minute podcast with Sunetra Gupta where she repeats her claims regarding herd immunity
16 July, Fraser Nelson claims that while antibodies have been observed to disappear after just a few months, a study in nature indicated that T-Cell immunity could last for seventeen years.
20 July, Carl Heneghan who would go on to be a supporter of the Great Barrington Declaration asked “How many Covid diagnoses are false positives?” where he claimed that when virus levels were very low “the chances of a test accurately detecting Covid-19 could be even less than 50%”. He said “The current US Centers for Disease Control test kits can generate up to 30 per cent false positives even in the best laboratories.” Going on to produce a calculation where “in our hypothetical of 10,000 tests, we’d have 500 false positives amongst the eight genuine positives. So the hundreds of false-positive Covid-19 results would dwarf the genuine results.”
Trading on his credentials as a director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine meant that Heneghan’s claims were taken seriously and he has appeared across the media throughout the pandemic. From July to November Heneghan wrote on an almost weekly basis for the Spectator.
1 August Heneghan recorded an interview with Spectator writer Katy Balls and the IEA’s Kate Andrews where they questioned the death statistics.
3 August Heneghan claimed cases weren’t starting to rise, they were but he said this was an artefact of testing.
8 August the Spectator had an article written by Great Barrington Declaration author Martin Kulldorf, “Herd immunity is still key in the fight against Covid-19”, where he argued that herd immunity via vaccination was the same as herd immunity via infection, claiming that the whole of society should be opened up for younger age groups while the elderly remained in isolation until herd immunity was achieved. He claimed this could save more lives than waiting for a vaccination to be ready.
“Is it age discrimination when the old are asked to forego society for a while, while the young go about their lives? Maybe, but it saves lives. Is it age discrimination when young people take the small risks needed to protect the older more vulnerable members of society? Yes, for sure, but prior generations took much larger risks. As a society we should appreciate young adults who help generate herd immunity by living normal lives and keeping society afloat.”
Long covid, or the fact while the risks are lower, that there are still risks and some will come to harm isn’t properly recognised, particularly in regards to children.
“What about the children? While young adults can decide what risks to take, it is unethical to impose unwarranted risks on children. Are they safe if the schools reopen? The answer is yes.”
He goes on to use Sweden as proof schools have negligible impact on the pandemic.
“Sweden never closed day-care centres or schools for its 1.8 million children ages one to 15. Of these children, zero died from Covid-19. The total number of cases is unknown, but the reported number is 468, which is 25 per 100,000. Of these 468 children, eight were hospitalised in an intensive care unit. This means that, whether schools are open or not, children are less at risk from Covid-19 than from influenza, which kills an average of 40-50 children in England and Wales each year. In contrast to influenza, schools are not driving the Covid-19 pandemic, and in Sweden, teachers had the same Covid-19 risk as the average risk among other professions.”
These statistics have proven to have been incorrect, children were rarely tested in Sweden, and internal messages show that figures showing covid harmed children were fudged to present a more positive picture to the Swedish people.
Kulldorff concludes “Hence, it is the young adults among us that must stand in the front line as we fight this enemy. If not, we will have many more casualties than necessary.”
It’s the same “focused protection” strategy the Great Barrington Declaration would promote. Ignoring that not all high risk individuals are elderly, and without providing a means to protect the elderly if transmission is incredibly high, particularly in a time before vaccines.
Since April 2020 the Spectator has regularly argued for the Swedish approach, dismissing points made by its critics, failing to report on inquiry findings and published internal emails, Swedish advisor Tegnell couldn’t have bought better PR than the Spectators reporting.
In August, John Lee, who would go on to be a HART member, in an extensive article asked if “a crisis of awareness, in which incomplete information led to a wildly disproportionate reaction?” He went on to argue that there was little evidence of the impact on the effectiveness of lockdown or other measures like masks with all countries seeing similar sized waves, ( conveniently ignoring New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Japan etc where this wasn’t the case) before going into a long explanation of T-Cells to conclude that cross-immunity meant that herd immunity was close to being achieved.
12 August Heneghan argues “Could mass testing for Covid-19 do more harm than good?” Following it up with “It’s a mistake to think all positive Covid tests are the same on 21 August.
13 September Heneghan wrote an article calling for less measures as cases rose, “Boris Johnson needs to bin the rule of six.” The next day he then questioned the reliability of testing with “What does a case of Covid-19 really mean?”
19 September Ros Clark wrote “The growing evidence for T-Cell Covid immunity.” Again citing the Californian pre-print, he said several other studies had confirmed its findings. Several German studies had shown T-Cell responses from blood samples taken before the pandemic, in one 23 out of 68 samples had a response, in another it was 12 from 26. He claimed this meant that herd immunity threshold was likely around 23% and referred to Manaus in Brazil “where a runaway epidemic died back for no obvious reason.” Concluding “Ministers might care to review the wider evidence on Covid-19 and immunity to satisfy themselves they are making the right decision.” Manaus would go on to see several deadly waves but in the second half of 2020 it was regularly held up as an example of the promised land of herd immunity.
Also on 19 September Robert Dingwall, a controversial and outspoken member of NERVTAG and JCVI at the time wrote in the Spectator questioning the science behind social distancing.
30 September Heneghan attacked predictions Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance had made regarding growth in cases.
4 October Heneghen questioned if hospital admissions were really rising and a cause for concern.
12 October Kulldorff article promotes the GBD “Covid, Lockdown and the retreat of scientific debate.
This is just a sample of the Spectator’s covid coverage over Summer up to the launch of the Great Barrington Declaration, a daily diet of scepticism, those questioning the “official narrative” weren’t censored, far from it, they were the central experts the Spectator relied on and promoted. There is a series of articles by Philip Thomas who produced modelling for Rishie Sunak arguing against measures claiming a 6% fall in GDP would kill more people than covid, Thomas is now part of the Spectator’s covid coverage team as is David Patton, who is a member of Hart. Voices arguing against mass infection were rarely platformed.
When the GBD came under fire for its links to the Koch funded AIER through reports by Nafeez Ahmed of the Byline Times and Gavin Yamey and David Gorski in the BMJ, it was the Spectator that published their response against accusations of eugenics.
The Conveyor Belt of Disinformation
It's remarkable how little evidence there was behind the claims made so vociferously in the Spectator. The promise of T-Cells was based on a handful of pre-prints with tiny data sets, the false positive narrative came from questionable calculations and the same applies to challenging hospitalisations and death statistics. A considerable body of evidence to the contrary was developing but this was all ignored in favour of the few studies that fit a pro-infection strategy.
Statements from the likes of Heneghan, Gupta, Kulldorf, and Bhattacharya due to their links to the world’s most prestigious universities allowed fringe views to be over represented in mainstream press and broadcast media, the contrarian commentators then advance these views in their own articles and on panel discussions, then the likes of Daily Sceptic and campaign groups repackaged these statements alongside claims and studies by other members of groups like Pandata. Individuals without relevant experience and qualifications set themselves up as additional experts through collaborations and shared platforms with the key academics of the sceptic movement, and the line between scientific research and political lobbying becomes completely blurred. The campaign groups then get their own publicity quoting sceptic articles in the media that quote the sceptic academics which then provide analysis by quoting another sceptic academic, for balance an expert working with the government or a “centrist” will be quoted which will often consist of something along the lines of “people need to take appropriate action depending on their personal risk but there’s nothing to worry about, probably peaking soon.”
I used the Spectator as an example, but a look at the Telegraph or Daily Express would have shown similar, while other publications like the Sun and Daily Mail were almost as biased. TalkRadio and GBnews once it launched in mid 2020 peddled almost exclusively in disinformation.
The #HARTleaks reveal the close relationship between sections of the media and the disinformation network.
As revealed by the Counter Disinformation Project’s reports into Pandata and the World Freedom Alliance, the authors of the GBD have worked directly with a network of organisations that stretches from mainstream media down to street level anti-vax conspiracy theorist groups calling for healthcare workers to be put on trail. By constantly publishing the corner stones of the covid hoax conspiracy theory, deaths exaggerated, questioning asymptomatic transmission, claiming measures aren’t effective, PCR false positives etc outlets like the Spectator and Telegraph helped create the conditions for these conspiracy theorists with their violent rhetoric to thrive.
Even this week the Spectator is publishing articles arguing against boosters or vaccinating younger age groups.
Those that tried to rebrand eugenics, are the same people who sold you herd immunity, are the same people encouraging others that the measures they could take to reduce their risk don’t work, and are the same people supporting a “living with covid” strategy which is disproportionately harming the vulnerable and certain communities.
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