In the Star Trek episode “Space Seed”, Khan was a genetically engineered human who, in the wake of the eugenic wars, was exiled to a distant planet. This Khan is a sensitive observer of the human condition, who at one point, asks Kirk if he has ever read Milton. Kirk, in turn, laments, “Yes, I understand.” Khan, of course, was a sensitive and wise commentator on the perils and potential of genetics.
There exists a second Khan, however, and his vengeful wrath has been visited upon me. This post concerns that second Khan who, unlike the first Khan, is neither sensitive nor wise. The first Khan expounds on the terrible responsibility his position has left him in. The second Khan expounds on dating and eugenics. A few samples of this second Khan’s “science” in action follow. Excerpts taken from the links above:
Khan on dating:
A few points need to be made clear: males do not exhibit statistically significant racial preferences by and large. That’s somewhat shocking to me. I’m not surprised that older subjects have weaker biases, I suspect frankly they’re more realistic and don’t want to narrow their options anymore than they have to. Finally, I’m totally confused as to why hotties would be less race conscious; you would figure if hybrid vigor is real that the marginal returns would be greatest for the fuglies (specifically, assuming that fugitude correlates with individual mutational load and hybridization would be better at masking that load). But the most relevant demographic point is that these are Columbia University graduate students. In other words, a cognitively & socially elite sample.
This selection makes me smile a bit as I am a member of the “elite” population he is writing about. Which is a nice compliment, if a bit at odds with his contention that I am a “Left Creationist”, but then who I am I to judge?
I won’t say much here, except that the second Khan’s interpretation of the phenomena of dating among “elite” graduate student bears no resemblance to actual facts on the ground. Which, when it comes to his interpretations of human behavior is par for the course. This is actually one of his better efforts, much worse follows:
Khan on eugenics:
if homosexuality is predominantly biological, and if we could predict and “correct” (or abort) this likelihood at the fetal stage I have little doubt that the majority of parents would opt to prevent their child being homosexual. That being said, a minority would not, and I am willing to bet that a hard core of “naturalists,” generally conservative and motivated by deep religious beliefs, would avoid these screens on principle. Not only do I suspect that Down Syndrome children in the future will be born predominantly to religious and social conservatives, but I suspect that a disproportionate number of homosexuals might!
I’ll let this one speak for itself.
Yesterday I wrote a perfectly mild blog post which argued two obvious and non-controversial points. First, there is a gap between science as it is practiced and science as it is reconstructed in reports. Second, the gene is not a unitary monolith, but rather a mutable concept which has changed form over the last one hundred years. Further, there are disciplinary differences in representing the gene which inform the course of inquiry within those disciplines. In short, “gene” is a concept with multiple, overlapping meanings and deployments, mainly dependent upon disciplinary focus. Far from suggesting the gene is uninteresting, I suggested that it is far more complex and subtle than commonly given credit for in its unitary formulation. Within the various questions and currents of genetics are any number of fascinating and powerful questions to be asked.
Disciplines such evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, and to a lesser extent, population genetics, I argued, rely on the conception of the gene put forth by Johannsen in 1909. Johannsen argued that the gene should be considered as a unit of transmission divorced from its chemical composition. The important intellectual move made by Johannsen was developing a concept that address the complex phenomena of transmission without connecting them to the elementary phenomena which are assumed to effect the actual transmitting. Hence, when the molecular program came in and effected the modern synthesis, it was very quickly realized that the molecular did not simplify and explain Johannsen’s concept, but rather added a layer of complexity. In the manner of all interesting science, it brought not answers, but new and sharper questions about the relation of elementary to complex phenomena.
Now, this should be no surprise to anyone with even cursory knowledge of the history of genetics, which Khan apparently lacks. The modern synthesis is built on the combination of two disparate conceptions of the gene. This is the import of the word synthesis in the phrase “the modern synthesis.”
The history of psychology makes an interesting comparison with the development of the gene concept. One hundred years ago Wundt and Kulpe had a sharp disagreement over the nature of psychology centered around the relation of the elementary phenomena studied by the experimental faction to the complex phenomena studied by Wundt’s faction. Both authored books titled Grundriss der Psychologie in the same year! But, I’ll write about psychology at a later date.
For next time I will dig deeper into the second Khan’s theory of eugenics (dating I’ll leave to someone else) and shake out the ideology from the science. We shall find how how much of the first Khan’s statement, “Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity, but improve man and you gain a thousandfold”, exists in the second Khan’s science.