The Genius Factory by David Plotz

Robert Klark Graham invented shatterproof eyeglass lenses and got rich. He worried that too many black and stupid people were breeding. He proposed to counteract this flood of idiot offspring by providing smart – and white – sperm to smart women, free of charge. The resulting superbabies would slowly but surely spread their elite genes through the reproductive pool, stemming the mediocre, mongrel tide spawned by government assistance to the poor, the colored, and the unfit.

So he poured millons into a state of the art sperm bank in 1980. More than 200 children were fathered by the Repository’s color-coded donors, glowingly described in its catalog as eminent scientists, Olympic athletes, and prominent businessmen.

In fact, it only had one openly acknowledged Nobel-winner in its catalog – William Shockley, a notorious racist – and his donations never resulted in a birth. But hopeful mothers hoped for greatness from the bank’s frozen straws of semen.

In a series of articles for the online magazine Slate, David Plotz solicited customers and children of the sperm bank to contact him as he tried to piece together the Repository’s history. Not only did he hear from them, he became their last hope for discovering lost fathers and reconstructing origin stories.

Plotz wound up as more a “sperm detective” than a journalist, and in The Genius Factory, he intersperses his intimate investigations into strangers’ family dynamics with histories of eugenics, anonymous sperm donation, and Graham’s grand folly.

A readable book.


5 Responses to “The Genius Factory by David Plotz”

  1. What happened as a result of the investigation? Have any geniuses been established? I suppose not going from your calling it a grand folly.

  2. @Parth: sorry – i should have said.

    The Nobel Prize sperm bank had no Nobel Prize donors, no Nobel sperm left in storage and no Nobel babies. None of the first three women who’d been inseminated with Nobel sperm had gotten pregnant. In fact, no one inseminated with the Nobel sperm ever got pregnant. The Nobel Prize sperm bank would never produce a single Nobel baby.

  3. @Parth:

    Plotz recounts the efforts of the women who visit the repository to discover the identities of their donors. As he gets to know a cluster of families and donors we see the unforeseen emotional consequences of artificial insemination. The “reunions” his research helps bring about include the elderly scientist who adopts a grandfatherly role in a young girl’s life and a teenager who takes his wife and infant son along to meet his “dad” and finds him sharing a house with Florida drug dealers.

    So, as we know all along, the kids are not supergeniuses. They are kids just brought up by overachieving mohters – the kind of mothers who want a superbaby – and spare no effort to raise them as such. The kids are no smarter or dumber than any other person brought up in their circumstances.

  4. I’d be skeptical of any Nobel laureate that endorsed such an idea. Here’s a quote from one of Graham’s article:
    “Specifically, if you are in good health and your intelligence is substantially above average, you should have at least five children. A family of five bright children is really one of the greatest blessing a man and woman can have in their lifetime. When you can give to children the most lasting, the most persistently satisfying, the most all around useful of natural endowments- -a really good mind- -give generously. This giving does not deplete your fund.”.
    Methinks it’d be ironic if Graham was one of the sperm donors to his grand idea.

  5. The Product Says:

    Funny, both myself and my younger sister are fairly well balanced people in my opinion. I haven’t felt any of these ‘consequences’ of artificial insemination and I’m pretty sure that she hasn’t either. Coincidentally, we are both born from donor ‘turquoise’, we have both met him, and it hasn’t really seemed to affect our relationships with our parents.

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