I get to travel to Groningen to see my friend. She has been following online and also studies art theory but her study friends PHD scientist are a bit taken aback by my pinkness. I try to explain that it’s for research, to gauge and measure public opinion about wearing something totally revealing but unflattering. I’m a not sex symbol. It doesn’t compute. I explain I do empirical observations.
Science vs art
The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank
Robert Graham invented shatterproof plastic eyeglasses, and acquired a large nest egg of a hundred million dollars. Along the way, he became obsessed with the idea that the human race was in genetic decline. In 1980 he opened the Repository for Germinal Choice, one of the very first sperm banks. The idea was to collect the seed of the world’s best men – preferable Nobel prize winners – and distribute it to the world’s smart women, and thus kind of create a cadre of new brilliant scientists and leaders who would stave off the dumb hordes who were threatening to take over the world.
What happened to them? Were they the brilliant offspring that Graham expected? Did any of the “superman” fathers care about the unknown sons and daughters who bore their genes? What were the mothers like?
For nearly three years, journalist David Plotz worked as a semen detective to try and gauge the success of Graham’s eugenic obsession. Criss-crossing the country, he tracked down some of the donors and offspring of the notorious California sperm bank, a bank that claimed to offer the genes of society’s smartest men. Plotz chronicles his investigations in the book ‘The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank’.
In early 2001, Plotz put out a story on the Slate website, the magazine he was employed at – and invited anyone who had been involved in the sperm bank (as a donor, child, mother or employee) to contact him if they wanted to tell their story.
Many of the donors where not what they made themselves out to be – neither brilliant minds not renaissance men. The kids he were in touch with, were in general, above-average students, but there was a wide range of talent. Plotz says: “I think the important question to ask about the Nobel Prize sperm bank is what kind of woman goes to a Nobel Prize sperm bank, and the kind of woman who goes there is bound and determined to have an accomplished child. I think they would have had accomplished children whether they’d gone to the Nobel Prize sperm bank or whether they’d gone to Joe’s discount sperm warehouse. It didn’t make a difference”. Plotz nonchalantly conlcudes that nurture won over nature and that the genius factory didn’t produce any geniusses. His invesgigation is also a foreboding for future genetic expectation – parents ‘shopping’ for genes might not produce the results you desire.
- Plotz, David. The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. (2006). Random House.