Sperm with a Ph.D.

I once knew someone who was a contributor to the Nobel Prize sperm bank. He wasn’t a Nobelist, but he was a smart and accomplished scientist — he just had a dewar of liquid nitrogen next to his bed, where he’d make an occasional deposit (with the assistance of his wife, he assured me), and then the samples would be shipped off for processing and…insemination, I presume. It’s not something I’d ever do, and apparently very few Nobelists actually contributed to it.

The Repository for Germinal Choice was a real thing (it’s been discontinued since the death of its founder, Robert Graham), kind of the last gasp of the scientific eugenics movement. It’s premise is typical crankery. I’ve met a fair number of Nobelists and big name scientists, and I’m sorry, they’re just people, with the usual range from nice people to total assholes — and actually, I suspect that they’re enriched for the nasty end of the scale. Scientist sperm plucked out of a vat of self-selected donors is probably actually less valuable than sperm hand-picked from a donor you know and like. Since this vat also contains sperm from notorious racist William Shockley, you’re probably best off avoiding it altogether. Also note: all of the donors were white, because of course they were, and oh no, insisted Graham, he was not a racist.

Anyway, one of the offspring of the Repository tracked down his biological “father”. The result was disappointing and troubling. I’m more troubled by the idea that people still think there’d be some great advantage to having an absentee father who had an advanced degree.

While the Repository is defunct, there are still individuals, like this one, who advertise their willingness to inseminate people. I’d also be worried…what if extreme narcissism is a heritable trait?


  1. rq says

    I’m picturing a giant vat where they pool all the donated sperm, so when you’re buying a sample, you don’t actually know who you’re going to get in the end.

  2. davidnangle says

    rq, I’m picturing a thermos, a funnel, an old copy of Hustler magazine, and when an order comes in, the proprietor… er… fills the order himself. Please tell me if human beings are more trustworthy than I think.

  3. says

    I’ve been to the sperm bank in St Cloud — it’s very professional. Lots of disease screening, careful vetting of samples, and also thorough examination of the samples for viable sperm, with poor quality samples getting incinerated. There’s also a team of people at work there, so one guy doesn’t have that opportunity. I wouldn’t say that human beings are more trustworthy, but a professional organization has a lot of checks and balances.

  4. felicis says

    I am adopted (as is my sister, from different birth parents) – I have heard that looking up your birth parents is rarely a rewarding experience. It was not the case with my sister (whose birth family has largely rejected her because she has not joined their version of Christianity), and I have never bothered to look.

    I feel very sorry for that person who looked up their sperm donor. I hope they eventually find what they are really looking for.

  5. latsot says

    there are still individuals, like this one, who advertise their willingness to inseminate people.

    I especially like his claim to have “more than 10 patents for various inventions.” What, you can’t count past 10? At least he provides a link. Unfortunately, it is just a link to another place he claims to have “more than 10 patents for various inventions.”

  6. says

    He’s just being modest. As we all know, the minimal criterion for inseminating someone is the possession of at least 10 patents.

  7. robro says

    …poor quality samples getting incinerated…

    What!!? That’s horrible. Will no one protect the poor little babies.

  8. cartomancer says

    I’ve never found a sperm bank that offers the overdraft facilities and online banking that I require with its current account…

  9. latsot says

    As we all know, the minimal criterion for inseminating someone is the possession of at least 10 patents.

    Well, quite. Actually, I’m not so fussy. As long as it’s a nice round arbitrary number of patents I’m impressed enough to accept the sperm on offer, possibly by post. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it when I’ve got it, but I don’t have any patents so what do I know? I’m open to suggestions.

  10. Derek Vandivere says

    But hey, at least he went to Stanford, “(a top ivy-league university).” Nope.

  11. opposablethumbs says

    Going to a highly-regarded university is no guarantee of anything, no matter how shiny the uni laurels. Witness the specimens who made, inhabited and emerged from such despicable cliques as the Bullingdon Club, f’rinstance. (the mentality seems not dissimilar)

  12. thirdmill says

    Serious question: Is intelligence even a heritable trait? I’ve known more than a few bright parents who produced stupid offspring and vice versa. My parents were both of below average intelligence — probably around a 90 IQ each — and their five children range from very smart to dumb as a post. I realize that my family may or may not be typical, but if it is heritable you sure couldn’t prove it from us.

  13. lotharloo says

    Serious question: Is intelligence even a heritable trait?

    Ignoring problems with actually finding a reasonable definition of “intelligence” and going with the layman definition, I’m guessing since intelligence is the result of evolution so yes, it should be heritable to some degree. The problem is that it might be very very random and having intelligent parents could only offer a very small change of producing “smart” kids.

  14. says

    “Heritable” is a specific, technical term that refers only to the heritability of the variation present in the population. It is possible for intelligence to have a heritability of 0, yet still be a product of evolution, if there were a past variant that has now become fixed in the population.

  15. dennykolb says

    “…what if extreme narcissism is a heritable trait?”

    Based on recent examples (see Trump, D.T., et. al. – 2016) that seems like a reasonable hypothesis.

  16. says

    Somehow this brought to mind:

    “….to certain chosen spermatozoa is revealed,
    semper, ubique, the propriety of proprietorship,
    the rite and religion of themselves;”
    Charles Williams Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury

  17. Louis says

    Malignant narcissists donating to sperm banks to spread their genetic children across the planet?



  18. kaleberg says

    I first heard about this sperm bank thing on CCNY’s radio station some years back. They just couldn’t resist making a few Second Coming jokes.

  19. emergence says

    The guy in that Cracked article mentions how his wife is from the Czech Republic, so he’s sure that she’s not another one of his biological father’s kids. Is it common for people produced by the same sperm donor to accidentally screw one of their siblings?

  20. anbheal says

    @23 emergence — yeah, there’s a latterday Oedipus Cycle in that question. My best friend i an SMC (Single Mother By Choice), and she went to a sperm bank at the side of the Charles and chose a man who was 6’4″ high 1400 SATs, varsity sports, blonde hair, perfect health. Sounds like a few of my nephews, one of whom was at MIT at the time. The mother checked into a registry for other donees, and 17 of them were registered to the same donor — you never see a photo or learn his name, but you have to assume they banks don’t accept donations from really unattractive men.

    So her daughter has a minimum of 17 half-sibs. The mother asked me if she should sign up, and I said no, they’re not family, if your daughter wants to track down a few half sibs later, she can sign up. But as for now, the mothers are just as likely to tell you that your daughter’s half brother needs an operation, and she’s unemployed….so don’t, was my advice. So let’s assume only half of the children to that point had registered, and let’s assume it was early one in Mr.Studly’s inseminating career, and he continued to do it through grad school, until he found a real job. So maybe he was siring 34 children a year for six years.

    And let’s say a lot of these mothers are smart independent professional women who simply didn’t need to have a husband before having a child. S thir kids might grow up to be smart and independent, maybe athletic if Mr. Studly contributed a few genes for speed or height or quickness. And maybe 80 percent of these women stay in Boston or Cambridge for the next 18 years. With a lot of their kids going to Harvard or MIT or Tufts or Brandeis or Wellesley or BC. So you could have 180 good-looking children of Mr. Studley interating at the same colleges and bars and parties.

    Then hell yeah, there’s plenty of opportunity for incest.

  21. anbheal says

    On a frivolous level, there is a superbly funny (and pornographic) novel by Roald Dahl, titled My Uncle Oswald, wherein the heroine, Yasmine Howcomely drops Sudanese Blister Beetle Powder into the cocktails of various luminaries still alive around 1930: Einstein, Freud, Marx, George V, Picasso, Nijinsy, Rachmaninoff, Nils Bohr, Caruso, etc., whch serves as an overpowering aphrodisiac, and the men have sex with her. Unbeknownst to them, there is a little diaphragm-ish receptacle inside her, which captures their sperm. Which she then sells to uppercrust women whose husbands are untalented dolts, and they want to have wonderful children. They pay a fortune for this sperm.

    Dahl wrote this well before there was any notion of sperm banks, so it’s rather a prescient notion. And yes of course, it’s main theme is almost precisely what PZ said wouldn’t work with Nobel sperm. Still, a very funny read, highly recommended, and a far cry from Dahls’ Willy Wonka and James &The Giant Peach.