Toby Young’s views on eugenics are ‘dark and dangerous’, says education committee chair

Janet Downs's picture

Toby Young’s views on ‘progressive eugenics’ are ‘incredibly dark and very dangerous stuff’, said Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, in the Commons yesterday

Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, responded by saying he would look at the article which Halfon waved.  Young had ‘apologised unreservedly for comments that, in some cases, were made in the 1980s’, Johnson said.  He asked MPs for ‘focus’ on what Young did rather than what he said.

But publishing an article, blog or tweet is more than just words – it is a deed.   It’s a deliberate act to publically promote views.  This can be defended by free speech.  Young used that defence to excuse his tweets.   And then censored himself by deleting thousands of them.

The article which Halfon carried into the Commons was not made before Young became involved in education, however.  It was published in September 2015

In his article, Young refers to low-income people with low IQ.   These could be given free access to screening to find the ‘smartest’  among a batch of  embryos fertilised in the lab using sperm and eggs from low IQ couples in poverty.  Quite how it would be possible to discover IQ in embryos is unclear but Young says the technology will become available.  

Young’s proposal would decrease the gap between the disadvantaged and the advantaged, he argues.  It’s not eugenics as normally understood – the weeding out of certain groups of people – because it’s ‘progressive’ and would work in favour of the poor.  And it would be voluntary.

Rather than suggesting genetic screening for intelligence to people in poverty, it might be better if policies were put in place to raise people out of poverty.  Young actually suggests this by discussing a guaranteed basic income.  But he admits he’s more interested ‘in the potential of a technology that hasn’t been invented yet: genetically engineered intelligence’.

It is Young’s reference to ‘progressive eugenics’ and its application to poor people with low IQ which disturbed Robert Halfon.

Toby Young isn’t the only person to be criticised for views about low IQ.   In 2013, when he was London Mayor, our foreign secretary Boris Johnson, brother of Jo who had the task of defending Young’s appointment yesterday, said those with low IQ not only lacked ‘raw ability’ but ‘spiritual worth’

A class of untermensch, then, comprising ‘16% of our species’?

If Halfon thinks Young’s views on IQ are dark and dangerous, he now needs to look at Boris Johnson’s.

UPDATE 14:15, 9 January 2018.  Since writing the above, Jo Johnson has been moved from his post as university minister.  He's now minister for transport.  The Times suggests the demotion was punishment for 'his botched appointment of Toby Young' at the OfS.  Johnson has been replaced by Sam Gyimah.  Gyimah was criticised by the UK Statistics Authority when he was previously  a schools minister  for misleading the 2014 Tory conference.  He had told delegates that a third of school leavers left school unable to read and write - this was not true. 

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John Bajina's picture
Tue, 09/01/2018 - 14:06

Have all Ministers and their advisers lost all sense of propriety and reason?

andy gray's picture
Tue, 09/01/2018 - 14:54

Quoting from your linked article 'And those with low IQ, Boris made clear, are those who are “already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth”. '
It takes a very particular parsing of Johnson's words to conclude he views the less able to be less spiritually worthy. One could just as equally conclude that he is arguing the opposite.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 09/01/2018 - 15:37

andy - I hope you are right.  Johnson said at the time his remarks had been 'wilfully misinterpreted'.    But a man of his intelligence should be more careful about  what he says in a speech which comments on the relative status of those with high IQ and low IQ.   His remarks were accompanied by a misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise, of the intelligence bell curve which Johnson used to imply the IQ scale was skewed to the bottom end ('16% of our species').   The thrust of his speech was that high IQ correlates with economic success - he even made a joke about the '16%' according to Business Insider.  This, of course, wasn't obvious in the reported text of the speech.

When Johnson was editor of the Spectator, he allowed the publication of an article which discussed the relative IQ of orientals (top), white (middle but nearer to orientals than blacks) and blacks (the lowest).  He's since distanced himself from the article but had no problem publishing it at the time.


agov's picture
Tue, 09/01/2018 - 14:56

Your link quotes Boris. I read that quote as him saying that people may be (or are) equal in spiritual worth but are not in raw ability. It's how you read it, surely, and what was intended.

John Bajina's picture
Tue, 09/01/2018 - 16:26

My thanks for previous two commentators urging caution on the interpretation of the Johnson Bros's observations.
Thanks to Janet too for the UPDATE 14:15, 9 January 2018. UPDATE 14:15, 9 January 2018 ''Jo Johnson has been minister for transport..... The Times suggests the demotion was punishment for 'his botched appointment of Toby Young' at the OfS.
Then we learn (his replacement) Sam Gyimah criticised by the UK Statistics Authority.... a third of school leavers left school unable to read and write.
I am afraid I must assert, UK cannot be Governed by Ministers that get their views from the Daily Mail (DM here used as a perpetrator of right dogma, as opposed to factual reporting).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 10/01/2018 - 09:42

John - andy and agov both alerted me to an alternative reading of Boris's comments which I accept.   However, Boris has form.  There's the article he allowed to be published in the Spectator, for example, although this was some time ago and may not have reflected his own opinions.   And there's the account of an extraordinary speech Boris, then London Mayor, made at an Education Reform summit (described in David Laws' books: Coalition and Coalition Diaries).  He told the delegates that the 'fine people' of Bromley caused him 'to challenge the very validity of the whole theory of evolution...'     In 2016, Boris insulted Obama by claiming his 'part-Kenyan heritage' provoked an 'ancestral dislike' of Britain.

All these could be dismissed as satire - but this is a man who's now our Foreign Secretary and was filmed having to be advised by an official that it was not appropriate to recite 'On the road to Mandalay' when in a temple of the former British colony.    

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