Reflections on My Life as a Eugenicist

By Marian Van Court

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            One Saturday afternoon when I was 12-years-old, I was at home in Memphis sitting in our den, staring into space, when my father walked into the room.

            “Marian, are you aware of the fact that intelligence is largely hereditary?” he asked.

            I frowned slightly, and paused for a moment to consider what he had just said. 

            “Yes,” I nodded. “I agree.”

             I had never really thought about it, but in a normal world, long before political correctness, it seemed like common sense.

            “OK, so here’s the problem,” he said.  “Smart people have fewer children than stupid people have, which means that we’re all becoming more and more stupid with each new generation.”

            I just started at him, dumbstruck.  Maybe he thought that I didn’t even care, since I didn’t say anything, but the reality is that I was horrified.  If what he said were true, that was about the worst news imaginable.  I can still remember very clearly looking out the window at a typical sunny suburban scene, with kids skating along and riding their bikes.  I thought to myself, How can everybody carry on the way they always do, as if the world is just fine?  We should all stop what we‘re doing and solve this problem immediately!

            I think the reason the idea of dysgenics (genetic deterioration) struck me so forcefully is that my family and friends and teachers and acquaintances varied a great deal in intelligence, and I was quite sensitive to these differences.  Some people were very bright, and some very dull, with all gradations in between.  But it mattered a lot to me, just like kindness and honesty mattered to me.  Intelligence is very valuable, and if, in fact, we’re losing it, this is a disaster.  But gradually this conversation receded into memory.

University of California, Berkeley

            Fast forward to UC Berkeley, 1970:  I learned in psychology class that heredity is, in fact, extremely important in human intelligence, as it is in numerous other traits.  Identical twins separated at birth are amazingly similar to one another in adulthood, and adopted children grow up to resemble their biological parents, but not their adopting parents.  I overheard a classmate saying afterwards, “Yeah, but I still think it’s better to believe everything is caused by the environment, because that way, you can do something about it.”  I shook my head ruefully.

            Despite having more than its share of radical, left-wing crackpots,  I adored UC Berkeley.  It was paradise, really.  I had spent so many painfully boring years growing up in Memphis, and here was Heaven on earth for anyone who craved intellectual stimulation and had a quest for knowledge.  Curiosity was the driving force, and there – finally – it could be satisfied!  Praise be to God!  This was a wonderful, exciting time in my life, with one gorgeous, sunny day after another, a beautiful campus, and so many brilliant professors.


            The culture of the San Francisco Bay Area was light years ahead of where I grew up. Even the air was terrific – crisp and clear and invigorating, as opposed to the stultifying atmosphere (both climate and culture) that I had long endured in Memphis.  The average person was smarter and more interesting.  I was so grateful to be there.  I’m an avid music lover, and the rock scene was fantastic, plus San Francisco even had an opera house.  There was energy and excitement in the air.  This was the kind of life I’d craved ever since I was born.

            One day I was talking with a friend, a retired professor, who was the leader of Zero Population Growth for the Bay Area.  We both agreed that over-population was a problem, but it seemed to me that the people who would most likely be influenced by ZPG would be smart, well-educated, and altruistic, with a sense of social responsibility, and these were all traits we needed more of, not less.  Whether these traits are hereditary or environmental or a combination of both, the principle of “like begets like” still applies.  So he invited me to give a presentation at the up-coming meeting of all regional leaders held yearly in northern California.  Looking back today, I smile when I recall that I honestly expected them to welcome my talk with enthusiasm.  I was quite naive (21-years-old), but I should have had enough common sense to realize that some of them had been working on ZPG for years, and they were all “Rah, rah!” about the cause, yet I had the impertinence to stand there and tell them (very politely, of course) that all their hard work was actually doing more harm than good!!  But they listened attentively until the end, when a middle-aged physician became positively livid.  “What you’re talking about is exactly the reason we fought World War II!” he declared angrily.  I really had no idea how to respond to that, so I just stared at him for a long, awkward moment, and then sat down.  Interestingly enough, three regional leaders came up to me afterwards to thank me, saying they had exactly the same misgivings.

            Sometimes I used to think that it may have been a mistake ever to graduate from Cal Berkeley, that maybe I should have stayed there indefinitely and taken every single class that was of any interest whatsoever.  I studied psychology, and a good deal of political science and history, especially modern European history, because it was inherently interesting, and because I felt I needed to figure out once and for all exactly where I stood politically, just for my own peace of mind.  (I believe in democracy and free enterprise, and I’m liberal on most social issues.)  Perhaps paradoxically, however, I had no interest whatsoever in current politics.  There were various political parties on campus – in addition to SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, a radical left-wing group), there were the Young Republicans, the Young Democrats, and so on, but I had the most sympathy for the Happy Birthday Party, and especially the Apathy Party (although I never got around to actually joining).

Marian Van Court (1970)


Arthur R. Jensen

            On campus at this time there was a big to-do about Arthur R. Jensen’s 1969 Harvard Educational Review article which stated that part of the black-white IQ gap may well be genetic.

When the student elections were held, there was a referendum on the ballot asking whether or not Jensen should be fired.  I, of course, voted No, but the referendum was irrelevant because Jensen had tenure and couldn’t be fired anyway.  I thought the whole thing was ridiculous.  Either there’s a genetic component to the black-white difference in IQ, or there’s not, but whatever is true, he didn’t make it that way!  So this was a classic case of “attacking the messenger.”

            Of course, everyone in the South had always assumed that black people are less innately intelligent, even most black people.  At any rate, the controversy began to pique my interest, so I decided to take an “independent study” course, and I found a psychology professor willing to sponsor it.  My topic was simply Jensen vs. his opponents, and my objective was to read both sides to see where the preponderance of evidence lay.  So one day I visited Jensen in his office for the first time.

            He was very friendly and helpful, and he gave me not only copies of his articles, but copies of his opponents articles, too.  We had a very pleasant chat, and pretty soon he asked me about my Southern accent.  I told him I was from Memphis, Tennessee.  He tilted his chair back, and rubbed his chin.

             “Oh yeah, so you’re from Tennessee,” he said thoughtfully.  “Hmm, well – did you know that Tennessee has got the absolute lowest average IQ . . . of any state . . .  in the entire country?!

            I was kind of at a loss for what to say to that, but I must have told this story 10 times, and it always gets a laugh.

            Jensen also told me that he’d had a number of death threats, and that the campus police had to escort him across campus.  He kept a buzzer in his pocket at all times to push in case of emergency – he said that once he pushed it by accident in his office, and the police showed up almost instantaneously.      

            After reading numerous articles, my final conclusion was that the bulk of evidence was on Jensen’s side.  The professor who’d agreed to sponsor my study looked visibly disappointed when I told her.  I had lunch with her one day, and she asked me why anyone even wants to study such things in the first place.  She thought that Jensen should do some other kind of research because his results wounded the pride of black people.  At the time, I felt intuitively that the truth must be told, even if it’s painful, but I couldn’t really articulate that at the time.  Now, however, I can. 

            With the assumption that blacks and whites are exactly equal in average IQ, for example, how could anyone possibly explain the huge differences in academic achievement? In criminal convictions?  In income?  Is it because whites are evil, holding blacks down somehow?  But if white racism is the problem, who is holding blacks down in Africa?  Or maybe the teachers are at fault.  One study found that there aren’t enough books in the houses of poor black children – it suggested that we should give them lots more books.  Finger-pointing could go on indefinitely.  To say that blacks and whites are exactly equal in average IQ is a lie, and it causes unrealistic expectations.  Jensen told me that in high schools where courses are offered that teach a trade, the less-intelligent white kids take these courses, but the black kids don’t because they feel like it’s beneath them – they want to stay on the college track despite the fact that they’re failing.  It’s not some academic’s research in a scholarly journal that’s hurting blacks, and maintaining the lie won’t help them.  What hurts blacks is the day-to-day circumstances of their lives – their poverty, their lack of achievement, and their disproportionate amount of time spent in prison (all of which could be helped by eugenics.)

            In addition, this lie negatively affects our entire society.  It’s corrupted all the social sciences, where no one is permitted to utter the truth for fear of losing his job, being ostracized, or failing the course.  The rationale for affirmative action derives, at least in part, from the assumption that the races are “really” equal in average ability, despite what the tests show, but the fact is that affirmative action is blatantly unfair to millions of individuals, almost all whites, and it’s also unfair, in a sense, to blacks, many of whom are put in situations where they lack the ability to succeed.  Furthermore, it harms the entire economy –  any deviation from meritocracy causes inefficiency, and that means loss of money for the company, the organization, and for the nation.

            Next semester, I went to my anthropology class one day, and the professor had brought in a woman guest speaker to give us a lecture (a warning, to be more precise) about Jensen’s ideas.  It was strange because the issue of race and IQ was completely unrelated to anything we were studying.  Anyway, the class was held in a huge lecture hall, and I got more and more nervous as she recited all the usual propaganda points:  “IQ tests were created by white men so they are inherently biased against blacks;” “Jensen is a racist;” “Race doesn’t exist;” “IQ means nothing.”  I knew I couldn’t just sit there and listen to her spread lies to hundreds of students with no rebuttal from me.  I was petrified at the prospect of speaking to an enormous crowd like this – whereas most people experience fear of speaking in public, for me, it was more like abject terror.  I can speak haltingly from notes, but I wasn’t expecting this, so I had no notes. Extemporaneously, I’m so nervous that by the time I get to the end of my sentence, I’ve already forgotten the beginning (which is a serious handicap for anyone trying to make sense!)  But in the end, my righteous indignation won out – she was spreading lies, and I just couldn’t let her get away with it!  So I took a deep breath, commanded myself to focus, and I raised my hand. 

            Since this was long ago, I don’t honestly remember exactly what I said.  I could have babbled away incoherently (not really!), but I think maybe it went something like this: “First of all, you say that IQ tests are biased against blacks in favor of whites, but if that’s true, why do Chinese and Japanese children in the U.S. score better, on average, that everyone else?  Secondly, you say that blacks score low because they’ve been “culturally deprived,” but low-class white kids average higher IQ scores than upper middle-class black kids.  Third, IQ predicts success equally well for all races, and IQ predicts success better than anything else – in fact, there’s a correlation of about .6 with success in school and in life – so how can anything that ‘means nothing’ predict success so well?” Just as I was finishing my last sentence, I was literally struck blind.  My eyes were wide open, but all I saw was total blackness!  I blinked 8 or 10 times, and then (thank God!) my vision returned.  This never happened to me before or since, and I can only guess that it had something to do with the tidal wave of adrenalin that had washed over me.

            Around this time, I heard about William Shockley, a professor at Stanford who became an extremely outspoken proponent of eugenics.  He had won the Nobel Prize for invention of the transistor.  As the story goes, Shockley first became interested in eugenics when he read an article in the newspaper about a woman on welfare who had 13 children, but couldn’t remember all their names.  I thought it might be a good idea to talk with him, so I wrote him a letter, and one day he called me on the phone.  We talked for a while, and he invited me to visit him and his wife in Palo Alto, but somehow it never worked out.  I knew he was in communication with Jensen, who thought he was brilliant but quite eccentric, and seriously deficient in social skills.  Jensen’s wife, Barbara, made a clever remark about him – she said he had “negative charisma.”  I remember Shockley used to say that he’d debate any of his critics “any time, any place – as long as they’re hooked up to a lie-detector machine!”

            I invited my best friend since 4th grade to come out from Memphis and live with me in Berkeley.  She was confined to a wheelchair after breaking her neck in a childhood accident, and she didn’t have much of a life sitting in the backyard all day by the pool.  In Berkeley, it was not uncommon to see disabled people riding around in electric wheelchairs.  So I spent months helping my friend get established in her new home.  She got an electric wheelchair, her parents bought her a house near campus and had it equipped with ramps, and she started taking classes.  This was a great thing for her, enabling her to lead a much richer and more normal life. We’d been best friends for many years, but eventually her hoodlum-boyfriend heard about my politically incorrect views, and gave her an ultimatum – it was either him or me, so she chose him.  I didn’t cry myself to sleep, because losing friends was starting to become a common occurrence. 

            Without thinking about it, I just naturally tried to form my beliefs based on facts and evidence, and I assumed that other people did the same.  But gradually I came to realize that many people care only about which beliefs are socially acceptable, and others form their beliefs about what is true based on what they wish were true (a.k.a. “wishful thinking”), and what’s worse, they assume everyone else does this, too.  So from their viewpoint, if I believe part of the black-white IQ difference is probably genetic, that means that I wish that were true, ergo, I’m mean and hateful!  In addition (and what may be even more damning), I’m terribly uncool!

            Looking back, there were ominous early warning signs of my “free-thinking,” “non-conformist,” “iconoclastic” tendencies, even as a little girl.  In the elementary school I attended, girls always wore dresses, with no exceptions.  But each year, once a year, on an especially  pretty day in April or May, I wore Bermuda shorts to school in my own personal celebration of Spring.  Nobody said a word.  Then when I was 14, I refused to go to church any more because I just didn’t believe what I was supposed to believe.  I decided I could never be a Christian (although I believe in God), and I wasn’t going to pretend to be one.  Nearly everyone in the South goes to church, so this didn’t go over well at all.  Later, in high school, we were supposed to give a speech about which candidate we supported for president, Goldwater or Johnson.  This presented me with quite a dilemma.  The problem was that I honestly could not have cared less, so that became my speech – about exactly, precisely how much I did not care!  (The teacher liked me, so I got an A for originality.)

University of California, Santa Barbara

            In 1975, I was excited to begin the doctoral program in Psychobiology at UCSB.  It was a far cry from the excellence of Berkeley, but then so were the vast majority of other places.  I had always been interested in sex differences, so I began studying the effects of pre-natal hormones on masculine and feminine behavior. 

            Things got off to a good start.  The campus was nice, and my course work was interesting.  The weather was gorgeous, and there were lots of bike paths, so I had fun cruising around on my 10-speed.  But I had two problems.  First, my academic advisor was a tall, thin, 60-ish, rather eccentric guy whose behavior didn’t bode well for my future.  He played “footsie” with me under the table when a bunch of us went out for beer, and when we were sitting alone together in his office, he would put his hand on my knee.  I had long blonde hair, and I was young, but I wasn’t a child, and I had fended off unwanted advances before, but that was always on a date.  This was different.  I should have pushed his hand off, and if he put it back again, I should have done something, maybe stomped on his foot, or at least walked out.  But the problem was that his eyes glazed over, and frankly he looked insane, so I just sat there in a state of paralysis.

            My second problem was even worse.  All doctoral students had offices in the psychology building which they shared with one other student, and my office-mate was a rather unattractive guy – let’s just call him Rat-Bastard.  We got along fine, but we didn’t talk much because I worked really hard.  Then one day he asked me the source of my income, which wasn’t exactly  polite.  I was trying to be nice to him – even though he was a creep – so I told him I had a National Science Foundation fellowship and I also got financial aid.  He said, “Oh, you can’t have both.  It’s not allowed.”  I wasn’t worried because I’d been totally honest on my application, and they had given me both, and even added together it was still a modest sum.  Two days later, however, I got a call from the Financial Aid Office, and they told me that henceforth, I would get no more financial aid on account of the fact that I had a NSF fellowship. “But the fellowship is so small,” I protested, “it’s not enough to live on!” “It doesn’t matter,” she replied. “Those are the rules.”

            Rat-Bastard!  So, after two semesters, I was forced to drop out of graduate school.  In retrospect, I realize that he might have been a sadist, or maybe he was angry at some perceived slight, but by far the most likely explanation is that he overheard me say something in defense of Jensen, so I guess he decided he’d do the world a favor by ruining the career of a “racist.” I hardly ever talked about Jensen, but if the subject came up, I knew enough about the controversy to make one or two points on his side.  And (silly me) I thought we were supposed to be scientists, not ideologues!  At any rate, as I cleaned out the desk in my office, R-B sat there and watched me with a look of smug satisfaction on his ugly face.  I remember wishing that pesky law against assault and battery could be suspended for just one day, so I could go get my cast iron frying pan!  Kaa-pow!!  


            My advisor at UC Santa Barbara had suggested I take a leave of absence instead of dropping out entirely, so when I got back home to Berkeley, this made it possible for me to take a few graduate classes at UC Berkeley, including one with Jensen.  I was glad to see him again, and I was kind of relieved, too, because I was beginning to feel like the rest of the world had gone berserk.  The controversy raged on, and the campus paper, The Daily Californian, ran an article about Jensen, along with his picture, and they asked him how he was reacting to all the fuss.  He said he was doing fine, and that he was pretty much “unflappable.”  

            My boyfriend and I got married during this time – he had been my teaching assistant for one of my psychology classes. He was funny, and very smart, and we played tennis every day. We got along well, except that he believed what we’re all “supposed” to believe, whereas I did not, but it didn’t seem like a big thing.  I remember telling Jensen that I’d recently gotten married, and he asked me how my husband felt about my beliefs – I replied that he tolerated them.  But now this conversation seems more significant to me than it did at the time, because I’ve come to realize that holding unpopular beliefs can be a source of friction, sometimes very serious friction, not only between friends, but within families as well.  I know that his wife, Barbara, was very supportive of his work, but his mother never forgave him.  I ended up divorcing my husband several years later for other reasons, but it probably didn’t help that he often referred to me as “the Nazi.”

            I worked at part-time jobs while I continued to read and study.  I applied to the University of Minnesota so I could work with Thomas Bouchard on the famous Minnesota Twin Study, which united identical twins from all over the world who had been separated at birth.  All the people involved in the study – including the twins and the researchers themselves – were surprised at their striking degree of similarity.  The twins were delighted to meet their co-twins, and they became instant friends.  Of course, they were very similar in IQ.  But what also captivated my interest was that identical twins separated at birth had the same laugh, the same gestures, the same phobias, similar taste in clothes, the same favorite subjects in school, similar vegetable aversions, and similar (but not identical) religious and political beliefs.  The fact that the twins often shared minutely specific traits and idiosyncracies filled me with a sense of wonder.  It’s almost as if a baby is born, and he is who he is.  He grows, he matures, he learns (and what he learns matters), and gradually he becomes an adult, with full adult consciousness.  But the Minnesota Twin Study really brings home the fact that a baby is hardly a tabula rasa [blank slate], as political correctness would have us all believe.          

            I was looking forward to starting the Fall semester at the U of Minn, but I got sick with recurrent sinus infections, so I wrote to the Psychology Department and asked if I could begin the following year, and they agreed.  For that entire year, I took broad-spectrum antibiotics repeatedly, and then one day, I got really sick. The doctors couldn’t figure out what it was, so they concluded that it must, therefore, be “psychological.”  So for the entire next year, I saw one doctor after another after another about this new “mystery illness,” and they all gave me the same bogus “diagnosis.”  Their assumption was that if they didn’t know what it was, it must, therefore, be nothing!  In fact, it was more of an insult than a diagnosis (and for this they’re supposed to get paid money?)  I never doubted for a second that I was sick, but I finally went to a psychiatrist just so I could tell the doctors I went.  In retrospect, I realize that I was extremely lucky that the guy I saw was honest and had common sense.  He told me I was definitely not crazy, and that I was obviously sick.  He said that “psychological” is just a convenient, face-saving way to get rid of patients when doctors reach a dead end diagnostically.  I agreed with him, but it seemed like such an unenlightened thing to do, both arrogant and unkind.  Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t figure out what’s wrong with you,” they prefer to say, “You must have some kind of mental problem.” By this time, I was beginning to seriously wonder if physicians will be over-represented in Hell. The psychiatrist also predicted that I would eventually diagnose myself, which turned out to be prescient.

            I had already started going to the medical school library at the University of California, San Francisco.  After 1 ½ years of the new “mystery illness,” I’d lost 40 pounds.  (I lost 40 pounds, yet I wasn’t on a diet!  That should be a clue to those deadbeat doctors that something was wrong!)  At this point I was 5'8" tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds.  I knew I’d have to figure it out myself, and that I didn’t have forever to do it, because I was wasting away.  Finally, after several months of searching, I figured out what was wrong with me and how to treat it. (It was extremely rare, and didn’t even have a name.)  I mailed a copy of the journal article to my Berkeley doctor, with the relevant passages highlighted in yellow.  He ordered the blood test, the results confirmed my diagnosis, he prescribed the recommended drug, and I was completely well again in a few weeks. 

            Then – with a very bony finger, and vengeance in my heart – I dialed a famous malpractice lawyer in San Francisco.  After a lengthy discussion, he concluded that we could have nailed them for malpractice, except that I sustained no permanent damage.  I did, however, waste 2 years of my life.

            A word of explanation about my overall health is necessary at this point.  All my life, I’ve had a very marked lack of physical stamina, and far more illness than most people.  Eventually, I was diagnosed with a minor heart defect and an immune deficiency (both of which I predicted as far back as junior high school based on my experiences).  (Both are genetic.)  When I was an undergraduate, I took classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so I could stay home and rest on Tuesday and Thursday.  My grades were good, but I didn’t always make all As.  I was already working at my full capacity, which was kind of like having 2-3 fewer usable hours per day than everybody else had, or like being a 4-cylinder car when everybody else is a 6-cylinder or 8-cylinder car.  Once I had a regular 40-hour/week job in an office, and I called in sick almost every single Wednesday because it was just too exhausting.  So the point is that poor health has been a life-long problem for me, and a constant source of anxiety.

Nathaniel & Sylvia Weyl

            I read several interesting articles about eugenics by Nathaniel Weyl in the Mankind Quarterly, and then I read his book The Creative Elite in America.  I wrote him a letter, and we struck up a fascinating correspondence.  Nathaniel and his wife Sylvia invited me to visit them at their home in Boca Raton, Florida, so the next time I went to Memphis to visit my family, I decided to fly down to see them.  They had all the same heretical beliefs that I did, such as eugenics, and race differences in IQ, so it was a celebration of kindred spirits  We had so much fun together, and when it was time for me to go, we all hated to say good-bye.

            “Thank you so much for inviting me,” I said.  “I really had a fabulous time.”

            “It’s been wonderful having you,” Sylvia said.  “We’ve had a marvelous time, too.”

            “Yeah,” Nathaniel concurred.  “We’re really gonna miss you!”

            “And I’m gonna miss you, too!” I exclaimed

            I looked up at the ceiling as I processed a thought.

            “Say, I’ve got an idea,” I suggested, only half facetiously.  “Why don’t I go home to Berkeley, get all my stuff, move in, and live here indefinitely?”

            “Great!” they exclaimed in unison. 

            So I did!

            The year I lived as Nathaniel and Sylvia’s house guest was one of the best times of my life.  They were in their late 60s, and both of them were fascinating, wonderful people.  Living with them was peaceful emotionally, and stimulating intellectually.  We often went to the beach in the afternoon, and then sat out in the garden drinking champagne, talking about everything under the sun.  Sylvia was a Jew, and Nathaniel ½ Jewish, but he identified with Jews.  Despite being Jewish herself, Sylvia actively disliked Jews, and found them physically ugly.  Her mother had changed their last name to Castleton, and Sylvia always made it a point to sign her name “Sylvia Castleton Weyl.”

            Nathaniel was a raconteur with a treasure trove of interesting stories. Both Nathaniel and Sylvia had been card-carrying Communists – in fact, that’s how they met – until they learned about the secret treaty between Stalin and Hitler, when they renounced Communism and told the FBI everything they knew.  Nathaniel testified at the famous treason trial of Alger Hiss.  He told me once that a Jewish organization had approached him about assassinating Hitler, but he declined.  I asked him why, and he replied quite candidly, “I didn’t want to do it ‘cause I might have gotten hurt!” 

            I remember one typical sunny afternoon in Boca – I had just gone to the grocery store, and I was pushing the shopping cart out to my car.  I noticed this very old car creeping slowly along, circling the parking lot.  Two black men, both very dark and somewhat sinister-looking, seemed to be checking out the situation, and I felt an instinctive wave of fear.  Then they came right up beside me, about 3 feet away, and the man on the passenger’s side stuck his head out of the window, and he shouted at me:

            “Why don’t you get out the street, white bitch?!”

            In an instant, knee-jerk reaction, I turned and shouted right back at him:

            “Why don’t you drop dead, greasy nigger?!”           

            Jesus Christ!! I thought to myself.  What have I done now?!

            Immediately the two men got into a heated argument.  I can only guess what they were saying: “I’m gonna kill that f-ing bitch!”  “Listen to me m-f, I ain’t going back to the joint, so if you gonna shoot the bitch, then you can get the f- out my car!”

            I put the groceries in the trunk with a sort of controlled alacrity, because I was trying to get the hell out of there, but without looking terrified.  Soon I was in my car, and then back home to safety.  Whew!  Note:  I do not recommend this to anyone!  If I had thought it over for two seconds, I would have kept my mouth shut like any normal, sensible person would do.  Unfortunately this kind of behavior runs in my family – my mother told me that once she and my father were walking into a restaurant in Memphis, and a black guy ran up and snatched her purse, so my father (aged 70) chased him down the street!

            I took some graduate classes in statistics at Florida Atlantic University while I was there in Boca Raton.  The head of the Psychology Department said it would be OK to use several personal letters I’d gotten from Jensen and Cattell as letters of recommendation for admission.  I didn’t even look at them, but now I think they must have mentioned eugenics.  At any rate, one of the professors I met was very friendly, and he invited me to have lunch with him the next day, but when I arrived at his office, he informed me rather coldly that he changed his mind, and that he was going to eat a sandwich alone in his office.  Soon thereafter I was in another professor’s lab talking to him, and there were 2 grad students kind of joking and horsing around.  One of them sort of shoved his friend forward, and said to me, “Here’s Roger, kill him, he’s stupid!”

            It was instantly clear that I was poison as far as the Psychology Department was concerned – but it was so unfair!  Dozens of incidents like this peppered my career, and I was sick of it.  I probably should have asked for a meeting and given them a short lecture on what my true beliefs really were – most of the time, it’s the word that upsets people.  The race issue is different, but concerning eugenics, when I explain to people what I actually believe, many people agree with me – they just don’t like the word because, like the 2 grad students, they think “eugenics” means “kill all the dumb people” or something equally draconian.

            During my year in Boca, I applied to a handful of doctoral programs, and was accepted, I think in part because of Jensen’s letter of recommendation.  Ironically, even though he was pilloried by the popular media, he was very highly respected by first-rate professors in the field.  I remember reading his Bias in Mental Testing that year, which was a terrific book, mentally stimulating and a model of lucid writing. He was a master of explaining complex ideas simply and clearly.

            I didn’t apply to UC Berkeley because I was afraid that if I were accepted, I might disappoint Jensen because my serious lack of physical stamina made it impossible to work long hours, and then he might want to get rid of me, but it would be extremely awkward.  I considered going to the University of Hawaii to work with Cattell, but he was a psychometrician, and I never did particularly well in math.  I couldn’t believe it when I made a decent score on the math GRE (not super, but respectable), because I always thought I was just plain stupid.  Actually, I still think I’m stupid, at least in math.  At any rate, I don’t like it, and it intimidates me.  But that was a shame because Cattell was an absolutely honorable man, which matters a great deal for one’s academic advisor.  Plus he openly espoused eugenics.

            I finally decided to go to the University of Texas in Austin, so after spending one whole year as Nathaniel and Sylvia Weyl’s house guest, I moved there in 1980 to begin work on my doctorate in psychology.  I hoped that my health would hold up at least long enough to finish the degree.

University of Texas, Austin

            The Psychology Department, like most fields of study, is divided into specialties, such as Clinical, Biological, and Cognitive.  But at the U of TX (unlike most places) there was also a Differential Department, which is why I was there.  Differential psychology is very much a continuation of the “London school” of psychology started by Francis Galton in the 19th century.  It deals with genetic and environmental influences on individual differences and group differences (such as sex and race differences) in IQ, personality, and behavior.  This was definitely the best place for me to be. 

            Although the weather is hot and humid in the Summer, Austin is a surprisingly good town, with good live music and good restaurants.  I liked my classes, and I discovered that I enjoyed teaching.  Since I had sub-normal stamina, I figured that it would be wise for me to forgo socializing and “fun” (like movies), so I could conserve what strength I had to devote to work.  I only made one new friend, my roommate, Wan Ying, who was a visiting professor of Computer Science from the University of Shanghai.  She told fascinating stories about the Cultural Revolution when all the professors were forced to leave the universities to go work in the rice patties, and she slept in a barn with chickens and pigs.  I was a bit surprised that we had almost exactly the same sense of humor, despite belonging to different races and having grown up in totally different worlds.  Wan Ying and I even laughed at the same Monty Python skits.

            In my second year, I met Frank Bean, a demographer in the Sociology Department.  He had a terrific data set called The General Social Survey.  Each year the GSS interviews a very large, random sample of the U.S. population, and the survey included a short vocabulary test, data on number of children, plus lots of other variables, and this spanned most of the 20th century.  The vocabulary test was perfect as an IQ test for use in large demographic studies.  The opportunity of a lifetime was sitting right there in front of me, and I knew it.  I was excited!  This was exactly, precisely, the research I’d always wanted to do.

            People had been commenting on the fact that smart people have few children since the days of ancient Rome.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the problem became much worse because the smartest people learned about the new methods of contraception and used them correctly, whereas less-smart people did not.  Casual observation seemed to suggest that there was a negative correlation between intelligence and number of offspring, and studies were conducted in England and America to test this, but the results were inconclusive because of methodological flaws.  I felt quite certain that we were currently witnessing dysgenic fertility in the U.S., and there was just one obstacle to my dream study – the computer.  I had zero experience, and back then, computers weren’t as “user friendly” as they are now. 

            Each day, I took the elevator up to the Population Research Center at the top of that famous tower where, in the mid-1960s, a maniac with a rifle shot at students walking around below. There were a bunch of guys up there, sitting at computers, working.  They were all experts, whereas I was a complete novice.  Frank told them they had to help me, but they didn’t much like it, and they gave me the nickname “Space Cadet.”  I had a hard time, but after weeks of angst and frustration, it just hit me all of a sudden, in a flash, and I understood!  Glory hallelujah!  Very soon, I had results.  My hypothesis was confirmed, that we had, in fact, had negative correlations between IQ and number of children (dysgenic fertility) for most of the 20th century.  I wrote up the paper, Frank and I sent it to the journal Intelligence, and it was published in 1984.[1] I was very proud of this study because it was the first large, methodologically-sound research on the relationship between fertility and IQ ever conducted, and the Differential faculty members were duly impressed.

Robert Klark Graham

            Robert Klark Graham invented the plastic used for shatter-proof eyeglasses, and he made a fortune. After he sold his company, he began thinking about how he could use his money to help the world.  He talked at length with Hermann J. Mueller, a Nobel Prize winner in genetics, and they came up with the idea of a sperm bank that would store and distribute the sperm of exceptional men.  They named it The Repository for Germinal Choice.

            In 1983, when I was still in grad school at the U of TX, I met Bob Graham in Austin where I interviewed him about The Repository.  We hit it off immediately.  I remember at one point during the interview, the issue of race came up, and he motioned for me to turn off the tape recorder, so I did.  He told me that where he grew up in Michigan, there were few blacks, but when he went out to California, he hired several blacks to work in his laboratory that manufactured eyeglass lenses. He was not impressed with their work ethic, and then one night they deliberately sabotaged the machinery so they could stop working and take a break, and this infuriated him.  After the interview, we went out to lunch, and we talked and talked, and thus began a long friendship.  We corresponded, talked on the phone, and got together a number of times over the years.

            I published a tiny journal called The Eugenics Bulletin while I was in grad school.  It only had about 80 subscribers.  I used to staple the copies together on the dining room table.  I published my interview with Bob Graham in the next edition, and Jensen had also sent me an article for it, which I really appreciated.  (As editor of a homespun journal about the world’s most unpopular subject, I was hardly swamped with submissions!)  He said “edit it any way you like, I trust you.”  This was just one of his many acts of generosity. 

            Many, many years later – in 1996 – Bob sponsored a eugenics conference in San Diego at a beautiful, informal resort.  Maybe 20-25 people were invited, including Philippe Rushton, Art Jensen, Richard Lynn, and Garret Hardin.  I was delighted to meet Ray Cattell for the first time in person because I admired his work enormously, and because he had been so kind and encouraging to me over the years through our correspondence.  I also met Jared Taylor, Sam Dickson, and Bill Regnery there.  We had a number of discussions, and we started a new organization called SAGE (Society for the Advancement of Genetics Education), but the organization was still-born because the newly-elected president soon realized that if he got involved with eugenics, his anti-immigration work would suffer.

            The last time I saw Bob was the year after his eugenics conference.  I happened to be in Los Angeles, so I figured that while I was so close, I might as well fly down to San Diego to visit him.  He told me that he was dying of throat cancer, and the doctor had given him one year to live.  This was sad news, of course, but he was very old (90), and never one to be sentimental.  He said that he wanted to make concrete plans for my future before he died.  I hoped to start a eugenics organization to be called “Future Generations,” and he planned to leave me a large sum of money to fund it.  We talked about it in his office, and I remember that I even jokingly suggested that he adopt me!  He thought he had time to work things out with his lawyers, but then he suddenly died of a heart attack, so in the end he left me nothing, and needless to say I was bitterly disappointed.

            It was unfortunate that Bob’s wife, Marta, and in fact his entire family, thought that The Repository was nothing but an embarrassment.  It’s a shame that even today, in all likelihood, they have no inkling of its positive impact.  When he died, they first told reporters that it would continue to operate, but soon thereafter, they closed it down.  My guess is that none of the records were saved.    

            Very recently, I watched an old videotaped interview with him.  It was interesting because when I saw his face – and especially when I heard his voice again – I felt both happy and sad, and I realized that I missed him.

 . . . Flash-way-back to 1984, U of TX

            The realization had finally begun to sink in that I possessed extraordinary naivete!.  But knowing about it hardly makes it go away!  I always figured that if I ever needed a pseudonym, I would call myself  “Donna Quixote.”  (Get it?)  Anyway, I was uncertain as to whether or not I should give issues of The Eugenics Bulletin to the faculty of the Differential Department because I’d had so much trouble in the past.  But clearly, this place was different.  They seemed to be impressed with my IQ-fertility study, and nobody but a eugenicist would even care about that.  So finally I put one issue of The Eugenics Bulletin in each of their mailboxes.  After that, I thought maybe I detected a few “bad vibes.” (Nothing was ever said openly, but it seems that we were permitted to believe in eugenics privately, but it was frowned upon to say so publically.)

            Several months later, I was sitting in my apartment in my old oak rocking chair, reading, when I looked up and thought to myself, Jesus Christ!  My head hurts!  And my throat!  And that was the beginning of the end.  It was frightening, the speed and the power with which the virus swept over me.  Within 24 hours, I crawled from the bed to the bathroom, resting several times along the way.  I kept expecting to get better, but I never did.  Any hope of finishing my doctorate was rapidly fading.  I moved back to Memphis to live with my parents and my grandmother because I simply had no other choice.  I couldn’t work, I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t do much of anything except lie in bed.

Limping Back to Memphis

            It turns out that I had caught a virus that attacks the central nervous system, variously known as Epstein-Barr Virus / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Systemic Exertion Intolerance.  It causes absolute crushing exhaustion and very significant cognitive impairment.  I remember dialing a phone number from a piece of paper, one digit at a time.  Sometimes I felt so “stoned” from the illness that I knew it would be far too dangerous to drive a car.  Studies show that the levels of pain and debilitation with this illness are equaled only by the last 2 weeks of terminal cancer or heart disease.  Occasionally, on a very good day, I could go out to lunch (and that was it for the day), but on a bad day, I couldn’t make it to the dining room table, and my meals had to be brought in to me on a tray.

            I went out to Denver (the flight was an ordeal) so I could go to the National Jewish Hospital there which specializes in allergies and immunology.  I was in the hospital for almost a month while a team of 3 doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. They knew I was very sick, and they were determined to get to the bottom of it.  I respected them, I was impressed by their efforts, and grateful.  They performed zillions of tests.  That’s where they discovered that I had an immune deficiency.

            From the outset, my symptoms strongly suggested a virulent virus.  It was so debilitating that half the time, I couldn’t sit up in a chair for more than 20 minutes.  That’s when I began my strange habit of lying down in all kinds of unusual public places, such as benches, back seats of cars, stretched out along a row of chairs that had no arm rests, or even on the sidewalk or the floor at the airport, simply because I couldn’t walk any further. “I’m OK, I’m just exhausted,” I would reassure the kind people who stopped to ask if I needed help. “Thanks for your concern!”

            I assumed I was dying.  (I couldn’t imagine how anyone could feel that bad for that long and not be dying.)  But when they told me the diagnosis, it was so much worse than imminent death!  They told me I had Epstein-Barr virus, that I’d never be well again, and I’d never improve at all, but that it wouldn’t shorten my life – that I’d probably die of old age!  I didn’t even know that there existed an illness that’s so severe and lasts forever.  When they told me I wasn’t dying, I almost laughed – I’m supposed to be happy to suffer day after miserable day until I finally die of old age?  Is this some sort of a sick joke?  It was so awful, it was almost funny.

            They said the virus was only contagious during the first few weeks of the illness, so that was good.  Of course, the prognosis was appalling, but at least I had the comfort of knowing that I’d had a really thorough diagnostic work up by some top-notch guys.  I asked them specifically not to sugar-coat the prognosis, but to tell me the un-varnished truth, no matter how horrible, and they certainly did that!

            I thought seriously about committing suicide, and I began hoarding pills.  But I’m glad now that I didn’t.  My productivity took a nose dive when I got sick, but it didn’t descend to zero.  I managed to get some work done, despite being spaced out and exhausted, by a great effort of will – by what I think of as “Teutonic determination.”  I’d read a book at least twice, and I’d take much longer to write a paper than I used to, going over and over drafts.

            So anyway (deep sigh!) I started an Epstein-Barr Virus support group which met monthly at the Episcopal church where my family belonged.  After my previous triumphant victory over the “mystery illness,” I mistakenly thought maybe I could somehow make progress on my own.  Whereas I was hell-bent on getting better, finding the smartest doctors in the world, and keeping up with the latest research, the other members of the support group seemed more interested in venting and learning to cope with the illness.  I discovered that most of these people are told it’s “psychological” for years and years – at least I had a diagnosis.  The doctors in Denver had told me that there was no cure, or even very much knowledge about the virus, and that I’d be very sick forevermore.  However, even first-rate doctors are sometimes wrong, progress marches on, and I had to keep trying.  Hope springs eternal. 

            Borrowing from 2% milk, I realized that I now lived a “2% life,” but even that adds up when it’s spread out over many years, so I tried to figure out how I could make the best possible use of my new, severely diminished “life force.”  I pursued a two-track plan simultaneously: one for if I never got any better (write a novel), and the other for if I did (keep up with the research).  This was in addition to trying desperately to improve my health, all of which required more energy than I could muster.

            Wan Ying, my friend from Austin, came up to visit me in Memphis.  She completely charmed my family with all her funny stories about China.  I wasn’t able to do much, but it was great to see her again, and to just sit around and talk and laugh.

            I still corresponded with Jensen, and he agreed to do an interview for The Eugenics Bulletin over the phone.  It turned out to be more of a conversation, which I taped over several days, and it lasted almost 5 hours.  It wasn’t intended to be anywhere near that long, but we enjoyed talking with each other, and I think he was trying to be especially nice to me because he felt sympathy for my plight.  It was good to be able to ask him endless questions because he’s so brilliant and fascinating, and I have so much respect for him and, quite frankly, affection as well.  After our long conversation, I started typing up the transcript, and quickly became exhausted.  I tried again.  And again.  And again.  The audio of this long conversation has just recently been made available in full on, thanks to Greg Johnson’s efforts.  The content is quite interesting, but also it reveals what a warm and gracious man Jensen was.

[See Footnotes in Part 2.]


Part 2