Twenty years ago, on an outbuilding of his Southern California estate, tycoon Robert K. Graham began a most remarkable project: the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners. Part altruism, part social engineering, part science experiment, the repository was supposed to help reverse the genetic decay Graham saw all around him by preserving and multiplying the best genes of his generation. By the time Graham's repository closed in 1999, his genius sperm had been responsible for more than 200 children.
What happened to them? This is the beginning of a journalistic experiment to find out, an experiment that—as I explain below—needs your assistance. (Also click here to read Slate editor Michael Kinsley's introduction to the project.)
Robert K. Graham was a eugenicist. He was a pessimist about humanity's future. And he was a can-do, self-made multimillionaire. Those qualities fused to inspire the Repository for Germinal Choice. Graham, who made his fortune by inventing shatterproof eyeglasses, feared mankind was in danger because natural selection had stopped working on human beings. He explained his views in a muscular 1971 book, The Future of Man. Over millenniums, nature's brutality had strengthened the human gene pool, allowing the strong and smart to reproduce, while killing the weak before they could. But once man mastered his natural environment, Graham argued, he jumped the evolutionary track. Better living conditions allowed "retrograde humans" to reproduce. In modern America, thanks to cradle-to-grave social welfare programs, these incompetents and imbeciles were swamping the intelligent. This dysgenic crisis would surely bring communism and the regression of mankind. All that could save us, Graham warned, was "intelligent selection": Our best specimens must have more children. Hence the Repository for Germinal Choice.