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UK Government adviser resigns over eugenics remarks

24 February 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1036

A recently appointed adviser to the UK government, Andrew Sabisky, has resigned following widespread criticism of his views on topics including genetics and reproduction.

The episode has also led to the government's chief special adviser, Dominic Cummings, being criticised for Sabisky's appointment. The appointment followed a call by Cummings for 'misfits with odd skills' and 'super-talented weirdos' to apply for jobs with government.

Sabisky is a self-described 'superforecaster' – a term defined, in research initiated by US intelligence agencies, as a person 'exceptionally skilled at assigning realistic probabilities to possible outcomes – even on topics outside their primary subject-matter training'. Cummings had previously called for government to use superforecasters, complaining that 'Whitehall has ignored this entire research programme'.

After Sabisky was appointed, he became the subject of intense criticism for remarks he had made in previous years – when interviewed by an education publication, and also in various comments posted online – about eugenics, IVF, embryo selection, race, intelligence and cognitive enhancement. A comment posted by Sabisky under a 2014 blogpost by Cummings proved especially controversial.

In the blogpost, Cummings had reported on a conference at Google's California headquarters where topics discussed included the genetics of intelligence, the selection of embryos and CRISPR genome editing. In a comment beneath the blogpost, Sabisky speculated about the likelihood and desirability of 'global embryo selection' and of mandatory contraception being introduced as a way to 'get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass'.

Another participant in the 2014 conference attended by Cummings was the physicist and entrepreneur Stephen Hsu, who went on to become one of Cummings' friends and supporters. Hsu has founded a company which claims to be able to assess the intelligence potential of preimplantation IVF embryos, although this has been challenged on both scientific and ethical grounds (see BioNews 976 and 1025).

Cummings' interest in genetics first attracted attention when he was a senior policy adviser to the government's education secretary. A wide-ranging thesis that Cummings wrote for internal government use, which discussed genetics in relation to educational achievement, was leaked to the Guardian newspaper in 2013 (see BioNews 727).

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