An Interview With Carl J. Bajema

Originally published in The Eugenics Bulletin, Fall 1983

Carl J. Bajema is Professor of Biology at Grand Valley State College in Allendale, Michigan. He has done research and authored numerous articles and books on eugenics and related areas over the past twenty years. The following interview was conducted via telephone on October 2, 1983.

VANCOURT: Do you think the Hyde Amendment [which prohibited DHEW from using Medicaid funds for abortions for poor women] has had an appreciable dysgenic influence?

BAJEMA: There are certainly a lot of unwanted pregnancies, and the Hyde Amendment makes it very difficult for women in the poverty category to obtain abortions. So my immediate response to that question would be "yes". In my particular state, in Michigan, the state still pays for these abortions. But many states have refused to step in and pick up the costs. This had got to have an adverse effect in a variety of ways, including a dysgenic effect.

VANCOURT: You have explicitly stated that tiny positive correlation between intelligence and number of offspring reported in your studies and in several other studies could not be generalized to the entire United States population. You warned that they applied only to those samples, and for that period of time. Now Vining, using a representative sample of the U.S. population, has found significant negative correlations, Do you think people generally heeded your warning?

BAJEMA: A number of people in the academic community said "Oh, well--we've got three studies which show a positive correlation, so fertility and intelligence] in not a concern anymore." There doesn't seem to have been a very strong interest in continually ascertaining what is going on in terms of differential fertility with respect to mental ability.

VANCOURT: The American Eugenics Society changed its name to The Society for the Study of Social Biology in 1972. Looking back, do you feel this was a wise decision?

BAJEMA: No, and I opposed the change at the time. I was Secretary then, and I thought both the American Eugenics Society and the Eugenics Society of Great Britain had succeeded, at least in the academic and scholarly world, in demonstrating that the word eugenics isn't something to be equated with Nazi genocide. I appreciated some of the concerns about the word. But I wasn't at all impressed with the name they chose --social biology. It just doesn't convey any information. Then, with the development of the whole field of sociobiology, the confusion became even greater.

I probably would have kept the name of the society the American Eugenics Society, but changed the name of the journal to something that would be less offensive to some people who only thought in terms of Nazi-type eugenics. In fact, one of the reasons I resigned was over that. And some people didn't want to be thinking along eugenics lines at all, which disturbed me. Social Biology still publishes excellent articles that are of eugenic interest, but I wanted to belong to an organization where eugenics was the main focus.

In the long run, though, I think we ought to consider some kind of a name that would help us. For example, Planned Parenthood used to be called The Birth Control League of America, which had a somewhat negative connotation. They changed their name to a more positive term, The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which I think really helped them politically. Now, maybe we can do the name thing with respect to eugenics. As much as I like the term and feel it's been misused, words aren't sacred It's what we're trying to accomplish that's important. We could still keep the name eugenics as the parent name of the organization, but the journal and everything else could have a somewhat different name.

I'd like to hear from readers about possible words we could use in its place. One word I've suggested--and no one seems to be particularly excited about it -- is "futuregenics". We're concerned about the future, and about how the present affects the future. At any rate, a new word could separate the idea from some of the irrational hostility against it, particularly amongst people in the social sciences who have real knee-jerk reactions to eugenics. The advantage of a new word is simply that at least some people would be willing to give it new consideration.

VANCOURT: It has been reported that schizophrenics have increased their fertility substantially in recent years because major tranquilizers make institutionalization unnecessary. Given that mental illness has a proven strong genetic component, how much do you think this will increase the incidence of schizophrenia in the future?

BAJEMA: I don't know by how much, but it certainly should increase the incidence in the future. We may well develop better drug therapy at the same time, which would ease the problem. But we can expect the incidence to increase.

VANCOURT: How do you think we could ease the burden of motherhood to make it more attractive to bright women who also want to pursue careers?

BAJEMA: There are several ways. One is free daycare centers for children. The other is scholarships and fellowships with allowances for dependents. That would apply to men as well as women. Having dependency allowances that are adequate, and free, high-quality daycare centers, and possibly even some kind of tax credit would all be appropriate ways to ease the burden of parenthood to make it more attractive to both men and women who are well-educated, and who want to make a contribution outside the home.

VANCOURT: It was announced on the news recently that an embryo had been successfully implanted into the uterus of an infertile woman. Another woman who was fertile donated an egg--she was artificially inseminated with the husband's sperm, and the embryo was removed shortly after conception and placed in the infertile wife's uterus, where apparently it has been growing normally. Do you have any thoughts to express on eugenic implications of this new procedure?

BAJEMA: There are certainly eugenic implications of embryo transfer, particularly with respect to how the women are selected who provide the eggs. The very same issue exists with artificial insemination, that is, the quality of the donor. But right now, embryo transfer is quite expensive, so I don't expect very many people to utilize it.

VANCOURT: Several people (notably Cattell, Graham and Fisher) have written about the origin of dysgenic fertility. They don't all agree as to whether it came along with civilization, or whether it existed from the time human beings first discovered the causal connection between sexual intercourse and conception. Would you care to speculate on this question?

BAJEMA: Well, everybody likes to speculate, so I might as well speculate, too. I think a good case could be made for its being associated with what demographers call the "demographic transition". As we shifted from high mortality and high fertility to low mortality and low fertility, that may very well be when we got a sizeable amount of dysgenic fertility.

VANCOURT: Do you have any suggestions for the Eugenics Special Interest Group, such as how to increase our membership, participation and funding, or for improving the Bulletin?

BAJEMA: I would suggest soliciting three or four names from each new member who joins, names and addresses of people who'd be likely to be interested also. Another possibility is to identify books, journals and articles in which an individual makes a positive statement about eugenics, and check over the mailing list to see if that person is a member, and if not, send him or her a sample Bulletin.

As for improving the Bulletin, I'd suggest adding very brief book reviews of new books, notices of important papers and of conferences to come. It should be kind of a little clearing house. That's an important function, because eugenics cuts across so many disciplines.

And then you might put announcements in the Bulletin every once in a while to the effect that two or three of us will be in a certain city on a certain date for a convention, say, and if there's anybody else who'd like to join us for dinner, fine. There are really all kinds of things we can do to share information and get more involved.

VANCOURT: What research questions do you think are important to investigate in the future?

BAJEMA: First would be a longitudinal study of high school students--a random sample of schools in the U.S. could be chosen, and then studies done at periodic intervals to coincide with their reunions. All kinds of biographical data could be gathered on their educational and occupational attainment, age of birth of children, fertility and so on. One of the only problems would be tracking down those who didn't graduate so their absence wouldn't constitute a source of bias. This kind of study would be very helpful in terms of estimating the eugenic or dysgenic effects of a wide variety of social practices. Right now, I'm linking into the 50th reunion of the Third Harvard Growth Study participants. When you work with the reunion committees, you'd be amazed at what you can get, and fairly reasonably in terms of cost.

Another thing I think ought to be done--there needs to be a very careful longitudinal study of children produced by artificial insemination, of their mental and physical growth, their occupational and educational achievement, their fertility and so on. I think it will clearly demonstrate the eugenic value of artificial insemination in a way that just anecdotal evidence can't.

VANCOURT: Several ESIG members have written to me saying essentially the same thing: "I believe eugenics is a vitally important issue, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. What can I do to further this cause?" Do you have any advice to impart?

BAJEMA: I certainly do. I think you have to put your money and your time where your mouth is--that's the way I'd put it. And I mean both money and time.

There are political controversies we need to get involved in, because in some cases, the side eugenics is on is losing. I'll give you some examples: First, it's very important for anyone who supports eugenics to also support Planned Parenthood and various abortion rights groups. Second, it is crucial to support sex education and contraceptive education in the schools. Third, we need to counter the fundamentalists' attack on the teaching of evolution. And fourth, there's the controversy going on with respect to the teaching of values which concerns us. What is called "values clarification" helps students learn about different ways of viewing an act in terms of both personal consequences and social consequences. An extreme right wing faction wants to force this out of the schools.

Eugenics is not independent of these controversies, because depending on how some of them go, it could be extremely difficult to discuss eugenics in the schools, and to develop a national policy with respect to eugenics.

Then, there are the traditional things people can do in terms of financial contributions, in terms of helping the Eugenics SIG. There may be somebody out there who has considerable funds who could set up a fellowship program--that's a very important way of making sure that certain kinds of research get done.

Finally, it's important to become a critical thinker on this issue, and to do so publicly by writing articles, letters-to-the-editor and so on. In this area, I believe every little bit helps.

VANCOURT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

BAJEMA: Well ..one thing you might want to stress in the journal is the letters-to-the-editor column. I noticed a letter from the Weyls in the last issue. But you may want to encourage people to write in more. They may have a question they'd like to ask someone who was interviewed. For instance, I'd be quite willing to answer questions. Another thing is--do you have a word-processing computer?

VANCOURT: No, I don't.

BAJEMA: Now, that's something you really need. I think someone out there really ought to donate a word processor to the editor of the Eugenics SIG.

VANCOURT: I couldn't agree with you more! Well, this has been an interesting and informative interview. Thank you very much.

BAJEMA: You're certainly welcome