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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Tuesday 26th December 2017

The ethics of cognitive enhancement

I first met Richard Haier, whom Claire Lehman interviewed recently in Quillette, at the annual conference of the International Society of Intelligence Researchers (ISIR) in Montreal last July. I told him I was hoping to write a book about the public policy implications of the growing weight of evidence that intelligence is genetically based and he said he had already written a book in which he touched on that subject. He then gave me a copy of The Neuroscience of Intelligence.

Not only is Haier’s book an excellent summary of the progress we have made to date in understanding the science of intelligence, it also looks ahead to a future in which various technologies arising out of our improved understanding may be developed to enhance IQ and considers some of the ethical questions that gives rise to.

Haier makes no bones about his own enthusiasm for cognitive enhancement. “Higher intelligence is better than lower intelligence; no one seriously disagrees,” he writes in Chapter Five. “All intelligence research speaks to the goal of enhancement, either directly or indirectly. This is a worthy goal; just ask the parents of a child with low IQ or a cognitive disability. It is also a primary goal of all parents for their children whether articulated so bluntly or not. There may be some people who do not care to be smarter, but I do not know any of them.” (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 18th December 2017

Liberal Creationism

Last July I gave the Constance Holden Memorial Address at the International Society of Intelligence Researchers in which I tried to get to the bottom of why it is that the findings of behavioural geneticists, evolutionary psychologists, Darwinian anthropologists, and so on, have been rejected by left-wing academics and intellectuals for going on 60 years. What is it about human nature that the left is so uncomfortable with? A transcript of the lecture has just been published in Intelligence, an academic journal, and you can download a PDF of the lecture here. Alternatively, you can see a video of the lecture here.

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Sunday 17th December 2017

It’s all shootin’, fishin’ and trufflin’ when lads and dads go out to play

Earlier this year I wrote a defence of driven shooting and ended by saying I hoped my children would have a chance to participate in the sport one day. Believe it or not, I wasn’t fishing for invitations. It was intended as a piece of liberal-baiting, on the assumption that any left-wing prude who disapproves of grown men spending a day shooting game birds would find the prospect of children being inducted into this ‘barbaric’ practice even more appalling. But it has in fact led to several invitations, for which I’m very grateful.

The first was to spend a day grouse shooting in Yorkshire along with my three sons – an absurdly generous offer which I obviously could not turn down. Unfortunately, there was a complication. Caroline had arranged to go to Ireland for the weekend in question and our 14-year-old daughter, Sasha, was supposed to be staying with a friend. But at the last minute the arrangement fell through, which meant I had to text my host at 11.45pm and ask if it was OK if I brought Sasha along. He kindly said yes, pointing out that his own 14-year-old son would be there and speculating that they might get on.

Well, they did get on. No, no, not like that. On the day we arrived, they stayed up talking late into the night and the housekeeper overheard Sasha trying to persuade the boy to let her shave a couple of slits into his eyebrows. Now, this is not quite as bizarre as it sounds. Eyebrow slits, whereby you shave some vertical lines out of your eyebrows, are ‘on trend’ at the moment. Indeed, there is currently a debate raging in teen fashion magazines about whether they constitute ‘cultural appropriation’, since this is a look that was popularised by African-American rap artists. Nonetheless, the housekeeper thought it odd enough to pass on to the owner of the grouse moor. This led to a rather awkward conversation in which he told me my daughter had attempted to shave his son’s eyebrows off. ‘I thought you ought to know,’ he said. (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 11th December 2017

The subtle art of showing off at work

This has been an interesting year for me. Back in January, I took up a full-time job as director of New Schools Network, the free schools charity, and it’s the first time I’ve worked in an office since parting company with Vanity Fair 20 years ago. It has taken a bit of getting used to.

Until I took this job, I used to work out of a shed at the bottom of my garden. It is not so much a ‘man cave’ as a ‘Toby cave’. The walls are covered with egocentric tat — framed newspaper cartoons, posters of plays I’ve written, pictures of me with famous people, etc. It’s all pretty dog-eared and mildewed, but it serves its purpose which is to let visitors know, in a way which isn’t too obviously vainglorious, what a Big Swinging Dick I am.

When I first arrived at NSN I discovered that my predecessor, Nick Timothy, had based himself at the end of a row of desks — that is, he didn’t even have his own office. That wouldn’t do at all. There were two self-enclosed cubicles overlooking the open-plan space, but one was occupied by the finance director and the other by a separate education charity. I say ‘education charity’ but, in fact, it was just a bloke called Mike with a laptop and a phone. When I discovered he wasn’t paying any rent I switched places with him and took possession of it. It wasn’t much of an improvement. This cubicle had become a dumping ground for unwanted office furniture, not to mention cardboard boxes full of things like envelopes and sticky labels. For the first three months I was too timid to ask anyone to clear it out. (To read more, click here.)

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Friday 1st December 2017

My holiday hell with die-hard Remainers

I’m writing this on the easyJet flight back from Marrakech, where I have just spent a long weekend as a house guest of Rachel Johnson. She had managed to secure a marvellous villa by the name of Ezzahra, about a 20-minute drive from the airport, complete with a pool, spa and paddle tennis court. There were 12 of us in all, five couples and two men travelling solo — Harry Mount, the editor of the Oldie, and Mark Palmer, the travel editor of the Daily Mail. Harry, Mark and I quickly discovered we were the only Leavers in a nest of die-hard Remainers.

Now, it will not come as news to Spectator readers that the result of last year’s referendum has left some pro-Europeans feeling a teensy-weensy bit annoyed. A case in point is Rachel’s husband, Ivo Dawnay, who asks every Leaver he bumps into if they’ve ever woken up at 4 a.m. and thought: ‘Oh my God! What have I done?’ Ivo is probably the most zealous Remainer I know, but Rachel is not far behind and they had a host of reinforcements in the house party — formidable overachievers like Emma Tucker, deputy editor of the Times.

I know from experience that no good comes of discussing Brexit at social gatherings of this kind, so suggested to Rachel beforehand that she declare a moratorium on the topic. She circulated an email to all the houseguests last week, quoting me as saying I was bored with talking about it, then accidentally on purpose copied me in to one of the replies: ‘Tell him we’re not bored and are DYING to hear his justification for the stupidest act of self-harm EVER!’ (To read more, click here.)

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Wednesday 22nd November 2017

What on earth was Paperchase thinking?

Last Saturday, the high-street chain Paperchase ran a promotion in the Daily Mail offering two free rolls of wrapping paper. Nothing objectionable about that, you might think, even if the design was migraine-inducingly awful. I have lost count of the number of times I have been dragged into this ghastly emporium by my daughter on a weekend in pursuit of some overpriced piece of tat. Not recommended if you are nursing a hangover.

Later that day, the left-wing lobby group Stop Funding Hate launched a fusillade against Paperchase on Twitter for having the temerity to advertise in Britain’s second-best-selling daily newspaper. ‘Is a Daily Mail promotion what customers want to see from @FromPaperchase?’ it asked. The answer was presumably ‘no’ because Stop Funding Hate’s reason for existence is to bully large retailers into withdrawing their ads from right-of-centre tabloid newspapers in the hope of destroying our free press. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 16th November 2017

New report by research institute finds lots of positive things to say about free schools

I enjoyed Jon Andrew’s blog post about his report for the Education Policy Institute (EPI) on free schools – and agree with his recommendation that more of them are needed in areas of entrenched underperformance. But I thought the spin on the report was slightly misleading.

The headline claims free schools "aren’t attracting a significant number of disadvantaged pupils" and Jon says there is a risk they will "encourage an increase in social segregation in our schools".

But this claim rests on just one of the findings in the report, namely, that the percentage of children on free school meals at those primary free schools set up in England’s most disadvantaged areas – defined as the bottom fifth – is lower than the percentage of children on free school meals in those areas.

What about some of the other findings? (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 16th November 2017

It's a jungle in there, Stanley

Crikey Moses! Stanley Johnson has been cast as the token pensioner in the new series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! At 77, he will be 27 years older than the next oldest person in the jungle-based reality show, 50-year-old ex-footballer Dennis Wise. He cheerfully admits he has never watched the programme before, which comes as no surprise. If he had known what he was letting himself in for, would he have signed up?

I don’t just mean the routine indignities, such as chewing on turkey testicles or washing down a plate of live cockroaches with a beaker of blended emu liver. Or the discomfort of enduring a three-week camping holiday in an inhospitable environment with few mod cons and not enough food. I don’t even mean having to disrobe and bathe in front of a bevy of beautiful girls strutting around in their bikinis.

No, I’m thinking of the mental challenges, like the complete absence of intelligent conversation. (To read more, click here.)

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Tuesday 14th November 2017

Watch me defending free speech at the Battle of Ideas debate

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Thursday 9th November 2017

Another year, another tax leak – and the usual annual festival of hypocrisy

Stories about members of the establishment using offshore tax shelters — ooh er missus! — come along about once a year, thanks to the efforts of the liberal media. Cue a chorus of disapproval from Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable, Margaret Hodge and other left-wing panjandrums who demand that the government ‘seize’ Britain’s overseas territories and ‘clamp down’ on tax loopholes. Then, as night follows day, it emerges on the Guido Fawkes website that a large number of these sanctimonious prigs are themselves direct beneficiaries of offshore tax arrangements — and the kerfuffle over the Paradise Papers is no different, as I will shortly make clear. It’s like an annual festival of hypocrisy.

The Guardian has been leading the charge this week, as it always does, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Scott Trust, which owns the paper, was originally set up by the Scott family to avoid paying death duties, as well as the fact that the Guardian Media Group took advantage of a murky web of tax shelters in the Caymans to avoid paying a penny on the £300 million it earned from the sale of Auto Trader in 2008. It is nothing short of miraculous that the Guardian’s reporters, when sifting through the latest cache of leaked documents, did not stumble across their own paper’s name alongside Lewis Hamilton’s and the cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys. Luckily, they did not, which allowed the paper’s head of investigations to thunder away about ‘offensive’ and ‘unfair’ tax avoidance in a tub-thumping editorial last Monday. (To read more, click here.)

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Twitter RT @jonkay: Outstanding @toadmeister @QuilletteM piece about new ~5K sample-size research on biological differences between male and female…  (1 hour ago)


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