Karine Nyborg
Department of Economics, Professor
University of Oslo
Oslo, Norway

Dear Professor:
I read with interest and a bit of sadness the article (Karine Nyborg et al. Social Norms as Solutions Science vol. 354 no. 6308 October 7, 2016 page 42), sadness because you offer a solution for a problem that is not ready for that.

I offer a link to a talk I recently gave to the Triple Nine Society, a social club for those in the 99.9th percentile of IQ’s.

The paper simply pulls together articles in well respected peer-reviewed journals and follows of the logic.  A single scientific report has, they say, about a 1% chance each year of being disproved over the next three decades.  One can reasonably shrug it off.  The articles I adduce involve massive data and are not going away.

My interest is in birth rates, and I shall list some points you can easily infer from the attachment:

  1. The number of children a couple will have is due entirely to their kinship and that of their ancestors; choice plays no part.  The contrary is so widespread that you even assume it in the antepenultimate paragraph of the paper; yet the harsh data indicate that that while the timing of offspring may be a bit flexible, the number is not.
  2. If we all were to restrict our mating choices to second cousin or closer the resulting baby boom would end in catastrophe.
  3. If we all were to restrict our mating choices to tenth cousins or more distant, the birth rate would, after a very few generations, fall to zero.
  4. In theory if we were to restrict our mating choices to a ring of some roughly 100 families, the birth rate would be stable indefinitely, and may problems would diminish. 
  5. We are all on the may, any many countries irrevocably on the way to the doom mentioned in the third point.


Alas, I do not know what the exact size of that ring should be, nor how to get there or even if it is possible.  These things must be understood before any attempt to guide social norms can be undertaken.

Strong though the prejudice is against marrying cousins, it is not old; obviously it cannot be old because it is lethal.  Not so long ago, we all married cousins and there were plenty of babies.  So things can indeed change.  It might be very easy to change back; it might be impossible. 

So it is sad for me to read of you polishing a tool that, if anything can, would solve the problem, but I cannot tell you how to employ it.  Feel free to ask anybody you know.  You are they may contact me at any hour on any day; this is my whole life.  I often wonder how any rational person can look at the science and not make it their whole life.


M. Linton Herbert MD

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