But it keeps happening. Every time I think I’ve found a place of genuine cyber peace, every time I think I’ve grown out of it, something comes along to make me crazy. A monumental nincompoop makes a comment, or writes a blog post that absolutely sets me off. I can’t think straight. I can’t sit still. My brain goes into mega-payback overdrive and I don’t like it one bit. I don’t like to be at the mercy of monumental nincompoops.
But let me tell you about this one…
His name is Razib Khan. Never heard of him? Me neither. Not until today.
But today (well, yesterday by this point) is the day he decided to write a post on his blog, Gene Expression, which is hosted by Discover magazine, titled “I think Down Syndrome [sic] is bad.” The [sic] is meant to signify that the proper capitalization is Down syndrome. How do I know about the proper capitalization of the “s” in Down syndrome? Because I have a 6-year old daughter with Down syndrome, and I’ve been researching it for nearly 7 years, since we learned, when my wife was 5 months pregnant, of Magdalena’s Down syndrome. That’s how. Because I have some experience with this genetic condition that Razib Khan does not like.
First, let’s learn just how smart Razib Khan is:
Razib Khan’s degrees are in biochemistry and biology. He has blogged about genetics since 2002, previously worked in software development, is an Unz Foundation Junior Fellow and lives in the western US. He loves habaneros.
Razib is S.M.A.R.T., but not so smart that he knows how to use the serial comma. We all have our blind spots.
Here is what Razib Khan wrote in his S.M.A.R.T. post for Discover magazine’s website, which, as we will shortly learn, is read by a great many monumental nincompoops, a many so great that it defies belief.
And the heart of the issue is that I believe that humans flourish best when they are beautiful, intelligent, and healthy. Some people deny that beauty and intelligence are anything but social constructs. But I bet a survey of progressive and enlightened women who might accept such propositions at face value, but who are in need of sperm donors, would indicate that no matter what people say for their peers to align with social norms they believe that beauty and intelligence are heritable, and their preference would reveal that they value these traits (individuals looking for sperm donors tend to value intelligence, height, and athleticism in the potential biological fathers). As far as health, as Brad’s comment suggests that’s a somewhat subjective proposition. Many of us have allergies. Are we diseased? I’m a very happy person who brings great joy to some people, but I do have this common autoimmune disease. Additionally, I’d also be happy to get rid of it. To address Brad more specifically: his daughter’s Down Syndrome is not a necessary condition for her being a wonderful and amazing person. I wish she did not have Down Syndrome.
Again with the capital Syndrome. Just to catch you up, commenter Brad was taking Razib Khan to task for suggesting in an earlier post that Down syndrome is a bad genetic outcome. Here is Brad’s original comment:
First DS, is not “bad” – my daughter is an amazing and wonderful person, and her DS is part of that wonderful person. She is one of the most amazingly positive things that has ever happened in my life. So I have a hard time reconciling that with your “extremely bad” synopsis.
Second, DS is not an at all extreme case – it is rather run of the mill. It is so minor of a variant that it is survivable and very common place (1 in 733 births). People with DS lead full, productive and meaningful lives. That is not extreme, it is mild. Extreme would be being born inside out or having no chance of surviving 72 hours. Please don’t add to the misconceptions around Down syndrome. Most of us parents, siblings, and self-advocates find this to be both untrue and unhelpful.
I suspect Brad and I would get along famously. Despite his failure to use the serial comma, Brad demonstrates in his comment an admirable restraint. He could have been a little more pointed, but he held something back. I like that. It means he has compassion. He could have been more clinical, but he is too aware of the human dimension of a discussion about Down syndrome. To Brad, as to me, this ain’t no academic debate. This is real life. And you learn a few things in real life that you don’t learn in a lab. You hear me, Razib?
What Brad so nicely does in his comment, and what Razib Khan resolutely—proudly—fails to do both in his post, and in his online dealings generally, where he is consistently antagonistic to those who disagree with him, is to consider Down syndrome not merely as a scientific phenomena, but a human one as well. In the comment section of this post, Razib Khan also went out of his way to refer to one commenter’s analysis as “retarded.”
This is where we get back to me and my desire for a quiet life. Anyone who’s read this website with any frequency knows that I can’t hear that word without getting a little worked up. Razib, if you happen to find your way here, you can read all about that here and here.
I did my best to take a few deep breaths and let it all simply float away, but then this happened.
Ursula (@uhennessey) is obviously my wife. So, in the course of about an hour, this S.M.A.R.T Razib Khan managed to insult my wife, use the “R” word, and make some really underinformed—and I would say dangerous—remarks about Down syndrome on a high profile blog (what do you have to say for yourself Discover?).
That’s not even mentioning how he treated my new best friend Brad.
The sad part from my point of view—the really sad part—is just how many of the commenters on Razib Khan’s post agreed with him. Reading through the comments, it almost seems as if there is a large cohort of Discover magazine lovers who are secretly really disgusted by genetic variation, and Down syndrome in particular, and were just so relieved to finally have found an outlet for their views.
In the very first comment, commenter Spandrell addresses Brad’s feelings about his daughter: “Amazing, wonderful, productive, full? Talk about overcompensation. He wouldn’t talk like that about himself. Or about a healthy child who was actually productive. He would feel immodest.”
Then, there were those like Raimo Kangasniemi, who had the gall to disagree with the great Razib.
“People with DS are not lesser people, they are just people with DS,” wrote Ramio. What did S.M.A.R.T. guy Razib have to say to that?
“if you keep putting words in my mouth i’ll ban you. if you respond to this angrily i’ll ban you.” That’s Razib’s capitalization problem again.
So what’s a guy like me suppose to do about all this? Take it? Eat it? Just sit back and let this jive turkey get away with insulting my wife and antagonizing those who love people with Down sydnrome?
S.M.A.R.T. guys like Razib Khan are in dire need of a stern talking to, and I’m ready to give it to him. My only regret is that I’m showing the world just how easy it is to get to me.
First of all, smarty pants, Down syndrome is not a disease. You should know that since your degrees are in biochemistry and biology (excuuuuuuuuuuuse me). Down syndrome is a collection of traits, physiological and mental, all of which occur to some degree in otherwise “normal” people. Don’t believe me? In Central and East Asia, people have almond shaped eye. Bad genetic outcome? My mom died from leukemia. She didn’t have Down syndrome. Short stature? Talk to the Portuguese.
And then there’s the low I.Q., hardly a burden borne just by those with Down syndrome. What should be the cutoff, Razib Khan? What is the I.Q. score below which we can feel comfortable disparaging the humanity of an individual, below which we can talk about them rather than to them, below which we can freely and openly discuss the benefits of maybe having been better off if we had killed them in utero? What amounts of beauty, intelligence, and health qualify a person to live a truly worthy life?
You can’t answer those questions, Razib Khan, because they require a depth of understanding about what it means to be human that can’t be found in a biology textbook. Life is more than one big lab experiment. There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.
You know, Razib Khan, my wife was right. Your I.Q., as high as it probably is, has not served you well. Your intense intelligence, your superior record of achievement in the fields of biochemistry and biology, have let you down. They have let you down because they seem to have entirely crowded out your emotional intelligence. You view every discussion as a battle to be won. You view questions as threats. You think everyone is out to steal your genetic mojo. And you have demonstrated that you view guys like me, Brad, Raimo Kangasniemi, and a host of others who have taken them time to read your post and challenge you on some of your assumptions, merely as lobbyists for a weird, irrational Down syndrome agenda.
Laugh. Go ahead. I’m sure you find this amusing. But your delight in ridiculing those with lesser gifts than your own is telling, and it will be your undoing I am sure.
You are a monstrous nincompoop.
Eventually you will realize it. Eventually something will happen that shocks you out of your S.M.A.R.T. guy bubble out there in the “western US.” One day, you will realize that there is more to life than developing software, crushing guys like me and Brad in online debates, and then helping yourself to a handful of habaneros.
And on that day, you will finally know what it means to be truly human.
Call me when you get there.