Monday, 22 December 2008

Smart Sperm

Clever guys have better sperm?

I read this a while ago, but never got round to blogging about it, but now that I've got some free time, I'm going to, as it's quite an irksome article.

I think this is another great example of how massive conclusions can be made by a the smallest of evidence. This article says clearly that intelligent men have more potent and active sperm. This is quite a claim, as when it comes to such intangible qualities as intelligence and the human body in general, any sweeping statement like this is bound to be wrong. But what bugs me the most is the complete overlooking of the data itself. Granted, there's a few cautionary notes in it, a few attempts to make sure people don't jump to wild conclusions despite the fact that the article itself does just that.

No, this is the bit that really bugs me " from former US soldiers who served during the Vietnam war era." I've nothing against war veterans, but it's very unlikely that you could make conclusions about the whole of the human race based on studies of them. Why not, pray? Here are a few reasons, and some people will probably think of me as a commie liberal pacifist anti-American non-patriot, but bare in mind I'm not and never will be American, and the British people have a tendency to slag off anyone and everyone, even people 'fighting for their freedoms'. Nothing personal.

  1. I'm not particularly well informed about the enlisting procedure in the US, but many TV shows and books seem to emphasise that the bulk of the armed forces are made up of guys who don't do very well academically. This may be due to a number of factors, some people don't like school and don't deal well with education, but aren't stupid. But still, the impression I get is that the Vietnam war was fought largely by guys who dropped out of or couldn't get into college. Some are obviously more intelligent than others, but for a given value of intelligent. You probably didn't see many professors taking on the Viet Cong.
  2. Vietnam was a messy war, with all sorts of horrific stuff flying around (Agent Orange, anyone?). Don't forget the effect stress has on the body, even long term, and what could be more stressful than being a foreign country for unclear reasons while the natives constantly try to kill you? And of course, guys from the American Midwest wouldn't really have adapted to life in a tropical country, who knows what they could pick up? Long story short, all these things could contribute to a low sperm count. Maybe the cleverer ones managed to avoid such things, hence the outcome.
  3. I'm not sure when the data was collected, but Vietnam vets must be getting on a bit by now. Sperm count tends to decline with age, smarter people would look after themselves and look after their health, dumb people would not. This could show up as intelligent people having higher sperm counts as an indirect result, but it doesn't automatically suggest a genetic component like the article suggests.
Maybe the research took all these factors into account, but still, it doesn't rule out the fact that only Vietnam veterans were used. The full conclusion should read "Intelligent men who served at least one of duty in the Vietnam conflict have better sperm than less intelligent men who served at east one tour of duty in the Vietnam conflict", although that's admittedly less punchy.

And don't think this is me disparaging on soldiers, I have nothing against them per se, but I endeavour to remember that you get pricks in every walk of life, the armed forces included, only the ones in the army have been trained to kill as well, and that concerns me. But I don't like rash claims based on partial data. If this was a real test, they should have used several groups of people, not just veterans. Professors, Scientists, Big business managers, engineers etc. although these people probably have better things to do than perform some IQ tests before wanking in a cup.

I'd guess people involved in science or technical fields would have surprisingly low sperm counts, as most of them are insular people who have no friends and spend most of their time in doors, constantly masturbating over pictures of Seven of Nine or some other sci-fi totty. And if they're not, they're all in labs handling toxic stuff or sitting with laptops over their groins, slowly irradiating their testicles. So yeah.

That should balance any potential soldier-bashing impression I've given.


Benjamin said...

Your assessment of soldier backgrounds isn't unreasonable but you are forgetting that 'nam veterans were drafted and should represent a better cross-section than say Iraq vets.

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...

A reasonable point, but one way of avoiding the draft was to be a student in further education and having your draft deferred, and those who dropped out went to 'Nam, hence the common association between war protesters (a.k.a Hippies) in the '60's/'70's and college campuses.
This method clearly biases the population sample against those of higher intelligence. Even if you couldn't get into university, you could volunteer for a far more stringent wing of the military (Navy, Air force etc.) or apply for divinity studies, both of which would logically require high levels of intelligence.

Even if you account for this, the smartest people with the greatest ability to show independent thought would be able to dodge the draft better. Not that they automatically would, but they could.

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