Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Nobel ...

... Prizes? No way. This post is about the Nobel sperm bank!

An exerpt from the Boston Globe review:
As David Plotz demonstrates in his winning account, ''The Genius Factory," it didn't quite work out that way. The enterprise quickly became an object of derision in the media, thanks in part to the only Nobelist who admitted donating -- William Shockley, the father of the transistor, who was a notorious racist. Like Shockley at the time, the few participating Nobelists were too old to have useful sperm, and in fact their ejaculate yielded not a single baby, brilliant or otherwise. Demand for high-end sperm was strong, though, and the bank soon found it convenient to lower its standards somewhat. ''Forget about Nobel laureates," Plotz writes. ''The Nobel sperm bank was taking men you wouldn't wish on your ex-girlfriend."

In 1980, Robert Graham, a California millionaire, established a sperm bank called the Repository for Germinal Choice; the media immediately dubbed it as the Nobel sperm bank. I had not heard of it until a few days ago, when I found a recent book titled The Genius Factory by David Plotz in our bookstore [yeah, it is the same bookstore].

Well, the blurb sounded interesting, but at some 20 dollars, it was out of my reach. So, what does one do? Google search, of course. It led me to all kinds of interesting and some bizarre stuff. Plotz certainly knew the book-length potential of his story!

When it started in 1980, all its donors were supposed to be Nobel Prize winners. But, it soon ran into a serious problem (see the sidebar): the Nobelists were too old to have useful sperm, and its first -- star -- donor, William Shockley, was a "notorious racist".

That's about the donors; what about the 'acceptors'? Well, when the sperm bank folded, all its confidential information was sealed, and no one had access to it. Plotz, a deputy editor at Slate, wrote a story in 2001 in which he asked if any of the women could get in touch with him to tell him their side of the story. This book is the result.

The book's website has more info. Along the way, Plotz wrote a bunch of articles in Slate, all of which can be accessed from an index page. Let me also link to a few reviews: NYTimes,   Boston Globe (excerpted in the sidebar).

As for the book itself, either I get the hardcover version to be reviewed (wink, wink!), or I wait for the soft cover at a more reasonable price of under 8 dollars.