I watched the first season of The 3% and I am wondering about the wisdom in the strategy adopted by this world.


Specifically, if the 3% ( "smartest people" ) are sterilized for many generations, does that put evolutionary pressure on the remaining 97% to become less intelligent? Or, will the inherent hardships ( due to the environment ) of the 97%, out pace the former. In other words, how does the remaining fertile population evolve?

  • Will they become a different kind of "Smart" in the long run?

  • Will they mostly remain at the same mean level of intelligence?

  • Does the population regress relative intelligence?

  • $\begingroup$ Evolution doesn't favor intelligence. Intelligence, physical strength, an extra thumb, or whatever are all equal options in evolutionary terms. If one trait helps an organism produce more offspring, it will be "selected". I would think the environment is larger than just 3% of the "smart" population being sterilized. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ You can use >! spoiler blocks. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 11:27

4 Answers 4


This is biological nonsense. The intelligence of any offspring of any parent, regardless of their intelligence, on average will be closer to the average intelligence of the population. Basically two highly intelligent parents will have kids on average whose intelligence will be higher than average, but closer to that average than their super-smart parents. The children of parents who are morons will have kids on average whose intelligences will be closer to the population average than parents.

In the long run, it will make remarkably little difference to the average intelligence of the population. The most it might do is only reduce the average intelligence by only a very small amount. Insufficient to make any real impact.

There will be almost no change in the intelligence of the 97%. In fact, if anything they will be compelled to use their brains more. The achievements based on intelligence are more due to attitude than inherent aptitude. People who work harder achieve more.

As for there being any wisdom in the strategy, there is none whatsoever. It's plain bad biology combined with delusional ideas about inherited intelligence.


Added the phrase "on average" to sentences in paragraph one to clarify the fact that the proposed 3% sterilization will fail due to the genetic variance in the total population.

The expression of any genetic characteristic in nay offspring will tend to the population average irrespective of its expression in their parents.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Actually intelligence has a quite significant inherited component. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 7:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Although IQ differences between individuals are shown to have a large hereditary component, it does not follow that mean group-level disparities (between-group differences) in IQ necessarily have a genetic basis." The OP's scenario depends on between-group differences. It's the variation within a population that counts not the smarts of individuals. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ The way I see it is that the OP is suggesting in-group selection towards lower IQ. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Actually the OP avoided talking about IQ. A wise move. Every generational cut involves dividing the group into two groups. The comparisons have to be made between the probable outcomes of the full 100% against the 97% who are allowed to breed. This is eugenic nonsense rearing its ugly head again. If you want lower the intelligence of a population, sterilize the top 97% for successive generations. Genetic variation s***ws the 3% strategy. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 9:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @kingledion: That's true, but read what this answer actually says. It says "the intelligence of ANY offspring of ANY parent" (emphasis mine). Which seems wrong, at least as long as intelligence can be shown to have a heritable component. After all, if we e.g. select dogs for size, we wind up with St. Bernards or Great Danes, not average-sized mutts. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 0:14

Just because you have to be in the top 3% to be chosen doesn't mean they get all of the top 3%. There are almost certainly some who don't apply or have a bad test day or get sabotaged by a parent jealous of kid's success, etc. And, since these are humans, someone probably has a finger on the scale to keep out race X or religion Y or attribute Z. There will almost certainly be enough bleed that the main population isn't losing out on much.


Intelligence is only partly genetic and comes primarily from training and education. Highly intelligent parents are in a good position to help their children develop a higher intelligence as well and get them good education, which is probably a much bigger factor most people with higher education have parents with similar high education.

The top 3% not having children of their own might cause a small dent in the intelligence of a population, but if the people have a good education system that effect might very well be negligible.

  • $\begingroup$ Please see my comment under a4androids answer; it applies to your response as well. $\endgroup$
    – grldsndrs
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ Social and economic factors are far more important than usually realized. The greater mass of the intelligent people in any population do not enjoy those institutional advantages. Sheer confidence and the networking advantages of being of an upper class make them effectively superior even when they're not innately so. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:28

Nature vs. Nurture

Note that this doesn't matter to the question. Let's assume that intelligence and moral qualities are 100% nurture. There would still be an evolutionary effect. The people being removed are the most nurturing. Remember that one teacher who really connected with you? She or he is on the island in this story. You don't meet until adulthood, if then.

Short term

Initially, this pulls all the best people out of the populace. Which may explain why the mainland is essentially one big slum. We don't see any middle class people.

Medium term

With only second tier teachers, the next generation struggles to learn. Worse, the moral standard drops. As the inspiring leaders are pulled out of the population, there is more and more premium on day to day living. Lots of Clintons and Trumps; very few Kennedys and Reagans.

Long term

Eventually we'd reach an equilibrium. The people being removed are essentially the same as everyone else.

Positive effects

There are also positive effects of the system. Note how potential strongarm dictators like Alvarez are also pulled out of the system. They aren't rejected and sent back. The system kills them. It's unclear if the system embraces this effect. I.e. if it had recognized Alvarez from the beginning, it might have passed him through the early tests.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .