In my extreme world where controversial public policies are implemented based only on hard/robustly peer-reviewed scientific studies, the people of this nation prospered and were fruitful in birth-rates for many, many years. However it was not always to be so. One day the scientocracy had to conduct another study to assess a deadly situation. Long story short, this scientocracy was a victim of its own success; the boom created a population and after a few massive and unforeseen natural disasters this population was now unsustainable. The science survey teams representing the scientocracy all come back with the same result: "We must cut our losses. While there are not enough resources to support everyone, the most logical thing to do is use the remaining resources for those who are best suited for rebuilding the state of the scientocracy."

Question: It's tempting to turn the moral cheek and go for liberal policies in such a crisis, but the scientocracy is dead-set on eugenics. How does the scientocracy proceed -- what are logical next steps for it to take? What heuristics should it base its next actions on?

Examples can include, but are not limited to:

  • The most painless way to cull the population
  • Research paper titles
  • Economic cost functions vs. biological diversity cost functions
  • etc.

Further Clarifications / Assumptions

  • setting is near future
  • prefer not to brain-wash population
  • no imminent threats, geo-political or natural
  • the scientific literacy of the citizens of the sceintocracy is widespread
  • the citizens are patriotic, yet still have a will to live
  • science is advanced, but still not perfect
  • we would assume that science would have saw this coming, but for whatever reason, it didn't (I tried a scenario with a few hundred years heads up, but it really killed the sense of conflict)
  • "drastic" here means over 40% of the population will be forsaken

  • "dead-set" here means the report is final. I want to avoid having a loop hole where we just torture the statistics until they confess to eugenics being the wrong way to go. Let's just assume this report is final, if in the distant future they find out there was a better way, oh well.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 28, 2017 at 22:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It'd be pretty easy to convince a scientocracy. Every real-world experiment with eugenics has been science-based in its rationale, and it's always the intellectuals that go along with it. Convincing a theocracy... that would be hard -- especially when you run out of apostates. $\endgroup$
    – Wes Sayeed
    Nov 29, 2017 at 3:23

16 Answers 16


There are some issues with your premise.

1. It's not a pure scientocracy

While there are not enough resources to support everyone, the most logical thing to do is use the remaining resources for those who are best suited for rebuilding the state of the scientocracy.

What you're describing is an autocracy. The governing's body prime intention is to perpetuate itself; and prioritizes itself over its citizens. In essence, the governing body becomes self-sustaining (providing future power for itself), as opposed to deriving power from their citizens.

Note that this isn't impossible. A governing body can be both a scientocracy and an autocracy. Most governments consist of several ideologies. The issue is usually more focused on the prioritization of these ideologies.

To use a real world example: Even though the US is democratic (the governing ideology, not the political party), it uses some forms of oligarchy (e.g. the President appointing Supreme Court judges, as opposed to holding elections).

Don't look at your government as an archetypical example of a scientocracy. Consider them as a mixed-ideology-government that predominantly operates as a scientocracy, but also relies on fall-back ideologies.

E.g. in cases where science cannot help (e.g. morality), or in cases where there is no conclusive scientific evidence (yet); how does your government approach the topic? Does it err on the side of maintaining order? Does it err on the side of personal freedom?

Note that if you do limit yourself to only scientocracy (above all else), then the solution is simple. The argument against eugenics is a moral argument. Objectively speaking, eugenics will improve on the human condition considerably, in a way that humanity gets to decide what to improve.
If you are looking at things purely scientifically, and by extension objectively, and put the objective above the subjective at all costs, then the moral argument is moot and eugenics will be implemented on the basis of its objectively superior results.

2. This is not eugenics.

Reference link:

Frederick Osborn's 1937 journal article "Development of a Eugenic Philosophy" framed it as a social philosophy—that is, a philosophy with implications for social order. That definition is not universally accepted. Osborn advocated for higher rates of sexual reproduction among people with desired traits (positive eugenics), or reduced rates of sexual reproduction and sterilization of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics).

Eugenics revolves around genetic selection. While this can be artificial (e.g. gene mapping), the initial approach was to artificially enhance the "natural" genetic modification process, by matching partners more intelligently (as opposed to ineffable feelings of love or lust).

Not having enough food to feed everyone, and choosing who to feed, is not eugenics.
Note that it does touch on the same evil: deciding who lives and who dies; and therefore inherently "rating" the value of human life.

There is overlap between the two, but this is not eugenics. And this is important! Opponents of the new system will call it out as eugenics (and thus a bad plan). In response, those who advocate this system will spend a lot of effort pointing out that this is not eugenics.

This is already a first answer to your question: if the advocates of this system sway more people than the opponents do, then it will gain popular support.

3. Putting the cart before the horse

Question: It's tempting to turn the moral cheek and go for liberal policies in such a crisis, but the scientocracy is dead-set on eugenics. How does the scientocracy proceed -- what are logical next steps for it to take? What heuristics should it base its next actions on?

I don't understand your question. When you say that "the scientocracy is dead set on eugenics", then you've already reached the point where the people in power are willing to implement eugenics.
By definition of them being the people in power, they are obviously capable of implementing such a system, so what's stopping them from simply implementing it?

  • If, in a dictatorship, the dictator wants something to be done, then it will (should) be done.
  • If, in an oligarchy, the oligarchs want something to be done, then it will (should) be done.
  • If, in a democracy, the majority of voters wants something to be done, then it will (should) be done.
  • Logically, if, in a scientocracy, the empirical evidence proves that eugenics are an objectively superior approach, then it will (should) be done.

This is almost exactly the definition of what a scientocracy is: the course of action is decided by the empirical evidence, not by people's subjective opinions.

I suggest you take a step back here. Assume that there is no (conclusive) empirical evidence yet. But the current evidence strongly favors eugenics as a superior approach.
Because it's unproven, neither side of the debate can prove that they have the answer. And because they can't prove anything, the discussion devolves into assumptions and beliefs.

Because even if your citizens are all logical and willing to await conclusive evidence; they will still need to deal with everyday matters until that point. And in absence of conclusive evidence, they will have to go by their gut. Especially if they are highly logical, they will be very inexperienced with making gut calls, and there will be a higher chance of them making the wrong gut call.

This imprecision in the absence of conclusive evidence, is exactly what can cause people to make wrong decisions (even with the best of intentions).

But how do we implement this food selection system?

Okay, so we've addressed the inconsistencies. On to an actual answer. Note that while I still believe that your example is not eugenics; I'm going to consider that the "food selection program" is equally abhorrent to the public as eugenics is.

This is mostly because the opponents of the "food selection system" will call it eugenics in order to discredit it, and therefore those who are against it (the only people you need to worry about) will consider it equally evil as they do eugenics.

Oh boy, it's time for my favorite quote!

Those who play with the devil's toys, will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.

In other words, it starts out innocent (toys), but it expands step by step (by degrees) until it's no longer innocent (sword).

There's also a runner up quote to use here: Divide et impera (divide and conquer). You'll see why.

This is almost always the way in which controversial topics are introduced to the public. A quick and sudden change will cause a massive outcry (i.e. why revolutions are generally bloody affairs), but a slow and steady change may go by unnoticed.

The approach needs to be tailored to the actual goals. So let's draft a first example of the intended food selection program, in ranked order of priority:

  • Those who contribute to the government are given food.
  • Those who meaningfully contribute to scientific research are given food.
  • Those above certain IQ are given food.
  • Those who meaningfully contribute labor (engineering, social facilities) are given food.
  • The rest of the food can be distributed among the population as they please (however the people choose to distribute it, doesn't matter as long as they don't start a civil war).

If you were to implement all of these rules at the same time, that's tantamount to a revolution; which will not go over easily.

So instead, let's play with the devil's toys:

1. Set a precedent for denying food.

Focus on a group of people which is widely considered as evil/no good. Using a modern day example: ISIS.

  • Gain the public's approval to prohibit (or selectively limit) the food supply to regions that are under ISIS control.
  • Try to offer (and attempt) several other solutions first, before mentioning the food. That way, it doesn't come across as if it's your main goal.
  • Ensure that the publically known intention is to eradicate ISIS. Do not mention the food selection program.
  • The true end goal is to get the people to agree to denying food to ISIS, because it sets the precedent that food is no longer an inalienable human right.
  • If you want to improve the results unethically: secretly fund ISIS, to make them stronger. The stronger ISIS is (or appears to be), the more likely the people are to agree with your harsh food control measures. However, this does come at the risk of your plan being exposed.

2. Show examples of people who should be given food.

Focus on a person/group who is widely considered as good. Using a modern day setting: a researcher who is close to finding to cure for cancer, but who is unable to continue his research due to local rioting due to food shortage.

  • Do not suggest that the food supply needs to be increased.
  • Instead, merely report on the problems with continuing the research. Let the media explain to the people that riots are the cause of the problem.
  • Increase public interest in the problem (e.g. by calling it into focus repeatedly)
  • Eventually, the media will inform the people that the rioters are rioting over a food shortage.
  • It's also possible that the rioters themselves come forward, explicitly pointing at the food resource problem (similar to how Al-Qaeda publically denounced America in its released videos)
  • To speed things up, have someone unconnected to your government suggest that the problem can be solved by ensuring access to food.

The core idea is to let the people come up with the idea to send food. This creates a precedent that food can be given to those who meaningfully contribute to science.

3. Discredit the groups that won't get any food from the food selection system.

Even though the food selection system is not used yet; you'll already be fairly certain that certain groups will get the short end of the eventual stick. For the sake of example, let's say that you know that these groups will likely get no access to food: prisoners, janitors.

The goal is to dehumanize them. Don't mention whether they deserve food or not, but simply try to lower their perceived status in society.

  • Prisoners: Provide exposés on the horrible consequences of crime. Highlight innocent casualties. Paint criminals as wilfully criminal (and not by necessity). Become highly intolerant of lesser crimes, edging towards zero-tolerance. Try to foster a public opinion that casts criminals and ex-convicts as outlaws, people who society no longer includes and who will have to fend for themselves.
  • Janitors: Focus on news stories janitors who commit a crime or do something that the public disapproves of. E.g. find a janitor who deals drugs in the high school they work in.
  • At the same time, increase public opinion of roombas and automated cleaning facilities. This drives the point home that janitors are becoming redundant in today's society.

The goal is to lower the societal rank of these people, and foster public discontent about them.

You don't need to even raise the issue of food scarcity. We've already established that people who are deemed "unworthy" by the public (e.g. ISIS) should not get a food supply.
All you need to do now is ruin the reputation of criminals and janitors, up to a point where people will start equating them to ISIS, and therefore will treat them the same way.

And your hands are clean, since you never suggested to stop feeding prisoners or janitors.

4. Indirectly promote the added value of the government to society.

This can go hand in hand with the above points, but can also be approach independently:

  • Pull attention to issues that the government expertly handles. The outbreak of malaria was handled perfectly? Pull it into focus. Repeatedly find out why the system handled it so perfectly (spoiler alert: the answer will always be that the benefits are inherent to government).
  • When publically condemning janitors and prisoners, make sure that the people see the government as a system that keeps them safe.
  • Always keep focus on would-be-problems that would occur if the government was disbanded. E.g. one of the main reasons why Kim-Jong-Un stays in power, is because his people believe that the NK government is the only thing that prevents a hostile invasion by America/the West.
  • Cover up the bad things in the government (e.g. corrupt officials). Excessively highlight the good things.

Some quickfire suggestions (too small for their own topic):

  • Evolve towards giving food as prizes in contests.
  • Put a high stress on fine cuisine.
  • If you (freely) give food to a subset of the people (e.g. the homeless), that will have a positive impact on a larger subset of the people (thus netting you more bang for your buck).
  • Never raise the topic of food rationing for publically divisive topics. Only open that door once you know you have public support.
  • As you've noticed, a lot of these steps require a decent media infrastructure. Closely control the media (but remain absent enough to not be exposed), ensure that everyone is incentivized to listen to the media.

5. Rinse and repeat

By using the four steps listed above, you've created four (independent) public precedents:

  • We should curtail the food supply of the unworthy.
  • We should ensure the food supply of the worthy.
  • Some groups are not meaningfully contributing to society.
  • The government is essential to prevent the system from collapsing.

And these are the cornerstone of your food selection program.

The people may not immediately switch over to this new ideology. E.g. even if they agree to curtail the food supply of ISIS, they might not agree with the methods on principle.

Which is why you need to repeat the steps. Find another enemy whose food the public will happily take away. Find another public hero who the people willingly give food to. Ostracize more groups (keep it unrelated to food rationing). Continually improve the public image of your government.

Eventually, the people will put two and two together, and they will start living with an ideology that is more compatible with your food selection program.

And the best part is that they think it's their own decision. They don't feel like the government is pushing them towards food rationing, they are simply deciding to use food rationing as a punitive measure, and they chose to do so voluntarily.

As a footnote, I hope you agree that your scientocracy is the narrative evil of your story. Because my answer is basically adapting the fascist playbook to your situation.

  • $\begingroup$ You, as well as others, have pointed out my premise is debatable, and I appreciate the chance to correct any weaknesses in my logic. You have opened my mind up to the flat vs hierarchical continuum. Maybe it would make sense to envision a more autocratic scientocracy, Seeing as a pure scientocracy might face the same dilemmas as other flattened governmental organizations, it would be slow and bogged down, and given the crisis in the premise, time might take precedence. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 14:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ArashHowaida: I think the main issue is that a pure scientocracy does not care about opinion, when objective conclusively correct evidence exists. If you assume a pure scientocracy, and also state that the plan is proven to be the best course of action, then there is no more debate (nor objection) to be had, the plan will be put into practice. If you still want a debate/objection to exist, you first have to define why it exists. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Nov 28, 2017 at 14:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ My god! I hope you don't work for any PR department. You appear to have far too much understanding of how to do this. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2017 at 15:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MartinBonner: Luckily, I'm only a software developer, I only enslave the digital world. However, I've always had a knack for finding flaws in a system (and figuring out how to exploit them) rather quickly. Which helps me a lot when I'm debugging or deep testing :) $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Nov 29, 2017 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater I do the same. I've always found it takes someone particularly gifted at breaking things to be able to build things that are hard to break. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Mindor
    Nov 29, 2017 at 16:01

Eugenics was all the rage until someone tried it

In the early part of the 20th Century the concept was very popular with the European intellectual elite.

To start running it in your own country without undue protest you need to start by turning the people against each other. If your society is not homogeneous, blame one section of it for the over population and any other problems your society may have. Create a law to force those members of your society to wear a clear visible marking, a green crescent on their arm perhaps, maybe a yellow star.

I shouldn't really need to say more than this, you all know where it's going.

  • 11
    $\begingroup$ Addendum. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Nov 27, 2017 at 15:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "very popular with the European intellectual elite." Amen. I was shocked to discover relatively recently that H G Wells supported eugenics. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 8:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @FaheemMitha: Shania Twain's song That don't impress me much contains the lyrics "Okay, so you're a rocket scientist"/"That don't impress me much" ;) $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 9:25
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I will point out that eugenics falling out of favor was merely by association with "the enemy" - it was rejected due to guilt by association. Humans are not mystically immune to evolutionary pressures which could be guided just as we do with domesticated animals - progressives saw it as just another tool for improving society, yet post-war revisionist history makes us feel somehow morally superior (while quietly ignoring that the inspiration for eugenics programs came from the US and the rest of the developed world). As uncomfortable as that makes some feel, we should never forget that. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 16:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi we were just discussing this in chat. It was normally considered in racist rather than scientific genetic terms though. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Nov 28, 2017 at 17:52

If I understand your question...

The state is looking to be selective

Whacking the top off the age pyramid isn't the solution they're looking for. Despite their reasoning, they want to do something that appears much more subjective, much more unfair, and much more personal... they want to off my little Johnny!

Because the government thinks little Johnny doesn't measure up. He's not smart enough, or not trained in the right field, or he eats too many Twinkies®, or there are already too many working in that particular job, such that he's not deserving of food and other resources despite his youth and potential.

The state is expecting the population to be understanding

They don't want to be heavy-handed anymore than they want to be hard-hearted. This is science! And it's what we do when science demands it!1 So you're looking for a way to convince the population to off their children, their mothers, their fathers... not the aged, who they may be convinced have lived long, happy lives and, since they're not as productive as they used to be, need to make the "ultimate sacrifice" for the good of the state2... but people parents tend to perceive to be just as good as everybody else.

Mothers Against Science United!

Human nature being what it is (without massive mental conditioning, at least) you'd have every mother in your society popping planks out of their kitchen floors to retrieve weapons of all varieties3 to exercise their Fundamental Rights of Sovereign Citizenry clause 6, subsection 8, paragraph 2 to protest (*cough*) "peacefully" against governmental policies that may seem a little less science-based than usual.


Without imposing some form of control (brainwashing, police state, etc.) there is no way to convince even a small part of the population to give up people under the conditions stated. Generally speaking, wives and husbands will always perceive their spouse as someone they need and parents will always perceive their children as indispensible.4 Frankly, I can't find a way to simply convince them to give up spouses and children.

"It's for the good of the state, Mrs. Ohmsford."

"No! Johnny's only eighteen! He's getting straight A's!"

"We're sorry, Mrs. Ohmsford. There are too many students planning to become lawyers and your son's a bit overweight...."

"Take my grandmother! She's willing! She's 92!"

"And she eats almost nothing, while your son...."

"Take me! I'm tired and worn out anyway and no one appreciates me!"

"Mrs. Ohmsford, you just won the 2017 Handley Award for your research into how to more efficiently collect refuse from residential areas, you're indispensible!"

-- distinctive sound of pulling the slide on a Glock G41 pistol --

"You can take him from my cold, dead arms you insensitive #)%^(*@!"

1Usually said with an old Chicago-mafioso twang. Something along the lines of "'Dis is business, and this is what we do when we do business."

2AKA, Hurling Day.

3It's an antique! It doesn't need to be registered....

4And yet, these same parents never seem to worry about leaving their kids in the car on a summer day with the windows up as they "just pop in" to buy a bit of weed. It's funny how the human mind works.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your tl;dr section is, at least with the line-breaks at my resolution, the same height as the non-tl;dr section. $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Nov 27, 2017 at 23:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Aaron Same height perhaps, but it has a much lower word density. Also the majority is dialogue which is significantly easier to process than normal sentences. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Nov 28, 2017 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ @AngelPray Therefore the non-TL;DR section should be cut out of the answer. We don't have enough resources to host all of the text... $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 28, 2017 at 17:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JBH Unfortunately you can't do that; it's impossible to make your answer small enough as per this paper... Wait - you could set your <font> size to 0! That would make it small enough. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 28, 2017 at 19:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JBH No, I just meant setting it to zero for storing in the database, so it took up less space. You'd obviously enlarge it again for displaying on the website. (Duh! It needs to be read.) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 28, 2017 at 19:51

prefer not to brain-wash population

That is the hard question. When is someone brainwashed? Considering that your people have been living in this society for generations and so far no rebellions have emerged, probably means you already have a somewhat brainwashed society with a lot of cultural emphasis on believing the scientists.

That is not unlike any religion in history with the added benefit that you don't need to rely on faith alone. So in an environment like that: just do it.

Hire a PR firm to broadcast just how right the scientists are, how much peer review is done, the amazing sample size in the trials etc., etc.; brand any dissenters as Enemy of the State and/or Heretic. In short: make sure the populace is willing to burn anyone who disagrees at the stake. Literally. Supply the kindling if you have to. No brainwashing required, just the regular background peer pressure of society.

Now for the actual execution: David Brin wrote some nice Space Opera books on Uplift, the idea of breeding and training other species into capable starfarers. In one book he described the system in use with a post-chimpanzee society. Everyone gets a breeding pass. Green passes can breed with whoever they want and have to donate sperm or eggs to the donor program. White passes (the majority) have to submit for a approval and might have to accept a donation of sperm or eggs. And then there are red passes, who are not allowed to breed. In the books the system seems to work quite well and drives all sorts of societal motives, I quite like it for that reason alone.

Now for the exact how and when, well, that is up to you, the writer of the story. It provides some excellent goals and obstacles for your heroes.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Borgh! Cool first answer. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Nov 27, 2017 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Borgh Thank you for your answer as well as literature recommendations, it all gets me thinking. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2017 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Similar to A Brave New World $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Nov 27, 2017 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ The book with the chimps is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Uplift_War by the way. $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Nov 27, 2017 at 15:39

Let me state this first, your baby-boom premise is not believable since all technologically developed societies with high levels of educational affinity and gender equity struggle with birth rates. There is an extensive research on why is it happening, so I invite you to check it out.

But let's assume that your society managed to reach a replacement birth levels of approximately 2.1 babies per woman and world population growth stopped at 8 billion. However, due to massive natural disasters, even this population is no longer sustainable.

Here are my suggestions for decreasing the population.

1. Selective and delayed disaster relief

Massive natural disasters are perfect natural population cullers. Highly developed societies can be even more vulnerable since they depend on infrastructure and delivery of supplies. Therefore they create conditions for high mortality rates which are easily justified by science. Difficulties with relief measures are also easily justified by science.

So, start a system of triage. Evacuate and resettle those who are most valuable for your society. Evacuate but not resettle the second tier. Leave the rest to fend for themselves. However, make sure to prevent them from forming an uneducated mob. Uneducated masses, on one hand, are easier to control, on the other hand, they breed fast.

2. Ration and prioritise resources.

Keep educational levels high, but ration everything for everyone, including the top of society. Do not allow lavish lifestyles. If you are successful with this, deaths from malnutrition and lack of medical help will be much easier to accept for the general population.

Give priority to those who contribute to your society. However, do not forget to justify it with propaganda based on science.

3. Promote a one-child policy

If your society does not have a cultural priority for a specific gender (as was the case in China and South Korea) you should not be worried about infanticide and gender-based abortions. You can also explicitly outlaw providing parents with information about the gender of a fetus (it helped in South Korea a lot).

4. Allow and facilitate assisted suicide

Spread a notion that suicide is not an easy way out, but a way to contribute to the society when all other options are unavailable. It is also a good way to stop sufferings of those terminally ill. Promote an idea of a suicide as a method of reduction of resources drain. Flood your population with scientific research dealing with cost benefits of assisted suicide and future gains in human capital.

Also, promote an idea of assisted suicide as a mercy rather than a murder. Recommend it as a viable solution for those whose family members suffer from any major mental or physical disease. You can check already existing papers advocating euthanasia for justification.

5. Base all your decisions on 'the future of the human race'

Here eugenics becomes the main idea. Task your scientists with defining desirable traits and characteristics. Make the information public. Promote the idea of the future benefits for those who follow scientific guidelines. Do not make choices for your educated people. They will not like it. Leave the choices to people, but constantly remind them about their responsibilities and consequences of bad choices.

  • $\begingroup$ #4 is the real kicker here. Give your population an "out" and some % will take it, maybe enough to not require any further action. $\endgroup$
    – Reed
    Nov 28, 2017 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ I really like 1,4, and 5. 1 is easy to justify as natural selection that must be allowed to function. 4 and 5 could see a samurai type culture where failure to progress science for the good of the species is a dishonor rectified only through suicide. "be the scalpel that removes the cancer of your failure" $\endgroup$
    – Stephan
    Nov 28, 2017 at 19:32

China used to have an one-child policy. They are phasing it out now for various reasons, but it did have significant effects on their demographics. For your story, consider the conflicts and problems, and decide if they appear in your setting as well or if you deal with it.

  • Male children were expected to look after elderly parents and carry on the family name. That led to abortions and infanticide. Can your scientists make credible promises that elderly without sons (or without any children) will be cared for in decent retirement homes?
  • Telling people that they should have no children is difficult. The human instict is to procreate. It might be easier to tell them that their baby will be "improved" by the geneticists, or that "the best" out of several egg and sperm combinations will be selected. The cute little baby would still have mommy's nose and daddy's eyes, or whatever. Plus the latest immune system upgrade and a boosted IQ, or whatever the setting allows.
  • In the real world there are people who refuse prenatal screening on moral grounds. They would carry the baby to term and care for it anyway, so why test for disabilities? Are there people like that in your story? Misguided fools, hopeless romantics, or villains?

  • Does your fictional society have enough time to solve their problems by reducing birth rate? Or do they need faster results?

  • Quite a lot of educational outcome is nurture, not nature. People might argue that eugenics are missing the point, what is really needed is better pre-schools.

  • $\begingroup$ Great analogy and science-based factors $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2017 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ I saw reports that many of those women were just not registered and are missing only on paper. For example, this one. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Nov 27, 2017 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Olga, would that be enough to make up the gap? If "many" are missing and "many" of the missing are not really missing, does that mean "many" are still missing? $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Nov 28, 2017 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m., I am afraid we will never know exactly. China is not very friendly when it comes to demographics research. However, these data still suggest that previous reports were either inaccurate or overdramatised (or most likely both). $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Nov 28, 2017 at 10:58

Depending on how 'near future' you're talking I think Douglas Adams already answered this one quite nicely in the Hitchhikers Guide.

As has been mentioned in most of the other answers, there is no easy way to cull large swathes of the population without causing some dissent. Particularly if you are doing so based on some sort of points scale of who is better qualified to live and who isn't.

So you don't cull them, you send them off to colonise a new planet in a generation ship. Depending how willing your populace is you either pull a Douglas Adams and lie to remove the useless portion of the population while keeping the high achievers or you straight up tell them there is no room for everyone and someone has to go.

Being a nation of science following rational thinkers the thought of exploring the universe and colonising new planets will probably appeal anyway so it shouldn't be too difficult to convince people to go.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Or you do cull them and tell everyone they've gone to colonize a new planet? $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Nov 28, 2017 at 4:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Finally! Why did it take so long for someone to write this as an answer? @Thorne: same difference $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Nov 28, 2017 at 6:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But for Zarquons sake, keep the telephone sanitizers. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Nov 28, 2017 at 6:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @nzaman One minor difference is that it's cheaper to just straight up murder everyone. A virus should do the trick. Just quarantine a large portion of the population and let it decimate them. Tell them that a virus is loose that will kill everyone, split the population in 10 or so segments, and let the virus have a go at 4 of them. Repeat until the population is small enough. $\endgroup$
    – Clearer
    Nov 28, 2017 at 7:55

Paper titles that contribute to this end, sorted from early to late in the process:

  • Effects of removal of natural selection on human populations

  • A longitudinal study on growth factors in human population

  • Meta-study on protein scarcity by type

  • A cost benefit analysis on the use of grains as a fuel source versus food source

  • P-value analysis of studies which have shaped population policy

  • Ethical implications of human breeding restrictions

  • Genetic trait analysis: desirability within the human population
  • Crisis management: a study of alternative protein sources
  • Social implications of medical advances
  • Optimization of distribution of food resources
  • Opting out: a study of the effectiveness of methods for those choosing the greater good
  • Genetic optimization: NPTN expression within a population
  • The greater good: a study of sanitary disposal methodology

Assumptions not to be questioned:

  • In your world, a highly developed society having a problem with overpopulation instead of declining birth rates is plausible
  • In your world, eugenic selection is scientifically (if not necessarily ethically) shown to be the most (or only) reasonable solution for this problem of overpopulation

Further Assumptions:

  • Your Scientocracy has an economic system which allows for a certain amount of economic pressure and/or incentives to be put onto the citizens, be it through adjusting the central distribution of goods and services or manipulating the market for them

  • Simply forcing people to be killed is not going to work out too well for the government

  • You don't have to reduce the population by 40% right now, you have several years or even a few decades

  • You can't just use CRISPR to resolve all birth defects and make perfect babies

Policies towards procreation:

The state needs to disincentivise having children, especially many children. Since having children is a strong natural desire of most people, this desire needs to be managed.

Our first order if business is to help people not to have children on accident. Birth control measures should be freely available to anyone. Sterilisation is free and accesible. Abortions should not be stigmatized but be seen as an entirely legitimate tool of family planning. Health education should be comprehensive, start reasonably early and include proper instruction on birth control and the disadvantages of early pregnancy. A scientific society should have these sorted out anyway. Also, fertility treatment is now unavailable or prohibitively expensive.

Next, we want people who want children to think twice about going through with this. Forbidding children entirely isn't going to work out, so what we're doing is encouraging as few children as possible. To this end we'll be using a lot of measures that China used in its one-child policy, but we'll be augmenting them a bit.

We've seen that in our modern societies, having children is becoming somewhat less popular. Women want to have careers too, and childcare is a lot of work for a lot of time. We will incentivise career and education while reducing possibilities to combine them with childcare.

There will be no more free child care facilities, you have to invest resources into them now. Also, you only have a right to get one child into them, each child after the first will be over capacity and you'll have to figure out a way to supervise it by paying out of pocket. Only wealthy people can have multiple children now (since being a stay-at-home parent deprives you of income and paying privately for childcare is expensive).

Continuing with economic incentives, there will be some kind of bonus for people who don't have any children. Maybe a tax break, maybe some kind of extra vacation or free entry to certain recreational facilities (petting zoos may help to alleviate the need to cuddle something cute, you could also encourage people to have pets like cats and dogs as a replacement for children). A bonus sounds better than a penalty for having a child.

Then, each child after the first does in fact occur a penalty, be it in taxes or otherwise. Don't overdo it though, it should be really uncomfortable, but not to the point of keeping secret children in your basement for all their life or child police searching houses and culling breed. We'll keep it economic and societal. (Keep in mind that this scientific society should not have a bias towards males like china had, so a few of the demographic problems they have can be avoided).

Speaking of societal, having multiple children should be seen both as uneducated and low class and as selfish and harmful towards society. Instead, resources are pooled towards the few children we have, combined with replacements like pets. Pooling resources may also mean that children could be to a certain degree be communally raised instead of limited to their parents and teachers. A child doesn't need to be your own flesh and blood, right? It's almost as good (possibly just as good if we look at adoptive parents in the real world).

We should also place very high expectations onto parents. There will be no child neglect tolerated. Child abuse carries the highest of punishments. Methods like corporal punishment will be absolutely banned. (Most of these would be in place anyway in a scientific society). Being a parent is a privilege and comes with duties. Only the most dedicated should make the commitment to have a child, and the high expectations would also feed into the communal aspects of childrearing I mentioned earlier (you'd need help, basically).

If you want to be a bit more brutal, you can also implement something like forced sterilisation for serious crimes.

Since a one-child policy will reduce the population quite a bit in a few generations, this is a good mid-term plan.

Policies towards defects, sickness and aging:

Obviously we'll be encouraging aborting all children with birth defects. To that end we will implement compulsory testing for all pregnancies and we will place all responsibility for caring for a child with a defect that had been diagnosed yet not be aborted onto the parents who made that choice, there will be no healthcare assistance for defects that could have been avoided.

In case of terminal illness, degenerative disease and chronic morbidity (assuming that the science you have isn't capable of easily treating or healing them) we will emphasise that everybody has a right to a peaceful and dignified death. Assisted suicide will be relatively easily available and seen as a legitimate and socially encouraged solution to an otherwise unsolvable problem. There will be therapy available for the bereaved, the state will cover all cost of the funeral. People will be given the opportunity to say goodbye. Maybe there is even a ceremony or ritual for this. Mourning is socially acceptable, maybe people get a few days off work.

We will also not hold back from treating such diseases with pain medication that can shorten life, even in early stages. The disease will cut life short anyway, so it's best to enjoy the bit of life that you can as much as possible. Suffering isn't noble, it's unnecessary and cruel. Sure, if the pain would pass without trace, then it wouldn't make sense, but since this is a chronic affliction, what harm is there to be done? Quality of life is much more important than quantity of life!

The same goes for age. If your body breaks down and you can't do the things that you love anymore, why not prepare to leave while you have the facilities? Do you want to wait until you can't recognise your own children anymore and become a blabbering remnant of a once great person? Do you want to do this to your family? Why not spare them and yourself the pain. You've had a long and fulfilled life after all. (Obviously here too the state cares for the family and pays for the funeral.)

Policy to reduce adult population:

When resources are scarce, people become afraid and defensive. This allows you to be more draconian in terms of punishments. We can't even feed our people and you steal, defraud, abuse, rape? You're obviously a leech on society.

The death penalty is one thing that comes to mind, since while it doesn't really work against crime it does totally reduce population. A bit less overt would be forced labour under conditions that a) save resources (people aren't fed well, don't have good healthcare etc.) b) produce resources (labour is useful after all) and c) can lead to accidental deaths (poor working conditions). Exile also works as a punishment, maybe criminal colonies that have to support themselves could be implemented.

Policies for eugenic selection:

We already spoke about abortion of foetuses with birth defects. Next, people who have genetic defects don't get to have the one child everyone else gets. Give them some kind of consolation or priority for adoption, maybe an extra incentive for sterilisation. Encourage, don't force, it's not their fault after all. They're tragic people who unfortunately couldn't be helped, but we won't let it happen to others in the future.

If you have people who carry particularly great genes, give them a bit of leeway in terms of children. Maybe let them have more children who're technically not theirs legally, but they are allowed to see them. Others could adopt them and not have to have their own or they could be communally raised. Or maybe give out extra child allowances for special meritorious service.

Implement elite schools, universities and societies for the best and brightest (and healthiest and most beautiful) to meet and mingle. Let those mix their genes and procreate. They're probably more wealthy anyway, so they can afford a second child.

Particularly useful mutations or just really great assemblies of genes could also be declared useful research subjects and thus be exempt from child limitations.

  • $\begingroup$ Why not just make a virus that will target specific combinations of genes/not attack specific combinations of genes and let it have its run in isolated parts of the population. Let it have a limited lifespan of, say, 2 days and release it every week or so. $\endgroup$
    – Clearer
    Nov 28, 2017 at 7:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Clearer Hard to keep secret, significant repercussions when it comes out (it's after all mass murder of innocents), risk of unintended side effects and dangerous mutations of the virus. $\endgroup$
    – Pahlavan
    Nov 28, 2017 at 8:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Pahlavan You took this into a few really cool directions, thank you. I particularly was struck by your description of subsidies for early demises and the overall incentives approach to let the citizens self-select into their optimal wealth/utility/happiness brackets. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 14:53

Quick non-facetious semi-rhetorical question related to your idea of a "scientocracy": do minimum wage laws help the economy as a whole or hurt it? *Does quick google search for meta-studies* WTF? How is something this important to human well-being, charged with affect, and well-studied still not decisively answered? Or more pertinently, why do educated people continue to believe that it is a settled question when it clearly isn't? And we're talking about science and scientists here, much less the talking heads at Fox or MSNBC.

Reality is a harsh mistress.

Your scientocracy (as you've explained it) is a theocracy: people (you?) are bestowing on science an aura of papal infallibility. Scientific truth is more of a continuum. Consider the following things:

  • Maxwell's equations
  • Theory of Evolution
  • Anthropomorphic Climate Change
  • Abiogenesis
  • Law of Supply and Demand
  • Theory of Mind
  • ...
  • Homeopathy
  • Phlogiston

Maxwell's Equations are not only repeatable through direct experimentation, they have held up over time without being refuted. Evolution has lots of evidence, and has gone a long time now without a counter-example (i.e. the infamous "rabbit in the Pre-Cambrian") although is not as amenable to experiment. Climate change has had far less time to be refuted than Evolution. Abiogenesis is a good and respectable guess at the origin of life and has the potential to be confirmed via direct experiment (although that hasn't happened yet). Etc, etc, all the way down to homeopathy which seems absurd, and defunct models like phlogiston.

Now you may take exception to where I've placed things here, but that's not the point: the point is that scientific "truths" are gradients, not binary. Some truths are "truer" than others, and sometimes even in a quantifiable way. This is without even getting in to the whole "is a close approximation like Newtonian Mechanics 'true'" debate.

So no, I don't think it's far-fetched to have a scientifically literate society go down the Eugenicist's path with little-to-no justification at all (other than some good old fashioned bias magnification and cherry-picking of studies). On the contrary: I think it's far-fetched to have a scientocracy where the entire concept is not being played from a somewhat dystopian angle.

You could of course have your scientocracy be such that it acted with epistemic humility: aware of biases, Chesterton's Fence, the gradients of scientific "truth", more awareness of the distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' sciences, etc. But that is (unfortunately) unbelievable, at least to me. I'm also not sure how you'd get a good story out of it.

  • $\begingroup$ There's no consensus on minimum wage because science always takes a back seat to politics. Politicians use MW to buy votes without having to raise taxes, so they like to fund studies saying MW is the most awesome thing ever. The businessmen who are being forced at gunpoint to pay higher wages and/or reduce their workforce or close up shop are resentful of this and fund sources of the opposite opinion. Truth is irrelevant to both sides. Climate change is the same situation. The setting the OP wants to create is as well, so the key is to discredit opponents via social biases rather than logic. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Nov 28, 2017 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ This is not an answer to the question as asked. It is an extended commentary on eugenics, science and society. I am aware it is unpalatable to contemplate a hypothetical world where eugenics isn't delusional. This is better with in Chat or the comments under the question than as an answer. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 28, 2017 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ Technocracy, not Theocracy. Big difference. $\endgroup$
    – Rissiepit
    Nov 28, 2017 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android I did answer the question (see the penultimate paragraph): I find the concept of eugenics in the world as described by the OP to be completely believable without extra narrative justification. I'm just not sure I interpreted the OP's world the way they want it perceived and attempted to explain why. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Rissiepit I said what I meant: blind faith in authority is blind faith in authority even when (or perhaps even especially when) that authority is science. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 12:36

No imminent threats yet the population is unsustainable due to a natural disaster. I'm assuming said disaster affected infrastructure in a way that limited the production and delivery of goods and services, and automation hasn't reached the point of enabling a post-scarcity economy.

Since you're using a near future setting you could just go full on cyberpunk and create an adversarial ingroup/outgroup dynamic between people who are/are not genetically engineered and/or cybernetically augmented.

Have natural born humans as a minority who are statistically far less productive and far more prone to physical and mental abnormalities. Growing resentment among post-humans for having to pull more than their fair share of the weight relative to obsolete naturals. Some propaganda and false flags sponsored by a consortium of megacorps and their government lackeys and judging by historical trends you should be able to drum up support for natural ghettos. Once sufficiently confined any number of lethal bacteria and viruses could be distributed. They could even mutate, dun dun dun.

Judging by your call for "painless" culling you probably didn't want an allegory for 20th century fascism, but I'm struggling to conceptualize a non-dystopian mass culling due to over population.


To build and combine on some ideas mentioned in other answers:

Thorne suggest decreasing societal support programs for less able people.

Olga suggests allowing and facilitating assisted suicide.

Myles suggests releasing a series of papers, and though I like it, I think it would be too slow.

Based on the way you set out the question, it seems to me as if this is a sudden problem - a natural disaster has removed a portion of your society's ability to sustain itself.

Since this society is based on rationality and informed decisions, I suggest complete transparency towards the population with regards to the nature and severity of the crisis facing the group.

Stress that while, of course the government wants to help everyone equally, support for all must be cut/ severely limited to ensure that as many as possible people will receive at least some care.

At the same time, institute a voluntary euthanasia program. Link it to an offer to harvest cells/ eggs/ sperm from willing participants so that they may be cloned or reproduce in the future, when the society has recovered.

Less tasteful, you can link voluntary euthanasia to some material benefit for your loved ones, but I think this would probably lead to some exploitation, so would be leery to institute it.


Captain of all these men of death.

enter image description here

Tuberculosis has been with humanity for a long time. At its peak, the white plague produced a death rate of 800 / 100,000 in Western Europe during the late 1700s-early 1800s. As a comparison, the US death rate from all causes in 1991 was 513 / 100,000 and this year at the height of the AIDS epidemic, AIDS caused only 11 / 100,000 deaths.

This plague did not destabilize society, which continued to function very well. People with TB did not die fast and could function a long time while dying. For your purposes, a death rate of 800 / 100,000 could outdo the birth rate of your society and numbers will begin to fall. TB then and today was more prevalent among the poor and sick but it took the rich and young also. You can make your death rate from TB as high as it needs to be to accomplish the needs of your story.

How to get a society to accept tuberculosis? Romanticize it, exactly as was done during its height.

from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095461110600401X#bib32

In the face of such an awesome tuberculosis prevalence, society responded by romanticizing the disease. The wan and pallid facies of the victim of tuberculosis were thought to be attractive. Georges Sand, Frédéric Chopin's lover, called him her “poor melancholy angel.” Poet George Lord Byron, who did not himself have tuberculosis, is said to have remarked to a friend, “I should like to die of a consumption.” “Why?” countered his friend. “Because the ladies would all say, ‘Look at that poor Byron, how interesting he looks in dying!.’” Emily Brontë described the tuberculous heroine in Wuthering Heights as “rather thin, but young and fresh complexioned and her eyes sparkled as bright as diamonds.” Charles Dickens wrote in describing the death of Smike in Nicholas Nickleby, “[As] the mortal part wastes and withers away, so the spirit grows light and sanguine.”

Death from consumption in Moulin Rouge http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03060/kidman-mcgregor_3060451k.jpg


If a lack of resources is a problem, you could decrease social support programs so the less able would find it difficult to find work and support themselves. You then increase the death penalty for more crimes and accelerate the legal system and remove appeals so "justice" is dispensed much faster. Think Judge Dredd

You could also have society supplying recreational drugs with a cumulative life shortening effect so those with personal control issues shuffle off the mortal coil that bit sooner.

Euthanasia would also allow the sick and elderly to no longer burden the living.

Finally you bring in breeding licences so only the best and brightest have children because our future generation deserve the best and that includes the best parents.


The targeted group must rendered powerless and voiceless

They must become the pure embodiment of "The Other". Human morality cares a lot about whether someone, the victim or the attacker are "in-group" or "out-group". If someone is ingroup, all kinds of mental gymnastics will happen to justify a particular action. Try it. Consider the emotional impact of a murder of someone on the other side of the planet versus the murder of your next door neighbor.

If the targeted group can be made to look like the alien Other, regardless of how long they've lived there or the degree of social Integration, then the isolation required to cull them has already started.

Rendering them voiceless in a society with modern social media will be extremely difficult unless censorship is heavily used. They will have to be partitioned into their own little communities or excluded all together. Ideally, they will be completely isolated from each other to prevent coordination.

Once the target group is the Other and have no voice, let the culling begin.

Commentary on Eugenics

The process of science cannot answer questions of what should be done. It can offer viable alternatives but it ultimately resolves to humans to choose based on the information and their own biases. That a paper praising eugenics was peer-reviewed and found acceptable doesn't mean it's ethically right. Peer reviewed just means that a few other (unpaid) professors looked at the paper and didn't find anything wrong with it. If you send a paper to a bunch of people who want to see eugenics used, of course it will pass peer-review. And eugenics is just as evil.

The people who advocate for eugenics/genocide have an axe to grind already. They already have groups of people they don't like and would prefer to not have around anymore. They've picked their optimal, perfect human archetype and will justify it with studies as much as possible.

Ultimately, whether to use eugenics isn't about what science says but whether the people in power are kill the Others to reduce the strain on resources. This absolutely resolves to Us vs. Them.

  • $\begingroup$ While I, generally, agree with your sentiments and the reasoning, this doesn't answer the question. It constitutes an extended commentary on eugenics. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Nov 28, 2017 at 3:52
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Science neither supports, justifies nor rejects genocide. Science is a method, nothing else. $\endgroup$
    – Clearer
    Nov 28, 2017 at 7:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Green It's scary yet fascinating to see how the scientific method could be used in such a dark way. It is conceivable that the scientocracy would be even use eugenics to do away with their political opponents (scientists of a different school of thought, ect). They could also use the scientific method to minimize resistance or optimize wealth acquisition if "so and so" was out of the picture. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2017 at 14:46

Culling without killing: merge

What if some arcane technology allows merging humans? If persons to be merged are similar enough, it even won't be noticable for the invididual.

If it done on family bases (merging husband with husband, wife with wife and so on), it may be less noticable for surrounding as well.


You must log in to answer this question.

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