THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

The GATTACA Trilogy

[Few people realize that the 1997 cult hit GATTACA was actually just the first film in a three-movie trilogy. The final two movies, directed by the legendary Moira LeQuivalence, were flops which only stayed in theaters a few weeks and have since become almost impossible to find. In the interest of making them available to the general public, I’ve written summaries of some key scenes below. Thanks to user Begferdeth from the subreddit for the idea.]

GATTACA II: EPI-GATTACA

“Congratulations, Vincent”, said the supervisor, eyes never looking up from his clipboard. “You passed them all. The orbital mechanics test. The flight simulator. All the fitness tests. More than passed. Some of the highest scores we’ve ever seen, frankly. You’re going to be an astronaut.”

Vincent’s heart leapt in his chest.

“Pending, of course, the results of the final test. But this will be easy. I’m sure a fine specimen like you will have no trouble.”

“The…the final test, sir?”

“Well, you know how things are. We want to make sure we get only the healthiest, most on-point individuals for our program. We used to do genetic testing, make sure that people’s DNA was pre-selected for success. But after the incident with the Gattaca Corporation and that movie they made about the whole thing, public opinion just wasn’t on board, and Congress nixed the whole enterprise. Things were really touch-and-go for a while, but then we came up with a suitably non-invasive replacement. Epigenetics!”

“Epi…genetics?” asked Vincent. He hoped he wasn’t sounding too implausibly naive – he had, after all, just aced a whole battery of science tests. But surely there were some brilliant astronomers who didn’t know anything about biology. He would pretend to be one of those.

The supervisor raised an eyebrow, but he went on. “Yes, epigenetics. According to studies, stressful experiences – anything from starvation to social marginalization – change the methylation pattern of your genes. And not just your genes. Some people say that these methylation patterns can transfer to your children, and your children’s children, and so on, setting them back in life before they’re even born. Of course, it would be illegal for us to take a sample and check your methylation directly – but who needs that! In this day and age, everybody’s left a trail online. We can just check your ancestors’ life experiences directly, and come up with a projection of your methylation profile good enough to predict everything from whether you’ll have a heart attack to whether you’ll choke under pressure at a crucial moment. I’ll just need to see your genealogy, so we can run it through this computer here…you did bring it like we asked you, right? Of course you did! A superior individual like you, probably no major family traumas going back five, six generations – I bet you’ve got it all ready for me.”

Vincent reached into his briefcase, took out a slim blue binder. Here goes nothing, he thought.


Two weeks earlier, he had thrown a wad of cash down on a granite table in a downtown apartment.

The man across from him leaned forward in his wheelchair, extended a trembling arm to slowly take the cash.

“You’re, uh, sure you want to do this?” asked Vincent, suddenly feeling a pang of conscience.

“Yes,” rasped Jerome. “You’re young. You still have your whole life ahead of you. You can still make something of yourself. Me, I’m done.”

“Look,” said Vincent, despite his better judgment, “just because you’re partly paralyzed doesn’t mean you can’t…do anything, really. Write a book. Travel the world.”

“You want to know how this happened?” Jerome asked. “I did it to myself. I used to be the best swimmer in the state, maybe in the country. I was going to the Olympics. With a spotless family history like mine, there were no limits. Then it happened. I had a fluke defeat. Lost the Olympics qualifier by a hairbreadth to a guy I’d beaten twenty times before. After that, why go on?”

“But…couldn’t you have just tried again four years later?”

“You still don’t get it. It wasn’t the loss. That loss stressed me out, Vincent. It made me feel bad about myself. I experienced lowering of my social status. With my methylation profile that screwed, it wasn’t just my own body I had ruined. It was my future children too. How was I ever going to marry when I would have to look my wife in the eyes and tell her our kids would be epigenetically tainted forever? So I did the only thing I could. I threw myself in front of a car. Couldn’t even kill myself properly, that’s what happens when your methylation profile is ruined. So here I am.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Vincent, who was starting to regret ever having come. “We can help you. We can find some way to…”

“No,” said Jerome, and he put the cash in his pocket. “What’s done is done.” He took a slim blue binder, slid it over the table to Vincent. “My geneaology. Absolutely perfect. Not a single microaggression against any of my ancestors since the Mayflower.”

Vincent considered saying something, but finally just nodded. “I won’t let you down. I’ll use the gift you’ve given me in a way that would make you proud.”


He’d been so close. And now, this…whatever it was.

“It’s not a problem with you,” said the supervisor, though he looked haggard and did not exactly inspire confidence. “It’s just…there’s been an incident. We’re interviewing everybody.”

It was two days before launch. Everything had been set up. Now, as the supervisor ushered him into a sterile-looking interview room, he could already imagine the headlines. MAN BUYS FALSIFIED GENEAOLOGY, TRIES TO HIDE EPIGENETIC INFERIORITY. Or, FRAUD DECEIVES EPIGATTACA CORPORATION, MISSION CALLED OFF.

He was so busy generating worst-case scenarios that he didn’t even notice the identity of the detective seated across from him until the door had closed and they were alone together.

“Anton?”

“Vincent?”

“Um…yeah…” was the best Vincent could think of to say to his older brother.

They’d been in touch, sure. But Vincent had thought it prudent not to mention his exact job description, lest his brother start asking the wrong questions. He’d just said he worked for the Epigattaca corporation, letting Anton infer that he was sweeping floors or validating parking tickets or something else suitable to someone with his inadequate histone pattern. Finally he put himself together and spoke.

“What are you doing here?”

“There’s been a death. One of the executives. Foul play suspected. I’m a detective, so…”

Then it had nothing to do with him. Or, at least, it hadn’t. Now…

“Okay, Anton. Before you ask, yeah. I admit it. I faked my epigenome. There’s a black market in geneaologies. I found a guy willing to sell his identity. I saved up, bought it from him, gave it to the suits here. They think I haven’t had a microaggression in my family line since the Mayflower. And they’re going to do it. They’re going to let me go to space.”

“But why, Vincent? You were always such a good kid!”

“Of course you wouldn’t understand,” said Vincent.

It was true. Anton was five years older. He’d been born perfect, the product of the latest eu-epigenics program. Female infants with good epigenes were sent to live a sheltered existence in Denmark, the most equitable country in the world, and kept drugged on heroic doses of beta-blockers to prevent them from feeling any trauma or anxiety. They were raised in special houses by caretakers who denied them nothing, then sent to special schools where it was impossible to fail or feel inadequate. Then, when they reached puberty, they were artificially fertilized – no way the program was going to let them deal with something as stressful as sexual relationships – until they pumped out five or ten kids each. The most innocent were brought back to the shelters to restart the cycle.

It had all gone so well with Anton. But a year after he was born, everything had changed. One of the nurses had gotten sick, and an untrained nurse was brought in to cover. She had told Anton’s mother that she was looking “a little chubby”. Faced with this sudden awareness of patriarchal beauty standards and devaluing from a human being to a sex object, her histones had wilted instantly, her precious DNA inundated with methyl groups. When the scientists found out, they discharged her from the breeding program, she married a similarly damaged man, and the result, a few years later, had been Vincent.

“You’re right,” said Anton. “I can never understand what you go through. But I’m going to clear you. Right now. No conditions.”

Vincent could barely believe he’d heard correctly. “What?”

“It’s…my son. Your nephew. I never told you this, but a few years ago, he broke his leg biking. We got it treated by a black-market doctor, covered it up, no trace of it in any of the records, but – I can’t help worry about him. He remembers what happened. He’s going to need role models to look up to when he grows older, people who overcame epigenetic determinism and succeeded despite the changes our experiences impose on our DNA. He’s going to need someone like you. And besides, we’re brothers. I’ve already figured out who committed the murder – it was another executive whose department would profit by delaying the launch. I’m going to report that you’re innocent. And I’m also going to report that I didn’t discover anything else of note about you. Nothing that should delay this week’s launch.”

“You…you’d really do that for me?”

“Good luck in space, bro.”

Vincent walked out of the office in a daze. By the time he reached his desk, the email was already on the screen “Detective has said you’re good to go – launch is still on for Wednesday”. He read it three times, lost in thought.

He had always wanted to be an astronaut. Now he realized why – it was to escape his own epigenome. More than that – it was to escape a world that held epigenetics in such high regard that his epigenome mattered. He would still go to space. He would do it for Anton’s son, and for all the other individuals with a history of personal or family trauma. But he no longer felt like there was nothing for him on Earth. There were people who would judge him as a full human being, not just a methylation pattern shaped by familial disadvantage. And someday – he vowed – everyone would be able to say the same.


GATTACA III: EDU-GATTACA

“Congratulations, Vincent”, said the supervisor, eyes never looking up from his clipboard. “You passed them all. The astrogation test. The crisis simulation. All the physicals and health panels. More than passed. Some of the highest scores we’ve ever seen, frankly. You’re going to be an astronaut…”

Vincent broke out into a giant smile.

“…pending, of course, the results of the final test. But this will be easy. I’m sure a fine specimen like you will have no trouble.”

“The…the final test, sir?”

“Well, you know how things are. We want to make sure we get only the strongest, most intelligent individuals for our program. We used to do genetic testing, make sure that people’s DNA was pre-selected for success. But after the incident with the Gattaca Corporation and that movie they made about the whole thing, public opinion just wasn’t on board, and Congress nixed the whole enterprise. Then we tried epigenetics, but it turned out they made a movie about that one too. Really, our luck in all of this has been terrible. But this time, we’ve really got it! This time, we know how to identify truly superior human beings who deserve to be astronauts, no creepy biology involved. We’re going to base our decision on…what institution you spent four years in during your teens and early twenties!”

“Oh, come on,” said Vincent. “Can’t you just give up already and judge people on their merit?”

The supervisor pounded the desk. “Never! So-called meritocracy is a sham designed to justify inequality. No, we’ve made our choice, and we’re going to judge you by which university accepted you at age 17 based on a combination of illegibly-inflated grades, recommendations by people who barely knew you, and how much money your parents were willing to donate. You can complain all you want, but that’s just how we roll, here at the…” He pointed out the window, to the gleaming sign outside “…at the PhDMSMABSBA corporation.”

“How do you even expect people to pronounce that?” asked Vincent.

“Irrelevant! Now tell us what college you went to, so we can figure out what Greek letter to assign you on your application.”

“Greek letter?”

“Just an internal company code we use. We got tired of saying ‘top-tier institution’, ‘second-tier institution’, and so on, so now you’re Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. The Alphas get positions like executive or astronaut. The Betas get positions in middle management. The Gammas and Deltas have jobs like clerks and call center reps. And the Epsilons do the really dirty work, the stuff nobody else will touch.”

“That’s terrible!” said Vincent.

“That’s what everybody does,” the supervisor corrected. “The only difference is we use Greek letters. Is your moral system so fragile that its results depend on whether you refer to something with Greek letters or not?”

“Wow,” said Vincent, “this conversation has taken a disturbing turn.”

“That’s right. So why don’t you just show us your college degree, and we can get your application going?”

Vincent reached into his briefcase, took out a slim red binder. Here goes nothing, he thought.


Two weeks earlier, he had thrown a wad of cash down on a marble table in a suburban apartment.

The man across from him leaned forward in his wheelchair, extended a trembling arm to slowly take the cash.

“You’re, uh, sure you want to do this?” asked Vincent, suddenly feeling a pang of conscience.

“Yes,” rasped Jerome. “You’re young. You still have your whole life ahead of you. You can still make something of yourself. Me, I’m done.”

“Look,” said Vincent, despite his better judgment, “just because you’ve got some kind of condition doesn’t mean you can’t…do anything, really. Write a book. Travel the world.”

“You want to know how this happened?” Jerome asked. “I did it to myself. I used to be the best football player in the state. Maybe the country. Got accepted to Harvard on a football scholarship. Then I learned that college football causes so many concussions that it increases your risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I didn’t know what to do. Stick around, and I risked degenerating into the condition you see me in now. Leave, and I’d lose my scholarship, never get a degree, and have to go to community college. I’d never be anything higher than a Delta.”

“A Delta?”

“Some new corporate jargon people are using.” Jerome shrugged. “So I kept it up and got my degree. Now I can barely walk, and half the time I can’t remember my own name. So here I am.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Vincent, who was starting to regret ever having come. “We can help you. We can find some way to…”

“No,” said Jerome, and he put the cash in his pocket. “What’s done is done.” He took a slim red binder, slid it over the table to Vincent. “My Harvard degree. Top-tier institution, absolutely Alpha quality. With this, every single door in the world will be open to you.”

Vincent considered saying something, but finally just nodded. “I won’t let you down. I’ll use the gift you’ve given me in a way that would make you proud.”


He’d been so close. And now, this…whatever it was.

“It’s not a problem with you,” said the supervisor, though he looked haggard and did not exactly inspire confidence. “It’s just…there’s been an incident. We’re interviewing everybody.”

It was two days before launch. Everything had been set up. Now, as the supervisor ushered him into a sterile-looking interview room, he could already imagine the headlines. MAN BUYS FAKE DEGREE, TRIES TO HIDE EDUCATIONAL INFERIORITY. Or, FRAUD DECEIVES PHDMSMABSBA CORPORATION, MISSION CALLED OFF.

He was so busy generating worst-case scenarios that he didn’t even notice the identity of the detective seated across from him until the door had closed and they were alone together.

“Anton?”

“Vincent?”

“Um…yeah…” was the best Vincent could think of to say to his younger brother.

They’d been in touch, sure. But Vincent had thought it prudent not to mention his exact job description, lest his brother start asking the wrong questions. He’d just said he worked for the PhDMSMABSBA corporation, letting Anton infer that he was sweeping floors or validating parking tickets or something else suitable to someone with his educational background. Finally he put himself together and spoke.

“What are you doing here?”

“There’s been a death. One of the executives. Foul play suspected. I’m a detective, so…”

Then it had nothing to do with him. Or, at least, it hadn’t. Now…

“Okay, Anton. Before you ask, yeah. I admit it. I faked my degree. I found a guy willing to sell his identity. I saved up, bought it from him, gave it to the suits here. They think I’m a Harvard alum. And they’re going to do it. They’re going to let me go to space.”

“But why, Vincent? You were always such a good kid!”

“Of course you wouldn’t understand,” said Vincent.

It was true. Vincent had spent years working ten-hour days after school teaching the saxophone to underprivileged children to build his resume, but the Admissions Departments hadn’t been impressed. Anton had learned from his mistake, hired an admissions coach, and with her guidance had founded the country’s first Klingon-language suicide prevention hotline; the Ivy League had eaten it up. Vincent had ended up with a degree from a Gamma-level state institution; Anton had gone to Yale.

“You’re right,” said Anton. “I can never understand what you go through. But I’m going to clear you. Right now. No conditions.”

Vincent could barely believe he’d heard correctly. “What?”

“It’s…my son. Your nephew. You remember how he started a synchronized underwater molecular gastronomy team at his high school? Apparently all the other kids have been going to the Third World and starting synchronized underwater molecular gastronomy teams there, and we never knew about it. Now there’s no way he’s going to be competitive. I can’t help worry about him. He’s going to need role models to look up to when he grows older, people who overcame going to a low-tier college and succeeded anyway. He’s going to need someone like you. And besides, we’re brothers. I’ve already figured out who committed the murder – it was another executive whose department would profit by delaying the launch. I’m going to report that you’re innocent. And I’m also going to report that I didn’t discover anything else of note about you. Nothing that should delay this week’s launch.”

“You…you’d really do that for me?”

“Good luck in space, bro.”

Vincent walked out of the office in a daze. By the time he reached his desk, the email was already on the screen “Detective has said you’re good to go – launch is still on for Wednesday”. He read it three times, lost in thought.

He had always wanted to be an astronaut. Now he realized why – it was to escape his own low-tier college degree. More than that – it was to escape a world that held degrees in such high regard that the college he went to mattered. He would still go to space. He would do it for Anton’s son, and for all the other individuals with a subpar secondary education. But he no longer felt like there was nothing for him on Earth. There were people who would judge him as a full human being, not just a set of letters after his name. And someday – he vowed – everyone would be able to say the same.

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134 Responses to The GATTACA Trilogy

  1. ian parkinson says:

    Of course the stress of having to spend your childhood second guessing the random future fads of admissions processes means that methylation is unavoidable.

    Ahh, the good old days where you just had to work really hard in the field you found most interesting in order to ace an admission test that was testing the subject you wanted to study.

    • Garrett says:

      OTOH, does this mean that we’re now sorting for stress tolerance? Either you have a mental breakdown and thus fail the screening process, or you are able to proceed into the corporate world where you have to deal with the stress of having “spirit” in a world of mediocrity, hypocrisy, and incompetence.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Ahh, the good old days where you just had to work really hard in the field you found most interesting in order to ace an admission test that was testing the subject you wanted to study.

      Nice to be in a place and have a support network which are both conducive to such work and study.

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    These days it doesn’t seem that the people who talk most about juding people as full human beings are the ones in favor of testing and meritocracy…

    (Edit: Of course, as other commenters point out, it’s not like the original Gattaca was really in favor of going-by-tests-and-actual-accomplishments either — that being a position whose existence it seems to have ignored, instead setting up a false dichotomy between genes and “spirit” — but that’s another matter…)

  3. Mazirian says:

    The weird thing about the original movie is that Vincent actually doesn’t deserve to be in the space program. It’s not only that he’s got a genetic liability for heart failure. It’s that he’s got an actual heart condition. We’re cheering for him even though chances are that he’ll have a heart attack and crash the shuttle he’s piloting and kill everyone aboard.

    • Ninmesara says:

      I’ve always thought that it was kind of the joke… They were so impressed by his genetics that they failed to test him properly. There’s no way he could fool an actual ECG (not a simple rythm strip like he does in the movie). Nor would he be able to cheat an echocardiogram if he had structural heart disease (ehich he probably hadn’t, this is just a hypothetical).

      • 天可汗 says:

        They were so impressed by his genetics that they failed to test him properly.

        “Congratulations, Elizabeth”, said the supervisor, eyes never looking up from his clipboard. “You passed them all. The biochem jargon test. The TED talk. The diversity committee simulator. All the class tests. More than passed. Some of the highest scores we’ve ever seen, frankly. You’re going to be a CEO.”

    • Ninmesara says:

      (continuation, can’t edit the previous comment)

      If only they had focused on testing for ACTUAL problems instead of obcessing about genetics they’d have screened him out based in actual risks…

      • Mazirian says:

        Sure, but that’s not the message the movie pushes. The tagline is, “There is no gene for the human spirit”, not “You should run thorough, unfakeable medical tests on your employees.”

        • JulieK says:

          I think we’re trying to steelman the movie.

        • JulieK says:

          Is there some rationalist-jargon term for “Correctly identifies problem, but poses solution that is worse?”

        • Lillian says:

          Given that personality is known to be about 50% heritable, this means that there are totally genes for half the human spirit.

          • mcmadeofmeat says:

            Not necessarily.

            Consider that if a parent raises their own child they will pass on memes in addition to genes. Memes are not genetic, but they are heritable.

          • quanta413 says:

            @mcmadeofmeat

            Heritability estimates usually estimate the genetic contribution specifically and call that “heritability”. For example, a twin study might compare twins raised in different families to suss out the genetic components of personality. So memes usually aren’t part of what is meant by “heritability”. Something like inherited DNA methylation would behave similarly to inheriting a DNA sequence, but not much evidence has been found in humans for methylation being a large source of variation between individuals (compared to DNA sequence).

            Memes would increase up the similarity between siblings or parent and child, but they aren’t what’s meant by the term “heritability”.

            The whole idea of personality is pretty fuzzy though. Maybe “spirit” isn’t the heritable part of personality or maybe it’s 100% heritable.

    • Murphy says:

      The movie really needed an extended scene where the shuttle ploughs into an elementary school as he has a heart attack at the controls during takeoff.

      A more contemporary version of GATACA would basically be a story about an elderly person who doesn’t want to lose their drivers license so they memorize the vision charts, fake their medical records and cover up severe epilepsy and heart problems.

      Spin the whole thing as “inspiring” with people talking about how we’re more than our medical record and the disadvantages faced by people medically bared from being drivers or pilots. Have a whole scene where a half blind person confidently strides into the road almost getting themselves and others killed as cars swerve around them because they don’t want to reveal that they’re mostly blind to to a girl they’re trying to get into bed…. wait that scene actually was in the movie….

      near the end one of the assessors catches on and chuckles, giving them a tip about how to cheat one of the tests better before passing him. .

      Movie ends with the protagonist driving away merrily before briefly cutting to a scene of a car accident where the survivor of a young family is being cut out of the wreckage.

    • John Schilling says:

      We’re cheering for him even though chances are that he’ll have a heart attack and crash the shuttle he’s piloting and kill everyone aboard.

      He’s not piloting the rocket, which does not appear to be a shuttle. Vincent’s character was described as being a navigator for a deep space mission, so he’s presumably a passenger for the launch and is likely to die somewhere between Earth and Saturn.

      It is unclear why the Gattaca corporation thinks a spaceship will need a dedicated on-board navigator or what will happen when one dies. Most likely just a degradation of mission performance due to being unable to do real-time maneuver planning near Saturn.

    • moridinamael says:

      I don’t know if it’s entirely clear that he actually has a heart condition. He has a genetic predisposition toward a heart condition. But he’s already lived longer than he was expected to. Yeah, he has one scene where he collapses after running, but you can read that as him faking superhuman performance and then just reacting as a mere human would. Throughout the rest of the movie he demonstrates relatively good physical fitness.

      • moridinamael says:

        Neurological condition: Manic depression : Attention deficit disorder. Heart disorder– Early fatal potential. Life expectancy: 30.2 years.

        So they’re literally wrong about everything else, why would they be right about the heart condition?

        • Murphy says:

          You excluded the probabilities which is about as misleading as hearing the weather forecaster say 42% chance of rain then declaring them wrong when no rain falls.

          Neuro condition 60%
          Manic depression 42%
          ADD 89%
          Heart disorder 99%

          He has a significant cardiovascular event in the locker room after a fairly relaxed jog. Not any kind of superhuman sprinting.

          He verges between depression and insane risk taking like the blind road scene making the manic depressive prediction seem likely to be true.

          In short : their prediction seem pretty damned accurate. Even the predicted life expectancy is just that. His voiceover claims certainty but the doctors are shown talking in probabilities which appear to pan out pretty accurately which hints at the characters beliefs/perception being at odds with what we’re shown.

          He’s shown having a similar possible cardiovascular event near the start of the film during exercise as well.

    • crash the shuttle he’s piloting and kill everyone aboard.

      Ok so long as he owns it. As per Matt M.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Matt M hasn’t posted in this thread (yet)..? If you’re going to be the sort of asshole that drags personal grudges from one thread into another you could at least provide a source for the aspersions you’re casting

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Banned for one year

    • teageegeepea says:

      I could swear there was a review of the film by Steve Dutch which made the same point, but now I can’t find it.

  4. sesardic says:

    http://www.ln.edu.hk/philoso/staff/sesardic/Gattaca.pdf
    from The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Cinema (2008)

    • Murphy says:

      Great intro to that!

      Imagine that you are on an intercontinental flight and that immediately after takeoff the pilot makes the following announcement:

      Dear passengers, I hope you will join me in celebrating a wonderful achievement of one of our navigators. His name is Vincent. Vincent’s childhood dream was to become an airplane navigator but unfortunately he was declared unfit for the job because of his serious heart condition. True, he does occasionally have symptoms of heart disease, like shortness of breath and chest pain, yet he is certainly not the kind of person to be deterred from pursuing his dream so easily. Being quite convinced that he is up to the task and that everything would be fine Vincent decided to falsify his medical records. And indeed, with the clean bill of health readily forged and attached to his application, he smoothly managed to get the plum job and is very proud to take care of your safety today. Can we please get some applause for Vincent’s accomplishment and perseverance in the face of adversity? And, by the way, keep your seat belts tightly fastened during the entire flight.

      • baconbits9 says:

        A major point of the movie is that Jerome isn’t fit for space, if getting 2nd in a swim meet causes him to jump in front of a car there is no way he would have held it together in space in the face of adversity.

        • Eponymous says:

          Funny, one would think that a eugenics program would select for genes that make people learn from failure and persevere in the face of adversity.

  5. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I’ve always felt that Gattaca would have worked a lot better, or at least made more sense, if Vincent wanted to do anything other than become an astronaut.

    While he doesn’t have The Right Stuff to be an astronaut given his dangerous heart condition, he is still definitely talented and driven. There have to be better uses for that talent than pushing a broom, but the irrational degree to which his society values genetic purity means that he won’t be able to do so. That is a genuine injustice and it’s a shame that the movie mucked it up by having him aiming for a job he can’t actually perform safely.

    If Vincent had been an architect, the movie go-to career to show someone is both very smart and creative, the movie could have kept its message without that problem. Show that people care more about his genetics than his blueprints and he has to fake being genetically perfect for anyone to notice how good his designs would be. Then you can end with him in the observation deck of the newly constructed Gattaca Building that he designed, and pan out to show that it’s a huge skyscraper looking down on the retro-futuristic city. That’s still a triumph of the human spirit but it also makes sense for someone who has a fatal heart condition.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The main thrust of Gattaca is that Jerome is broken by the tiniest failure (a success to most people) and that Vincent will not be stopped by any obstacle and ending up inspiring others to aid him he becomes an even greater force.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Right, but does that require Vincent to take a job he is incapable of actually performing?

        Even if it needs to be a physically demanding job from a narrative standpoint, there are a lot of jobs that fit the bill but where a sudden heart attack won’t endanger the lives of others. He doesn’t have to be an astronaut in order for the movie to work.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The job has to be aspirational enough to show what Jerome gave up with his rash actions.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Right, that’s why I picked architecture.

            For some reason it’s movie shorthand for being creative and visionary without giving up the upper middle class lifestyle. In the world of cinema it’s a very high status job.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Jerome could be an architect in a wheel chair, but he wouldn’t, he would view it as beneath him. His character would rather burn himself to death than accept that position in society, it isn’t aspirational for him at all. Jerome’s character wouldn’t even sell his name to a guy who wanted to be an architect.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Overall the movie is shooting for the tension between Jerome and Vincent, Jerome is not just there to provide a cover persona for Vincent. J is being punished for failing to live up to his potential, he misses it by a tiny fraction and then he literally burns to death. He isn’t judged by society, or the Gattaca corporation or by his girlfriend he judges himself unworthy and ends up in his own personal hell.

            The audience is supposed to root for Vincent, but they aren’t supposed to know what to do with Jerome. The first reaction is generally pity, he is after all in a wheelchair which at least explains his drunkenness and inability to succeed, but you find out that he is a selfish ass who ruined his own life, eventually he gets a bit of redemption in our eyes, but not his.

            Jerome gets defined by his single failure in life because his expectations are so high, but Vincent gets defined by his pursuit of success without the actual success mattering (for the audience’s opinion of him). He doesn’t succeed despite his heart issue, he succeed’s because of it, when he beats his brother in their swimming contest it is because he had nothing to lose.

        • IsmiratSeven says:

          But real-life airplanes are capable of being safely piloted in emergency situations (by mere in-valids, no less) with the loss of half the flight crew.

          Like, am I actually supposed to worry about the chances of several genetically-superhuman astronauts being able to cope with the (possible, but left ambiguous by the movie’s highlighting of the two lifetimes’ worth of genetic material) in-space loss of a single crew-member in a super-duper spaceship from “THE FUTURE”? Give me a break.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Then you can end with him in the observation deck of the newly constructed Gattaca Building that he designed, and pan out to show that it’s a huge skyscraper looking down on the retro-futuristic city.

      …after which snarky internet thinkpieces would add “and then the building collapses into rubble and everyone dies.”

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The symmetry of comparing his building blueprints to his genetic blueprints would be great. But would be challenging to do on the big screen. As a book, it’s perfect.

  6. mobile says:

    Someone told me that The Matrix was also just the first film of an otherwise forgettable and difficult to find trilogy. Can anyone confirm?

    • Mazirian says:

      Nah. If there’d been any sequels, I think I’d remember them.

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      Such knowledge has been lost to the whims of time.

    • J Mann says:

      I have two pills for you. Take the blue pill, and you can go back to thinking there’s only one Matrix movie.

      Actually, just take the blue pill.

      (I actually think Matrix 2 is passable, mostly for how it finds ways to challenge Keanu after the end of the first movie, and I like the Animatrix well enough that I would be indifferent between watching it or all the Aeon Flux episodes).

      • roystgnr says:

        How hard should it have been to find ways to challenge Keanu? Sure, at the end of the first movie he’s SuperKeanu, but the machines have billions of hostages. Let SuperKeanu fly to a packed stadium and start giving a speech revealing the truth, then the Agents nuke the stadium, and *now* you have a real conflict again. You could even keep the “Keanu is mopey” stuff and you would definitely keep the “There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept” threat, but now there would be some sense and some more emotional connection behind them.

        Many of the Animatrix shorts were excellent, though.

      • AG says:

        I’ve seen multiple film aficionado sites championing the Matrix sequels as good all along now (they also love Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending), and my answer is that they might have been good films…as the sequel to another trilogy. What is alienating about them isn’t their content by itself, which could make for an interesting Ghost In the Shell-style film about questioning your reality, but the broader context of their gleeful dumping all over what people liked about the original Matrix.

        If the Wachowskis wanted to tell a story about questioning the Chosen One narrative, then that needed to be seeded in the first movie, but the Matrix never did that, instead doing everything it could to convince us to unironically get on board with it. So it’s disingenuous for them to then condemn the audience for doing so in the next movies. Plenty of stories involve the protagonists finding out they’ve been working for the wrong person (most JRPGs, Hunger Games) or their previous strength becoming their downfall (Empire Strikes Back), but most of those don’t also invalidate the characters’ motivations at the time. The tone in those examples is tragic (in the Greek hero sense), not accusatory, there’s still sympathy for the characters and audience feeling the way they do, not a sneering condescension at the core of the original film.

        It’s how much the sequels were dependent on the “Gotcha” aspect, when it would be easy enough to build on some of the tensions in the first movie about Neo’s Chosen-ness into empowering the other characters to become just as special.

        • mdet says:

          The Film Theory youtube channel, and I think a few other places, have pitched the theory that Mr. Smith is The One [CW: He’s kinda annoying]. I think the theory holds up on everything except that Trinity was prophecied to fall in love with The One, and she clearly doesn’t fall in love with Smith, and Morpheus was prophecied to find The One, when it’s more accurate to say Smith finds him.

          • AG says:

            The Star Wars prequels kind of take the Mr. Smith route, of “what if the Chosen One’s self-actualization means destroying what the protagonists value?” Mr. Smith could have brought balance to the Force!

            ———–
            There’s definitely something to a broader theory about how in many traditional heroic epics, the characters with the most visible character development and arcs are the primary antagonist (as opposed the greater villain). That’s why, in hindsight, there are many franchises that can argue that said antagonist was actually the protagonist all along, such as in this case.

            Anime combines this with the old trope in folklore of the hero recruiting their pals through friendly competitions (see Robin Hood vs. Little John and Friar Tuck, for example), so that the “first boss” in a shounen is defeated and becomes their strongest ally afterwards.

    • John Schilling says:

      There Can Be Only One.

    • Sigivald says:

      Unfortunately, I can confirm that.

      It – unlike Gattaca, see below – at least had its intolerably stupid premise (“batteries! we’re all batteries!”) buried so low and irrelevantly that it could be overlooked, and seen as the perfectly good action movie it was.

      • Hanfeizi says:

        Ah, except the Wachowskis always thought their viewers were smart enough to realize that Morpheus was full of crap about that.

        But we’re so used to omniscient reliable narrators that we took them for the ones who got basic thermodynamics wrong. Oops.

        • Nornagest says:

          He’s not just a narrator. He’s simultaneously a ship captain and a martial arts sensei and a post-apocalyptic tribal leader and a war veteran and a religious elder, all played by Lawrence Fishburne, who is a bald, middle-aged black guy with a really deep voice. That’s like a dozen cinematic cues for reliability.

          There are hints elsewhere in the movie that audiences were expected to be a little skeptical about what he says, but when that’s fighting a whole stack of mentor tropes it kind of kills the tension. I don’t think I ever doubted that Keanu Reeves was Space Jesus, for example, and that was left a lot more open than the battery thing until the last act.

          • Hanfeizi says:

            Right, and that was kind of the whole point – in the sequels, we were to realize that Morpheus was utterly full of crap.

            Do that, and everything else begins to fall into place.

          • Nornagest says:

            What sequels?

            Not entirely joking — when the first movie was released there was no guarantee that there’d be two more. It needed to make sense on its own; it could leave threads dangling, but something that looked like a mistake should have been a no-go.

        • teageegeepea says:

          It’s been a long time since I watched either Matrix sequel, but I don’t recall anything disconfirming that humans were being used as batteries.

      • J Mann says:

        FYI, if I could change one thing about the Matrix, I would replace batteries with the concept that there is something mysterious about sentience, and that the software can only achieve a simulated sentience by presenting actual human brains with situations, then using their choices to seed a decision. Still gibberish, but a little deeper gibberish, and it ties into the general scifi mysticism that the Wachowskis’ were going for.

        ETA: After googling, internet lore has it that the Wachowskis initially intended the humans to be used as processors, which is pretty close to my idea. The support is limited – apparently, there’s a line in one of the commentaries that they originally intended something else, plus a Neil Gaiman in-universe short story – but the idea seems widely accepted.

        • Hanfeizi says:

          Well, that and – as I said above – the only evidence we have that humans were being used as batteries is Morpheus’ say-so.

          In “The Second Renaissance, Part 2”, it’s revealed that the Matrix was created out of compassion to the humans and was probably costing the robots more energy (almost certainly, actually) than they were receiving- they were probably generating nuclear or geothermal power (Zion was obviously running on geothermal power); the harvesting of energy from humans was probably only a secondary recycling of another primary energy source.

    • Hanfeizi says:

      Huh. I’m a big fan of the Matrix Trilogy as a whole. The sequels are the opposite of the Star Wars prequels- they get better with repeat viewings as you see everything that’s going on. The Wilber-West commentaries in the original boxed set were really good with them, too.

      • mdet says:

        The Animatrix is good, and I’ll still watch Reloaded for some pretty great action scenes, but I avoid Revolutions. I once saw a YouTube video try to argue that the Battle for Zion, watched as a standalone with all the parts about Neo stripped out, is actually pretty good on its own. I’ve never tried this, and even if I did I wouldn’t have the privilege of going in blind, so I just took them at their word.

  7. helloo says:

    Is this an aesop for or against designer babies?

  8. Eponymous says:

    The comparison is unfair. Epigenetics is basically bunk. Education is actually a good screening test; it’s just needlessly costly, so we’re in a bad equilibrium.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      Well, the point is to use the plot as a tool to specifically highlight the bad aspects. In particular, the idea that which college you get accepted to matters (or rather should matter), when in fact, at the higher levels it’s a very blatant exercise in pure signaling games plus parental money. A system that judges you by your education and looks at [i]real[/i] attainments would be fine; that’s not what is on offer, which is the problem.

      • Hanfeizi says:

        It works to a point in advanced technical education; the selection to get into the likes of Caltech, MIT or Harvey Mudd is so rigorous, as is the curriculum, that you’re probably getting what you pay for there.

        Ivy League liberal arts students, on the other hand? Eh….

        • 57dimensions says:

          I mean MIT isn’t immune from the same admissions problems Harvard and Ivies have, I know a more than a few people from just my graduating class who are definitely smart but not at MIT level and clearly are there because of athletic ability or parental influence/donations.

        • bottlerocket says:

          On the curriculum side, I have some random anecdotal data. MIT taught MechE basics about three times as fast as a random Ohio state college. Akron U spent an entire semester on statics, while the intro-level course at MIT covers all of statics, plus dynamics and something else (state space modeling?).

          I’d also say at least half of the practical value I got from being at MIT came from being in a high density of really smart technical folks. There are just a lot of conversations and experiences that are only possible with a critical mass of intelligence in the room.

        • Cliff says:

          I heard that Harvey Mudd collapsed under the weight of progressive identity politics and now has a class that’s 50% the old dynamics and 50% tokens who can’t cut it and frustrate everyone else- true?

          • tempman says:

            Graduated this past year in the 10 at least 5th, actually, looking back at my commencement program, percentile of the engineering class; from my perspective, the school is ~80% old dynamics (especially for the mechanically-inclined engineers [I’m sorry]), ~15% people who are both really smart and technically capable as well as unreasonably leftist (where unreasonably is entirely unreasonably defined, based on the premise that I’m reasonable and that people who I think are unreasonable are unreasonable), and ~5% people who actually can’t cut it. Graduate level courses are still taught in all disciplines.

            I can’t say that I feel that I graduated alongside anyone who I know didn’t deserve it, although I’m self-aggrandizingly and unreasonably inclined to say that that’s because the people who can’t cut it as engineers become CS majors. About 85% of our class (across all majors) graduated at the end of 4 years. I expect 5 – 8% more will graduate within the next year based on previous trends. Many of those people have struggled academically, but more because they were bad at studying or dealing with some really rough personal issues (which I know to be the case for at least 5 of them) than because they weren’t capable.

            TL;DR false.

          • Doesntliketocomment says:

            I’m glad to hear that Harvey Mudd is still going strong . I got accepted there ages ago, it was always a regret I couldn’t afford to go.

      • Yaleocon says:

        Which college you get accepted to actually matters a great deal. It’s which college you actually go to that doesn’t matter. If you get accepted to Harvard and then go to Podunk State, you’re as likely to succeed as someone who actually attends Harvard.

        So why don’t the schools have any value added? My wager is, it’s not that the selection or curriculum isn’t rigorous at those places (@Hanfeizi). At an Ivy, in any department not ending in “studies”, keeping up on your own involves being smart and working hard. The problem is more that everything Harvard teaches is useless. Econ doesn’t prep you for finance, philosophy doesn’t prep you for anything, and majoring in computer science (i.e. knowing how to copy a friend’s problem set) doesn’t prep you for the scripting you’ll do in a job, even though all of those programs are difficult and rigorous.

        Nonetheless, since most people accepted to an Ivy go to an Ivy, going to an Ivy still signals intelligence. The signaling system still works. It’s just that the actual institutions that have developed around it are parasitic nonsense.

        • Nearly Takuan says:

          Nonetheless, since most people accepted to an Ivy go to an Ivy, going to an Ivy still signals intelligence.

          More importantly, 100% of people who go to an Ivy have been accepted to an Ivy, so going to an Ivy signals intelligence.

    • JulieK says:

      The comparison is unfair. Epigenetics is basically bunk.

      The second episode seemed like a metaphor for the old system where everything depended on what social class you were born into.

  9. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Addressing Scott’s actual point and not just movie criticism:

    We’re going to base our decision on…what institution you spent four years in during your teens and early twenties!”

    “Oh, come on,” said Vincent. “Can’t you just give up already and judge people on their merit?”

    So how do you measure the merit of someone who hasn’t done anything yet?

    Psychometric testing doesn’t measure your accomplishments after all. It predicts what you have the potential to do, just like Gattaca’s genetic testing. That’s not a bad thing if the predictions are accurate but it’s not meritocracy in the normal sense of measuring people by their accomplishments.

    (If you think that’s hair-splitting, I’m sure that you know at least one unaccomplished person with a stratospheric IQ. Being a 1-in-1000 genius makes it much more likely that you’ll succeed but it’s not a guarantee.)

    If you want to measure accomplishment, then you’re either going to be recruiting hobbyists or setting up an apprenticeship. Hobbyists are selected for talent but also for weirdness. Those with high-functioning autism often have obsessive intests, and can excel at them, but they also have a lot of behavioral issues which can make employing them difficult. Apprentices are more behaviorally normal but require a huge upfront investment in training on the part of their employer. Right now companies have a hard enough time training employees since they often jump ship to a higher-paying job as soon as it’s done.

    That’s not to say you can’t do better than our current system. I personally like the idea of transitioning from universities to apprenticeships within the structure of professional associations. But there’s no one thing that “we” can easily just stop doing and solve the problem

    • albatross11 says:

      Every measure for how well you will do in the future is flawed in some ways. Grades, standardized tests, quality of school, etc., all have major failure modes and can be gamed in various ways. ISTM that this makes an argument for allowing multiple paths to success, rather than having one track that you can only stay on by jumping through each hoop in sequence.

      It’s a better world when you can drop out of college and start a company, or go into the Navy after high school and then go to college as an adult, or go to medical school in Ireland and get a residency here, or….

      • Eponymous says:

        You can do all those things. Education is valuable, but it is by no means a necessity.

        It’s true that we’re in an equilibrium where most of the high ability types go to (a good) college, and so not going to (a good) college is a strong signal that one is not a high ability type. But that hardly precludes alternative paths (which indeed many successfully take).

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      I suppose he could be talking about people who found alternative ways into the workforce (like nepotism, maybe?) have done well but now find themselves unable to transition between companies or advance because of their lack of paper qualifications. I know someone like this, who didn’t complete college, got a job due to her drive and some lucky connections, but is now held back because of her youth and lack of degree. She is afraid there’s no way another company will take her seriously without paper, and her own company won’t promote her because they already have her doing the work, why should they pay her more? (also possible they know she’s trapped)

      For kids out of high school, though, I agree with Nabil. What merit are you judging them on? If there is an easy way to to this, why hasn’t some smart company moneyballed their way into a cheap, top-rate workforce yet? Or some company developed its own certification or grading system, outside the usual channels, selling potential employers access to a list of top-tier candidates? (the second one may exist for certain industries, I wouldn’t be surprised)

      • Jiro says:

        If there is an easy way to to this, why hasn’t some smart company moneyballed their way into a cheap, top-rate workforce yet?

        Griggs.

        • rlms says:

          What about the world outside the US?

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, there are US companies that give IQ tests to prospective employers. I gather there’s some hassle about making the case that the IQ test is reasonable for their job, but this is not all that high a bar.

            I suspect Greg Cochran’s explanation is right–HR people in most organizations aren’t particularly smart or innovative, and tend to be super risk-averse. I suspect there’s a lot of money left on the table because of this, one way or another.

          • Jiro says:

            I gather there’s some hassle about making the case that the IQ test is reasonable for their job, but this is not all that high a bar.

            The highness of the bar depends on the company. If you have good lawyers and you have them on staff so you don’t need to hire them just for this, you have a better chance of being able to get away with it.

        • Doesntliketocomment says:

          I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you mean.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        “If there is an easy way to to this, why hasn’t some smart company moneyballed their way into a cheap, top-rate workforce yet?”

        My impression is that consumer packaged goods company Procter & Gamble long ago moneyballed their way into a high quality work force. One way they did it is by developing a high quality test for job applicants. The Griggs Supreme Court decision putting the burden of proof on employers caused P&G problems, but they ultimately jumped through every hoop the government demanded to continue using their test.

        I would also be interested in learning more about how Walmart came up with a work force that made Sam Walton the richest man in the world. Walton picked a remote location in the Ozarks for his headquarters, but to the surprise of many was able to hire from the surrounding region the talent he needed to revolutionize retailing.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      There was a proposal many years ago, I think on Overcoming Bias, for separation of instruction and evaluation.

      I thought this idea made so much sense that ever since I’ve assumed no one ever talks about it because it’s so obviously a good idea that there’s no point discussing it. But now that I think about it that’s a weird thing to assume, so I’m bringing it up now.

      (The main way this wouldn’t work would be if education really is mostly a signal of conformity and conscientiousness but it’s actually super important to have such a signal)

      • Hanfeizi says:

        The problem I see with this is similar to Common Core – rather than education, you just get institutions “teaching to the test”.

        This can work fine with technical certification- and already works in many cases where you have a standardized base of knowledge.

        But I can’t really see it working in, say, the arts, or areas of competency not easily evaluated in a standardized exam.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I suspect that for most fields, either you can assess it pretty well in a standardized format (remember ‘standardized’ doesn’t have to mean multiple choice, you can do essays and oral exams), or else the certification aspect of a degree isn’t that useful anyway.

          (The arts would be in the latter category. AAIU people who go to prestigious art programs expect the benefit to be in the form of getting better at art, and don’t expect anyone to buy their paintings because they have an art degree from Harvard)

      • Protagoras says:

        In subjects that are not amenable to multiple choice, the evaluation is likely to need to be by experts in the field. So, thinking about the university level, it might be possible when multiple instances of the same class are taught in the same semester to have each professor grade a class other than their own (and I’ve actually heard of things like that being tried). That does provide plenty of opportunity for collusion, though. And, other than convenient situations like that, trying to find a separate instructor and grader for the same class complicates administrative issues. Probably not enough to make it not worth trying, but I imagine that’s a factor in why it has rarely been tried. Collusion and other fairness issues could perhaps in principle be handled by standardization, but in addition to the issues Hanfeizi raises, it would just be a challenge in itself to keep standards up to date once you get into more advanced classes and have to deal with fields evolving over time.

        Still, this sort of thing is certainly not impossible, and probably more suited to some areas than others (again, as Hanfeizi mentions). The undergraduate foreign language requirement at the school I attended required one to pass a test of language competence administered separately from any of the language classes, instead of just requiring that students take specific language classes.

        • albatross11 says:

          Note that the evaluation part need not be standardized tests. We do that most places because they’re cheap to grade and it’s easy to make sure everyone faces the same test. But you could imagine a free-ranging oral exam (think of a PhD defense) or some kind of internship where you work alongside a practitioner in your field, or any number of other things.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Yup. I think in-class essays, based on pre-announced source material and graded blind, would cover a lot of cases.

            (AP exams are already like this, I thought the English AP was pretty reasonable)

            There’d still be some risk of the Ivy League instructors picking the Ivy League Buzzwords of the Year and leaking them to the evaluators so that you can only pass if you know the Ivy League Buzzwords of the Year, but I don’t think this would be done deliberately and most of the channels by which it could happen accidentally could probably be intercepted by non-Ivy instructors.

      • Scudamour says:

        In the U.S., every law school graduate has to take a bar exam before they can practice. Every year, some from the elite schools fail, and some from the sketchier schools pass. In 2005, Kathleen Sullivan, who had already had a blazing, white hot legal career, including some years as dean of Stanford Law School, famously took the California bar exam and failed.

        Bar exams are part multiple choice and part essay, but for the most part, test takers are only informed whether they pass or fail.

        • Lapsed Pacifist says:

          In some states, NH, is one example, you may stand for the Bar Exam without a law degree, and you may practice law if you pass. Typically someone would clerk at a firm while they studied, and become educated that way.

          • rlms says:

            You make it sound like working as a clerk is just one possibility and you could completely self-teach, but AFAIK some kind of legal apprenticeship is required nowadays rather than just being a good way of learning.

      • rlms says:

        A large part of the British tertiary education system worked this way in the 1800s I believe; various institutions that are now universities were then university colleges that prepared their students for the University of London’s exams.

      • Tom Crispin says:

        Many, many, years ago I was one of the instructors in a US Army training course for computer repair. The standard was that for any week or two-week long set of classes, one group of instructors taught and a different group designed and administered the tests.

        That there is a “right way”, a “wrong way”, and the “Army way” is mostly a truism, but it sometimes made sense.

  10. Sigivald says:

    Am I the only one who didn’t even finish watching Gattaca because it had such an awful, implausible premise?

    • Mark Atwood says:

      I finished it, but it was a fight every scene change to not just turn it off.

      I felt bad for the actors and the director and the production staff.
      They did a fine polished job with that turd of a premise.

  11. JRM says:

    Good story. No athletic scholarships in the Ivy League though.

    • Yaleocon says:

      That hasn’t made the complex dance of sports recruiting go away. They just have to be slightly more sneaky about it.

      • rossry says:

        It does make the catch-22 of “if you stop playing football, you lose your scholarship” go away, though.

  12. proyas says:

    There is more humor in these paragraphs than in every Melissa McCarthy movie combined.

  13. moscanarius says:

    They’d been in touch, sure. But Vincent had thought it prudent not to mention his exact job description, lest his brother start asking the wrong questions. He’d just said he worked for the Epigattaca corporation, letting Anton infer that he was sweeping floors or validating parket tickets or something else suitable to someone with his inadequate histone pattern. Finally he put himself together and spoke.

    I’m slow today, but haven’t you inverted Anton and Vincent in this paragraph? Anton is the older brother who is a detective in NNN-Gattaca and presumably wants to hide it from Vincent, the imperfect younger brother.

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      In the original movie, Vincent was the imperfect older brother trying to become an astronaut in the Gattaca company, Anton the designed younger brother who was a police detective.

      Scott had to swap the birth order for Epigattaca in order for the mechanism
      to work within its premise.

      • moscanarius says:

        I mean: in Scott’s text, Vincent is the guy who needs approval from Epigattaca, and Anton is the guy who works for them and hasn’t let his brother Vincent know it.

        So when he writes…

        But Vincent had thought it prudent not to mention his exact job description, lest his brother start asking the wrong questions

        …shouldn’t it read Anton instead of Vincent? It’s Anton who has a job he tries to hide.

        And when he writes…

        He’d [Vincent] just said he worked for the Epigattaca corporation, letting Anton infer that he was sweeping floors

        …shouldn’t it be Anton who said he worked for Epigattaca, and Vincent the one who infers his brother was a floor-sweeper, which is the opposit of what’s written?

        • Rachael says:

          No. Anton has a job at his level, so he has nothing to hide. Vincent is only qualified to sweep floors, but has got a job as an astronaut through illegal means, so he has something to hide, and doesn’t want Anton to dig too deeply.

  14. Yaleocon says:

    “That’s what everybody does,” the supervisor corrected. “The only difference is we use Greek letters. Is your moral system so fragile that its results depend on whether you refer to something with Greek letters or not?”

    I don’t think we actually do this. In the real world, it turns out that someone who gets into a top-tier school but goes to a state college has just as much chance of long-term success as a Harvard graduate. Reality is more meritocratic than a system which sorts people into a rigid caste system at graduation. Hence, the story’s implication that we already have an alpha-through-epsilon system by another name doesn’t hold up. (Corollary: it’s not just a “fragile moral system” which would lead someone to feel revulsion at the Greek-letter system, and think it worse than our own.)

    With that said, this also means top-tier colleges don’t really give any career-relevant knowledge to their students. So, that’s still bad.

    • Scudamour says:

      In the real world, it turns out that someone who gets into a top-tier school but goes to a state college has just as much chance of long-term success as a Harvard graduate.

      Is that so? I’m not arguing, seriously asking. If it is true, I’d think that having gone to Harvard or (no offense) Yale on anything close to full tuition would show some seriously bad judgment, and would be a black spot on a resume.

      That’s not my impression right now, which is why I’m asking.

      • Tarpitz says:

        As has been discussed in other threads on this site, there might be excellent reasons unrelated to any skills one might hope to acquire for going to Harvard or Yale provided one could afford it, not least access to a superior dating pool.

        • Scudamour says:

          One persuasive theory is that Harvard and Yale provide you with far better contacts for a career than any random state school, without regard to quality of learning, but the suggestion above was that there is *no* difference in long term career prospects for an individual skipping out on that opportunity for connections.

          I like the theory that Harvard and Yale undergrads are just way sexier than undergrads at lower-tier schools. Certainly, casually mentioning that you go to Harvard or Yale can get you some attention in some social circles. But I don’t think “You know, I got into Harvard” would be a great opening line on campus at Harvard itself. And if we’re eliminate pure elite caste status (like the Alpha through Delta hierarchy) from the equation, there are some schools in (say) the Big Ten that could completely blow the Ivy League away in a sexiness and even suitability for long-term relationship competition, as they would in sportsball.

  15. Bugmaster says:

    Ok, so let’s say you work at a software company, and you want to hire a programmer at an entry-level position. You’ve received about a thousand resumes during the first week, so obviously you need to do some filtering. You’re looking for an employee who is not merely smart, but also conscientious, and is able to learn the job quickly. What do you do ?

    You can’t use genetic testing, not only because it’s all kinds of illegal, but also because it won’t tell you much. You can’t use epigenetic testing, because it doesn’t exist and would be stupid if it did. You could give every employee an 8-hour work assignment of some sort, but that would take way too long. You could just hire the first person with a likeable face, but that doesn’t sound like a strategy with a high probability of success.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could outsource the preliminary testing somehow ? Perhaps to some kind of a nationally recognized institution that not only performed extensive intelligence/conscientiousness testing on potential job applicants, but also taught them the skills they’d need to learn how to do your specific kind of job quickly and efficiently ? Hmm…

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Wouldn’t it be nice if you could outsource the preliminary testing somehow ? Perhaps to some kind of a nationally recognized institution that not only performed extensive intelligence/conscientiousness testing on potential job applicants, but also taught them the skills they’d need to learn how to do your specific kind of job quickly and efficiently ? Hmm…

      It true, you want someone to do that testing, but schools don’t actually do intelligence/conscientiousness testing. They, in fact, outsource those to other institutions like the ACT, SAT, Boy Scouts, HS/Club Sports, employers, and volunteer organizations.

      The bolded part, however, is what I really came to talk about, because its just generally not true. If it were, there would be significant differences in outcomes between people who have the same entrance qualifications as those that get into Cal Berkley, but choose to go to San Diego State (for scholarships or athletics or whatever), but there isn’t. If it were true the sheepskin effect would be negligible. If it were true schools would actively police classrooms to prevent people from getting all that great instruction for free. They don’t, because its all a signaling mechanism about your IQ (entrance) and, basically, ability to avoid substance abuse (graduation), the latter which could be just as easily be done by a nationally recognized piss test company.

      • Bugmaster says:

        It true, you want someone to do that testing, but schools don’t actually do intelligence/conscientiousness testing. They, in fact, outsource those to other institutions…

        At my school, every class had at least a midterm and a final exam, and most STEM classes had lab work on top of that. The SATs are generally taken before applying to college, and many high schools have special “AP” or “CP” classes that teach the relevant material. I know what you’re going to say — “they’re just teaching to the test !” — but a). I know for a fact that not all schools do, and b). this would be very difficult to achieve for subject-specific SAT II tests. At least, that was the case back in my day, things might be different now.

        If it were, there would be significant differences in outcomes between people who have the same entrance qualifications as those that get into Cal Berkley

        I think that depends on your major. In my experience, entry-level applicants who went to places like Berkeley and MIT for their CS degrees are consistently much stronger than the rest. Obviously, there exist good programmers who did not go to these schools; but they are much fewer in number.

        If it were true schools would actively police classrooms to prevent people from getting all that great instruction for free.

        I think this depends on your school. At the college I went to, you needed your student ID keycard to get into most buildings, and the only way to get one (other than cloning someone else’s, that is) was to pay the tuition fee. I’m not sure if that counts as “policing” in your book, but it’s definitely a form of gate-keeping.

        • rlms says:

          I think that depends on your major. In my experience, entry-level applicants who went to places like Berkeley and MIT for their CS degrees are consistently much stronger than the rest. Obviously, there exist good programmers who did not go to these schools; but they are much fewer in number.

          But MIT graduates consistently have much better pre-college qualifications than the rest. The parent’s point is if you take someone who could’ve got into MIT but didn’t, they will be on average about as good as someone with the same qualifications who did take MIT’s offer.

          Personally, I don’t think this is true in general. I expect that the best students at e.g. MIT benefit from having a smarter peer group and would on average have done worse at a lower-ranked college.

          • Bugmaster says:

            On top of that, I know this is a controversial opinion, but still: I really do believe that (some) top colleges really do teach the students (some) useful material. For example, I have interviewed countless people who didn’t know what “big-O Notation” was (they weren’t even familiar with the concept, not just the name), and none of them were from Berkeley or MIT. The same goes for most other theoretical CS concepts. And you need to understand these concepts in order to be an effective programmer. Just knowing how to copy/paste library function calls just isn’t enough.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I don’t totally discount instruction. I have a Biomedical engineering degree and was taught a lot. I use some of it (mostly research skills), and I’m sure everything from CS to Underwater basket weaving confers SOME skill. But is that instruction worth $50000/year. I think everyone would say no. You are paying that explicitly for the signaling that Harvard/Cal/Tech are giving you. Heck, even weaker schools give employers positive signals because they aggregate all those pre-college signals for employers.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @idontknow131647093:
            As I said above, I’m not all that familiar with other fields. My own CS instruction was worth every penny I paid for it, but then, it cost less than $50K/year. Surprisingly enough, quite a few of my non-CS classes also paid off in a big way, which sometimes makes me wish I wasn’t so hyper-focused on CS… But then again, it’s hard to say.

            That said, programmers generally work on a variety of problems; whereas biomedical engineers — AFAIK — work on devices that directly support human lives. It kind of makes sense that their training should be more rigorous; and, therefore, more expensive.

    • JulieK says:

      Wouldn’t it be nice if you could outsource the preliminary testing somehow ?

      From the employer’s point of view, this filtering system is fine. Maybe it has inaccuracies (blocking potential good employees who don’t have the right credentials), but it’s quite cost-effective. However, it’s cost-effective because the costs have been outsourced to the students (or their parents, or whoever underwrites the student loans).

      On the other hand, I don’t agree with Eliezer’s description:

      Suppose that there’s a magical tower that only people with IQs of at least 100 and some amount of conscientiousness can enter, and this magical tower slices four years off your lifespan.

      I think the average 18-year-old thinks college is pleasant way to spend the next 4 years, compared to immediately getting a 9-to-5 job.

  16. Aapje says:

    I’m wondering to what extent the libertarian displeasure with college being used to filter for jobs is due to the way the US college system is set up. In The Netherlands, we don’t have legacy & athlete admissions, colleges are much more focused on teaching one topic instead of educating the Renaissance man, costs are lower, it matters far less which college you go to, etc.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Honestly, I think that the libertarian displeasure with college is mostly driven by libertarians being people who feel like they ought to be the educational elite, but other people are diluting the college experience and devaluing the signaling of the libertarians.

      I note that I say this while also feeling like the argument that college is costly signaling is correct, and that it isn’t very helpful to anyone to send everyone to college. People can be right on the merits of their argument but still feel particularly attracted to that position because it benefits them.

      • Hanfeizi says:

        This could be, but I think the real reason is that it’s an expensive licensing racket that, being a licensing racket (like medicine), is unresponsive to market forces that should be forcing it’s costs down.

      • quanta413 says:

        But libertarians often are at reasonably good colleges. And in the branch of academics most related to their philosophy of government (economics), they’re probably over-represented. Given that libertarians are only something like 1-2% of the U.S., it’s not surprising they don’t dominate elite colleges everywhere. I don’t think this is a very plausible explanation.

        The “libertarians are crazy nutjobs who hate all organizations but for-profit corporations” explanation is uncharitable and kind-of inaccurate (depending on exactly how you look at it), but at least roughly fits the facts on the ground.

  17. semioldguy says:

    Random nitpick: Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships. Of course that’s not to say that a prospective athlete can’t receive financial aid for some other reason.

  18. joshuatfox says:

    “Leave, and I’d lose my [football] scholarship, never get a degree.”

    On the contrary. Professor Lawrence Stager of Harvard told me that he came from a poor Ohio farm family and would never have gone to Harvard if it weren’t for a football scholarship. But but the league rules, scholarships could not depend on team membership. Within a week, he walked off the team, joined the Glee club… And eventually became a professor at Harvard. Now *that’s* someone smart enough that he deserves to be at Harvard.

  19. melling says:

    The third movie posed here is largely the premise of the TV series Suits. The protagonist, Mike, has to keep pretending he attended Harvard to keep a position as a law associate, despite being exceptionally talented.