The Nobel Sperm Bank Celebrity

Exploring the "Nobel Prize sperm bank."
March 16 2001 8:30 PM

The Nobel Sperm Bank Celebrity

Since his birth, brilliant, precocious Doron Blake has symbolized the Repository for Germinal Choice. Now the "superbaby" is an 18-year-old college freshman, and he's longing to be normal.

Slate's"Seed" project is chronicling the history of the Repository for Germinal Choice, the "Nobel Prize sperm bank" founded by millionaire inventor Robert Graham. We have been searching for the 240-plus children conceived through the bank, their parents, and the men who donated the sperm for them. The left-hand column on this page displays links to the eight articles in the Seed series, including the introduction that explains the project.

Doron Blake
David Plotz David Plotz
David Plotz is Slate's deputy editor. If you are interested in sharing any information about the Repository for Germinal Choice, send it toplotzd@slate.com
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As a newborn, Doron Blake could mark time to classical music with his hands. By age 2, he was using a computer. By kindergarten, he was reading Hamlet and learning algebra. At age 6, his IQ measured 180—"or something like that. That's what the guy hypothesized. I wouldn't finish the test. I was so bored with it."

"I was [Robert Graham's] emblem. I was the boy with the high IQ who was not screwed up. I was his ideal result."

Blake recounts all this matter-of-factly, without egotism. His voice is filled with the boredom of 1,000 repetitions—to 60 Minutes, to Japanese TV, to British tabloids. Now 18 years old, Doron is the Nobel sperm bank quote machine, the only one of the 240-odd repository kids who talks to reporters. (He and his mom, Afton, do it for money: Click here for an explanation of how they control the press and for an account of their negotiations with Slate—that is, what we did when they asked us for cash. Read it, it's interesting.)

Till recently, the Blakes' sperm-and-pony show for reporters essentially consisted of chronicling Doron's accomplishments.  The obvious theme: "Look, the superbaby from the super sperm bank is really super!" Doron seemed to vindicate Graham's grand promises about his sperm bank. A 180 IQ shuts up the skeptics.

But now Doron has reached adulthood, and he is giving the story a new ending. He bears the scars of having been expected to perform since he was in diapers. He resents the endless examination and probing he has endured. The Doron Blake Story, as told by Doron Blake, does not conclude with genetics triumphant nor does it sing glory to the Repository for Germinal Choice.

"I was his ideal result," Doron says, but then he goes on: "It was a screwed-up idea, making genius people. The fact that I have a huge IQ does not make me a person who is good or happy. People come expecting me to have all these achievements under my belt, and I don't. I have not done anything that special. I don't think being intelligent is what makes a person. What makes a person is being raised in a loving family with loving parents who don't pressure them. If I was born with an IQ of 100 and not 180, I could do just as much in my life. The thing I like best about myself is not that I'm smart but that I care about people and try to make other people's lives better. I don't think you can breed for good people."

Doron Blake is a puzzle. On the one hand, he is the very model of the patchouli college student—that irksome guy in your freshman dorm who burned incense at all hours and sang the most godawful folk songs. He's a vegetarian. He wears a wispy mustache and a soul patch. He is majoring in comparative religion and describes his own spiritual beliefs as a hodgepodge of Wicca, Taoism, and Buddhism. He plays piano, guitar, and sitar. For fun, he is reading the Harry Potter books and the Narnia series.

He's shy. He's been at Reed College for six months and hasn't made any friends. His six friends—including the woman he considers his soul mate—are all back East, and he misses them terribly. He stutters. He insists he is uncomfortable talking to strangers (though he seems perfectly comfortable talking to me for hours about every aspect of his life).

Doron suffers from the sense he is being judged, all the time (and here I am, judging again). Since he was a baby—a superbaby—reporters have been expecting him to shine. When I ask him what movies and books he likes, I can hear the hesitation in his voice: Any answer—too highbrow, too lowbrow, too middlebrow—could backfire. ("What, the Einstein kid reads children's books?" or "So, the little genius baby likes Derrida. What a pretentious snotnose!")

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