DR. WILLIAM SHOCKLEY broke away recently from his duties as one of the principal depositors at the Escondido, Calif., sperm bank to grant an interview to Playboy magazine. Do not be concerned: the Nobel-prize-winning Dr. Shockley did not confess to lust in his heart. But he did acknowledge deep "regret in the transcripts."
The transcripts that so affected Dr. Shockley were those of his children by his first marriage. Dr. Shockley's partner in that union and the mother of the children whose transcritps disappointed the doctor may qualify as one of the three or four really unlucky people of the 20th century. Here is what the first Mrs. Shockley's former spouse has to say about her and their children: "My first wife -- their mother -- had not as high an academic achievement as I had." But wait, there's more to explain the college performances of their offspring, which obviously count the most to Poppa Shockley: "in terms of my own capacities . . . [my children] represent a very significant regression."
Dr. Shockley undoubtedly could have saved himself, the first Mrs. Shockley, the little Shockleys, to say nothing of the readers of Playboy, an awful lot of grief if he had only had the good sense to spend a few minutes before the publishing of the banns with G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate fame.
Mr. Liddy, like Dr. Shockley, only an amateur geneticist, wrote recently for all of us about his own mate-selection system: "although one of the reasons I chose Frances to be the mother of my children was her size and strength, which should have enabled her to bear half a dozen high-performance children, I certainly hadn't intended to risk damage by pushing her to design limit."
In addition to the clinical detachment that has characterized Mr. Liddy's professional activities as well, he cared enough about his fiance's suitability for maternity to have run upon her an FBI check. Maybe all of this could have saved Dr. Shockley from the heartbreak of mediocre report cards, the embarrassment of having, as one of his three children, a college dropout.
It is encouraging, of course, that Dr. Shockley is a person of such "growth" and "honesty" that he can speak about these tragic disappointments in his life with the intelligence to which we have all by now become accustomed.