W

hen Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announces that he’s starting a sperm bank that will accept only donors with dyslexia, that could mean one of two things: He is actually spearheading a strange, though laudable, initiative to reduce stigma around dyslexia. Or it could be the company’s annual April Fools’ Day prank.

Unfortunately, it’s probably a prank.

As Branson made the announcement Friday in a Twitter post, some news outlets reported on his plans.

advertisement

And on Twitter some of Branson’s followers took the news at face value. “Applaud you for realising we think differently, and the world needs us,” wrote one.

The sperm bank, if real, would be addressing a known issue for people with dyslexia in the United Kingdom. The Guardian reported in 2015 that Britain’s largest sperm bank would not accept donations from people with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, or other cognitive disorders.

Branson has publicly discussed how dyslexia has impacted in life — in many cases, framing it as a positive attribute. While using dyslexia as part of a punch line would be a provocative decision, the company has a history of making head-turning announcements on March 31 — as a company spokesperson noted when contacted by a STAT reporter.

In previous years, Virgin has announced a gym for pets, a phone for left-handed people, and a trip into an active volcano around April Fools’ Day. (Of course, some of the company’s more outlandish announcements have indeed been real — just look at Virgin Galactic.)

If it is a prank, it’s been in the works since at least July 2016, when the domain name associated with the project — madebydyslexia.org — was registered under the name of Kate Griggs, an established English dyslexia advocate. (Griggs tweeted in January that there would be “great things coming” in 2017.) The website also lists a registered charity number at the bottom that belongs to a dyslexia center in England.

That center could not immediately confirm a connection to the proposed sperm bank on Friday afternoon, nor could a press officer at the UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which regulates fertility clinics, confirm if an application for such a sperm bank had been received.

Both the center and HFEA recommended a reporter follow up on Monday, as did one of Virgin’s spokespeople. That spokeswoman flagged the company’s history of releasing stories “at certain times of year” in an email but also noted that the story had a twist and “a very important message.”

Branson himself has been tweeting about the importance of reading since the sperm bank announcement. That could indicate that this stunt is meant to be part of a more general awareness campaign or is meant to serve as the prelude to an announcement about a significant financial contribution to a dyslexia-focused charity — which, on its own, would be no joking matter.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

Sign up for our Morning Rounds newsletter

Your daily dose of news in health and medicine.

X