The Mystique of Genetic Correctness

Kurt Jacobsen

The advent of Dolly the cloned sheep in 1996 – RIP in 2003 - left many an onlooker feeling both celebrative and uneasy.1 With irrepressibly manic ingenuity the biological sciences are dissolving our supposedly fuddy-duddy moral boundaries so that many scientists find themselves in debates they really would rather avoid as to the wisdom of playing cavalierly with recombinant DNA. If one believes the giddy news headlines, however, resistance is useless. Genetic engineering inexorably erodes old norms and instead gives us (whoever "us" is) "the power to impose our own invented norms" - norms which arise worryingly from within the scientific culture itself.2 As a process of acquiring knowledge and manipulating nature, science is lodged snugly inside the encompassing realm of production-for-profit, and so scientific activities ought to be examined in the context of social processes, even if it should not - pace Alan Sokal - be reduced to them.3 In an economic system intent on commodifying everything in its path, there is ample cause for public concern about the foibles of bio-engineering.

Scientists, despite what fables say, usually conform to the reigning values in the comfy milieus in which they usually grow up. The average nuclear physicist or molecular biologist is as likely to equate their self-interest or personal creed with the common interest of the whole community as is a cunning televangelist or used car salesmen. So the greatest care is needed when wielding tentative scientific findings and one is well-advised to err on the side of generosity when it comes to rushing to verdicts about human development because these judgments are self-fulfilling in their consequences.

One must step back at least a century to appreciate what is unfolding. The Victorians took a hearty pride in looking hard facts about evolution in their hairy faces, which especially to Punch-subscribing British observers, looked indecently Irish. It was not clear at the time whether Greeks, Italians or Jews were full members of the white - or human - race either. Even British South Africans, understandably piqued, imagined that rebellious Boers were not quite "white" enough.4 Not even pre-Israel (Yishuv) Zionists were averse to eugenics to churn out the ‘perfect’ Jews the Nazis elsewhere were intent on eliminating.5 The social upshot of the most impeccable research was that groups deemed low on the social scale were designated biological problems foremost and then - to the extent they posed a threat or nuisance - social problems too. While humanity, after Darwin, (mostly) managed to digest the news of its wayward descent from apes rather than radiant angels, some groups, as always, were deemed less descended.

Biological value tends to coincide neatly with class and/or racial "worth" because avowedly superior groups do most of the observing, analyzing and recording. This convenient concordance yielded a tenacious legacy of determinist explanation. Its’ biological rendition is a stringently reductionist view "in which the arrows of causality run from genes to humans and from humans to humanity."6 How human beings think, feel and behave is dictated by genetic structure so completely that nothing intervening between that structure and action makes any real difference. That’s the underlying doctrine. In the early 20th century statistician Karl Pearson, for example, discerned via an impressive array of calculations with high degrees of significance that "the influence of environment was not one-fifth that of heredity" and that "it was man who makes the environment, and not the environment which makes the man."7 That was that.

Are we witnessing the resurgence of the scientifically intoxicating project of biological "improvement"? Eugenics was a prim social engineer's dream of honing people to a state of perfection resembling nothing so much as engineers themselves (or how they would like to see themselves). Scientists and/or a sensationalist media routinely announce discoveries of genetic causes for phenomena as infinitely complex and disparate as homosexuality, shyness, homelessness, schizophrenia, manic-depression, autism - and perhaps someday even for the gall or gullibility to advance such extravagant claims. Only a century ago scientists with no less reliable evidence proclaimed the unearthing of single gene explanations for thalassophilia ("urge for sea-faring"), drapetomania ("irrational urge by slaves to run off"), Jewish facial expressions, "shiftlessness" and chicken stealing.8 On reflection, there are very sound reasons not to consign public policy to scientists, their employers, or politicians to whom those employers dish out lavish campaign contributions.

Genetics research raises nasty little critter issues that can scurry effortlessly over, under and around every specialist’s boundaries. No scientist qua scientist can or should instruct us as to whether we should clone living creatures, retrieve sperm from comatose men, treat genetic materials as corporate property or fix insurance premiums according to fallible gene testing results. Identifying hereditary disease – or, for that matter, how hereditary a hereditary disease is - is a tough task that also poses the thorniest moral issues. Behold "designer children." A Harris Survey a decade ago indicates 40% of American parents, with the best - and most obsessive intentions - in the world, happily will embrace genetic engineering if it can craft their little treasures into sharper, slicker competitors. (What's genetically wrong with the other 60% of parental slackers, hmm?) It is possible to find out in the 11th week of pregnancy what sex the child is and to abort the flawed product if you don't like what you learn. This is practically a “traditional” practice today in India (despite laws against sex selection) and China as a daughter-preventer, but middle class Americans and Europeans are more progressive and humane than that, aren’t they?

Parallels between ye olde eugenics and thoroughly modern genetics are, even at a glance, far stronger than scientists care to acknowledge. A cultural amnesia about the sordid history of eugenics is cultivated with the greatest of ease in commercial societies that prize short-term, amoral, expeditious thinking. Why indeed are our elites always so tempted to assume humanity is "hard-wired" for every imaginable trait? The answer lies in a far from solely biological predisposition to gain power and, no less important, a desire, which owes more to laziness than to Richard Dawkins’ selfish genes, to shirk responsibility for one's actions and the welfare of others (so long as it is convenient for oneself).9

                                                    Raw Eugenics

In the late 19th century USA a declining middle class birth rate coincided with mass migrations northward of recently freed blacks and the unseemly inpouring of especially Eastern and Southern Europeans. These alien influxes, as they always do, annoyed the locals. In 1913 arch-eugenicist Henry Goddard sternly advised US authorities that of the tired huddled masses pouring through Ellis Island: 83% of the Jews, 80% of Hungarians, 79% of Italians (especially Southerners) and 87% of Russians indubitably were feeble-minded. Maybe it was the environment.

The "wrong" people were breeding. There were plenty of ‘lowlife’ immigrants already around to do the dirty work. No more need apply. In The Clone Age Lori Andrews interviewed numerous Americans who expressed the same opinion, lamenting sparse 1.8 reproduction rates and the falling sperm counts among comfortably situated natives.) Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge freely invoked eugenical tracts in public forums. Eugenics, after all, promised to transfer political conflicts into a serene biological realm where impartial "science" held sway. All policy decisions flowed from this ineluctable truth. This contorted quasi-utopian trend was part of a middle-class movement aiming to fashion an "administrative state," a state whose socially refined exponents intended that their expertise would displace cruder conflicts based on class, race, and gender.10

In Britain Francis Galton published Hereditary Genius (1869) which stated flatly that genius was inherited and that elites everywhere were ‘elected’ by providential nature. That being clearly the case, the obvious objective then was to upgrade the racial "stock" via a judicious blend of negative measures (to discourage the "unfit" from reproducing) and positive ones (to encourage those who were ordained "fit" to breed).11 People were viewed pretty much like poultry or fruit flies, except that certain specimens, unfortunately, could cast ballots.

The eugenics movement was based on the doctrine that mental characteristics (intelligence, diligence, sobriety) pass across generations just as physical ones (blue eyes) do. Nature tramples nurture. Galton heartily denounced philanthropy and the public health movement as hideous wastes of good money. Eugenicists, you see, merely were observing the dictates of science when they opposed old age pensions, public schooling, the minimum wage or prohibition of alcohol (inasmuch as it might impede the plunge of lower breeds to their genetically fated doom). Poverty and deprivation was overlooked except as natural aids in culling a flock these sages rarely encountered. (In evacuations of children from British cities after September 1939, many rural families was shocked by the signs of the terrible urban poverty which many working class children also escaped – and many of the same rural families campaigned for the children to be removal forthwith.)12

If every inherited characteristic was a blend of traits of the parents and ancestors, as eugenicists argued, the knottiest problem was that this implied a regression to the mean, portending loss of prized characteristics over time. Not only did the best stock need to be prodded to breed, they must maintain "desirable" traits too. A tall order in such a disorderly world. The way out of this fix was to endorse the Lamarckian doctrine of inheritance of acquired characteristics, which Galton, ever the pragmatic optimist, decided to believe required no more than three generations to fasten firmly in genes. Galton later willed his fortune to finance the London Eugenics laboratories where Pearson continued his biological crusade. Eugenics wouldn’t go away, though it would try – after that bit of Nazi excessiveness - to assume more pleasing shapes.

                                        Tainted Breeds, Tainted Deeds

Here was an enormously enticing vision, grounded in good hard statistics, for improving one's fellow man. For capitalists, a social Darwinian theory of human evolution was a clear demonstration of the iron necessity of the free market; for a mechanistic strain of Marxist it proved the utter inevitability of coveted social change. History was on your side whichever side you were on. Eugenics, viewed as "preventive medicine," was even compatible with the fight for women's rights and with some socialist goals. George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells were beguiled, although Wells later came to scribble the admonitory ‘Island of Doctor Moreau.’

In America a flood of sensationalist studies stoked a sense of imminent apocalypse among the better-read. From the sagas of the squalid "Jukes" (1877) to the "Kallikaks" (1912) stern WASP investigators imbued what they viewed as pure rural sociopaths with every conceivable vice.13 The film Deliverance traded on this enduring image of slack-jawed hillbillies for its dramatic kick while physicist William Shockley later cited the Kallikaks study as if it still were deemed pristine social research.14 The specter of the unrestrained fertility of tainted stock begetting away in the Appalachians at taxpayers' expense was ideally calculated to stir popular alarm.

Immoral acts were "viewed as evidence, not as a consequence, of mental defect."15 Eugenicists were less agitated about survival of the fittest than survival of the unfit. Leonard Darwin, a cousin of the Beagle voyager, helpfully explained that in eugenics the term "fittest" designated who ought to survive in the evolutionary sense rather than who survives. In other words, nature the supreme arbiter needed a helping hand. Apart from the holocaust, never did so eminent a group strive so hard to achieve so vast and vicious an objective. British scientist Joseph Needham impishly would challenge the birthright "fitness" of rich shareholders of companies which relied for their profits upon unemployment, low wages, and poor safety conditions inflicted on fellow human beings.

Eugenicists, pleased at the advent of Mendelian genetics, needed to believe that neuropathic characteristics were transmitted in a straightforward way. It was wholly self-evident to them that a better body carried a purer spirit. This tacit assumption was abetted by the medical model - a view of life which presuppose a mystical correspondence between brain cells and particular thoughts. The medical model’s "degenerationist" view held that mental qualities were rooted in the brain’s physical structure, and put "considerable weight on physical stigmata, partial sight, deafness, dyslexia and left handedness."16 So, on the basis of partial and highly disputable evidence, public policies were urged which, if and when enacted, inflicted irreversible damage on targeted groups. American Harry Laughlin urged a ‘gradual’ approach - immediate sterilization only of the lowest 10%, as infallibly determined by relative lack of wealth. Once this judicious pruning was done, he would cull the next lowest decile. It was not clear where this progressive decimation was supposed to stop.

                                        Degeneration and its Discontents

Although geneticists began to appreciate the full complexities of heredity by the 1920s, most biologists and geneticists still favored eugenical ideas. Charles Davenport of the Cold Spring Harbor eugenics research center invoked Mendelian genetics to claim that a single bad gene - because it would not blend - would ruin an entire stock. Until the Second World War many biologists "agreed with, or at least did not publicly oppose eugenicist formulations] and this attitude was shared by many prominent American psychologists and sociologists."17

Scientists already found that a stable genotype can correspond to a continuous variations in phenotype, that "many symptoms regarded as pathological might only arise from interaction of genotype with surrounding conditions" and that "a genotype cannot always be derived from phenotype" - findings which should have extinguished the theoretical basis of eugenics. Wilhelm Johennsen, a Danish geneticist, observed that "the complexity of society made it impossible that one single human type should be the best. We need all different types of humanity."18 One could not draw a more democratic lesson - nor one more studiously ignored. In 1930 a British study demonstrated that mental defects occurred proportionately across social classes, not mostly among the poor. In 1933 the British Medical Association rejected the notion of the inheritance of feeble-mindedness. In 1935 the American Neurological Association rejected eugenics as scientifically untenable. None of these professional repudiations made the slightest dent in already formed public attitudes. In 1937 Fortune reported 66% favored sterilization for mental defects, 63% for criminals; only 15% of those surveyed opposed sterilization.

That same year British eugenicist R.B. Catell mournfully reiterated Galton's prophecy that "300 years from now half the population will be mentally defective."19 Indeed, if "we really want to build an A1 nation we must take this matter to its logical conclusion, and employ the whole machinery of our medical services, not merely for "preventative medicine" in the narrow sense, not even for ante-natal hygiene but for large-scale efforts along eugenic lines - and just such an epic effort was going into action in Germany" - was it not?

                           Home of the Free and the "Life Unworthy of Life"

The USA, Cattell found to his evident surprise, was the first country to approve compulsory sterilization. Indiana legalized it in 1907 and in another decade fifteen states joined the mission to preserve "home europaeus." Scientific American editorialized in favor of compulsory sterilization. In 1927 the US Supreme Court approved sterilization for institutionalized inmates. As in the notorious Buck vs. Bell decision, eugenics regained momentum on the pretext of preventing an outbreak of feeble-mindedness. (In this sense it was indeed the disease for which it purported to be the cure.) In Connecticut in 1890 a pauper - by definition, congenitally feeble-minded - having sex with a woman under age 45 was liable to a three years prison term. By the 1890s, incidentally, craniectomies emerged as a medical fad for "curing" retardation, despite a 15 to 25% death rate.20 The doctors who performed them doubtless were all pillars of their communities.

Sterilizers liked to report that, after such prudent snippings, their patients were happier, healthier and grateful. California by 1927 sterilized 5,000 patients a year. Harry Laughlin played a major role in lobbying for the restrictive 1924 Immigration law by testifying that foreign-born and poor people disproportionately occupied prisons - despite a Midwestern senator pointing out to his miffed Southern colleagues that Danes, Norwegians, Dutch, Germans were more literate then the average southerner. The US government tactfully would suppress findings during World War II that southern blacks scored higher than Southern whites.

Two dozen states approved involuntary sterilization of criminals, epileptics, and those deemed promiscuous. Involuntary sterilizations occurred at much the same rate in states with no legislation too. Yet retarded children have mostly normal parents and mentally retarded parents have normal children. The incidence of mental retardation had not grown over time. The American Neurological Association noted in 1937 that these people lived shorter lives with low marriage and fertility rates. The panic was a thoroughly manufactured myth.

The Eugenics Society openly applauded innovative Nazi programs. The Nazi law on Preventing Hereditarily Ill Progeny was heavily influenced by American models, which grateful Hitlerites acknowledged, awarding a gold medal in1936 to an prominent American eugenicist.. The 1933 law mandated sterilization for the retarded, schizophrenics, manic-depressives, epileptics, the deaf, alcoholics and other unwanted afflictions. In Germany from 1933 to 1945 three and half million sterilizations occurred. The Third Reich launched its campaign to purify the earth by murdering 75,000 patients of inferior stock. Though church-led protests in August 1941 brought the practice temporarily to a halt, it soon resumed secretly. Seventy to one hundred thousand people were thus killed in Germany - and a quarter of a million victims throughout Europe.

Racism, it must be understood, was promulgated by fully credentialed professionals in white lab coats who by their own self-understanding conducted impeccably dispassionate scientific research. The German Medical Association informed Nazi leaders that they certainly would soon devise a foolproof way to detect Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals through blood tests. Few professional groups were more supportive of the Nazi blueprint than physicians.21 Deichmann points out that biologists enjoyed substantial state funding and, if they didn’t fuss about dismissals of Jewish colleagues or Nazi ideology, had “substantial freedom of research,” including the freedom to experiment on psychiatric and concentration camp inmates: “The fact that some of them made use of this option reveals the abyss of a science without a humane orientation, an orientation that cannot come from science.”22 Science, in this crudely reductive but widespread rendition, made mass murder all that much easier. Physicians on trial at Nuremberg for camp experiments were quick to cite American examples to show that the task of eliminating "inferior elements" was not a mission unique to Germany.23 Nuremberg prosecutors, many of whom were themselves under sway of eugenicist notions picked up at home or in the Ivy League, never prosecuted Nazis for sterilizations, only for deaths.

Reilly points out that it was less revulsion at Nazi racial crimes than the sheer wartime shortage of physicians which curbed American sterilizations.24 The baby boom ended all the fuss about depopulation. Totalitarianism, not repulsive eugenics practices in themselves, put eugenics into disrepute. Research soon demonstrated that many mental disorders stemmed as much or more from traumatic experience or deprivation as from inherited characteristics. Scientists became more aware of race as a constructed category - though not so much as to prevent abuses such as the Tuskegee experiments. This is the history that genetic engineering enthusiasts dismiss, ignore or deny is relevant to an understanding of what they are up to today. Everything’s different.

                                                What New World?

While books on genetic engineering, pro and con, contain the obligatory allusions to Brave New World, one wonders how many authors really have taken Huxley’s point. The "new" genetic determinism is accompanied in the press by precious little skepticism. Once again the mass media revels in reporting that "research has tipped the scale overwhelmingly toward nature," even though further examination always discloses back-pedaling as to what is thought, let alone proven, to be heritable. The handsomely funded Human Genome project to much fanfare created a ‘complete” map of the nucleotide system for genes. In The Clone Age Lori Andrews recounts her dismaying experiences in the project's Committee on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications, which was hamstrung and ignored - operating as an in-house device to deflect outside criticism and thereby enable scientists inside to do as they pleased. Genome project proponents primly oppose all government "interference," preferring to place research in both scientific and in corporate control, such as these categories are distinguishable anymore. This is hardly reassuring and only testifies to the profound naivete - or disingenuousness - of those eager proponents.

If corporations fail to choreograph the human gene pool it will not be for want of trying.25 In 1991 the National Institute of Health announced a program of patents on human gene fragments -or 'express tag sequences' - on 2,375 fragments representing about 5% of genes. Control of the fragments will block any use of the full gene, even if the identity of the genes was unknown. The strategic use of patents raises the prospect of corporations owning our genetic material – an obscene prospect that is only lately coming to light. Why should genes be owned by whomever possesses the technology to manipulate them? Physicians with financial stakes in genetic research increasingly have incentives to deceive their own patients. Will the expensive products of genetic technologies be made available only to the rich, or else be made compulsory ? More like the former, but neither is a joyous prospect.

All these issues ultimately hinge on cultural understandings/misunderstandings of science. The peculiarly parched view we are encouraged to have that humans beings are nothing but vehicles for genes rests on an artificially atomized view of the world. The trouble with it is that the properties of the parts can't be understood except in their context in the whole because the environment of the organism is constantly being remade by the life of the organism, as Lewontin pointed out. There is no such thing as "general genetic superiority - different environments bring out different degrees of superiority."26

Disease now supplies the perfect moral justification to pursue a kinder and gentler eugenics quest. What is control of reproduction for, except for “improvement of the race,” as unapologetic eugenicists put it? Does a fetus with an "unsound" genotype have a right to be born ? Cystic fibrosis, Duchesne disease, muscular dystrophy, myotonic dystrophy, Huntington’s Chorea, Tay-Sachs disease and Down's syndrome are single gene disorders but most are complex and are not related in any invariant ways to genes. Huntington’s chorea, according to recent research, may not, as previously assumed, result just from possession of the single gene.27 Everyone carries probabilities and predispositions for diseases that may appear only in conjunction with certain environmental stimuli. Are all diseases transmitted genetically or are many acquired behaviors based on the milieu? There is the incalculable problem of sussing out how physiological dispositions blend with environmental cues to cause whatever they cause.

Sensationalized reports of genetic causation occur in the nebulous zone where researchers meet the media. It customarily is front page news when a claim for a genetic cause is lodged and page 10 news when retracted, as the Breggins observe about "the" gene for alcoholism.28 Claims for a manic-depressive gene have been retracted; the gene for depression detected in Amish families turned out to occur within a single extended family, which reintroduced socialization as a more probable cause. The gene, if any, for schizophrenia is elusive as ever.29 The infamous "gay" gene never was corroborated nor has a gene for autism been found. Most scientists themselves know better than to advance such an explanation.30 But ask someone not only on the street but in the corridors of power and they will likely say that scientists have found genetic causes for all. The allegation that an extra male "Y" chromosome caused aggression in "XYY syndrome" people hit a dead end too. Andrews cites a case of parents of an XYY child deciding to abort just to be on the safe side.31 People can, and have been, denied health insurance and/or employment either because of gene testing or for refusing to undergo it.32

The gene for sickle cell anemia extends to all peoples inhabiting malarial regions in Africa and the Middle East where it serves a protective function against the disease. Curing sickle cell raises the vexing problem of pleiotropy wherein "negative" genes that exert positive effects also will be lost. The majority of diseases with a genetic component are polygenic disorders and likely involve significant interaction with the environment. This consideration raises a question as to which end - environmental or molecular - one should start in order to study a given problem. Genetics are not enough. From Cyril Burt to the present, the tendentious misuse of "twins studies," so as to prove predesignated conclusions on genetic causation, is one of the dodgiest areas in the history of science.

I recently attended a University seminar where I was disturbed to find that hardly anyone objected when a presenter soothingly stated, ipso facto, that genetic engineering cannot be eugenical if the state was not involved. So we presumably need not fear market-driven genetic modification. Nothing could be more mistaken. Eugenics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not a top-down phenomenon but rather emerged from a folksy blend of class bias, narrow scientism and a cynical seeking of advantage. Eugenicists lobbied very hard for their programs until various states implemented them, or parts of them. Nor did it matter whether these policies worked or not, the fervent promoters went ahead with them anyway.

The future holds out the spectacle not of coercive control but of a "eugenics of the free market." Andrews relates a case of an HMO instructing a couple, who found through amniocentesis that their child-to-be possessed a gene for cystic fibrosis, that it would not pay for the child's care if the pregnancy came to term.33 Parents want normal children but what is "normal" is determined both by the values within their social circle and by the rules imposed by the institutional environment. Under Nazi eugenics we supposedly breed steely SS officers; under modern genetics we can get Beverly Hills 90120 clones and the prospect of a glittery world populated by soap opera or pop music stars, presumably with ethics, sensitivity and compassion to match. For all the eugenical fuss, a high IQ never has been the supreme quality for worldly success; rather, a passable intelligence will do nicely if one is born into an affluent family and/or is willing to conform cunningly to reigning dogmas. Innovation is prized insofar as it does not threaten gate-keepers or prove disruptive. Perhaps there are genes for conformity or cunning or bigotry or integrity ? To ask this question about such qualities is to answer it.

Genetics, as popularly understood, is an embodiment of a methodology of reductionism which is useful as a research tool but dangerous when identified as the scientific enterprise and applied to the world. Genetics as a discipline jettisons human beings as ends in themselves. Genetics misapplied as a total philosophy gets the same result. The problem is not biology (and its various meldings with other sciences) but the mindset of the manipulators.

Reductionist methods have the resilience of a Hammer film vampires – always rising again seductively no matter how many stakes are put through their hearts. People love it when two plus two always equals four, and many want the entire universe to behave that way. In the 1930s the field psychiatry adopted somatic treatments such as electric and insulin shock due to the seductive assumption that mental disorders stemmed from ascertainable organic defects. In the 1990s "psychiatric geneticists began to propose genetic anticipation, the tendency of some illness-causing genes to expand in size when passed from generation to generation, as the mechanism behind the increasing severity of schizophrenia or manic-depressive illness as handed down by a family tree."34 Hence, the problem cannot be family conflict or lousy schools (both rooted in bad social conditions), the child instead is blamed - with the very best intentions - as carrier of disease or a misshapen gene, which supports the biopsychiatric inclination to "reduce human conduct and social conflict to grossly sluggish neurotransmitters in a particular type of nerve cell." It's not begging the question, you see, it's genetic.

Eugenics in all its subtle forms is propelled by an anti-democratic world view. It simply is not possible to accept a reductionist mode of genetics and not be drawn into this stance. Science should be a voice at the table but never be taken as the last word in policymaking. One should beware of scientists pleading, like the inventor of the cloning process that yielded the short-lived Dolly, that the messy ethical and social implications were really unimportant on the grounds that one is "only a scientist."

Many geneticists inertially (for lack of a better adverb) endorsed forms of eugenics long after the 1940s. In 1970 67% of American physicians polled felt that "forcible sterilization of criminally insane, retarded and feeble-minded was a desirable social policy." The Boston Globe in 1982 found that fully half of those it surveyed favored sterilizations for the feeble-minded and for criminals. Involuntary sterilizations continued in the United States well into the 1960s; in Canadian provinces until 1978; and in Sweden until 1975. You "hear no hatred in the eugenical voice, just pragmatic selection," Professor Hilary Rose observes, "The difference is that today there is a huge resistance."35

Possibly the eugenics episode may work today as a sobering reminder of how mortal our rulers are and how fallible the scientist is. The eugenics story need to be retold and reviewed so that the wider community weighs the risks in this scientific game and brings to bear the necessary degree of skepticism to ballyhooed claims. As for modern genetical fancies, it is hardly possible to improve on the advice of Herbert Muller who himself flirted with eugenics half a century ago before coming to the conclusion that in order to call the bluff of genetic correctness we first need to organize a "cooperative society [where] inequalities due to artificial class distinction, race prejudice, inherited fortunes and privileges are done away with, which will bring us much closer to the ideal eugenic conditions in which practically every individual will have as favorable opportunities for development as every other, and thus have his potentialities recognizable for what they are...then for the first time we shall have an estimation of a man's intelligence from a genetic standpoint."36



[1] In February 2003 Dolly was euthanized. She suffered from ‘progressive lung disease and earlier had developed arthritis. Sheep tend to live twice as long as Dolly lasted. Cloning, actually, is full of glitches. See Tim  Radford. “Cloning, Deaf to the Warning: Society and Science are Not Ready.” The Guardian.  8 August 2005.

[2] See Bryan Appleyard, Brave New Worlds: Genetics and The Human Experience (London: Viking, 1999). p. 3.

[3] On Alan J. Sokal's spoof article in the Spring/Summer 1996  Social Text see Stephen Hilgartnek, "The Sokal Affair in Context"  Science, Technology and Humen Values 22, 4 (Autumn 1997) and Jennifer Daryl Slack and M. Mehdi Semati, "Intellectual and Political Hygiene: The Sokal Affair" Critical Studies in Mass Communication 14, 3 (September 1997); and Nick Jardine and Marina Fraser-Spada, "Splendors and Miseries of The Science Wars" Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 28, 2 (June 1997).

[4]Susanne Klausen, "For the Sake of the Race: Eugenics Discourses of Feeble-mindedness and Motherhood and the South African Medical Record" Journal of South African Studies 23, 1 (March 1997).

[5] See the report on Stachlav Stoler-Liss’ research on the influence of eugenics on the Zionist movement in the 1930s. Tamara Traubmann, “Do Not have Children if they won’t be Healthy.’ Haaretz  16 June 2004.  On the home front see Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 106-109.

[6]Leon J. Kamin, Richard C. Lewontin, and Steven Rose, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature (London: Pelican, 1984) p. 18. "The essence of the reductionist position is the assumption that a disorder is caused by a simple malfunction of a body region - or a biochemical substance - or a gene." (p. 189).

[7] Eileen Magnelli, "The Non-Correlation of Biometrics and Eugenics: Rival Forms of Laboratory Work in Karl Pearson's Career at University College London" History of Science 37, 2  (June 1999), p. 132. 

[8] William H. Tucker, The Science and Politics of Racial Research  (Champaign: University of Illinois, 1994), p. 65.

[9] On this theme see Bruno Bettelheim and Alvin H. Rosenfeld, The Art of The Obvious (London: Thames & Hudson, 1993).

[10] See Samuel Haber, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1964)  and Dwight Waldo, The Administrative State (New York: Ronald Press, 1948).

[11]  Galton was nowhere more maliciously and unconsciously naive than when interpreting photos of the children of Jewish immigrants to London in the 1880s: "I felt, rightly or wrongly, that every one of them was coolly appraising me at market value, without the slightest interest of any kind."  This is what a Kleinian analyst would call an epic instance of projective identification.

[12] Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992), p. 139; Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico. 1991), p. 79. 

[13] See Nicole Hahn Rafter, White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies 1877-1919 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988 and J. David Smith,  Minds Made Feeble: The Mythical Legacy of the Kallikaks (Rockville,MD: Aspen, 1985)

[14] See Joel N. Shurkin, Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age (New York: Macmillan, 2006).

[15] Matthew Thomson, The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Democracy and Social Policy in Britain, 1870-1959 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), .pp. 7, 20.

[16] Ibid., .pp. 7, 20

 [17] Edward J. Larson, Sex, Race and Science: Eugenics in The Deep South (Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1995). pp. 30.

[18] Hansen, "Something Rotten in The State of Denmark: Eugenics and the Rise of the Welfare State" in Gunnar Broberg and Nils Roll-Hansen, eds, Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1996), p. 24.

 [19] R. B. Cattell, The Fight For Our National Intelligence (London: P.S. King & Son, ltd., 1937), p. 12.

[20] Hansen, "Something Rotten in The State of Denmark," pp. 14-15.

[21] On engineers see Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

[22] Ute Deichmann, Biologists Under Hitler (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996). p. 331.

[23] Philip R. Reilly, The Surgical Solution: A History of Involuntary Sterilization in the United States (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1991), p. 101.

[24] Ibid., p. 95.

[25] John Frow, "Information as Gift and Commodity" New Left Review 219 (September/October 1996), p. 94.

[26] Richard Lewontin, The Doctrine of DNA: Biology as Ideology (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 72.

[27] Margaret Lock, "Globalization and the State: Is an Era of Neo-Eugenics in the Offing?”  unpublished paper, 2007, p. 9.

 [28] Peter and Ginger Ross Breggin, War Against Children (New York: St Martins Press, 1994),  p. 62.

[29] Richard Bentall, "Why There Can Never be a Genetic Theory of Schizophrenia" in Steven Rose, ed. From Brain To Consciousness (London: Allen Lane, 1998).

[30] ”Every scientists knows there is not a straightforward mapping between genotype and phenotype; we know this so well that we don’t talk about it. But the general public don’t realize it and they use the most dangerous word in genetics, which is the three letter word ‘for’ : a gene for this and a gene for that.” Steve Jones, ‘Darwinism and Genes’ in Jeremy Stangroom, ed. What Scientists Think (London: Routledge, 2005), p.p. 9-10. This begs the question of why there is such a public misunderstanding.

[31] Lori Andrews, The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology (New York: Henry Holt, 1999).

[32] Julian Borger, “Who’s Testing Our Genes – and Why?’ The Guardian. 13 September 2000. In the Shriver Center in Massachussetts, for example, physicians reported 582 cases of people who were turned away because of ‘flawed’ genes.

[33] See Andrews, The Clone Age.

[34] Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry: From The Era of The Asylum to The Age of Prozac  (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997), p. 246.

[35] Speaker at Conference on evolution, society and genetics at ICA in London, 24 January 1998. 

[36] Herbert J. Muller, Out of The Night: A Biologist's View of The Future  (London: Gollanz, 1936), p. 104.

Kurt Jacobsen is book review editor at Logos and a research associate in Political Science at the University of Chicago. He is author of Technical Fouls: Democratic Dilemmas and Technological Change; Dead Reckonings: Ideas, Interests, and Politics in the 'Information Age,' and a forthcoming volume on ‘Freud's Foes.’