The seduction of science (22/4/2004)

"No group of experts should be more aware of the hazards of unwarranted claims than geneticists. After all, it was the exuberance of geneticists early in this century that led to the creation of a discipline called eugenics. These scientists were every bit as clever, competent, and well-meaning as today's genetic engineers." - David Suzuki, a professor of genetics (from item 1)

"Hitler praised eugenics, but eugenics was not a crazed Hitlerian fantasy. It was established science in the Western world and it didn't go away after Hitler demonstrated the danger of using it as social policy. Eugenics wasn't even pseudoscience. Science is what scientists agree it is..." (item 2)

1.HUMAN GENETICS: troubled past/present danger - GM WATCH
2.The Seduction of Science - Washington Post

1.HUMAN GENETICS: troubled past/present danger

Human genetics is a science with a troubled past.

"No group of experts should be more aware of the hazards of unwarranted claims than geneticists," according to David Suzuki, a professor of genetics. "After all, it was the exuberance of geneticists early in this century that led to the creation of a discipline called eugenics. These scientists were every bit as clever, competent, and well-meaning as today's genetic engineers."

Suzuki goes on to point out that it was the enthusiastic claims of the early geneticists on improving health and intelligence through encouraging the survival of "good genes" (eu-genics means literally 'good genes') which:

"...provided scientific respectability to the US prohibiting interracial marriage and immigration from countries judged inferior, and allowed sterilization of inmates of mental institutions on genetic grounds. In Nazi Germany, geneticist Josef Mengele held peer-reviewed research grants for his work at Auschwitz. The grand claims of geneticists led to 'race purification' laws and the Holocaust." [from "Experimenting with Life" http://www.biotech-info.net/experimenting.html]

The fashion for eugenics had an international impact and its effects still reverberate around the world today. Only recently, for example, came reports of 15,000 forced sterilisations in France.  Another recent article reports on an experiment in which thousands of South American Indians were deliberately infected with measles by a US scientific team of genetic researchers, killing hundreds This scientific atrocity has taken a decade to uncover.  http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring00/04922.htm

The UK has also been far from free of such influences, as anyone can see by checking out the membership of the British Eugenics Society and seeing just some of the formal badge wearers among the many scientists and others influenced by this fashion. Among the list of the Society's many eminent members is to be found RM Acheson, former Prof. of Community Medicine at Cambridge University and a member of the General Medical Council's Executive Committee. Prof Acheson is also the brother of the UK's former Chief Medical Officer, Sir  Donald Acheson. http://www.africa2000.com/ENDX/endx.htm

For the originators of eugenics, the actual means of encouraging the survival of 'good genes' and of discouraging the survival of 'bad genes' were fairly crude, eg sterilisation. Today the options, particularly in the light of the growing number of genetic tests, are greater. It is in this context that we should see comments like that of Bob Edwards, the world-renowned embryologist and IVF pioneer, who is on record as saying, "Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease."  (Sunday Times, 4 July 1999)

Today's fashionable leading-edge in genetics centres on biotechnology which has given us the ability to tamper with the very blueprint of life.

And if this raises profound dangers, then this time the risks of scientific fashion are also compounded by massive commercial interests as well a continuing background of eugenic thought.

For the rest of this introductory article covering:
Mining the genome
Patents on life
Gene therapy: at the crossroads
Designer babies
Scientists and scholars supporting 'germline' GE
Scientists and scholars supporting human cloning

2.The Seduction of Science To Perfect an Imperfect Race
By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 22, 2004; Page C01

Josef Mengele, the death camp doctor whose name is synonymous with Nazi sadism, makes only a brief appearance in the new Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibition "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race." He is there, almost as a footnote, surrounded by his ilk, and more to the point, by the trappings, the prestige and the dignity of science. Mengele, as a criminal, is a symbol for a larger travesty, and it is that larger crime, the use and abuse of science in the name of Nazism, that the new exhibition examines.

"Deadly Medicine," which opens today and runs through October 2005, is so cogent and chilling it's worth seeing twice. Go through the first time the way curator Susan Bachrach intended, beginning with the fears and anxieties of Germany just after its devastating loss in the first World War. Defeat, poverty and the rise of urbanization made Germans fear their culture was losing its identity and its resilience. But rising to the challenge of saving Germany was a nexus of doctors, reformers and scientists who promised relief. Mankind, looked at objectively, could make itself healthier: by having healthier babies, tracing and eliminating genetic defects and preventing disease and "deviancy" -- alcoholism, prostitution and other "urban" ills -- from spreading throughout the society and from one generation to the next. All of these efforts, including a sinister strain of racism (let's keep the German bloodline pure and healthy), were grouped under the loose field of "eugenics."

From an exploration of the rise of eugenics, the exhibit leads inexorably, methodically and incrementally to the Nazi era of forced sterilization, euthanasia and, finally, concentration camps, mass killings and the ovens of Auschwitz. Illustrating a complex interweaving of ideas are exhibits that show the wide appeal, to both the political left and the right, of eugenic thinking (which dated back to the 19th century). Calipers for measuring the body, trays of glass eyes for determining eye color and anthropological mug shots show the scientific fascination wit

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive