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News: Eugenics


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Sterilization scandal shocks Sweden (970825)

Sweden painfully re-examining past sterilizations (970826)

16,520 Japanese were involuntarily sterilized (970917)

Remember Then, Now: What the eugenics movement can teach us about today’s stem-cell debates (National Review Online, 050303)

Star of Chinese eugenics, book alleges: NBA star created through selective breeding, cruel sports program (National Post, 060119)

The Eugenicist Temptation (National Review, 060327)

Happy Darwin Day! Celebrating mankind’s discovery of eugenics. (Weekly Standard, 070212)

What Is Intelligence? (, 071004)





Sterilization scandal shocks Sweden (970825)


Learning disabilities, poverty, non-Nordic blood called reasons for operating on 60,000 women


STOCKHOLM -The Swedish government could face thousands of legal claims for compensation because of a Nazi-style campaign of forced sterilization of women that historians say has been hushed up for years.


Swedes have been shocked over past days by revelations from journalist Maciej Zaremba that Swedish governments sterilized 60,000 women to rid Swedish society of “inferior” racial types and to encourage Aryan features.


“What happened was nothing but barbaric,” social affairs minister Margot Wallstrom said on Saturday, adding that she is prepared to review laws that said the sterilizations were written into law and that damages could not be paid.


Mr. Zaremba, whose revelations have been published for four days by the liberal newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said Sweden, Norway and Denmark pioneered racial cleansing “sciences” after the First World War.


In Sweden, the sterilizations began in 1935, peaking in 1946 and were not stopped until 1976. Although the procedures were officially voluntary, victims say they were ordered to sign permission slips or risk losing their other children and all benefits.


Most of the victims were “inferior” or of “poor or mixed racial quality,” meaning people with learning difficulties, from poor families or who were not of the common Nordic blood stock.


What is more, most signs of 40 years of forced sterilization have disappeared from Swedish school and history books, Mr. Zaremba says.


One victim, 72-year-old Maria Nordin, said she was viewed as educationally “inferior” because she had no glasses as a child and could not see the school blackboard.


Thrust into a school for the mentally subnormal, Ms. Nordin was called into an office at the age of 17 --during the Second World War --to sign some papers.


“I signed because I knew I had to to get out. . . . I was sent to Bollnas hospital where they took everything out. A Dr. Ingvarsson said to me, ‘You’re not very bright, you can’t have children,’ “ she said.


Ms. Wallstrom, who confessed to feeling ashamed that she originally rejected Ms. Nordin’s application for damages in 1996, said she would raise the subject in cabinet. “It’s the least I can do.


“The silence surrounding this issue has been caused by it going so deep in society. People are defending themselves,” she said.


Ms. Wallstrom said the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe and the ability of scientists to manipulate genes make this is a good time for such issues to be discussed.


Drawing comparisons between Sweden and Nazi Germany is like rubbing salt on a wound for many Swedes, who already feel shame about Sweden’s neutrality during the Second World War and help offered by governments of the time to the German war effort.


The issue of forced sterilization is also painful in a country that prides itself on a liberal tradition of a broad welfare state targeted at helping the needy.


“The most astonishing thing is the ideological difference. In Germany, it was the Nazis, and in Scandinavia, it was the welfare states that showed the most willingness to cleanse themselves of ‘racially’ or ‘socially inferior’ types,” Mr. Zaremba wrote.




Sweden painfully re-examining past sterilizations (970826)


STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — They were found to be “inferior,” flawed by bad eyesight, mental retardation or “undesirable” racial characteristics. To prevent this genetic heritage from being passed on, they were sterilized — sometimes involuntarily.


Sweden had as many as 60,000 of its own citizens sterilized between 1935 and 1976. Adults and children were singled out by doctors, school authorities or other officials and were pressured to consent to the procedures.


This sterilization program bore chilling similarities to Nazi ideas of racial superiority — and media reports on it now are provoking sober self-examination.


The program stemmed from the pursuit of eugenics, a once-popular movement to improve humanity by controlling genetic factors in reproduction.


Though Sweden’s sterilization program was a matter of record, it received little public attention, ignored in schoolbooks and hardly mentioned in reference works. A recent series by the prestigious newspaper Dagens Nyheter, however, has stirred national debate.


Especially shocking to many Swedes is the fact that the law allowing the sterilizations wasn’t overturned until 1976, three decades after the Nazis’ human engineering policies collapsed in the rubble of the Third Reich.


The sterilizations targeted a wide range of people: those of mixed race; unmarried mothers with several children; people judged to be habitual criminals; even a boy considered “sexually precocious.”


“Grounds for recommending sterilization: unmistakable Gypsy features, psychopathy, vagabond life,” reads one document cited by Dagens Nyheter.


Maria Nordin, 72, told the newspaper she had been sterilized in 1943 because she was regarded as mentally inferior.


“One day, the (school) superintendent said I should come into his room to sign some papers. I understood what this was about so I ran into a toilet and sat there and cried for a long time for myself,” she said.


Sweden, with its well-developed welfare state and long-standing progressive stances on social issues, is not accustomed to being on the defensive on ethical issues.


“This is a frightening picture that now is being shown to the Swedish people,” Alf Svensson, chairman of the opposition Christian Democratic Party, said in a letter to Prime Minister Goeran Persson.


Social Minister Margot Wallstroem says she is considering whether to compensate people who were forcibly sterilized. That would require overturning current law that says the victims can’t get compensation because the sterilizations were lawful when performed.


Nordin applied for compensation last year but her request was turned down by Wallstroem, who now says she feels ashamed over the matter.


“I will take up the matter for discussion with the government. It is the least I can do,” the Cabinet minister said.


The Dagens Nyheter report has hit Swedes at a time when they were already examining some painful history from World War II. The government, under increasing international pressure, is looking into whether property looted by the Nazis from Jews in other countries ended up in Sweden.


The issue of forced sterilization stands to be even more troublesome, because it was conducted under the ostensibly benign gaze of the Social Democrats — that party that built Sweden’s welfare state and proclaimed it a paragon of enlightened government.


“The Social Democrats are implicated in a collective guilt,” said Social Minister Wallstroem, herself a member of the party.


The sterilization programs can be traced to turn-of-the-century enthusiasm for eugenics.


The movement had adherents in many countries, but “Sweden was the first in the world to grant this pseudoscience official recognition,” Dagens Nyheter wrote in describing how Sweden established an Institute of Racial Biology in 1921.


Not only did eugenics foresee an improved human race, it also was appealing to Social Democrats, who were beginning to see that Sweden’s welfare state would be costly and wanted to limit the number of people who would have to be supported, the newspaper said.




16,520 Japanese were involuntarily sterilized (970917)


TOKYO (AP) — More than 16,000 handicapped Japanese women were involuntarily sterilized with government approval from 1949 to 1995, an official said today.


But the government does not plan to apologize, offer compensation to the victims or their families, or conduct an investigation, the official said.


The admission came one day after 17 citizens groups that represent women or the handicapped demanded that the Health and Welfare Ministry investigate cases of involuntary sterilization. Over the years, a few Japanese women have claimed they were sterilized without their consent while housed in public institutions for the handicapped or retarded.


But their claims did not gain much attention until last month, when it was discovered that as many as 60,000 people had been involuntarily sterilized in Sweden, and Stockholm apologized.


In its story about the activists’ demand, the Asahi newspaper said today that a Meiji Gakuin University lecturer had gone through government records and discovered about 16,500 Japanese women had been sterilized without consent. He said some women were sedated when they resisted.


When The Associated Press asked the Health and Welfare Ministry about those figures today, an official said on condition of anonymity that a total of 16,520 handicapped women had been sterilized without consent from 1949 to 1995.


In 1948, Japan legalized sterilization as a means of improving the human species through the control of hereditary factors. The law, which was only revoked last year, allowed doctors to sterilize people with mental or physical handicaps without their consent, after obtaining the approval of local governments.


“The government should not avoid its responsibility by simply saying that it was legal then,” said Aiko Tsutsumi, who uses a wheelchair and belongs to one of the 17 citizens groups.


“The government should publicly disclose what had happened and apologize,” she said in an interview.




Remember Then, Now: What the eugenics movement can teach us about today’s stem-cell debates (National Review Online, 050303)


Praise for the forward march of science; progressive and liberal leaders championing new scientific techniques that promise to cure disease, eradicate illness and suffering, and advance the progress of the human race; elite institutions of higher education embarking on their own initiatives, training students, and supporting researchers in the new science; California’s self-described progressive citizenry passing a law granting state funding and support to the cause, with other states preparing to follow suit; the intellectual elite of the country decrying the obstructionist, anti-modern views of the people who oppose or publicly challenge the underlying ethical rationale of the new science.


This might sound like our contemporary debate over embryonic stem cells, but it’s actually an apt description of the eugenics movement in the United States in the early 20th century. Eugenics, a term coined by British scientist Francis Galton in 1883, was the movement to “improve the human race through better breeding,” and in the first few decades of the early 20th century in the United States it found a ready and eager audience. California and many other states passed compulsory eugenic sterilization laws that led to the sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans. Congress passed an Immigration Restriction Act in 1924 based on the testimony of eugenicists and fears about the fitness of new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. And the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1927, upheld the sterilization of a supposedly “feebleminded” woman as constitutional, with progressive Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declaring, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Underwritten by the wealth of some of the country’s most prestigious families, such as the Carnegies and the Harrimans, eugenics was something every enlightened American believed in, since the movement promised to end needless suffering, increase economic prospects by alleviating the burden placed on the state by the feebleminded and their many illnesses, and generally improve health and well-being for all citizens. Eugenics was the future.


Although there are vast differences between the eugenics movement of the past and the stem-cell research of the present, there is an eerie similarity to their rhetoric and tactics. Like eugenics, promoters of embryonic-stem-cell research talk of its endless promise, declaring it the scientific “path to the future,” as two state senators from Massachusetts wrote in a recent opinion piece. Embryonic-stem-cell promoters claim that their science will lead to cures for a range of diseases and the alleviation of much human suffering. And they denounce those who question the ethics of their pursuit as backward or blindly religious. But as we continue to debate the ethics of embryonic-stem-cell research, it is worth recalling that movements waged in the name of scientific progress often leave a troubled legacy.


The current debate over stem-cell research in Massachusetts provides an intriguing example of embryonic-stem-cell supporters’ rhetoric at work. Governor Mitt Romney, whose wife has multiple sclerosis, has been taking a drubbing recently for his position on stem-cell research: He supports the research on lines drawn from discarded embryos from fertility clinics but not the creation of human embryos through cloning for the purpose of research. Two Massachusetts state senators, Robert E. Travaglini and Cynthia Stone Creem, countered in a recent Boston Globe essay that such opposition actively harms the search for cures. “Today,” they wrote, “children with juvenile diabetes or crippling spinal cord injuries hope that stem-cell research may someday offer them a cure. We cannot let their hope be taken hostage by ignorance, misinformation, or political posturing.”


Similarly, during our most recent election, when President Bush expressed qualms about embryonic-stem-cell research, or when the likes of as Mel Gibson spoke openly of their opposition to California’s stem-cell initiative (Proposition 71), they were ridiculed as ignorant theocrats. In one particularly overheated expression, Neal Gabler of the Norman Lear Center, writing in the Los Angeles Times, declared that people who support a conservative social agenda and oppose abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research, and gay marriage are undemocratic boosters of “government by jihadis in the grip of unshakable self-righteousness.” Sam Harris, also writing in the Times, chimed in with the claim that “our president and our leaders in Congress, many of them citing religious teachings, have decided to put the rights of undifferentiated cells before those of men and women suffering from spinal cord injuries, full-body burns, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.”


During the height of the eugenics movement, similar charges were leveled at opponents. It was Catholics and conservative Protestants, often at the local level, who fought state legislative initiatives for compulsory eugenic sterilization and opposed eugenic restrictions on marriage licenses and immigration law. In New Orleans, Catholics formed a coalition with fundamentalist Protestants to thwart legislators’ attempts to pass a compulsory-sterilization law. Catholics and conservative Protestants, ridiculed as backward and anti-scientific in their own day, seem prescient in ours.


Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Harvard University, which is embarking on its own private stem-cell initiative this year, has its own connection to the history of eugenics. Charles Davenport, the head of the Eugenics Record Office and one of the country’s leading eugenicists, received his training as a biologist at Harvard. The school offered courses in eugenics to undergraduates in the 1910s and 1920s, as did Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Northwestern, and Clark Universities. Professor E. A. Hooton, an anthropologist at Harvard, was an avid eugenicist, supporting compulsory sterilization and other eugenic proposals right into the mid-1940s. Many Harvard geneticists, like Edward M. East, also publicly supported eugenics in the 1910s and 1920s. Ironically, at the height of the eugenics craze, Harvard refused a large donation earmarked for the promotion of eugenics research. In 1927, it turned down a $60,000 bequest to establish a separate program to study eugenics because it didn’t want to be seen as supporting compulsory sterilization, despite the fact that many Harvard faculty members were arguing vigorously for just that in the pages of Eugenical News and The Journal of Heredity. Today, Harvard plans to spend $100 million on stem-cell research.


Our current debate over stem-cell research remains in many ways as badly constructed as those eugenics debates of last century: pitched warfare between progress and fear, reason and religion. As the results in California’s Prop 71 decision reveal, stem-cell advocates have been very effective in seizing the moral high ground by arguing that empathy for the sick and the need for unfettered scientific progress trumps other objections. These have long been successful rhetorical tools for swaying public opinion; eugenicists used them to great advantage. But whether you support or oppose embryonic-stem-cell research, it is not unreasonable to suggest, given the very strong feelings on both sides, that we should continue to have a careful and thorough debate about the ethics of it. This is not quashing science; it is the beginning of a necessary discussion about its uses and limits.


Today we have many more protections for individuals in place, ethically, legally, and culturally, than we did in the era of eugenics. And Americans are loath to draw comparisons between the darker chapters of our history and the present, despite our near-ignorance of movements like eugenics. So forgotten is our history of eugenics that in a January opinion piece in the New York Times, Susan Jacoby argued that contemporary debates between religion and science could easily be harmonized if we only followed the examples of liberal Christians in the past, enthusiastically citing the zoologist Maynard Metcalf as her example. It is true that Metcalf reconciled his liberal Christianity with evolution, but Jacoby failed to disclose that his faith was also broad enough to encourage an avid embrace of eugenics. In an article titled “Evolution and Man,” in the August 1916 issue of the Journal of Heredity, Metcalf argued that the success of eugenics depended upon the success of Christian civilization, because only Christian societies could properly foster eugenic ideals.


It is perhaps a useful reminder, as we confront the serious ethical challenges produced by our rapid technological and scientific progress, that we’ve faced such difficult situations before. Then, like now, the proponents of the new science framed the debate as one between enlightened scientific progress and the forces of ignorance and religious zealotry. In the past we didn’t make the correct choice. Today, it would be helpful to reframe the debate as one about the limits and ethics of science more broadly, not as a battle between reason and faith. Should we do things merely because we can? How much of a voice should citizens concerned about the ethics of science have in these debates? And how can we craft a more permanent compromise on stem-cell research — one that will not entirely thwart science but offers sound ethical protections for human life? These are the questions we should be asking. If we do, we might be judged better by our own children and grandchildren than we now judge our ancestors who so enthusiastically embraced eugenics.


— Christine Rosen is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and author of Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2004.




Star of Chinese eugenics, book alleges: NBA star created through selective breeding, cruel sports program (National Post, 060119)


HONG KONG - Far from being an accident of birth, Chinese basketball giant Yao Ming was deliberately bred for the sport, forced into it against his will and subjected to years of dubious science to increase his height, a new book claims.


The 7-foot-6 Houston Rockets centre also underwent years of punishing training as one of hundreds of thousands of potential Chinese athletes who endure miserable childhoods in boot-camp conditions.


The revelations in Operation Yao Ming by former Newsweek journalist Brook Larmer are likely to raise further disquiet over China’s Soviet-style sports system before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


Mr. Larmer said Mr. Yao, China’s first successful basketball export and its most famous face worldwide, was the product of a harsh and antiquated program that has changed little since it was set up more than 50 years ago under Mao Zedong.


“Yao on one hand is this great symbol of China’s modern advancement, a commercial icon that can stride across the Pacific and play the role of a bridge between East and West,” he said. “But he’s still the product of this system which is one of the last bastions of socialism in China.”


The author says Mr. Yao’s birth had been anticipated for decades by Communist officials — desperate to boost national pride through sports.


The officials had been tracking his family for two generations.


Mr. Larmer describes a system in which doctors armed with special growth-predicting manuals measure youngsters’ bones to identify future athletes.


Weightlifters must be squat with strong torsos; divers need tiny hips to minimize splash; basketball players must simply be tall.


“It’s no accident that there have been generations of players who have continued to get taller,” Mr. Larmer said.


“One of the first NBA scouts was blown away when he went to northern China and saw more than 20 seven-footers.”


Mr. Yao’s grandfather, one of Shanghai’s tallest men, was discovered too late for basketball, but his son, 6-foot-9 Yao Zhiyuan, soon found himself dragged into the sports system.


There he was paired off with 6-foot-2 Fang Fengdi, the Chinese women’s team captain, who had been a feared Red Guard during the murderous Cultural Revolution.


The two were encouraged to marry in a system with undertones of eugenics, the controversial gene-pool manipulation espoused by the Nazis and previously trumpeted by Beijing.


“It wasn’t a national breeding program, it was a desire among Shanghai officials for them to get together,” Mr. Larmer said.


“But when Yao was born, everybody in the sports community in Shanghai and nationally knew he was something special.”


The giant infant, who was just eight years old when he reached the average Chinese male’s height of 5-foot-7, was recruited for basketball despite his parents’ objections and his own hatred of the sport.


“Even when his parents resisted at first to put him in the same system that had caused them some suffering and bitterness, there was not a lot of choice,” Mr. Larmer said.


“He hated the game for a decade. He didn’t like it; he wasn’t any good at it.”


The eight-year-old Yao embarked on a program of intense, repetitive training under disciplinarian coaches who offered little encouragement or variety.


Meanwhile, scientists fed him a steady stream of mysterious concoctions designed to make him taller, raising the spectre of possible hormone treatment at a time when China was suffering a series of doping scandals.


“In Yao’s case I don’t have any proof ... [but] in that period of time in the 1990s they were using all kinds of experimental stuff to enhance players’ stamina and strength,” Mr. Larmer said.


“One would think that as China can flex its muscle economically, militarily, diplomatically, that it wouldn’t need sports as a crutch. But sport is such a visible, exciting measure for China’s position in the world, and national feeling is so strong, I don’t think that’s going to be easy to give up.


“Gold medals have become an addiction. How do you kick the habit when you’ve reached the top?”


China’s presence on the medal podium at the Olympics has increased steadily in recent times. The nation finished 11th in the medal count in 1988 and has improved at every subsequent summer games, including third place in 2004 in Athens.


The book also describes the complex negotiations between Chinese authorities and American sports impresarios who, desperate to showcase the National Basketball Association in the world’s most populous nation, pried Mr. Yao away from the Shanghai Sharks in 2002.


It contrasts the star player’s case with that of Wang Zhizhi, another member of China’s famous “Great Wall,” who also moved to the NBA but was denounced by Beijing after refusing to return home the same year.




The Eugenicist Temptation (National Review, 060327)


Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity, by Harry Bruinius (Knopf, 416 pp., $30)




The United States is an amazing country. Our system of liberty under law is the gold standard of political freedom. Our dynamic free market drives the world economy. Our sacrifices of blood and treasure to free subjugated peoples and succor victims of natural and man-made calamities are too many to recount. Yet, in our history we have also inflicted terrible wrongs upon vulnerable people. Slavery, Jim Crow, and our treatment of indigenous populations can hardly make us swell with pride.


And then there was the American eugenics movement, under which, journalism professor Harry Bruinius vividly reminds us in his new book, “the great god Science” invidiously divided members of the human race into “fit” versus “unfit” castes. “Like cattle and peas, some were [deemed] better than others, with greater claim to dignity,” the author writes. “Like pigs and flowers, humans could be judged for fitness at the county fair. Like weaklings of the flock, some should be made to perish.”


In recent years, there have been several good histories of eugenics, most notably Edwin Black’s War Against the Weak. Bruinius’s book is a valuable addition to the list. Its thorough research and skilled prose alone would make it worthy of attention; but Bruinius’s unconventional approach is what makes it really stand out. Rather than write a standard beginning-to-end historical narrative, the author offers a collection of mini-biographies of the people who were most responsible for, or victimized by, American eugenics. The effect is to personalize the subject without sacrificing historical depth.


Bruinius wisely begins by telling the story of the tragic life of Carrie Buck. Buck was the daughter of a prostitute who may have been raped by a member of her foster family and impregnated. Perhaps to cover up the crime against its ward, the family had her institutionalized. Buck’s doctors, eugenics ideologues all, “diagnosed” her as a “high grade moron” and saw the young woman as a prime example of how the “feeble minded” were polluting the human gene pool. They wanted to sterilize Buck, as permitted by Virginia law. But rather than just do the deed, they decided instead to use their patient as a test case to gain the imprimatur of the U.S. Supreme Court on the practice of eugenics.


Lawyers who actually supported Virginia’s law brought a test case against involuntary sterilization in Buck’s name. Despite their views, they made some good arguments on her behalf, warning, for example, that a decision upholding the Virginia statute would unleash “a reign of doctors,” leading “in the name of science” to “new classes [and] even races” being “brought within the scope of such regulation, and the worst forms of tyranny practiced.” This prescient warning made not a dent on the mind and conscience of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, eugenics enthusiast and social Darwinist. Writing for an 8–1 majority in the infamous 1927 Buck v. Bell, Holmes led his colleagues in shamefully condemning Buck to forced sterilization on the grounds that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”


Bruinius reminds us that Carrie Buck was more than a mere name on an infamous court case: She was an innocent woman whose life was unjustly blighted because her country robbed her of the ability to have children. And — as if to demonstrate the fallaciousness of eugenics theory — Buck’s daughter, the supposed “third generation” imbecile, eventually earned admission to her school’s honor roll before dying in childhood.


Bruinius next turns to those most responsible for the inception of eugenics and its metastatic spread. Eugenics, which means “good in birth,” was the brainchild of the brilliant English statistician (and cousin of Charles Darwin) Francis Galton. In this account, Galton comes across as a stereotypical upper-class Victorian elitist whose sexual hangups and deep antagonism to religion drove him to conclude that human beings should be subjected to genetic husbandry. In Galton’s “positive eugenics,” the better human beings — meaning, of course, people like him — would be induced to marry and produce large families. Galton wanted the government to sponsor a national contest that would culminate annually with a mass marriage ceremony in Westminster Abbey, in which ten “deeply blushing young men,” all 25 years old, would marry ten fecund 20-year-old women, matched to their husbands for their eugenic potential. The couples would be given £5,000 (a lot of money in those days) and charged with procreating bounteously.


Galton, however, was not the man most responsible for unleashing eugenics on the world; that dubious honor belongs to American biologist Charles Davenport. Davenport hero-worshipped Galton and convinced the Carnegie Institution to fund a eugenics project. In 1904, courtesy of Carnegie’s open wallet, he founded the Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., which spent the next few decades conducting detailed eugenic analyses of American families and promoting eugenics policies.


It is tempting to look back at Davenport with such disdain that we miss his human side. Bruinius does not make that mistake, bringing his subject to three-dimensional life without excusing or justifying Davenport’s destructive legacy. I was particularly touched by Davenport the precocious child, who founded a neighborhood newspaper, the Twinkling Star, and took up journal writing; in retrospect, it is heartbreaking to read the pure innocence that shines through some of the young Davenport’s diary entries. By his middle years, though, Davenport was capable of writing the following: “Idiots, low imbeciles, and dangerous criminals may under appropriate restrictions be prevented from procreation — either by segregation during the reproductive period or even by sterilization. Society must protect itself; as it claims the right to deprive the murderer of his life so also it may annihilate the hideous serpent of hopelessly vicious protoplasm.”


Davenport’s second-in-command and eventual successor at the Cold Spring Harbor project was a particularly bigoted and nasty man named Harry Laughlin, who gained national prominence as the foremost “expert” on eugenics as it related to immigration policy. Laughlin’s work did not bode well for those fleeing oppression, particularly Jews. In the mid-1930s, he was commissioned by the Special Committee for the New York State Chamber of Commerce to opine on the contentious issue of immigration reform. The “Laughlin Report,” which urged that the quotas for Jews (and all nonwhites) be greatly reduced owing to their supposed racial inferiority, found unfortunate favor in Washington — helping ensure that those fleeing the Nazi pogrom would find no refuge in the U.S.


Certain German racial purists were mightily impressed by the successes of the American eugenics movement. Laughlin returned their admiration: After Hitler assumed power in 1933, Laughlin defended Germany’s newly enacted sterilization laws. He noted correctly that the German law was little different from those of some American states, and lauded the new government for recognizing the “biological foundations of national character.” Laughlin would later travel to Germany and receive an honorary doctorate in “racial hygiene,” the German term for eugenics.


Before their deaths, both Davenport and Laughlin experienced some poetic justice. Davenport’s daughter rejected his strict morality for the life of a flapper and Bohemian, behaving in ways Davenport sought in vain to eradicate through strict control of protoplasm; even worse in the eyes of her anti-Semitic father was her marriage to a divorced Jewish man with three children. And Laughlin, who hid his own “unfitness” (he had epilepsy) behind aggressive eugenics advocacy, crashed and burned as a national figure when Carnegie finally pulled the plug on Cold Spring Harbor. He died in 1943, a forgotten man.


Bruinius concludes by sounding the alarm that eugenics thinking, once thoroughly discredited by the Holocaust, is on the comeback trail. Neo-eugenicists and futurists — primarily residing in university bioethics departments and libertarian think tanks — hubristically believe that they can pursue the utopian goals of the original eugenics movement (absent the racial discrimination and anti-Semitism) through genetic engineering without also unchaining destructive social forces. It wasn’t the hope of improving the human gene pool that caused catastrophe, these laissez faire eugenicists assert: It was the involvement of government in the quest.


To the contrary: Eugenics springs from a poisoned intellectual well. The very idea that we have the right to decide which human traits to enhance and which to eradicate is what leads to trouble. Social pressure can oppress even without formal government action. Besides, if the new eugenics became popular, it wouldn’t take long for politicians to get into the act.


But pointing to past wrongs is not enough to carry the day: Eugenics thinking has to be defeated at its roots, morally and intellectually. Bruinius worries that this will prove difficult in the modern materialist age, and correctly identifies the key question that must be confronted: “What is the foundation of human dignity in light of evolution? Or, more precisely, what is the scientific basis for individual rights in light of the malleable human genome?” Regrettably, the author has — unnecessarily — accepted the human reductionism inherent in the philosophy of Darwinian materialism, so he struggles in vain to find effective answers.


But the answers are there, and public intellectuals and cultural leaders had better explore and expound upon them. Otherwise, Bruinius vividly prophesies, the “epic modern quest of science” that is smashing “the old authorities, discovering the secrets of nature and unleashing the unprecedented forces of new technologies” could “bring about the doom of [liberal] civilization as we know it.”


Mr. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His website is




Happy Darwin Day! Celebrating mankind’s discovery of eugenics. (Weekly Standard, 070212)


by David Klinghoffer


STRIKE UP THE BAND! Around the world today, February 12, admirers of Charles Darwin will celebrate the great man’s 198th birthday with lectures, concerts, and exhibits.


Darwin Day, as it’s called, is meant to be cheerful, with a bit of good-natured triumphalism, marking what celebrants see as the intellectual victory of Darwinism, the theory of evolution by the purely material mechanism of natural selection. But set aside the scientific legacy for a moment to consider the less frequently discussed question of Darwin’s moral heritage. This year happens to mark another anniversary as well: a tragic one, strongly linked to Darwinian theory.


As of 2007, it is exactly a century since the key turning point in the Darwin-inspired American eugenic movement. In 1907, the state of Indiana achieved the distinction of becoming the world’s first government entity to enforce sterilization of institutionalized “idiots,” “imbeciles,” and other individuals deemed genetically “unfit.” The idea caught on.


With Washington and California following in 1909, some 30 states eventually passed similar compulsory sterilization laws by the early 1930s. California was the leader in the field, accounting for half of the coercive sterilizations in the years leading up to World War II.


By 1958 some 60,000 American citizens had been sterilized against their will. Only the horrors of Nazism succeeded in casting a pall over America’s romance with eugenics, when it became widely known that German doctors were following the lead of their California colleagues and sterilizing undesirables.


“EUGENICS” is a word coined by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton in 1865. It means a stance favoring the betterment of mankind by rational breeding of offspring. That goal is to be achieved by encouraging stronger, “superior” specimens of humanity to multiply while discouraging their weaker, “defective” counterparts from doing so.


That eugenics traced its origins to Darwin was no secret. A leading scientific eugenicist, the Harvard genetic biologist Edward East, explained in 1927 that “eugenic tenets are strict corollaries” of the “theory of organic evolution.”


It was a reasonable inference. In his Origin of Species in 1859, Darwin described the “one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”


His more specific thoughts on human society were saved for his other major work, the Descent of Man (1871):


With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment . . .


Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.


Darwin himself opposed discriminating against the weak and helpless, but his disciples were less principled. The major ethical impact of the Darwinian idea has been to undercut what contemporary Princeton bio-ethicist Peter Singer decries as the “Hebrew view” of a purposefully-designed humanity, crowned by the solemn and central theme: “And God said, Let us make man in our image.”


For Singer and more than a few other of today’s respected moral Darwinists, this would mean that if newborns with certain defects—like hemophilia or autism—could be shown to be net drains on society, then it would be ethical to kill such babies.


And Singer’s model of infanticide, currently practiced in the Netherlands, has not been banished to the far reaches of respectable opinion. It has been seconded in the pages of publications ranging from the New England Journal of Medicine to the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times.


Even for those unwilling to endorse such killing, there is still the alternative of the soft eugenics of reproductive “choice.” Thus last month, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced a new policy of encouraging all pregnant women—not only those over 35, as in the past—to be screened for Down syndrome, with a view to killing the unborn child if the chromosomal abnormality is discovered.


While we don’t compel sterilization anymore, we have our own methods of eliminating those we deem unfit for life.


David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author most recently of Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History (Doubleday).




What Is Intelligence? (, 071004)


By Thomas Sowell


One of the longest-running controversies in history has been that between those who believe intelligence to be inherited and those who see it as determined by environment.


If time has not resolved that question, it has at least led to sharper definitions of the question and a muting of some of the dogmatism among those on both sides of this issue.


The eugenics movement of the early 20th century was based on the fear that, since people of lower mental ability tended to have more children than people of higher mental ability, the average level of the nation’s intelligence would tend to decline over time.


It is hard to escape the logic of that argument. But that logic could be its undoing.


The research of Professor James R. Flynn, an American expatriate living in New Zealand, has revealed that the number of questions answered correctly on IQ tests has risen very substantially in more than a dozen nations, in just one generation.


Such a thing should not have been possible, according to the assumptions and logic of the eugenicists.


Historically, those who emphasized the role of environment in intelligence went overboard in the opposite direction.


By the end of World War II, the racial fanaticism of the Nazis had discredited the role of heredity. Some even claimed that science had proved the intellectual equality of the races.


Science had in fact proved nothing about the intellectual ability of races, one way or the other.


A landmark scholarly article in 1969 by Professor Arthur Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley exposed the weaknesses in the prevailing environmental arguments, as Professor Flynn’s later research would expose the weaknesses in the heredity arguments.


Unlike others on the heredity side of the argument, Professor Jensen saw no need to dismiss environmental factors or to claim that some races were fit only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.


One of the ironies of Jensen’s landmark article was that it argued that the educational performances of children from disadvantaged groups could be greatly improved, even if there was no corresponding improvement in IQ scores.


All of that was lost in the shuffle amid the outraged reactions to Professor Jensen’s challenge to the prevailing environmentalist orthodoxy.


He was denounced as a racist, and his attempts to speak on various campuses were disrupted or prevented. The net result of this mindless name-calling and hooliganism was that the heredity argument appeared to be unanswerable.


Flynn’s research has now provided the strongest answer. The amount by which IQ test performance has improved for whole nations exceeds the IQ difference between blacks and whites in the United States or other groups in other countries.


While Flynn’s work is widely known among academic specialists, it remains largely unknown to the general public.


That is an especially painful loss, not only to our understanding of the complex IQ issue, but also to our understanding of the need to be able to discuss controversial issues rationally, instead of emotionally and violently.


Last year Jim Flynn debated Charles Murray at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. It was a model of how two decent and honorable people should rationally confront their differences over serious issues.


In his final summation, Flynn mentioned Arthur Jensen for the first time that day, saying how shameful it was that people had lashed out at Jensen instead of dealing with his arguments — arguments that Flynn has done more to rebut than anyone else.


Jim Flynn is scheduled to return to his native United States this month, as part of an international tour to promote his latest book, “What is Intelligence?”


He is scheduled to talk at Harvard, Berkeley, the University of Chicago and other academic institutions. But thus far there is little indication that any of this will reach the public through the mass media. That is truly a shame.


We need both his knowledge and his example.




Autism and Eugenics (Christian Post, 110814)

By Chuck Colson


Autism Spectrum Disorder, which runs the gamut from profoundly disabled to high-functioning individuals capable of living fairly normal lives, affects millions of families: 1 out of every 1,000 births today are autistic kids.


As I have told you over the past two days, the families of these children, like my grandson Max, don’t see these children as burdens but, instead, as blessings. Not because the parents are in “denial,” but because they love their children, and that love has helped them to see what is really important and where human worth really lies.


Unfortunately, there are many others, unlike these parents, who believe that parents and society would be better off if kids like Max were never born.


And these days, pre-natal testing allows doctors, insurance companies, and prospective parents to determine which babies in the womb will be so-called “normal and healthy,” and which will be born with handicaps. Which is why more and more of them identified with handicaps, like Down Syndrome, are being aborted.


The demonic “logic” behind targeting people with Down Syndrome can be applied to anyone with disabilities. A combination of fear, concern over the costs of caring for these kids, desires for a “perfect” child can prove irresistible. Medical technology may never enable us to “cure” things like autism, but it may enable us to identify - and target - autistic people in the womb.


If you’re thinking “this can’t happen here,” it already has. As Dr. Christopher Hook of the Mayo Clinic warns, “Eugenics is back in America.” Eugenics is the belief that we can improve the human race by eliminating undesirable genetic traits, usually, that is, the people who carry those traits. In fact, the modern eugenics movement began here in the United States. Among its proponents were people like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Margaret Sanger.


Eugenics is so dangerous and pernicious because it represents a radical disrespect for every human life, not just the life of the unborn. Adolf Hitler, an open admirer of the American and German eugenics movements, began eliminating the mentally and physically handicapped years before he started killing Jews.


The re-birth of eugenics in this country doesn’t require Nazi brown-shirts or even new laws. In fact, all it requires is for Christians not to pay attention. Then a combination of medical rationing and other economic and cultural forces will enable the forces of death to follow the demonic “logic” to its deadly conclusion.


So, how do we prevent this? We stand up for life, from conception to natural death. We make it clear to both our “leaders” and the chattering classes that respect for life is the great non-negotiable.


And it’s non-negotiable precisely because of people like Max. He will never pay taxes or hold down a job. He’ll never cure the common cold or cure the economy. But he has brought love and joy into the world in ways I never could have imagined. And I’ll talk more about that Monday.


Please, get a copy of Dancing with Max. I can almost guarantee you’ll fall in love with my grandson. And he’ll teach you exactly why we must resist every effort for humans to play God and decide who lives and who dies.