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Eugenics Part 1 is a group of articles to explain what the eugenics movement was all about. The first article, “Social Origins of Eugenics”, written by Garland E. Allen of Washington University, he gives the definition of the word eugenics and walks around the facts by telling the background information of the eugenics movement. Eugenics, which is “the simplistic notion that complex human behaviors are determined by single genes”, was aided by scientific ideas used to explain social problems. American eugenics developed after the Civil war, when an ever-increasing tide of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe peaked. Along with population growth, came a new philosophy called progressivism, which is the idea that science, technology, economic development, and social organization can improve the human condition. In other words, eugenics used the cover of science to blame the victims for their own problems.
The second article, “Scientific Origins of Eugenics”, written by Elof Carlson of State University of New York at Stony Brook, he gives Francis Galton’s definition of the term eugenics in 1883, which he perceives it as, “a moral philosophy to improve humanity by encouraging the ablest and healthiest people to have more children”. This was considered “positive eugenics” and “negative eugenics” was to advocate culling (which is to select and destroy) the least able from the breeding population to preserve humanity’s fitness. The United States, Germany, and Scandinavia favored the negative approach, and in 1907 the first eugenic sterilization law in the United States was enacted. Supporters of the new field of eugenics were unsure about eugenics like William Bateson and Thomas Hunt who “shunned eugenics as vulgar and an unproductive field for research”. Physicians like Anton Ochsner and Harry Sharp were convinced that the social failure was a medical problem, saying that individuals should be prevented from breeding through custody in asylums or compulsory sterilization.
The third article, “Eugenics Research Methods”, written by David Micklos of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, he talks about the core of eugenics, which is a research effort to apply Mendel’s laws to the inheritance of human traits. In 1900, Mendelian basic pattern of inheritance was extended to plants other than pea plants, to animals, and to humans. Today the study of gene inheritance involves two important elements:”1) finding large families that express the trait under study and 2) scoring or mark out each family member for the presence or absence of the trait. Robert Yerks developed a test of intelligence for army recruits, which the results were “foreign born recruits were much more likely to do poorly because it was as much a test of American popular culture as of intelligence”. The Eugenics Record Office (ERO) founder Charles Davenport did the most to promote eugenics research and from 1920-1938, was the dominant mouthpiece for the racist and anti-immigration agenda of eugenics research.
In the fourth article, “Traits Studied by Eugenicists”, written by Jan Witkowski also of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, she explained the application of Mendel’s laws specifically to human beings. She also introduces a new term “polygenic inheritance” which is a trait influenced by two or more genes. Lastly, in the fifth article, “Flaws in Eugenics Research”, also by Garland E. Allen of Washington University, he talks about, well, the flaws in eugenicists’ research methods and also the attempt to study human mental, behavioral, and personality traits. He breaks down these traits in 5 categories: 1) Difficulty in defining traits, in where Thomas Hunt Morgan wrote in 1932, “heredity can only be obtained when the diagnosis of the traits is known”. 2) Reification is the tendency to treat complex traits. Especially behaviors as if they were single entity, stemming from a single cause. 3) Poor survey and statistical methods. As an example, Harry Laughlin’s use of bogus statistics provided the “scientific” basis for the Johnson Immigration Restriction Act (1924), which severely restricted newcomers from southern and eastern Europe. 4) False qualification is the assumption that if you can produce a numerical value, then it must be a valid measure. 5) Social and environmental influences. By the mid-1930s, eugenics research came under increasing examination, and independent analysis revealed that most eugenic data was useless.
First of all, I am against eugenics based on the information of these articles. They remind me of the movie Gattaca, which is a 1997 American science fiction film written and directed by Andrew Niccol. The film presents a biopunk vision of a future society driven by eugenics where potential children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. Well does this sound familiar or what? You can’t just change something that God created just because it does not meet your personal standards. Well to be truthful, we still do that today with plastic surgery and so much more. I cannot wait to read part two of this series of articles; maybe the ending will be less painful.
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