Is Eugenics Still Prevalent in Modern Day Science?

Scientific racism in the form of eugenics – selective breeding of humans with ‘desirable’ traits – can be dated back to 19th century England, with the name itself coined by Francis Galton (Charles Darwin’s cousin). Galton took Darwin’s work on evolution and applied it to humans, suggesting desirable human qualities were heritable. This idea spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world and inspired some of the most notable figures in history.

Arguably, the climax for eugenics was during the Second World War with the Holocaust, the genocide of six million Jewish individuals, as well as five million other minority people, due to them being believed to be inferior to the Aryan race. This is one of the most radical theories of eugenics, where a group of people is categorised as not fully human. Hitler’s harrowing ideas extended not only to the Jewish population but also to people of colour, communists and other minorities. After the Second World War, many eugenicists were widely criticised for their work and most media outlets refused to publish anything relating to eugenics, so eugenicists had to create their own base for their research. Hence why the journal Mankind Quarterly was founded. The journal is still being published to this day and is regarded as a “white supremacist journal” containing articles with undeniably racist theories.

A crash course in the history and applications of eugenics. Source: CrashCourse.

Eugenics is also still prevalent in politics with former Downing Street advisor, Andrew Sabisky, resigning earlier this year after suggesting Black people have lower IQs than white people because of their genetics. Sabisky’s comments were supported by journalist Toby Young who believes in the unfounded theory of progressive eugenics which argues that those in power are there because of genetics, not wealth or privilege. Even one of the founders of the double-helix, James Watson, supports the idea that differences on tests of intelligence have a racial component; this is consequential as it shows that ingrained racial biases can come into contact with advances in genetics, therefore inhibiting the progress of scientific research.

James Watson is one of the individuals Angela Saini covers in her book ‘Superior: The Return of Race Science’, an in-depth analysis into modern day eugenics, explaining how the “problem of the colour line” still survives in 21st century science. One point Saini makes is that post-war right-wing scientists have found ways to cloak their racist views by using words such as ‘populations’ and ‘human variation’ as opposed to ‘races’ or ‘racial differences’. Another term many eugenicists use is ‘normal’, which has been historically used to disguise racist tones as it insinuates that a certain group of people are superior to others. The meaning of the word now is infused by an undercurrent of eugenics just like the words Saini explores in her book.

“We must not tolerate any form of bias in science.”

The topic of eugenics is vast and something the world needs to acknowledge as an ongoing problem. We need scientists from all backgrounds unwinding these theories and bringing their own research not only to the field of genetics, but across the board. It is important that science is unbiased and founded in experiments and research, otherwise it creates further problems within society. For example, according to The Washington Post many Americans think there are such things as ‘Black blood’ and ‘Black disease’. If we cannot eradicate racial bias such as this from genetics, then this ingrained mentality will continue. We must not tolerate any form of bias in science, but when the science itself becomes prejudiced is when we face these ignorant views, which will not be changed without diversity within the field.

By Beth Powell

Header image: Unsplash