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Scientists and Society

Critics of Eugenics

A number of scientists raised objections against eugenics, between the two world wars. However, it must be remembered that many of such critics were still sympathetic to some aspects of eugenics, as you can see from Haldane's post-war remarks on eugenics (Japanese translation).

Critics of (mainline) Eugenics

Many geneticists, both British and American, either were themselves caught up in the mainline creed or were reluctant, in the self-professedly apolitical community of science, to offend their pro-eugenic colleagues. Nevertheless, a growing numbner worried that mainline eugenics was tarnishing the genetics enterprise. Eugenic writings, with their attention to sexuality, baby health, and family life, smacked of a deplorable pop science. Others found mainline eugenics morally or socially offensive. But important above all for most scientists, much of what passed as eugenic research was slipshod in method, evidence, and reasoning. There was, in fact, a widening disjunction between the chief scientific claims of eugnics and the results of modern genetic science. ...

During the First World War, a number of geneticists began to separate themselves from mainline eugenics, declining office in eugenic organizations, objecting to meetings that combined eugenics with genetics, insisting that journals of genetics refrain from publishing eugenic material. ...

The leading scientists in the anti-mainline assault, those most powerful and sustained in their critique, were the British biologists J.B.S. Haldane, Julian huxley, and Lancelot Hogben and their American colleague, Herbert S. Jennings. (Kevles 1985, 121-2)

Jennings noted in his 1930 book, The Biological Basis of Human Nature ... that "a lot of fallacies" appeared to be circulating "under the guise of biological principles applicable to human affairs ... Particularly abundant appear such fallacies in the attempts to apply to human problems, to social reforms, the results of scientific study of heredity". The fallacies included, in Jennings's view, the notion that biology "requires an aristocratic constitution of society" and---Huxley's critique---"the assumption of the eugenic superiority of the more prosperous classes over the artisan and labourer mass." In 1930, Hogben complained in The Nature of Living Matter, that eugeniticists had encumbered social biology "with a vocabulary of terms which have no place in an ethically neutral science." (Kevles 1985, 128)

Last modified November 26, 1999. (c) Soshichi Uchii