Book Review: Unwavering Criticism of the Eugenics Movement

Yves is here. Too often, unexpected costs arise in our experiments to optimize animals and vegetables for certain preferred characteristics. Specialized varieties of corn are less resistant than wild versions, showing greater yield losses in less than ideal weather conditions and greater vulnerability to pests. Many dog ​​breeds have health problems caused by reproduction, ranging from a tendency to bad hips in Labradors to pugs who can barely breathe. In humans, the natural experiment of the Black Death has led to a propensity for stronger immune systems…..along with a greater incidence of autoimmune disease.

Elizabeth Svoboda is a science writer based in San Jose, California. Her latest book for children is The Heroic Life. Originally posted on Dark

At the end of 2018, a Chinese mother gave birth to twin girls known to the world as Lulu and Nana. The birth itself seemed to have passed without incident – the girls “were born in tears as healthy as any other babies,” says Chinese researcher He Jiankui. informed at that time. What was devastating was the way babies were created. When they were still embryos, He said that modifiedwith twin DNA Crisp Editing Tools to give them genetic resistance to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, since the babies’ father was HIV positive.

The experiment did not go according to plan; The HIV resistance genes never showed up properly in the girls’ cells, and an attempt at editing caused other unexpected genetic changes. And yet He is risky – and illegal Gambit shows how eugenics, the drive to improve the human race through selective breeding and more invasive measures, continues to emerge in new forms. AT “Control: the dark history and disturbing present of eugenics”. Geneticist and University College London researcher Adam Rutherford believes that thousands of years of similar engineering attempts to improve humanity – and how this colorful past should shape our current scientific views. “To know this story,” he writes, “is to inoculate oneself against its repetition.”

BOOK REVIEW“Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics” by Adam Rutherford (WW Norton & Company, 288 pages).

Part of the lure of eugenics, Rutherford argues, is that it stems from the seemingly worthy goal of improving our lot. The Greek root words for eugenics mean “good birth” and its practice was supposed to promote general well-being and was sometimes widely encouraged. “Before the Second World War,” writes Rutherford, “eugenics was a beacon of light for many countries striving to become better, healthier, and stronger.”

Most people are familiar with the dark apotheosis of eugenics, when the Nazi regime labeled hundreds of thousands of invalids and other supposedly undesirables “Lebensunwertes Leben” (life unworthy of life) and killed them in gas chambers, all in the interest of strengthening the so-called Aryan race. However, Rutherford shows how the ideas of eugenics flourished thousands of years before the Nazi killing campaigns of doctors. In The Republic, Plato proposed a utopian society in which all human reproduction would be strictly controlled for the best results. The British polymath Francis Galton, who coined the term “eugenics”, promoted Plato’s views during the Victorian era, calling for methods of population control such as preventing those he deemed unfit from breeding. “By preventing the more erroneous members of the herd from multiplying,” wrote Galton, “one can produce a race of gifted men.”

In recounting the little-studied history of eugenics, Rutherford overturns some of the ancient sacred cows. He traces the eugenic line of IQ tests that are still widely used today – tests that less than a hundred years ago were used to identify “feeble-minded” people for sterilization. And although Charles Darwin was cleared of direct involvement in Social Darwinism movement proclaiming the biological superiority of powerful people, Rutherford notes that Darwin still held views close to those of his half-cousin Galton. “Weak members of civilized societies breed their own kind,” Darwin wrote in “Human Origins“. No one “will doubt that this must be extremely harmful to the human race.”

Darwin was hardly alone in his views: Teddy Roosevelt was an ardent supporter of eugenics, as was Winston Churchill.

As we get closer to the present, Rutherford draws on his background in genetics to convince readers that the concept is intellectually untenable. What seems most recent is his assertion that eugenics is not effectively possible, at least at our current level of scientific progress. He explains that a trait such as intelligence is not controlled by one or even several genes. It is the product of complex interactions between hundreds of different genes, and even this is only the beginning: only half of the differences in intelligence between members of a population are believed to be of genetic origin, leaving plenty of room for other influences. “Your genome is a script,” writes Rutherford, “but the movie of your life plays out in myriad forces that determine how that script plays out. nature has never been against educate it is and always has been path“.

This means, he concludes, that efforts to create human prosperity—whether through gene editing or crude population control—are little better than gunshots in the dark. “Eugenics is a failure, a pseudoscience that fails to deliver on its promise,” he writes. “Perhaps this will change over time as we more and more accurately dissect our genomes.”

However, there is something unsettling about Rutherford’s claim that eugenics is suspect in part because it has not yet been completed. This seems to mean that if it worked well enough, then it could be justified: if we could increase the IQ of every unborn child by 10 or 20 points without collateral ill effects, it might be okay. Theoretically, these optimized children could have an easier and more stress-free life. But make it a goal to ignore well documented value people find natural strengths and weaknesses in navigation, as well as the resilience they gain in the process.

Sometimes Rutherford also lets us all off the hook too easily. He attempts to draw a clear line between eugenics and genetic testing, which determines reproductive decisions, stating that he does not consider selective abortion of a fetus with Down syndrome to be eugenic. However, in reality, his careful history suggests that such a striking line cannot be drawn. Whether we call it eugenics or not, we continue to essentialize human value: to make judgments about which lives are more worthy or perfect than others, and to use science to guide those decisions.

In telling stories such as that of Lulu and Nana, Rutherford emphasizes that we have never given up trying to control the biological future of humans. But—perhaps because his main area of ​​expertise is genetics—he sidesteps deeper philosophical inquiry into when such interference is justified, if at all. At a time when we hear the clear echoes of Galton in calls to change certain genetic traits with Crispr, these philosophical explorations are sorely needed.

“We all want our relatives, our tribe, our friends and countrymen to succeed in their endeavours, in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness,” writes Rutherford. “But what are we willing to do to ensure that?” Although “Control” does not provide clear guidance on how to answer this question, it is still worth asking.

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