This Week in SCIENCEWEEK (fwd)

From: Eugene Leitl (
Date: Mon Jan 07 2002 - 09:38:51 MST

-- Eugen* Leitl leitl
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Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2002 09:53:58 -0600
From: Science-Week <>
Subject: This Week in SCIENCEWEEK

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Message to all members of the SW Science Discussion List
The following report appeared in the last issue of ScienceWeek.
The Table of Contents of that issue (4 Jan 2002) appears
following the report.

History contains many instances of the ignoble application of
science, and one of the most disastrous examples is that of the
so-called science of "eugenics" in the first half of the 20th
century. Recent major advances in molecular genetics and genetics
biotechnology have produced in some quarters a "genetics
euphoria", with many researchers rushing to establish the
"genetic basis" of various human "behavior traits", the latter
term encompassing, by implication, both "good" and "bad" behavior
traits. Can we expect a proposed therapeutic program to eliminate
genetically based "bad behavior traits"? History suggests extreme
caution is necessary.
... ... Garland E. Allen (Washington University St. Louis, US)
discussed the history of eugenics in the US, the author making
the following points:
     1) The term "eugenics" was coined in 1883 by the Victorian
polymath Francis Galton (1822-1911), geographer, statistician,
and first cousin of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). To Galton, the
term meant "truly- or well-born", and referred to a plan to
encourage the "best people" in society to have more children
(positive eugenics) and to discourage or prevent the "worst
elements" of society from having many, if any, children (negative
eugenics). Eugenics became solidified into a movement in various
countries throughout the world in the first three decades of the
20th century, but nowhere more solidly than in the US and, after
World War I, in Germany.
     2) During the first three decades of the 20th century,
eugenicists attempted to analyze the inheritance of traits by
using correlation studies between relatives and studies of family
pedigree charts. The basic assumption was that if a trait
recurred in families over several generations, it must be
genetic. For example, the American eugenicist Charles B.
Davenport, director of the Station for Experimental Evolution and
the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island,
New York, constructed elaborate pedigrees for Huntington's
chorea, albinism, epilepsy, feeblemindedness, and thalassophilia
or "love of the sea" (which he found to be a Mendelian sex-linked
recessive trait especially prominent in the families of naval
officers). Harry H. Laughlin, superintendent of the Eugenics
Record Office, studied the inheritance of criminality,
feeblemindedness, and many other deleterious traits in different
ethnic and racial groups. He concluded that eastern Europeans,
Mediterraneans, and Russian Jews, among others, harbored a large
number of defective genes in their populations. Such studies,
sprinkled with anecdotes, formed the backbone of eugenic
     3) American eugenicists also worked to establish eugenics-
based legislation in the US. Laughlin was appointed "Expert
Eugenics Witness" to the House Committee on Immigration and
Naturalization in 1921. His prison and hospital data were
critical in convincing the Committee that America's germ plasm
was being weakened by mixing with the lower quality genes coming
from southern and eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Russia. This
led to passage of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924, which restricted
immigration from these regions. Laughlin and others also lobbied
at the state level for the passage of eugenic sterilization laws,
which would allow individuals in state institutions to be
forcibly sterilized if they were judged to be genetically
defective. More than 35 states passed and used such laws, and by
the 1960s, when most of these laws were beginning to be repealed,
more than 60,000 people in the US had been sterilized for eugenic
purposes. In Germany, the National Socialists (Nazis) used
Laughlin's model as one of the bases of their sweeping
sterilization law of 1933, which ultimately led to the
sterilization of over 400,000 people.
[Editor's note: The US eugenics movement did not wither away
easily. As late as the 1960s, noted biologist and endocrinologist
Dwight J. Ingle (1907-?), member of the US National Academy of
Sciences and Chairman of the Department of Physiology at the
University of Chicago, founder and long-time editor of the
influential journal _Perspectives in Biology and Medicine_,
continued calling in widely read published articles for the mass
eugenic sterilization of American blacks to prevent "weakening"
of the US Caucasian germ pool. A similar public call for mass
eugenic sterilization of blacks was made during that time and
later by the noted physicist and engineer and Nobel laureate
William B. Shockley (1910-1989) (also a member of the US National
Academy of Sciences). Memoirs concerning Shockley in current
science publications rarely mention his socio-political
activities in the 1960s and later; the journal _Perspectives in
Biology and Medicine_ currently maintains a "Dwight J. Ingle
Memorial Award". In 1980, Shockley revealed that he had
contributed some of his 70-year-old sperm cells for the purpose
of freezing the sperm for eventual use in the insemination of
women of high intelligence. All of which brings to mind a
statement by the biochemist Erwin Chargaff, published in of all
places the journal _Perspectives in Biology and Medicine_ (1973):
"Outside his own ever-narrowing field of specialization, a
scientist is a layman. What members of an academy of science have
in common is a certain form of semiparasitic living." Dwight J.
Ingle was still editor of the journal at the time Chargaff's
statement was published.]
Science 2001 294:59

This week in ScienceWeek (4 Jan 2002)
1. Molecular vs. Macroscopic Hydrophobic Interactions
2. On Chaotic Systems
3. On the Morphological Evolution of Galaxies
4. Generation of a Stable Triplet Carbene
5. On the Detection of Extrasolar Terrestrial Planets
6. On the Standard Model of Planet Formation
7. Evolution and Sexual Reproduction
8. Psychological Depression and the Shrinking Hippocampus
9. On Human Evolution
10. On the History of Eugenics in the US
11. Calcium Ion Regulation in Biological Cells
12. On the Histone Code
13. PostDoctoral Fellowship Profile:
Laboratory of Weiming Xia, Harvard University
14. In Focus: On Inflammation
15. From PRAXIS: Criticism of US Health Insurance Policy
16. This Week in PRAXIS

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