Archive for eugenics

Galton’s 1904 paper in Nature

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2022 by xi'an

Nature [28 September] posted an editorial apologizing for publishing Galton’s 1904 speech on Eugenics as part of “material that contributed to bias, exclusion and discrimination in research and society”. Apology that I do not find particularly pertinent from an historical viewpoint, given the massive time, academic, and societal distances we stand from this “paper”, which sounds more than a pamphlet than a scientific paper, by current standards. Reading these 1904 Nature articles show no more connection with a modern scientific journal than considering Isaac Newton’s alchemy notes in the early proceedings of the Royal Society.

“The aim of eugenics is to represent each class or sect by its best specimens; that done, to leave them to work out their common civilization in their own way.” F. Galton

Galton’s speech was published in extenso by the American Journal of Sociology, along with discussions from participants of the Sociological Society meeting. This set of discussions is rather illuminating as the views of the 1904 audience are quite heterogeneous, from complete adherence to a eugenic “golden’ future (see the zealous interventions of K. Pearson or B. Shaw] to misgivings about the ability to define the supposed ranking of members of society by worth or intelligence (H.G. Wells), to rejection that moral traits are genetically inherited (Mercier), to protests against the negation of individual freedom induced by a eugenic state (B. Kidd) and to common sense remarks that improvements in living conditions of the working classes were the key factor in improving society. But, overall, there was no disagreement therein on the very notion of races and on the supposed superiority of the Victorian civilization (with an almost complete exclusion of women from the picture), reflecting on the prejudices of the era and it is quite unlikely that this 1904 paper of Galton had any impact on these prejudices.

eugenism and the complete opposite [not a book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2022 by xi'an

When reading last Sunday the Guardian book review of Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics (to appear) by Adam Rutherford, I got reminded of a recent Nature (general public) article on the “mixed-race” myth in Latin America. Which itself reminded me of an opposition I noticed when preparing for  the discussion on eugenics at the 2019 JSM. The Nature article, “How the mixed-race mestizo myth warped science in Latin America“, tells the story of a post-racial society with enough mixing (mestizaje, which also has a colonial coloration) between earlier ethnicities throughout the population to achieve greater social cohesion and put an end to racism. Story that appeared in the early 1900’s in opposition to North America’s and (part of) Europe’s eugenic policies oriented towards (supposedly) “preserving racial purity”. This story alas did not prevent racism, though, with “skin colour [still being] a powerful determinant of wealth and education levels across Latin America”, and forced sterilisations, incl. in the 1990’s. And, while creating a poorly defined label, it was also instrumental in repressing indigenous communities and cultures.

out-standing scientist

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2021 by xi'an

I noticed quite recently that the [Nature] journal Heredity [managed by the Genetics Society] had published an historical / opinion piece on Ronald Fisher and his views on eugenics and race. The authors are all trustees of the Fisher Memorial Trust. The core of the paper contents was also contained in [one of the authors] Stephen Senn’s talk at the JSM round table (I also took part in) and later at the RSS. This is mostly an attempt at resetting Fisher’s position within the era when he lived, in terms of prevalent racism, nationalism, and imperialism. At the core of these woes was a generalised belief in the superiority of some nations, creeds, human groups, even social classes, over others, that was used as a justification in the tragedies of large scale colonialism, the first World War, systemic racism, Nazism, and widespread forced sterilisations….

More attention to the History of Science is needed, as much by scientists as by historians, and especially by biologists, and this should mean a deliberate attempt to understand the thoughts of the great masters of the past, to see in what circumstances or intellectual milieu their ideas were formed, where they took the wrong turning  track or stopped short of the right.”  R.A. Fisher (1959)

While I am thinking the authors are somewhat stretching the arguments isolating Ronald from the worst manifestations of eugenism and racism, as the concept of “voluntary sterilisation” is more than debatable when applied to patients with limited intellectual abilities, as Fisher considered (in 1943) that the Nazi racial laws “have been successful with the best type of German” (which stands as a fairly stupid statement on so many levels, starting with the one that this racial selection had only started a few years before!) and “that the Party sincerely wished to benefit the German racial stock” (in 1948), my already made point is rather that the general tendency of turning genii into saints is bound to meet with disappointment. (Hence, if we have to stick with them, named lectures, prizes, memorials, &tc., should come with an expiration date!)

solidarność z Polkami

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2020 by xi'an

racism, discrimination and statistics – examining the history [at the RSS]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2020 by xi'an

The Royal Statistical Society is holding an on-line round table on “Racism, discrimination and statistics – examining the history” on 30 October, at 4pm UK time. The chair is RSS President Deborah Ashby and the speakers are

  • John Aldrich – chair of the RSS History Section
  • Angela Saini – science journalist
  • Stephen Senn – Fisher Memorial Trust
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