My advisor passed along a USA Today story about the eugenics origins of the journal Annals of Human Genetics. Eugenics was a popular movement in the early 20th century, in which people thought it wise to take the onus of natural selection upon themselves, to encourage smart wealthy people to breed and ‘dullard’ poor folk to be sterilized. The movement was based on a misunderstanding of evolution, heredity and the genetic basis for complex traits like ‘intelligence’ (whatever the hell that term really means). Not to mention a sense of intellectual and moral superiority among moneyed white people. Eugenic thinking is what underlay the reprehensibly regrettable misgivings of the Holocaust.
I think it’s great that the Annals of Human Genetics is public about the journal’s off-color origins. Anthropology itself (and not just the biological subfield, don’t let any cultural anthropologist let you think otherwise [yes I have a specific person in mind here]) was borne of Western countries going off to figure out why the lands they were colonizing and exploiting contained humans that differed from themselves (as well as how to deal with ‘inferior races’). It’s important to know of your field’s past mistakes, lest history repeat itself.
Is it repeating itself? Nowadays, people can get ‘genetic counseling’ if they’re contemplating pregnancy, to learn their purportedly genetically predisposed risks for having a child with certain conditions like Down Syndrome. With such knowledge, people can elect not to have kids together. Is this a blessing from medical genetics, or are we seeing a resurgence of biological determinism and old school eugenics?