Re: Myth & Ideology & Eugenics

Somniferum (2453mauri@UMBSKY.CC.UMB.EDU)
Thu, 11 Apr 1996 01:50:39 EDT

Mr. Spatz,
You have provided us with a salient example of mythology in action in
contemporary America. The notion that eugenics is/was a "pseudo-science" is
a powerful myth shaping the way many of us percieve latter day genetics. It
follows a classic "myth model" of scientific progress, found with slight
variations and most notably throughout the various medical disciplines,
which goes something like "the old, crude and unenlightened practices of
the past inevitably gave way in the face of the new, more sophisticated and
enlightened practices of the present."
Eugenics was an extremely eminent and richly endowed science throughout
the western world. Many of the most distinguished geneticists of the 20th
century devoted their energies to eugenical research and toward its goals:
R.A. Fisher and R.C. Punnett in the U.K., Erwin Bauer in Germany, Herman
Nilsson-Ehle in Sweden, Edward Murray and H.S. Jennings and E.M. East in
the U.S., were all highly respected scientists at the very top of their
field and at the cutting edge of science. These men were not "pseudo-
scientists." In their article "The Hidden Science of Eugenics" in Nature
(Vol. 374, March 23,1995), Diane Paul and Hamish Spencer wrote: "...[T]he
history of the field [of genetics] is the source of some embarrassment (and
defensiveness). It is far more comforting to think that eugenics' decline
was also due to geneticists. The myth rights the historical balance."

--Marcus Aurin