HomeoldAnnals of Human Genetics Opens Archives, Reveals Dark Past

Annals of Human Genetics Opens Archives, Reveals Dark Past

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The headline of a USA Today story that appeared last month (but which I missed until today) was as accurate as it was chilling: “Genetics Journal Reveals Dark Past.” The journal in question is what it changed its name to in 1954 – the respectable-sounding “Annals of Human Genetics” – a change from what it was called when it was founded in 1925 – the “Annals of Eugenics”.

Reporter Dan Vergano has written a very important and very disturbing story. Those who’ve followed the American eugenics movement know that the “best” people were at the forefront of a movement to “improve the race”.

What’s happened, Vergano reports, is that Andrés Ruiz Linares, the current editor of the journal, “has opened its archives from 1925 to 1954 to researchers and is publishing reports by historians on the journal’s past embrace of scientific racism and the targeting of the disabled.

Linares, a geneticist at University College London, told Vergano by email that what happened “should not be forgotten”.

Linares continued: “Since the social implications of much of the current human genetics research are enormous, it seems important that in assessing what human genetics is doing now, we maintain an awareness of the history of this discipline.

And it is a history full of unseemly and despicable actions.

The eugenics movement, aimed at breeding ‘better’ people, was a cause taken up by dozens of states. By the 1960s, Vergano reports, there had been more than 60,000 forced sterilisations!

“Eugenics is often dismissed as a crank movement fuelled by pseudoscience, but we need to remember that science is what scientists do and defend every day,” writes Yale historian Daniel Kevles in one of the current issue’s commentaries. “Eugenics fell squarely into the mainstream of scientific and popular culture.”

Vergano adds: “Many of today’s biology journals have their roots in this period. The journal Social Biology, for example, which is devoted to the study of demographic health trends, started out as Eugenical News”.

The eugenics movement was in full bloom in the United States until the 1940s. Indeed, eugenics “flourished as a discipline in the early decades of the 20th century until Hitler’s embrace of its theories of ‘racial hygiene’ culminated in the Holocaust during World War II and discredited the movement,” Vergano writes. “Many journals changed their names, including the Annals of Human Genetics.

Those with a passing familiarity with the American eugenics movement immediately think of Carrie Buck. In the 1927 Buck vs. Bell court decision, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (one of those “best” people) wrote: “Three generations of imbeciles is enough. The decision legalised compulsory sterilisation nationwide.

Please take a few minutes to read Vergano’s story, which links to the latest issue of Annals of Human Genetics.

Let me end with this trenchant and telling quote:

“The eugenics movement of the early 20th century has rightly been completely discredited, and its contribution to the terrible social policies of the time is well known,” says Linares. “People who are interested in the history of human genetics need to look at the dark period of eugenics.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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