Dr. Mehler's Archives
"In Genes We Trust: When Science Bows to Racism"
by Barry Mehler
-published in Reform Judaism (Winter 1994) pp. 10-14; 77-79.
Revised and republished The Public Eye (March 1995); RaceFile 3 #3 (May-June 1995), pp. 53-54; Networking: A Publication of the Fight The Right Network #4 (30 March 1995) p. 6. The subject of "U.S. and a Racist Fund are Subsidizing 'Genetic Superiority' Theories," B'nai B'rith Messenger (18 November 1994) p. 1; 7.
Frustrated by the inability of high-cost social programs to contain violence, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, poverty and other social afflictions, senior public health officials and legislators are adopting the theories of a coterie of scientists who trace anti-social behavior to DNA and recommend that the most efficient way to improve society is by screening out and sterilizing people diagnosed as genetically unfit. Those with desirable genes would be given incentives to be fruitful and multiply.
If such a scenario reads like science fiction, consider that in this century thousands of Americans were declared "moral imbeciles" or "feeble-minded and sterilized by the state in eugenics programs designed to genetically cleanse the nation (see sidebar below: Eugenics in America). It was not until the shocking revelations of Nazi racist science after World War II, with its euthanasia programs and fiendish experimentations on twins, that the international eugenics movement receded. In recent years, however, dramatic discoveries in genetic research and the financial backing of a racist foundation have provided the opportunity for scientists to revive the eugenics agenda.
With fear of crime replacing communism as America's number one threat, academics who believe that genes dictate destiny have commanded the kind of government attention and support once reserved for rocket scientists. Their views on saving America from the hereditarily defective are increasingly influencing federal research priorities and public policy.
THE "VIOLENCE INITIATIVE" America's top scientific funding agencies for health and science research are spending millions of tax dollars on research that seeks to control violence through genetic engineering and drugs. In 1992, for example, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council issued a 400 page report titled "Understanding and Preventing Violence." Funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Justice Department, and the National Science Foundation, the report called for more attention to "biological and genetic factors in violent crime." In particular it called for more research on "new pharmaceuticals that reduce violent behavior," and it asked researchers to determine whether male or black persons have a higher potential for violence, and if so, why? At the same time, the Center for Disease Control submitted its own proposal in June of 1992 to coordinate the efforts of seven federal agencies in what they called a "youth violence prevention initiative." (1)
Until Goodwin stepped down in April 1994 as NIMH director, he administered the "Violence Initiative," a conglomerate of over 300 research projects "focusing on screening out and treating preventively violence prone individuals."(2) This ongoing program, which Goodwin described as the U.S. government's "highest science priority," applies the tools of behavior genetics to detect "biological markers" in "at risk" inner city children and to treat them with drugs "at a very early age before they have become criminalized" (Washington Post, July 29, 1992). The NIMH has already committed more than $150 million to the Violence Initiative, including a $12 million pharmaceutical study of Ritalin.
THE HUMAN GENOME PROJECT The largest U.S. government funded research in the history of the biomedical sciences -- the $3 billion Human Genome Project (HGP), designed to map our the entire human genetic code -- promises significant medical dividends in the treatment of individuals suffering from genetically related diseases. To justify its monumental expense, however, several HGP proponents, such as Daniel Koshland, editor of the prestigious journal Science, have claimed that discoveries resulting from HGP research will help cure society of crime, poverty, and other social ills. Koshland, a biochemist by training, wrote, "It is time the world recognizes that the brain is an organ like any other... and that it can go wrong not only as a result of abuse, but also because of hereditary defects utterly unrelated to environmental influences" (editorial, Science, October 12, 1990).
Linking the HGP to claims about the genetic basis of social problems has added to the credibility of the advocates of biological determinism in the nature vs. nurture debate, contributing to the ill-conceived notion, widely publicized in the media, that complex human attributes such as IQ and moral character are "in the genes." In fact, scientists remain sharply divided about the relative influences of biology and environment on human development. Many of the nation's leading behavior geneticists reject the very question as meaningless, insisting that the two are inextricably intertwined. Professor Richard C. Lewontin, a population biologist and leading authority on genetics and evolution at Harvard University, has written: "Even a trait that is one hundred percent heritable can easily be changed by environmental manipulation." (Science for the People 19, #6, Nov./Dec. 1987)/ Jerry Hirsch, emeritus professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois and one of the world's leading experts on behavior genetics, agrees. Having bred over 1,000 generations of fruit flies during the past 40 years in an attempt to understand how inheritance and environment affect behavior, Hirsch says the most important lesson he has learned is humility. Studying a creature with only four chromosome pairs under laboratory controlled conditions, Hirsch found the correlation genes with behavior to be elusive. Hirsch does not deny that genes have an effect on complex human behavior, but has found that the interaction of genes with environment cannot be separated out, and that any set of genes can express a wide range of developmental outcomes. He concludes, "Each of us is all heredity and all environment."
THE PIONEER FUND The revival of eugenics in North America has more to do with ideology and money than with science. A New York-based foundation called the Pioneer Fund, established in 1937 by textile heir Wickliffe Draper, has provided millions of dollars (more than $10 million from 1971-1992 alone) to behavioral scientists whose findings lend credence to racist ideas and eugenic solutions, as well as to anti-immigrant groups. Draper believed that genetics could be used to prove the inferiority of blacks and the superiority of the white Anglo-Saxon stock that first colonized the Eastern seaboard. The Pioneer Fund's original charter outlines a commitment to work for "racial betterment" through studies in heredity and eugenics and to "improve the character of the American people" by encouraging the procreation of descendants of the original white colonial stock.
To help establish the Pioneer Fund, Draper asked Frederick Osborn, secretary of the American Eugenics Society, and Harry Laughlin, a supporter of Hitler's race ideology, to organize research projects and distribute pro-eugenic propaganda. Osborn believed the Nazi sterilization program was "perhaps the most important social program which has ever been tried" (Summary of the Proceedings of the Conference on Eugenics in Relation to Nursing, Feb. 24, 1937). Harry Laughlin, director of the Carnegie Institute's Eugenics Record Office, had been honored in 1936 by the Third Reich for his contributions to Nazi eugenics. Laughlin accepted the award "as evidence of a common understanding" between American and Nazi scientists on the importance of preserving "the racial health" of future generations.
As one of the Pioneer Fund's first "accomplishments," it imported two copies of a Nazi propaganda film, "Applied Eugenics in Present-Day Germany," adding English subtitles for American consumption. The film portrayed severely impaired people as freaks living in the splendor of a palatial sanitarium, while genetically-sound Aryan children lived in squalor. The message was clear: too much money is wasted on "life unworthy of living."
The Nazis produced more sophisticated versions as a means of preparing medical workers to commit mass murder in state-sanctioned euthanasia programs. During the Third Reich an estimated 200,000 mentally and physically disabled persons were murdered by lethal injection, deliberate starvation, and gas.
SHOCKLEY AND JENSEN The Pioneer Fund has changed little since its inception. A December 11, 1977 New York Times article characterized it as having "supported highly controversial research by a dozen scientists who believe that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites." In the 1960s Nobel Laureate Wiliam Shockley (1910-1989), a physicist at Stanford University who advocated programs of voluntary sterilization of people with lower than the average IQ score of 100, received an estimated $180,000 from the Pioneer Fund. Dr. Jensen, an educational psychologist who was recruited to the racist cause in 1966, garnered more than a million dollars in Pioneer grants over the past three decades. The investment yielded early dividends. Three years later, in an article published by the prestigious Harvard Education Review Jensen attacked Head Start programs, claiming the problem with black children is that they have an average IQ of only 85 and that no amount of social engineering would improve their performance. Jensen urged "eugenic foresight" as the only solution.
ROGER PEARSON Fascist ideologist Roger Pearson, a Pioneer Fund beneficiary ($568,000 from 1981-1991) and author of Eugenics and Race, published by Willis Carto's notoriously anti-Semitic Noontide Press, argues that the white race is endangered by inferior genetic stock, but with proper use of modern biological technology "a new super-generation" descended from "only the fittest" of the previous generation can be produced. The first nation to adopt such a scientific breeding program, Pearson contends, would dominate the rest of the world."
In 1965 Pearson became editor of Western Destiny, a magazine established by Carto and dedicated to spreading fascist ideology. Using the pseudonym of Stephan Langton, Pearson then became the editor of The New Patriot, a short-lived magazine published in 1966-67 to conduct "a responsible but penetrating inquiry into every aspect of the Jewish Question," which included articles such as "Zionists and the Plot Against South Africa," "Early Jews and the Rise of Jewish Money Power," and "Swindlers of the Crematoria."
Despite Pearson's long history of association with neo-Nazi groups, he was appointed in 1977 to the original board of editors of Policy Review, a journal published by the respected Heritage Foundation, a conservative political research organization in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the clearest indication of Pearson's acceptance into the mainstream is the letter of support he received from then President Ronald Reagan, thanking Pearson for his "substantial contribution to promotion and upholding those ideals and principles that we value at home and abroad."
J. PHILLIPE RUSHTON At the University of Western Ontario in Canada, psychology professor J. Phillipe Rushton, who has benefited from more than $441,000 in Pioneer Fund awards from 1981-1992, argues that behavioral differences among blacks, whites, and Asians are the result of evolutionary variations in their reproductive strategies. Blacks are at one extreme, Rushton claims, because they produce large numbers of offspring but offer them little care; at the other extreme are Asians, who have fewer children but indulge them; whites lie somewhere in between (paper presented at the Symposium on Evolutionary Theory, Economics, and Political Science, AAAS Annual Meeting, Jan. 19, 1989). Blacks, according to Rushton, have larger genitals, making them more promiscuous, and smaller brains, making them less intelligent than whites and Asians. Using 60 different measures, Rushton ranks the races along an evolutionary scale with blacks at the bottom and Asians at the top.
Despite Rushton's controversial race theories, he has been embraced by the scientific mainstream, having been elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American, British, and Canadian Psychological Associations. He has published six books and nearly 150 articles, one of which appeared in the October 1986 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, under the sponsorship of Academy member E. O. Wilson.
In 1989 Rushton's colleagues in the Behavior genetics Association (BGA) protested his views. Five key officers of the BGA circulated a letter dated February 17 to the membership, calling Rushton's work "insensitive," "repugnant," and "dubious scientifically." Today Rushton is an honored member of the BGA; those who had opposed him have either resigned or retired.
MICHAEL LEVIN From 1991-1992, the Pioneer Fund awarded $124,500 to philosophy professor Michael Levin of the City College of New York, who in 1991 wrote in the Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies (edited by the anti-Semitic Roger Pearson): "Race differences in intelligence and motivation are of the greatest significance for American society. Blacks... are reproducing more rapidly than whites. I have seen it estimated that 25% of the population will be black and less than 50% white by the middle of the next century. This contingency was not foreseen by the founding fathers, and it is an open question whether liberal democracy can be sustained by a population whose mean intelligence and self-restraint fall sufficiently below Caucasoid norms." Dr. Levin's solution is to slow black population growth by ending public assistance.
EUGENICS AS RELIGION In many respects, eugenics displays the characteristics of religion more than science. Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term "eugenics" in 1883, taking the word from the Greek "eugenes," which means "to be well born." Galton characterized eugenics as a civic religion based on science. He hoped it would replace Christianity, which he blamed for destroying the Roman Empire because of its teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth.
The theological expression of eugenics is called Beyondism, a term coined by world-renowned psychologist Raymond B. Cattell, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. Based on evolutionary theory, Beyondism teaches that the brightest and wealthiest should inherit the earth; anything less leads to the survival of the unfit and the demise of civilization. Honored recently by his students as one of "the 20th century's most influential behavior scientists," Dr. Cattell explained to an audience of leading American psychologists that "much of mankind is obsolete... What we are finding is we don't have the brains to understand" our problems and "the only real advance in science... is going to occur through breeding for brain size..." (Human Cognitive Abilities Conference, hosted by Jack McArdle, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Sept. 22-24, 1994).
FRAUD AND EVASION IN TWIN STUDIES Those who seek to show that nature supersedes nurture in influencing human behavior place great emphasis on studies of identical (monozygotic) twins. Sir Cyril Burt, a famous British psychologist who set the standard for twins research, presented dramatic statistical evidence in 1955, demonstrating that monozygotic twins raised apart displayed astonishing similarities. Burt was knighted in recognition of these discoveries and for reforming the British educational system by introducing tracking based on IQ tests. In 1974, however, Princeton psychologist Leon Kamin exposed Burt's twin studies as fraudulent (The Science and Politics of IQ). Kamin demonstrated arithmetically that Burt has worked backwards from his conclusions. Specifically, Burt had started out in 1955 with 21 pairs of twins and found correlations of .771 between the twins reared apart. By 1966 Burt's research included 53 pairs of twins but his correlations were still .771. Kamin noted that such constancy was "highly improbably" and after a careful review of Burt's research, concluded that his twin studies were contrived. Kamin's analysis was confirmed by Leslie S. Hearnshaw, who delivered the eulogy at Burt's funeral and, at Marion Burt's request wrote her brother's biography. Hearnshaw reluctantly confirmed that Burt had engaged in serious fraud (Cyril Burt, Psychologist, 1979). The Burt case helped trigger the contemporary concern for fraud in science.
THOMAS J. BOUCHARD JR. With its legacy of Dr. Josef Mengele's twin experiments at Auschwitz and Dr. Burt's bogus science, twin studies fell into disfavor. In 1979, however, Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr., a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, rehabilitated this line of research after reading an account of twins who had been separated from birth and were reunited at age 39. "The twins," Bouchard later wrote, "were found to have married women named Linda, divorced, and married the second time to women named Betty. One named his son James Allan, the other named his son James Alan, and both named their pet dogs Toy" (Times-Picayune, Feb. 16, 1990).
Intrigued by the report, Bouchard obtained emergency funds from the university and arranged for the pair to be flown to him for study. To support his theory that similarities such as these were genetic in origin, he assembled a team and applied for a grant to the Pioneer Fund in 1981, stating, "Our findings continue to suggest a very strong genetic influence on almost all medical and psychological traits." To date, the Pioneer Fund has contributed more than $1.2 million to Bouchard's Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research.
Time, U.S. News and World Report, and the New York Times, among other publications, and various TV programs have reported Bouchard's conclusions that shyness, political conservatism, dedication to hard work, orderliness, intimacy, extroversion, conformity, and a host of other social traits are largely heritable. the scientific data and methods of analysis upon which his conclusions are based have to date never been released for objective scrutiny.
Nevertheless, the prestigious journal Science invited Bouchard to contribute a key article in its June 17, 1994 edition, which included an editorial reporting that a "new consensus" had been reached among behavioral scientists in the nature vs. nurture debate: genes dominate.
Bouchard has cautiously refrained from making public statements that might be construed as racist, but he has defended the work of Phillipe Rushton, who has been outspoken about the genetic basis of racial differences in IQ and other character traits.
EUGENICS: FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION The ideological tradition of eugenics has been carried on faithfully from generation to generation. Sir Francis Galton, the father of eugenics and the first to advocated the study of twins to differentiate the effects of heredity and environment on human nature, bequeathed his Chair of Eugenics at the University of London to Karl Pearson, who along with Charles Spearman in the Psychology department competed for dominance in the field. Spearman was succeeded by Sir Cyril Burt, who served as mentor to Raymond Cattell and Hans Eysenck. Arthur Jensen studied with Eysenck and Shockley. Tony Vernon, a student of Jensen's, is now working with Rushton at the University of Western Ontario. And Rushton's student, Maria R. Phelps, who published an article on her mentor's racial hierarchy theory in Roger Pearson's Mankind Quarterly (Spring, 1993), is now applying for a university position. Galton's heirs have supported one another's theories, and , since the 1960s, have shared in the bounty provided so generously by the Pioneer Fund.
If the eugenic vision prevails, as it did in Nazi Germany, we can expect a new world order with a genetic caste system, officiated by bureaucrats in white coats, deciding who shall breed and who shall be barren. Individual choice and responsibility would be deemed incompatible with the state credo "Biology is Destiny," and the "genetically inferior" would be eliminated from our society.
Let us pray that, this time, the final solution does not go beyond science fiction.
EUGENICS IN AMERICA: A BRIEF HISTORY
America's experimentation with genetics as a tool for social change is not new. In the 1920s the United States became the world center of eugenic activity and social policy. From 1907-1960 more than 100,000 innocent Americans were sterilized in more than 30 states. In the 1930s and 1940s Hitler's scientists took eugenics to the extreme - establishing human breeding farms for "Aryans," large-scale sterilization and euthanasia programs for the mentally and physically disabled, and death camps for the races they deemed "genetically inferior" or "unworthy life."
Both the American and German eugenics movements of the 1920s and 30s identified human beings as either hereditarily valuable or inferior. They established programs to purify the "race" of "lower grade" and "degenerate" groups, thus extending racism to include a new generic classification - the "genetically inferior." Not surprisingly, the targets always turned out to be the traditional victims of racism - Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Indians, and other minorities.
After Hitler's defeat, the American eugenics movement fell into disfavor, appealing primarily to the KKK, neo-Nazis, and a small groups of old-line scientists steeped in the racist theories of the pre-war period. In the 1960s their key spokesman was Stanford physicist William Shockley, who was the first to suggest offering cash incentives to people with low IQ scores who would agree to sterilization. He called his proposal the "voluntary sterilization bonus plan." Despite his status as a Noble laureate, Professor Shockley was widely regarded as a racist and a kook within the academic community. Nevertheless, he laid the foundation upon which the new eugenics movement would eventually be resurrected.
In 1974, Federal District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell estimated that "over the last few years" between 100,000 and 150,000 low-income persons were sterilized under federally funded programs. Ruling on behalf of plaintiffs in a class action suit, Judge Gesell stated that "an indefinite number" of those sterilized were "improperly coerced" into accepting sterilization. Judge Gesell observed that "the dividing line between family planning and eugenics was murky" (Relf v. Weinberger et. al. U.S. District Court of D.C., March 15, 1974). In may cases welfare patients were told that they could lose their benefits if they did not submit to the sterilization procedure. On September 21, 1975 The New York Times Magazine reported that doctors in major cities were routinely performing hysterectomies on mostly black welfare recipients as a form of sterilization, a practice that came to be known euphemistically among medical insiders as the "Mississippi appendectomy."
Today those who advocate eugenics have access to far more sophisticated technologies than those of their pre-war predecessors. For example, Norplant, a drug approved by the FDA in 1990, provides an alternative to permanent sterilization for women by preventing pregnancy for up to five years. A popular proposal to reduce the birthrate among welfare recipients and unwed teens is to induce them, through monetary incentives of the threat of a loss of benefits, to have Norplant surgically implanted in their upper arm. In 1991, Kansas representative Kerry Patrick defended a proposal to offer $500 to any welfare mother who accepted Norplant, saying the program "has the potential to save the taxpayers millions of their hard-earned dollars. Something must be done to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies..." (The New York Times, Feb. 9, 1991).
In 1994, legislators in Connecticut and Florida introduced bills that would provide cash bonuses for welfare recipients who accepted Norplant. Florida and Colorado have introduced incentive programs for men to accept sterilization. the Florida bill would offer $400 to men living below the poverty line for undergoing a vasectomy; the Colorado bill would allow criminals early release. While none of these bills has yet become law, the momentum for eugenic solutions is growing. If current trends continue, we can expect to see such sterilization programs gain legal sanction across America.
THE GENETICIZATION OF AMERICA
The study of behavior genetics reflects a new orientation to science and social problems that Harvard University biologist Ruth Hubbard refers to as "geneticization" or reductionism.
Geneticization refers to the process of reducing differences between individuals to their DNA codes. Behavioral differences, diseases, talents, and intelligence are all seen as genetic in origin. It also refers to the process by which interventions employing genetic technologies and drugs are adopted to manage health problems. Geneticization exaggerates the importance of genetics and minimizes the effects of environment.
Geneticization tends to encourage a view of people as a collection of tiny discrete parts, rather than as whole human beings. It also tends to transfer power from the individual and the community to the specialist. If our fate is written in our DNA, then only a genetic engineer can cure our depression, prevent diabetes, and solve larger social problems. Increasingly we have been entrusting ourselves and our society to specialists who supposedly can solve medical and social problems at the microscopic level.
Geneticization is reductionism, the process of reducing complex things to their smallest parts. In biology, reductionism fosters the belief that our behavior can be explained by studying the molecules and atoms that make up our DNA. In the biological sciences, the status and prestige once enjoyed by naturalists has shifted to molecular biologists who tend to believe that work at the molecular level will yield a more profound understanding of nature than the study of entire organisms. Today, the work of naturalists is often dismissed as fuzzy science.
The Human Genome Project, the mapping of the human genetic code, is reductionism at its most extreme. Critics of this thinking, such as Hubbard, caution that mapping our the human genetic code will not reveal the meaning of life or supply answers to the social and political issues facing the world. "The myth of the all-powerful gene," she says, "is based on flawed science that discounts the environmental context in which we and our genes exist." She warns that "it can lead to genetic discrimination and hazardous, medical manipulations." In other words, we must beware of scientists who wish to play God.