Eugenics and the Station for Experimental Evolution - Evolution News & Views

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Eugenics and the Station for Experimental Evolution


Jerry Coyne is goin' all Bagdad Bob about David Klinghoffer's and my criticisms of his bizarre embrace of John Scopes's grave and his implicit endorsement of the racist eugenic textbook John Scopes was convicted of using to teach human evolution to students in the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. 


No matter that Scopes was a short-term substitute teacher for the biology class, couldn't even remember whether he taught human evolution from the book, and almost certainly didn't teach the eugenics part of the book... 

Coyne extols Scopes, hugs his grave, and then denies that Scopes did anything. 

[E]ugenics wasn't even considered part of evolutionary biology back then, but was seen as part of genetics.


The science of genetics began with de Vries's and Correns's rediscovery and replication of Mendel's work in 1900. The word "genetics" wasn't coined until 1905, by Bateson. 

The science of eugenics began in 1869, when Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin, published his landmark Hereditary Genius. Galton was obsessed with his cousin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (the full title of Darwin's masterwork is rarely acknowledged) which was published just a decade earlier. 

Galton coined the term "eugenics" in 1883 with his work Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development

Darwin himself published Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex in 1871. Darwin echoed his cousin's eugenic science, lamenting smallpox vaccination because it ensured the survival of the weak and "excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."

Darwin noted:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

Karl Pearson, Ernst Haeckel, Herbert Spencer and Charles Davenport began their groundbreaking eugenics research and advocacy in the last decades of the 19th century. In 1889 the Royal Commission on the Blind, Deaf and Dumb discouraged intermarriage between the disabled based on eugenic science. In 1896 the National Association for the Care and Control of the Feeble Minded was organized in England to advocate for the eugenic sequestration of handicapped people. Connecticut passed the first eugenic law in the United States in 1896. 

Charles Davenport, the Harvard-trained champion of American eugenics, assumed directorship of the Cold Spring Harbor research lab in 1898. Davenport's laboratory, which became the clearinghouse and research center for American eugenics and a model for Nazi eugenics, was named the "Station for Experimental Evolution" in 1904, a year before the word "genetics" was coined.

Eugenics was derived from Darwinian evolutionary biology by direct descent with remarkable celerity. Eugenics antedates genetics by at least a generation.

A precis: 

Eugenics was presaged in Darwin's work in 1859 and 1871, originated and named in the work of his cousin Francis Galton in 1869 and 1883, developed by a number of evolutionary biologists in the last decades of the 19th century, and became part of public policy and law in England and the United States prior to 1900.

The Station for Experimental Evolution -- the center for eugenics, that is -- opened in Cold Spring Harbor in 1904. The word "genetics" was coined in 1905. 

Note to Coyne: 

Eugenics was not "a part of genetics." Eugenics was experimental evolution, named so by the evolutionary biologists who pioneered it.

Image source: Wikipedia.