Pedigrees, propaganda, and paranoia:
family studies in a historical context
Center for Biomedical Ethics,
University of Virginia, PO Box 800758,
Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA.
J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2001 Fall;21(4):247-55.
ABSTRACTThis article reviews the uses of family studies carried out in the early 20th century under the banner of eugenics, a companion discipline to early genetics. It explores how, in an attempt to analyze and quantify purportedly biologic bases of social problems, the eugenicists constructed pedigree charts of notoriously "defective" families. Investigation of individuals with suspect traits formed the basis for instruction of field workers who linked those traits to larger groups. The resulting eugenic family studies provided a "scientific" face for a popular hereditarian mythology that claimed to explain all social failure in systematic terms. The eugenicists were successful in fueling public fear about the growing "army of idiots and imbeciles" graphically depicted in their pedigree charts. Their success was the result of a finely crafted educational program--propaganda that reduced science to simplistic terms. The tendency to oversimplify concepts of genetic causation and the rush to amplify the significance of research findings through the popular media is also apparent today. What begins as publicity has the potential to be transformed into propaganda. Although many in the scientific community are understandably reluctant to revisit the abuses of the past, that community must confront the history of eugenics as a necessary antidote to the genetic hype that surrounds us.Eugenics
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Germline genetic engineering
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and further reading
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The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World