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ID 15444

How science was misused to support eugenics, James Watson

Description:
Interviewee: James Watson. (DNAi Location: Chronicle > Threat of the unfit > Threats > Pedigree of feeblemindedness) James Watson discusses how eugenicists reacted to the problem of mental illness and sought to lessen the threat of the "unfit" to the United States. Here he talks about while there are many reasons to doubt how eugenicists constructed pedigrees, the notion that feeblemindedness was rampant in some families provided the social rationale for sterilization. While there are many reasons to doubt how eugenicists constructed pedigrees, the notion that feeblemindedness was rampant in some families provided the social rationale for sterilization.<br><br> Threats within and without The large asylums for the homeless and mentally ill that were built at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century may have given the impression that "social dependency" was on the rise in the United States. Studies showing that institutions commonly housed a number of related inmates provided evidence that mental illnesses, pauperism, and other "dysgenic" traits were hereditary. Thus, eugenicists were quick to calculate the costs of maintaining "genetically inferior" families in public facilities. "Feeblemindedness," a catch-all mental illness characterized mainly by low scores on intelligence tests and supposed promiscuity, was a major concern of eugenicists. �This owed much to Henry Goddard�s influential book, The Kallikaks (1912), an effectively related study of Martin Kallikak, whose marriage to a Quaker woman produced a good lineage (kallos for "beauty"). Martin�s dalliance with an attractive, but feebleminded, barmaid produced a second, dysgenic lineage (kakos for "bad"). Goddard hypothesized that feeblemindedness was caused by a recessive gene, which would be spread throughout the national germ plasm by the supposedly promiscuous behavior of feebleminded persons. At the same time, eugenicists were concerned about the hundreds of thousands of southern and eastern Europeans who were entering the country each year through the U.S. immigration facility at Ellis Island, New York. Eugenics Record Office Superintendent Harry Laughlin provided a scientific rationale for growing anti-immigration sentiments in American society. In three Congressional testimonies, he presented data that purported to show that southern and eastern European countries were "exporting" genetic defectives to the United States who had disproportionately high rates of mental illness, crime, and social dependency. The resulting Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 reduced southern and eastern European immigrants to less than 15,000 per year. � James Watson discusses how eugenicists reacted to the problem of mental illness and sought to lessen the threat of the "unfit" to the United States.
Transcript:
Here's an apparent five-generation family where feeblemindedness just runs through the thing. And you can see here, F, F, F, F, F, and, but up on top you can wonder how did they really know these things. I rather doubt the whole thing, and I wonder how many of these kids went to school or under what conditions and how they were tested and who said this. But this was the sort of thing which affected social policy, the legislation, these sort of diagrams were shown and legislators who really didn't understand the science or the strength of it, passed laws really upon the urging of a relatively small number of people who had it on their social agenda: sterilize the unfit.
Keywords:
germ plasm,quaker woman,eastern europeans,james watson,mental illnesses,intelligence tests,promiscuous behavior,goddards,kakos,recessive gene,dnai,united states studies,kallos,dalliance,asylums,barmaid,interviewee,ellis island new york,ellis island,pedigrees
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