The Annals of Human Genetics has, for the first time, opened its archives to its early history as a propagator of the since-discredited eugenics movement.
Though the eugenics movement is regularly associated with the Nazi’s scientific experiments on the Jewish people, the early editions of the Annals of Human Genetics provide a glimpse into the movement’s widespread popularity in the United States.
After the Supreme Court legalized forced sterilization in 1927 in its 8-1 decision in Buck v. Bell, thirty states legalized the procedure. Between 1927 and 1960, more than 60,000 forced sterilizations occurred in the United States, mostly targeting little-understood disabilities and other “undesirable” characteristics.
Along with opening its editions from 1925 to 1954 to researchers, the journal’s May 2011 edition provides commentaries and reports into the British journal’s widespread influence.
“The eugenics movement of the early 20th century has rightfully been totally discredited and the contribution it made to horrendous social policies implemented at the time is well known,” journal editor Andres Ruiz Linares told USA Today. “People interested in the history of human genetics necessarily need to look at the dark period of eugenics.”
Renowned mathematician Karl Pearson founded the journal, originally titled the Annals of Eugenics, in 1925. The journal served as a forum for the latest scientific research into eugenics and for Pearson, who favored statistical analysis to categorize undesirable characteristics, to spar with U.S. scientist Charles Davenport, who favored “hereditary charts” to categorize people targeted for sterilization.
Pearson made no secret of the racist implications of his research.
“Some of these races scarce serve in the modern world any other purpose than to provide material for the history of man,” Pearson editorialized in the journal’s first edition.
Linares said she hopes that awareness of this early history provides additional perspective when analyzing ethical arguments in modern scientific research.
“It shouldn’t be forgotten,” Linares said. “Since the social implications of a lot of current human genetics research are enormous it seems important that in judging what human genetics is doing now we maintain awareness of the history of this discipline.”