“Galton must fall” campaign at University College London: Should his name be erased because he advocated eugenics?

February 24, 2017 • 9:30 am

When I visited London, I’d spend a lot of time at University College London’s (UCL’s) Galton Laboratory, which housed genetics and evolutionary biology as well as my good friend and host Steve Jones. It was an ugly building near King’s Cross station, but it my scientific home away from home in England, and it was in the library, during a chilly Christmas holiday when they turned off the building’s heat, that I wrote my first evolution course.

That building was named after Francis Galton (1822-1911), a polymath in every sense of the word, who made innovations in biology, statistics, psychology, and many other areas. For instance, he systematized the use of fingerprints for identification, and explored the genetic basis of human variation, both mental and morphological. He was also Charles Darwin’s half cousin, and had some influence on Darwin’s thinking about the genetics of human differences.

It’s the latter endeavor—his studies in “eugenics” (he actually invented the term) that recently has got him in trouble. Galton believed that a substantial portion of human ability was genetic, and proposed incentives to encourage genetically well-endowed people to marry each other. He even set up a eugenics record office and discouraged the breeding of the mentally ill. As far as I know, none of his efforts came to much in his lifetime, but one could argue that he influenced the eugenics movement in places like the U.S., where ideas about genetic inferiority fed into restrictions on immigration and led to the sterilization of those deemed—sometimes incorrectly—mentally ill.

It’s questionable, though, whether his ideas were immensely influential in these areas; in his book The Mismeasure of Man, about the invidious effects of genetic determinism, Steve Gould doesn’t give Galton much mention. And from what I know, it seems that Darwin (also demonized unfairly for influencing eugenics and Nazi racism) was more concerned with genetic differences among human races than was Galton, who seemed more preoccupied with class differences and the hereditary constitution of British society. What is clear is that neither Galton nor Darwin had any big influence on Nazi eugenics, as documented by my colleague Robert Richards, a historian of science. (See also this article from the website The Primate Diaries.)

At any rate, despite his immense contributions in many areas, Galton’s forays into eugenics have led to his current demonization. According to the Evening Standard and the Telegraph, University College students have started a “Galton must fall” campaign, apeing the “Rhodes must fall” campaign at Oxford. Presumably, if examination of Galton’s legacy shows him to have pernicious and influential ideas about selective breeding of humans, his legacy should be effaced. As two students wrote on the UCL History blog:

Francis Galton was beyond any doubt tremendously innovative. Some of his scientific output, especially in the fields of meteorology and statistics, is still valid today. Yet Galton’s legacy can be open to question and debate. His endorsement of selective breeding can arguably be construed as paving the way for the ideology of racial hygiene in Nazi Germany. His pivotal role in the eugenic movement, though firmly rooted in the broader assumptions of his age, shocks many of our contemporaries. Whether or not Galton must fall, we are in no position to judge. But it is our belief that this debate needs to be informed by historical research.

Presumably the outcome of this research will determine whether Galton’s name will be expunged from UCL, which means changing the name of the Galton Laboratory and the Galton Lecture Theatre.

“Arguably” is the pertinent term here, as I’ve seen no evidence that Nazi eugenics was informed or influenced by Galton, and, at any rate, Americans who adopted pernicious views of eugenics were more likely influenced by their own bigotry and the new science of genetics than by Galton. Galton’s views may be “shocking,” but that was par for the course in Victorian England.

In my view, Galton’s positive contribution to biology (and many other areas) outweighs his views on eugenics, which, although led to his floating ideas we find unpalatable, didn’t seem to be that influential. And we shouldn’t forget that judging past figures by the moral standards of today would lead to the effacement of virtually every trace of history—in universities and elsewhere. Almost every male Brit and American in the 19th century was a racist and sexist, so should we remove their names from everywhere? Thomas Jefferson actually had slaves, as did George Washington, so should we tear down the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial? What is important is that we recognize that morality has moved on, and that people are heavily conditioned by the moral views of their time. Even we, in the future, will be looked upon as morally deficient. So no, Galton should not be erased from University College London.

And it’s heartening that both articles report officials at UCL saying that there are no plans to remove Galton’s name from anything at the University.

By the way, the Evening Standard (ES) article was written by Jamie Bullen, and the Telegraph (Tel) article by Camilla Turner, yet they share some disturbing similarities of wording: wording that seems too similar to be accidental. Is this plagiarism? You be the judge:


University College London students have been accused of “cultural vandalism” in their bid to erase the legacy of a Victorian polymath over claims he “invented racism”.

Academics spoke out over a movement arguing the university’s association with Sir Francis Galton is unsuitable, stating he has been “vilified” for his past views.

vs. Tel:

University students have been accused of “cultural vandalism” after launching a campaign to remove the legacy of a Victorian polymath they claim “invented racism”.

Academics have voiced their concern over the Galton Must Fall movement aimed at the removing the “poisonous legacy” of Sir Francis Galton at University College London.

and this, on the “Galton must fall” idea:


It echoes the Rhodes Must Fall protest for a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be removed from an Oxford University college which proved to be unsuccessful.

vs. Tel

It echoes the Rhodes Must Fall campaign to remove a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University, due to his colonial links.

and this:


Sir Francis is widely regarded as the “founding father of eugenics”, the belief that human life can improved by desirable genetics.

He was also renowned as a leading Victorian scientist credited with devising the first weather map and inventing a method for classifying fingerprints.


vs. Tel:

Galton, a Victorian polymath, is known as the “father of eugenics”, having created the discipline. He also invented the statistical concept of correlation, and founded psychometrics – the science of measuring mental faculties.

He devised the first weather map, and was the first scientist to invent method for classifying fingerprints.


To me, this seems like plagiarism, either of one author copying the wording of the other, or both copying a third source. Dom, however, has referred me to a Poynter article calling this a different—yet still dishonest—form of writing called “patchwriting”:

Patchwriting is often a failed attempt at paraphrasing, Howard said [Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse]. Rather than copying a statement word for word, the writer is rearranging phrases and changing tenses, but is relying too heavily on the vocabulary and syntax of the source material. It’s a form of intellectual dishonesty that indicates that the writer is not actually thinking for herself.

. . . Howard speculates that most of the time, writers employ patchwriting because they don’t have enough time to craft original thoughts, or they don’t have enough time to understand their source material beyond the surface conclusions.

. . . Why is the rearranging without citation dishonest? It was the original writer’s skill and expertise that led to the selection of those specific items. Stealing the selection is stealing the intellectual work of that writer.

She gives an example from the Spectator, which “copied” words and ideas from a New York Times article, and that copying seems less serious that the stuff from the Telegraph and the Evening Standard.

Francis Galton

h/t: Dom

66 thoughts on ““Galton must fall” campaign at University College London: Should his name be erased because he advocated eugenics?

    1. Farmers have known for millennia that eugenic principles work.

      When we choose mates we are practicing eugenics. The problem is when governments or religions get involved coercively.

      1. Being grandchildren of first cousins who married, my brother and I often laugh about how brilliant we might have been if that weren’t the case. We were acknowledged as exceptional students and always in accelerated classes. He also had eidetic imagery and remembered everything he ever read (including the page it had been on,) or heard.

        I don’t think it has been scientifically proven that the gene pool of highly intelligent people almost always produces bright children, or that the less intelligent gene pool produces no, or few, highly intelligent progeny.

        Throughout history, in many cultures people married within the family to protect power. They didn’t always produce babbling idiots or misshapen creatures. That usually takes time.

        Wiping out, radically modifying or reinventing history doesn’t work. Humanity has defaced and destroyed monuments to past leaders they no longer wanted people to recognize (Ahknaten and numerous others in Egypt, for example), murdered people and destroyed their cities, torched libraries, etc.

        Students need to learn history from numerous sources to approximate what really may have happened, emulating the good (or improving on it) and not repeating the bad. Read, listen, think rationally, then apply what you’ve learned. Improving your world is more important than tearing down the disreputable or even horrific past.

        1. “I don’t think it has been scientifically proven that the gene pool of highly intelligent people almost always produces bright children…”

          That is the wrong question to ask, (I think) for several reasons.

          Francis Galton was (if I remember correctly) the first to described the phenomenon of “Regression to mediocrity” in his Natural Inheritance from 1889.

          And, general cognitive ability (in our western societies) is highly heritable, from 30-40% at 5-7y up to 70-80% at 60y of age.

          That does not mean that every child to highly intelligent parents will be highly intelligent, but, on average it will, (and vice versa).

          “They didn’t always produce babbling idiots or misshapen creatures. That usually takes time.”

          The probability for serious physical or mental retardation for brother/sister or father/daughter unions, is somewhere around 50 percent i think.

          Some areas of the middle east have populations that to 40-60% are made up of marriages between first cousins (often for generations), and the effects are quite noticeable. This fact is today used in genetic medical research, to find rare recessive alleles that causes disease.

          I don’t have the articles at hand, but if I remember correctly the risks for rare recessive disorders in these populations are in the order of 20 to 100 times greater than in for example Europe or the USA.

          And, on average it is estimated that this inbreeding is causing an average reduction in general cognitive ability of about 5 IQ points.

          1. Thank you for the response and information. If you can remember the references to the articles, I’d very much appreciate receiving them.

            I have to admit that I haven’t read Galton, but
            I’m fairly certain I would question the validity of his notion on “regression to mediocrity”.

            Even with the variety of intelligence tests available today, no one test, or all of them, can be depended on to capture any one individual’s true, total intelligences. Specifically not when comparing cognitive abilities of a group of individuals. Intelligence varies greatly from person to person. One may be a polymath. One may be great at social science. One may write beautifully. One may be adept at everything. Most of us have talents, but not all the same or in the same range. When my children were in a non-graded grade school in Palo Alto, CA they were taught that all children had abilities, but they might differ. A good reader could help tutor a poor one. A student good at math could help tutor one not so good. I like this model.

            Culture also has an impact on intelligence, not just genetics. Bright children raised in stultifying environments don’t always achieve their potential. On the other hand, children from backgrounds where they are considered to be less intelligent and lack intellectual stimulation are sometimes capable of amazing achievements.

            If children are not around spoken language in their early years, they do not learn language.
            Children who receive insufficient attention and love in their early years do not develop properly in re intelligence or emotions. Children who are ignored, mistreated, or brutalized in their homes do not develop as they would have otherwise. Some of this I’ve read and some I know from firsthand experience.

            With genetic testing available now, populations who are known within the group to be prone to certain physical disabilities should avail themselves of this tool. I read about an orthodox Jewish community back East that routinely tests people planning to marry to prevent any from giving birth to handicapped children.

            Cousins intermarrying for generations in the Middle East is what it would take to give birth to children with disabilities caused by recessive genes. In a more diverse population from which to choose marriage partners, there is less likelihood of this occurring.

            1. A very very brief Googling provides the following info (in an article in one of JAC’s favorite publications–:D ):

              A group of genetic counselors reviewed the research on the biological consequences of sex between relatives (here). They found a surprisingly small increase (about 4 percent) in birth defects among the children of married cousins.

              It goes on to say,

              Incest between first-degree relatives, however, was a different story. The researchers examined four studies on the effects of first-degree incest on the health of the offspring (including the Czech research). Forty percent of the children were born with either autosomal recessive disorders, congenital physical malformations, or severe intellectual deficits, and another 14 percent of them had mild retardation. In short, the odds that a newborn child who is the product of brother-sister or father-daughter incest will suffer an early death, a severe birth defect, or some mental deficiency approaches 50 percent.

              Perhaps the hotlinks in that article might refer you to relevant studies. At any rate, it seems to me your first-cousin-hood is a rather small risk. (And think of all the good traits it might be reinforcing! 😀 )

              1. Diane G: Shame on me for not taking time to Google before writing. And thank you for enlightening me. Maybe these articles will tell me how the dice falls in a comparative group of non-consanguineous children over time. Looks like I have some reading to do.

                It is very common for people in small towns to marry relatives. This has gone on forever. One of my cousins once told me, “Be careful what you say in this town; we’re all relatives.” Gist being: if you told a negative story on anyone, you couldn’t predict who would be insulted.

                Also, thank you for pointing out the possibility of “first-cousin-hood” reinforcing good traits. Being a “glass half full person,” I’d prefer to think that.

            2. Rowena Kitchen,

              “I’m fairly certain I would question the validity of his notion on “regression to mediocrity”.

              Regression toward the mean is a fundamental statistical fact (under certain conditions), and is ubiquitous (and very well documented) in nature and human affairs.

              “Even with the variety of intelligence tests available today, no one test, or all of them, can be depended on to capture any one individual’s true, total intelligences.”

              They don’t have to, to be of great value.

              Few if any test we use live up to such a demand. A standard clinical blood test for detecting HIV infections, usually have a sensitivity and specificity around 98%, which means that the probability that a random person that tests positive really are infected by HIV, is perhaps 30 to 50%

              I don’t think anyone would claim that HIV tests are useless, because, what you need to compare it with is not a perfect test but the alternative, which is no test at all…

              Analogous, intelligence tests are not perfect, but, compared to no test at all (or virtually any other type of test or measure we have today), so are they much much better in predicting future outcomes. (And therefore highly valuable in many different settings and functions).

              An accessible and up to date book that address many such common misunderstandings is Stuart Ritchie’s “Intelligence: All That Matters” (2016).

              A good textbook is Nicholas Mackintosh, “IQ and Human Intelligence, 2nd Ed” (2011)

              Article about consanguinity in the Middle East,

              Eric M Scott, et al, Characterization of Greater Middle Eastern genetic variation for enhanced disease gene discovery, Nat Genet. 2016 Sep;48(9):1071-6

              (My memory failed me and I mixed up the numbers in my previous comment, the rate of consanguinity is 100-fold higher, and the rate of recessive Mendelian disease is 100% higher, i.e a doubling, and the F values are 10- to 20-fold higher in GME populations.)

              1. Galton was wrong about regression towards the mean. A condition for using the regression line as a predictor is that there is zero error on the x-axis. In plotting children’s heights against their parents’, Galton did not realise that environmental effects on the parents’ heights meant that these heights included an error term, the effect of which was to flatten the slope of the regression line to 0.58 (IIRC). His expectation of the heritability of height led him to anticipate a slope of ~1. He explained the discrepancy by regression to the mean, rather than by x-axis error.

              2. Dear FiveGreenLeafs:

                Unfortunately, my intelligence does not encompass math beyond basics, so I have no knowledge of statistics. (My brain works better in the areas of literature, history and social sciences. Thank goodness for my kids, their Dad was extraordinarily adept at math and science.)) However, I do know that sometimes even valid scientific or mathematical proven techniques such as this may be applied incorrectly. Was the concept flawed? Was the procedure flawed? Were the results massaged to meet the tester’s expectations (knowingly or unknowingly)?

                Our ways of learning and knowing have become ever more compartmentalized. So many possible
                effective elements are excluded in the formation of hypotheses. This is thought to be required. In most cases (I hope )the narrow focus IS necessary and results (I hope)in valid data. Our testing and retesting of such results don’t always validate the former test results. In some cases, no retesting is done.

                Intelligence testing is diverse and has multiple functions and outcomes. What I object to occurs when tests are done primarily for ranking of better vs. worse intellects. In general, the higher IQ persons may be expected to achieve more. But not always. What motivates people to achieve is not always higher intelligence but may be due to other factors. What you do with what you’ve got is more important than how much of it you’ve got. Does it lead you to producing well-being for yourself, your family and/or most of humanity?

                Thank you very kindly for providing recommended reading. I’ll check them out and see if they are understandable by a grandchild of first cousins. I appreciate your taking the time to help educate me.

    2. It is indeed.

      But we can go much further than that.

      I don’t think anyone has presented a proper reasoned rational objection to eugenics, the primary reason it is a dirty word is its association with the Nazis, and even there it acquired its current reputation not so much because of what the Nazis did but because the Nazis lost the war and the winners have to find a way to morally justify their victory. So everything Nazi-associated was demonized (that parts of it were just as popular among the victors was quickly swept under the rug).

      Thus eugenics became a victim of politics.

      That it was practiced in unsound scientifically ways is not grounds for total dismissal of the idea. I have yet to see one good reason why people with serious genetically determined defects that will clearly never be adaptive should be allowed to procreate or why we should not be striving to improve the gene pool in positive ways.

      It is a perfectly valid topic of discussion but has become a taboo. For purely political and emotional reasons.

      1. Entirely agree with all of that.

        My only amendment would be that people with serious heritable genetic defects should be warned and discouraged from reproducing (rather than totally forbidden as your post implies).


      2. I agree as well. It’s similar to the idea that no IQ inheritance studies should be performed lest they show uncomfortable relationships of any sort.

        Like many others of us old enough to have learned much about Woody Guthrie, his sad decline and death was my first exposure to Huntington’s Disease, and because it made such an impression on me at a formative age I have tended to pay special attention whenever I see it mentioned. When genetic testing came along I remember thinking, “how wonderful. Now families can know if they’re bearing HD-destined fetuses and act accordingly. Now HD can be wiped out! Later on I was shocked to come across web-pages supporting not-knowing, i.e., children of victims not having genetic tests that would let them know if they were carriers. Well, I think I can identify with not wanting to know if I, personally, were so destined…but OTOH I’m quite sure I would want to know if a fetus I were carrying carried the HD mutation, and if so, would want to abort.

        So I was taken aback to learn that there are HD family offspring who choose not to know and thus to bear children before they know if they themselves bear the mutation. In what world do you want to bring a child into who might be doomed to such a devastating future?

        I remember a similar story about an anchorwoman with a birth defect (turns out all you have to Google is “anchor woman with deformed hands” and the story pops right up) who defended having children w/o testing for the disorder. As a Mom all I could think of is why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of genetic screening given the chance that you could prevent bearing a child with such a…hmm, we used to say handicap; not sure what the term is now…in the first place? I mean, life is hard enough…

  1. When we expunge our halls of every person who held what our modern sentiments deem immoral opinions, they become empty of heroes and history rife with monsters. It is not incompatible with morality to acknowledge the positive contributions of our past while recognizing its mistakes and bad ideas.

  2. Hmm, the ES is part owned by the Daily Mail group, and mostly owned by the same ex-KGB Russian Gazillionare who owns The Independent.
    I’d noticed eerily similar articles that way and put it down to stories being published within the same news/media company. I guess this reveals that is not the case.

    Against my better judgement I had a quick peek on the Daily Mail website to see how they covered this, but gave up after scrolling through endless celebrity stories, pics of Kim Jong Nam’s suspected murderer in skimpy clothes, and even a token Hitler/WWII story.

    I’m sure its there somewhere, But I need to go and wash my eyes now.

  3. Thanks for that. I am interested in the ideas of the early eugenicists particularly because I have come into contact with them through their views on Deaf people, & ‘intermarriage’ with hearing people. (Our library covers deafness inter alia). Some readers will be familiar with Alexander Graham Bell’s influential if misguided views on that –

    It seems to me that Galton threw out lots of interesting ideas, some better than others. He was a polymath, and a great intellect, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater by trying to pretend he did not exist. We also have a Pearson building – named after Galton’s follower, the pioneer geneticist at what was once called the Eugenics lab. We’d have to call all building after a number or a letter so as to make sure that no one could ever be offended!

  4. I see nothing wrong with Eugenics in principle if defined as “improving the genetic quality of humans” (wikipedia).

    It is the application of eugenics based on human bias or the oversimplified/incomplete understanding thereof that is dangerous.
    What desirable traits are is also very subjective and could be short-sighted with unforeseen consequences.

    I suspect that eventually all parents will become de facto eugenicists when technology allow the genetic maniplulation of embryos.

  5. Holding the past up to our morals and culture of today’s society is nonsense in my view. The whole business of reading and understanding history of any age is to also know and understand the norms and culture of the times you are going to learn about. To do otherwise is a waste of your time and everyone else who pays attention to you. In fact, few will pay attention to you at all.

    You might find yourself saying such useless things as – why did they take so long to do that? Maybe because they had to walk.

    1. “Holding the past up to our morals and culture of today’s society is nonsense in my view”

      I agree, and I do not have much faith in contemporary morals either.

      1. We’ve rejected the view that the human race can be perfected by manipulating nature yet retain the idea we can be perfected socially despite the 20th Century showing that both can lead to genocide.

  6. It was an ugly building near King’s Cross station, but it my scientific home away from home in England, and it was in the library, during a chilly Christmas holiday when they turned off the building’s heat, that I wrote my first evolution course.

    No wonder you grew up to be so mean to poor Bob Cratchit!

  7. I wonder what Galton believed or advocated that is considered so egregious.
    (unless you believe we are blank slates at birth)

    Has anyone read his books like “Hereditary Genius”?

    I read through the wiki page and he reminds me of a Fabian liberal.

  8. Ironically many modern Jews do practise some form of Eugenics by voluntary undergoing genetic screening before marriage.

    I believe the Tay–Sachs neurological disorder has been virtually eliminated among Ashkenazi Jews since the 1970’s.

  9. Gould wrote a famous essay about Carrie Bell, whose forced sterilization by the Commonwealth of Virginia, based on the erroneous determination she was feeble-minded, was upheld by the US Supreme Court in (Buck v. Bell (the case made notorious by Justice Holmes’s infamous line “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”)

    1. It seems to me Galton advocated “positive” or voluntary eugenics (correct me if I am wrong).

      As I mentioned above one could argue that Genetic screening which is a common voluntary practise among ashkenazi jews in the US is a form of positive eugenics.
      I see nothing wrong with that.

      1. As do many black folk regarding sickle-cell disease.

        I think you stretch the term beyond its bounds of elasticity to call this “eugenics.”

        1. But it is by definition eugenics.

          ‘The science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.’

          If two people choose not to have offspring due to both carring a ‘faulty’ allele that falls under that definition.

          Obviously pointing this out is in no way endorsing any form of ‘forced’ eugenics.

        2. One of the nice things about discussing Galton is that we know what he meant when he used the word, since he invented it. And he meant it the way Eric Grobler indicated. It’s forced sterilization and the other crimes that came later, stretching the meaning of the word.

          1. Indeed. And, much of this confusion (in our time) in regard to both eugenics as to intelligence testing, have been propagated by among others, precisely Stephen Jay Gould and Leon Kamin.

            The picture that emerges if you take the time to go back and read (and study) the original sources and the works of Galton, Goddard and Terman etc, is in many ways very different.

            Just to offer one example, the claim that these early intelligence testers, like Goddard, thought that the intelligence they tried to measure was innate and fixed, and could not be affected by environmental factors, like poverty and education.

            In an interview published in Dec 1917 in the Journal Heredity, in regard to the studies of immigrants on Ellis Island published earlier that year, Goddard for example says the following,

            “Here then is vital question which obviously our investigation does not answer. Are these immigrants of low mentality cases of hereditary defect or cases of apparent mental defect by deprivation?” There are no data on the point, but Dr. Goddard thinks that to a considerable extent the second explanation may hold good. “To mention only two consideration: First, we know their environment has been poor. It seems able to account for the result. Second, this kind of immigration has gone on for twenty years. If the condition were due to hereditary feeble-mindedness we should properly expect a noticeable increase in proportion of feeble-minded of foreign ancestry. This is not the case.”

            Too me it often feels like it is Gould and Kamin that are the real extremists here, and Goddard and Galton who are the rational, pragmatic and sensitive scientist with epistemic humility.

            1. “Too me it often feels like it is Gould and Kamin that are the real extremists here,”

              Not to mention Gould critique of Samuel Morton as “biased” which turned out to illuminate his own bias!

              1. Yes, this? Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim

                I also have a vague memory that I read somewhere that Thomas Bouchard contacted Gould to point out errors in his book “The Mismeasure of Man” in regard to heritability and twin studies, but he never corrected this in his later editions.

                “The Mismeasure of Man” is in many ways similar to Margret Mead’s, “Coming of Age in Samoa”.

                Both written by persons with deep idealogical convictions of how they would like the world to work, and in both cases were the authors unable to prevent this from contaminating and fatally tainting their work.

                And, in both cases so much has been built upon these books that many people now are afraid to honestly reassess them in light of new data, and defend them unconditionally, to defend their own legacies, scientifically and ideologically.

              2. Re Mead’s book (which I haven’t read, just descriptions of it) I can’t say how accurate it is for Samoa, but for some other island cultures it may not be far off the mark. I do know that traditions can vary widely from one island to another (at least in the Cook Islands, which I am familiar with) – assuming the same holds true for Samoa, it would be highly misleading to assume her book is applicable to all of Samoa, or to invalidate it by reference to some other part of Samoa. In fact she did her study on Ta’u, an island way to the east of American Samoa, I wouldn’t necessarily expect it to closely reflect culture in the main islands.

                Further east still is Pukapuka, in the Cook Islands, and I can say from extensive personal acquaintance that their social attitude to e.g. relations between the sexes is and was considerably more pragmatic than would have been the case in American society in Mead’s day.

                Their ideas of what is ‘right’ and ‘proper’ are viewed from a slightly different angle to ours; on most occasions the conclusions coincide but now and then they differ in an abrupt and disconcerting way.


              3. infiniteimprobabilit,

                Mead collected her data in Pago Pago and Vaitogi on Tutuila, and on the islands of Manu’a, that is Ta’u, Ofu and Olosega. And on Ta’u, the villages of Ta’u and Fitiuta.

                “I can’t say how accurate it is for Samoa, but for some other island cultures it may not be far off the mark”

                Well, that is, as far as I understand things, exactly part of the problem.

                If you are doing the fieldwork for your doctoral dissertation in Samoa, and, it later turns out that your descriptions appears not to be accurate in regard to Samoan culture and society, but in broader strokes more in line to the culture in the Marquesas or Society Islands, you are, (to say the least) scientifically, in a bit of a pickle.

                If you are in any way interested in this I would encourage you to try and learn more about it, because it is (in many aspects) very fascinating. And, Franz Boas culture determinism and Margaret Mead are (to my mind) central figures in the history of the idealogical web that has given birth to the regressive left we experience today.

                But, as is the case with intelligence testing, you will (in my experience) have to do much digging and legwork on your own, and go back and for example check primary sources yourself, since many wells are so ideologically poisoned.

              4. Well it’s not something I’d want to get deeply immersed in, other than pointing out that ‘Mead was right’ / ‘Mead was wrong’ is probably an illusory alternative. I suspect the real picture is more complex than that.

                If the influence of Mead’s work was due to “There’s a functioning society that has quite different cultural mores from ours” then – in that respect – it doesn’t really matter if it was strictly true in all of Samoa or even the villages quoted. It was certainly true in some island societies.

                In terms of the specific anthropological studies of eastern Samoa then I agree it is significant.

                “It later turns out that your descriptions appears not to be accurate in regard to Samoan culture and society,” I’d question (admittedly without knowing anything substantive about it) whether there is one uniform ‘Samoan culture and society’ to be accurate about. I would guess that customs could vary significantly from one end of the Samoan group to the other.

                There is a tendency to view other cultures through Western eyes as either conforming or differing from what we unconsciously assume is ‘normal’, and I think that can be quite misleading on occasion. But I only know this with reference to some of the Cook Islands, though I suspect it’s widely applicable.


              5. infiniteimprobabilit,

                You claim on the one hand, that villages in a given society are unique, and on the other, that it does not matter whether Mead’s data from Samoa is right or wrong, because, you can substitute that data, with data from a completely different village, from another society?

                You don’t realize the glaring logical contradiction in that argument?

                And, even if a methodological and scientifically sound study of another society would give the results that Mead wanted, that does not absolve Mead and make her study right, it is still wrong.

                I think the problem is that you are confounding these two levels, Mead’s study on one hand, and the existence of culturally diverse societies on the other.

                The problem for Mead was that Samoa in many ways was even worse than the USA along the parameters she wanted to investigate, while for example the society on the Marquesas probably was positioned in the opposite direction.

                On an overarching level, the scientific evidence for a universal human nature, and that societies are formed in an interplay between this and idiosyncratic and historical cultural and social factors, in opposition to Franz Boas and Mead’s conviction of a pure cultural determinism, is today overwhelming.

                As is the evidence for the heritability of general cognitive ability, but people still use both Gould and Mead’s books to argue for their respective cause, even if they both are (in many aspects) profoundly wrong.

              6. I’m saying that I greatly doubt whether all of Samoa is one homogeneous society.

                As I understand it, the impact of Mead’s work was in suggesting that other societies might have different and equally valid viewpoints on e.g. sexual morals from the currently prevailing Western values of the day. In the same way that Copernicus’ idea was basically right even though some details were wrong.


        3. “I think you stretch the term beyond its bounds of elasticity to call this “eugenics.”

          I think my interpretation of the term matches Galton’s definition.

  10. There are several quotes attributed to different people of the basic idea that we have to know the past to understand the present and improve the future.

    Too many people already fail to recognize the value and importance of history, especially the history of ideas. We’ve come to our present understanding on many subjects, such as Eugenics, by years of discussion and experience. The development of that discussion is as important as where we’ve got to.

    Another example is religion where many Christians think the current love, tolerance, acceptance etc of all in mainstream Christianity is how it’s always been. They dismiss the influence of the Enlightenment among other things for example.

    As Jerry said, almost everyone who lived in the 19th century was racist and sexist by our own standards. I would add anti-Semitic and homophobic. And that’s just a start.

    I’d say it’s perfectly normal for an intelligent and intellectually curious person working in the area to wonder about eugenics. Forbidding the discussion is wrong, as is pretending it never happened.

    Personally I think this anti-Galton Building crap is virtue signalling.

  11. I think Galton was a genius. Why always hammer on his ‘eugenics’? There is so much more he did, like eg. inventing the dog whistle.
    Eugenics is as old as we can trace, the Spartans already practiced it in a rather harsh way: any weak looking baby was exposed for three days in the mountains. If surviving, still accepted. Now I guess we should blame Galton for that?
    The way Galton proposed ‘eugenics’ was basically to encourage the ‘successful’ to breed more, nothing like extermination camps that happened long after his death. I would bet a fair amount he would have been opposed to the Nazi ‘Endlösung’ had he lived to see it.
    Here I agree 100% with Our Host. This is insane.

  12. Re the potential plagiarism: As a reporter, my assumption would be that with two highly visible publications in the same market, one reporter would not be stupid enough to so closely follow the wording of the other paper’s story. If so, and it was noticed, they would definitely get in trouble here. Nothing is completely impossible, but that route is highly unlikely.

    More likely, they both based their articles off the British equivalent of an Associated Press newswire story from a service. Both publications probably subscribe to such a newswire service, and they’re entitled to do whatever they want with the material. They pay for the privilege.

    Either that, or they both lazily cribbed from a PR release from someone or group interested enough in the issue to send something out on it. That, too, is not illegal. The PR people are happy to see their words reproduced as closely as possible.

  13. Yet we comfortably practice eugenics today:

    We specify that close relatives should not breed, and cases of incest may be justification for abortion. Similarly we carry out a number of pre-natal tests and may abort a non-eugenic fetus. People with specific risks of passing on genetic diseases may receive counselling. In some parts of the world women may abort their fetuses if they are not capable of caring for them after birth. And in some jurisdictions a mentally incompetent adult may (in rare circumstances) be sterilized without their consent.

    We are just very careful not to call it eugenics.

  14. What is important is that we recognize that morality has moved on, and that people are heavily conditioned by the moral views of their time. Even we, in the future, will be looked upon as morally deficient. So no, Galton should not be erased from University College London.

    Precisely. Why is this apparent reality lost on so many young people today? It’s best to solve problems by going after the problem’s root, but what is the root of this problem? I have no clue, except perhaps a change in parenting.

  15. I’d argue that if one wants genuinely to learn to overcome the mistakes of the past, including racism, “ablism” of the eugenics movements, one should never forget what they did. So we should keep the building, but explain where it came from. This is in my view a *legitimate* use of “teach the controversy”.

    My inspiration for this is the way Chomsky handles his predecessors. He points out that many interesting views worth discussing also come from sources of bad ones. (For example Kant and Hume were racists.)

    1. The idea that Galton “invented racism” struck me as bizarre and ignorant too. Though I think similar ideas are fairly common in postmodernism. On many occasions I have seen variations expressed along the lines that racism, sexism, and war did not exist before Western civilization invented them.

      One of the more extreme examples was something I found out about on this site. A pulitzer prize winner stated “It’s a tough one. I mean the Enlightenment has its good side and its bad side. The Enlightenment created white supremacy, racial hierarchies. It did that. . .”


  16. While Galton’s ideas regarding eugenics did not have a direct influence of the Nazi program. It had an indirect influence via the U.S. What most Americans are not aware of is that many of Hitler’s ideas about race came from sources in American society. In two recent major books on this topic by an American and a German historian who documented carefully the connections between early race notions in the U.S. based on correspondence between Hitler and authors in America reveals a connection between the U.S. and Hitler’s campaign against inferior races (Black, 2004, Kuhl, 2002). In the book War Against the Weak by the American historian Black he describes how in Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, he praised America’s exclusionary immigration laws against the Chinese, non-Aryan Europeans such as Italians and Polish races. Hitler carefully studied American eugenics laws and programs allowing sterilization of the “unfit” on eugenic grounds. He wrote fan letters to leading American eugenicists, telling Madison Grant, for example, that his book The Passing of the Great Race (1904) was his “Bible.” Grant had argued that all non-Europeans, non-Aryan peoples were racially inferior and need to be eliminated. During the early twentieth century in American, many scientists both on the right and the left were sympathetic to Galton’s eugenics ideas that called for the sterilization of people because of mental retardation, low I..Q.s, and other physical handicaps. Galton’s beliefs that society should encourage healthier people to reproduce and unhealthier ones to have fewer children. Many Americans were alarmed by increased immigration and by the huge growth the native African American population, America’s elite discovered in eugenics a “scientific” basis for their belief in white, Northern European supremacy. So at the turn of the 20th century, scientists with a can-do spirit and just enough knowledge of Mendelian genetics to be dangerous devised grand schemes to improve the American racial population. They would segregate, sterilize, and even eliminate those deemed “un-fit” — as much as 10 percent of the population, some 14 million people who were classified as “inferior races and unfit people. This program was supported by the Carnegie, Harriman, and Rockefeller family foundations to promote Madison Grant’s beliefs about the inferiority of non-Anglo, non-Aryan races were developed into eugenics policies to improve the American race.
    Researchers were dispatched to mental asylums, prisons, hospitals, and poor towns to collect family  histories of the supposedly unfit — which included the mentally ill, the disabled, epileptics, alcoholics, criminals, the immoral, and pretty much anyone else they wanted to throw in. These reports were  collected at the Eugenics Record Office. Some 60,000 U.S. citizens were sterilized in these campaigns because they were deemed “unfit.” In 1927 the Supreme Court laid the capstone on these laws with the notorious 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell affirming the sterilization of an unwed teenage mother. Drawing on statements of pro-eugenics medical personnel, the court decided not only that Carrie Buck was feebleminded (she wasn’t), but that her daughter was clearly doomed to abnormality (she wasn’t). The supposed incapacity of Carrie Buck, her mother, and her infant daughter inspired Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous conclusion: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” (1927).
    Later, based on the American eugenics campaign Sterilization laws sprang up throughout Northern Europe. German eugenicists, particularly captivated by the American notion of Nordic and Aryan supremacy, published textbooks based on American ideas and Hitler read them. The Rockefeller Foundation funded eugenic experiments in Germany through the early 1930s. These recent books don’t claim that American eugenics created Hitler’s evil policies resulting in the crimes against Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and others in Europe, however, the American policies did allow Hitler to medicalize, scientize, and sanitize his hatred, making it palatable for a mass audience in Germany.

    1. Racism of the Louis Agassiz and Arthur de Gobineau type, much admired in the religious Ivy League Universities of the NE USA, long preceded Galton. Hitler admired “Teutonic” America’s shunning of interbreeding with native Americans.
      In Mein Kampf he stated his views this way:
      “In short, the results of miscegenation are always the following:
      (a) The level of the superior race becomes lowered;
      (b) physical and mental degeneration sets in, thus leading slowly but steadily towards a progressive drying up of the vital sap.
      The act which brings about such a development is a sin against the will of the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged.”

      Hitler was born about 250 miles from Mendel’s pea garden. This must have been a point of pride.

  17. “And we shouldn’t forget that judging past figures by the moral standards of today would lead to the effacement of virtually every trace of history…”

    This is the real issue. Social justice warriors on campuses are slowly going through the past of every white man who is given mention and finding where they don’t stand up to the regressives’ own morals. If we allow it to continue, it will eventually erase everyone who made historical contributions (or, I suspect, probably just the white men).

    One day, a few decades from now, these same students will be talking to their younger generations, and some of their children will find them to be monsters for the things they said, did, and believed. Nobody seems to understand that people are born in a certain time and place — or, rather, they think it doesn’t matter, and that everyone in history should have been morally pure.

    It’s just like Soviet Russia trying to erase anyone who contributed to the building of their state but was found to no longer fit the mold. Erasure from history for impure thoughts. That’s what these students want.

    1. “It’s just like Soviet Russia trying to erase anyone who contributed to the building of their state but was found to no longer fit the mold. Erasure from history for impure thoughts.”

      That is, I think, a very good point, not to mention, very destructive for a society.

  18. I would like to give Galton a tick in the box for a different reason: his study into the efficacy of prayer. Prayers were (and are) offered at every CofE service for the health and preservation of members of the royal family. Galton’s detailed analysis showed that the average length of life of (male) royals was if anything slightly below that of other men (of the professional classes, natch). From this he concluded that prayer does not work. QED.

  19. William Shockley was a racist. Does that mean that these holier-than-thou cultural power grabbers will now refrain from using any device contains transistors?

  20. UCL has become one of those hotbeds of regressive liberalism that seems to infect certain universities but not others. I blame this phenomenon entirely on the level of “gutlessness” in a faculty and administration which does not stand up for the essential requirements of academic freedom. A typical episode of such regressive behaviour at UCL was the dismissal of Professor Tim Hunt (a Nobel laureate) in a particularly nasty and frenzied witch hunt. I had been a member of a number of UCL societies but have subsequently resigned from all of them in protest – I just don’t want to ever see the UCL campus again. It is no longer an academic institution that deserves being considered as such.

  21. I have appreciated this discussion enormously, the quality thereof, and now have many paths of research to follow.

    I love the study of history, but much of it was whitewashed from the beginning, edited and modified over time to represent any given current culture’s needs. For example: Many of us were not taught that the American Revolution was not embraced by all citizens of that time. Nor were we taught about large groups of German and Russian sympathizers prevalent in this country before and during Wars, I & II. There were clubs. There were newspapers. Nor were we taught certain details of the Anglo-American genocide of Native Americans (I just got through reading a book about the bounties offered by certain Mexican governments for Indian scalps – unfortunately, some Mexican scalps got in there too! Also, instructions on the part of the military to kill all Indians regardless of whether they were peaceful or not.)

    Another problem with the study of history is that we are taught from a Euro-centric point of view and have been kept relatively ignorant of
    the history of the rest of the world. However, better to study history than not to do so and best to examine a range of sources on any given topic.

    As has been pointed out, other social science
    literature has flaws as well based on the knowledge and perceptions of the authors.

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