As so many science organizations are doing, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) is taking a hard look at its past and castigating itself for its involvement in eugenics, discrimination, promotion of claims about genetic inequalities, and other activities considered insupportable in modern times. The ASHG was thorough, and published a 45-page report detailing the Facing Our History – Building an Equitable Future Initiative.
I looked through it, and like most of these things it’s a mixture of the good (e.g., recounting of the history of harmful political ideology in human genetics) and the not so good (eliminating the names of people willy-nilly from awards, the constant emphasis on “equity” instead of “equality”, etc.). Although the bad stuff is largely behind us, it’s still salubrious for people to know the history of their field. (By the way, eugenics is still being practiced in conjunction with genetic counseling. For example, every time a couple decides to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome or genetic disease, that’s eugenics.)
But the emphasis on equity, equity, and more equity is an ideological position because of its tacit assumption that all inequities (that is, unequal representation of groups compared to their proportion in a relevant population) are due to presently acting forms of institutionalized racism, to which human genetics has contributed. In constantly calling for equity as an important goal of the Society, the ASHG is taking an ideological position.
In the article above on his website, Noah Carl found one item I missed in the ASHG report. (Yes, I know of Carl’s infamy: he was fired from a position at Cambridge University for working on the connection between human race and intelligence: an ideologically taboo topic that was, in his case, also characterized as “poor scholarship”).
But I’ll just give Carl’s thoughts on one part of the ASHG statement, a part that shows the cluelessness of ideologues who don’t recognize when their own ideology is permeating science even though, like bloodhounds, they’re very able to sniff out ideologies that they don’t like.
Here’s Carl’s quote; the yellowing in the extract from the ASHG statement is his.
Anyway, one paragraph in the statement did catch my eye. It outlines some of the “challenges” facing human genetics, one of which is “denouncing the warping of science for advocacy agendas”. Here, they’re presumably referring to the misuse of science to justify racism and eugenics.
What’s remarkable, though, is that the very same paragraph includes this sentence: “ASHG encourages individual members, peer societies, academic centers, agencies, industry partners, and others to reflect on how everyone’s contributions will help foster inclusive equity agendas.”
So on the one hand, we must denounce the “warping of science for advocacy agendas”. But on the other, we must “help foster inclusive equity agendas”. You can’t make it up! They even managed to use the same word “agenda” in both places.
The statement’s authors would no doubt assure us they’d never dream of warping science to foster an “inclusive equity agenda”. Only people with Bad agendas warp science! But this is what’s known in the technical jargon as a lie.
And the sentence I highlighted is far from the only place where the authors take an openly political stance. They begin by noting that ASHG has been “late in making explicit efforts to integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion into its values, programs, and voice”. And they further note that ASGH will continue “its recent actions to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion”.
Apparently, political agendas are okay in science so long as it’s your politics being promoted. The sad part is that so much of science is being damaged by the failure of advocates to understand that science is supposed to be largely free from political slants, and when a political viewpoint has permeated science, as in the Lysenko affair, it has always been harmful. And make no mistake about it—the conception of DEI being promoted as the future pathway to “inclusive equity”, both here and in other science societies, is indeed an ideology, and one that can be rationally debated instead of being taken as a given that must be enforced.