March 25, 2023

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Outlook – Perspectives. Confronting one’s own history is always necessary, even for science

We’ll be dealing with this more in the coming months, here Bo Live

And we’re doing that starting today, starting with a document, certainly not the first of its kind, but an important document nonetheless, that I publishedAmerican Association of Human Genetics (American Society of Human Genetics, ASHG).

This is the report.Facing our history Рbuilding a fair future initiative(Facing Our History РAn Initiative to Build a Just Future), and it was announced a few weeks ago, this past January. The report is the result of more than a year of work by the Scientific Society to identify past injustices caused by members of the same community in their role as directors or leaders and addressing them.Very directly, the ASHG states that it wanted to document, publicize or promote its “past role Contribute to the development and institutionalization of injustice, with a focus on racismThe desire to identify a quantum leap towards justice and to obtain a full awareness and understanding of the lines of current controversial issues that have their roots in history.

To achieve these goals, the ASHG has implemented various actions. First of all, it has been launched A comprehensive research into one’s history, by analyzing papers, documents, correspondence, articles, and much other material to identify examples and case studies that symbolized the insights, attitudes, actions, and statements that generated or supported grievances. Then some got involved Experts and representatives of minorities and communities that have historically been discriminated against, who were asked to analyze and provide feedback on these documented cases and help identify possible paths and future actions in the right direction. And finally, a series of Meetings and dialogues within the associationto make this path open and transparent to all registrants and thus create a collective awareness of the role the association played in the past.

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The amazing and amazing part is the exhaustive research and analysis of the ASHG situation over the past decades. The report focuses on the period after 1948, the year the Scientific Society was founded. but it does not escape strong affinities and in some cases with obvious continuity, with the earlier period, and in particular with the later period.An affirmation of the eugenics movement in the United StatesSince the first years of the twentieth century. Thus, Charles Davenport’s role in founding the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Cold Spring Harbor, upstate New York, in 1910 is fast-tracked. Always the same place, the birthplace of genetic research.

In Davenport’s time, ERO conducted research on possible genetic defects, and the consequences of inadequate crossing, such as that between people of different racial backgrounds. But it was also done advocacyin support of eugenics policies, from restrictions on immigration of persons from populations considered dangerous – particularly from southern and eastern Europe, i.e. us, for example – for the white Anglo-American population, to forced sterilization of persons defined as unsuitable and indecent. In the first 30 years of the 20th century, 30 US states passed laws in favor of forced sterilization. These laws were applied for a full decade, until 1939, when the ERO closed, thanks to the work of a committee from the Carnegie Institution that succeeded in proving that all eugenics theories had no scientific and anecdotal basis. In total, throughout the twentieth century, More than 70,000 people have been forcibly sterilized in the United States of America. Of those, nearly half are in just two states: more than 20,000 in California alone, and another 7,600 in North Carolina. And even if sterilization was not formally directed at race, focusing more on the characteristics of individuals deemed unsuitable, such as people with certain genetic syndromes of disability or considered mentally incapacitated, in fact racism played a major role, and how: in North Carolina, An extreme case perhaps but very indicative, More than 60% of the women sterilized were black.

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Despite the fact that American eugenics policies were publicly acknowledged as inspiring Nazi policies in Germany, and as a result the entire field of human genetics research was considered controversial, such that the ASHG was founded to Try to regain credibility and trust In research in this field, in the first decades of its history, the Society could not decisively take a completely different path.

On the contrary, him Early leaders and exponents More importantly confirms exactly those concerns, expressing either explicit support for eugenic policies or very timid and never decisive opposition without reaching a real and proper condemnation. From its inception until the early seventies, Nine Heads ASHG They were also directors, chiefs, or senior officials of theAES, American Eugenics Society, An organization active since the 1920s in support of “breed improvement” activities, then transformed in 1972 into the Society for the Studies of Social Biology, with distinctly different goals. In at least three cases, from Lawrence SnyderAnd Clarence Oliver And Bentley glassThe ASHG Chair has also held senior positions in AES.

And only in 1953, the year of the discovery of the structure of DNA, did the two companies get organized Joint seminar On genetics and intelligence during the meeting From another major institution of American science, AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Among the first presidents of the ASHG, just to name two examples out of many, tell me It was believed that sterilization was a practical way to prevent the spread of dangerous genes and Curt Stern He believed that people with “serious genetic defects” should be confined to institutions or forcibly sterilized if they did not follow recommendations not to have children. Claude Nash HerndonNot only was he a public supporter of reproductive control practices, but he played a key role in North Carolina’s forced sterilization program. William Allanwho received the highest honors from the ASHG, believes that people with disabilities are a serious economic problem and opposes public support programs for them.

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