Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grannies and Eugenics: The Cruelty of Ignorance

Racism and the "Raging Grannies"

In July, the Public Service Board (PSB) held a meeting in Brattleboro. At that meeting, one of the "Raging Grannies" handed a copy of the document below to everyone in the crowd. (Double-clicking on the image will enlarge it.)

This is a quote from Alice Stewart, born in 1906, a pioneer against misuse of radiation. She sees mutations caused by radiation as the worst scenario possible. Mutations (any mutations, she doesn't mention radiation in this quote) lead to

It's the genetic damage, the possibility of sowing bad seeds into the gene pool from which future generations are drawn. There will be a buildup of defective genes into the population. It won't be noticed until it is too late. Then, we'll never root it out, never get rid of it. It will be totally irrevocable.

Stewart was an early pioneer in radiation research. She was born in 1906, and spent her youth and young adulthood during the heyday of eugenics. Her quote above is a clear statement of the all-too-common Eugenics view, which was widely held in the early to middle of the 20th century.

(In order to not get sidetracked, I plan another post about Alice Stewart and genetics in general.)

The Eugenics View

According to eugenics, any negative change to a gene would propagate through the population, driving down the level of human beings. The eugenics model for the spread of negative genes is exactly as Stewart states it above. (Of course, the top people in society had the privilege of deciding what a negative gene was and who belongs to a lower level of humans.)

As science, this is complete bunk. We know a great deal about how genes propagate in populations. Eugenics is wrong. Eugenics is just a stupid incorrect model, based on fear and prejudice, and pushed for a political agenda. After WWII, eugenics went out of fashion, having reached its zenith under Hitler.

By the way. Hitler didn't go after the Jews first. He went after the retarded, the ones with "defective genes" that had to be "rooted out." Hitler started with eugenics, sterilizing and euthanizing retarded German children. With this success behind him, he later expanded his reach.

America, Forced Sterilization, and Buck vs. Bell

Wouldn't it be nice if it was just evil Mr. Hitler who followed Eugenics? It wasn't. America and Britain were at the forefront of the movement. People in America sterilized the retarded at a great rate: 20,000 sterilizations in California alone. Buck vs. Bell was a Supreme Court case in 1927 about whether the retarded could be sterilized by the state. The answer: They could be sterilized without their consent. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote in his opinion on Buck vs. Bell: "Three generations of imbeciles is enough."

According to the Wikipedia article about this case, the woman who was sterilized was an avid reader, and her only daughter (a girl who died young of measles) was an honor student. When you are sterilizing imbeciles, I gather you also get to choose who is an imbecile.

There's an extremely disturbing video of the Buck vs. Bell case, with footage from 1927. I decided not to embed it. I'll add a picture of Frances Galton, the father of Eugenics instead. Handsome guy, yes? Let's have some eye-candy.

I Speak at the Meeting. People Boo.

Back to Alice Stewart and the PSB meeting. At meeting where this yellow sheet was handed out, we could sign up to give two minute opinions about Vermont Yankee. I spoke briefly about Yankee. Then I objected to being handed racist eugenics material at a public meeting about a power plant.

I was roundly booed as I spoke. People hissed that I should learn some history. They shouted that Alice Stewart was not a racist. It was all very upsetting. The opponents of the plant simply could not see this handout for what it was.

Ignorance is Ignorance. Ignorance is Cruelty.

I'll write a in another post about how our knowledge of genetics has grown. Right now, I just want to say that in their eagerness to show what immense, irreparable harm nuclear plants do, the Grannies ignore modern biology. They have chosen eugenics as the biological model that better suits their needs to bash the power plant. They have gone too far for me.

Let me address the Grannies here. Stop handing that Alice Stewart statement out. Okay? Stop using those eugenics arguments. Can't you read that statement? Can't you read how the same words are about Defending the White Race and rooting out defects? Just stop it. Bash nuclear power some other way. As I said above: Eugenics is wrong. Eugenics is just a stupid incorrect model, based on fear and prejudice, and pushed for a political agenda.

And be a little humble, my friends. We are all carrying less-than-perfect genes, and the more we learn about genetics, the more we begin to know about our own genes. People have genes that carry higher risks of breast cancer, alcoholism, autism, you name it. You begin talking about "never being able to root out bad genes," and you are forgetting the part about genetic heritage that can be described as "for whom the bell tolls."

It tolls for thee. And for me. And for all of us.

Photograph of Francis Galton, the Father of Eugenics, from Wikimedia.


donb said...

The argument is total nonsense, of course. Life evolved from simple to complex in a natural environment of radiation at levels significantly higher than they are now.

Since we are bathed in natural radiation (way beyond that coming from nuclear power plants), maybe we just need to commit mass suicide to avoid that buildup of defective genes.

Or perhaps this makes sense if you think that life started as a single-cell organism, and has decended since that time to produce humans...

Unknown said...

Any port in a storm, any argument in a fight, any lie to win, I guess.

I suspect they must really be against coal fired power plants and all the fly ash with uranium in it. Funny how I've never seen mass protests outside a coal fired plant.

My oldest brother served on a nuclear submarine. He told me that there were always two supply officers for each sub crew, one to stay home and one to go on the boat. They were both monitored for radiation. Oddly enough, the one who stayed ashore always got more radiation than the one mere feet from a working nuclear power plant.

So, according to these grannies, we should all go into a nuke submarine to protect our offspring?


Not only do environmentalists too-easily take up eugenics, but attempts of westerners to "green their world" smacks of last minute gardening on the Titanic. Self-congratulating antinukes complain about femto-curies of tritium, seeking license to ignore the real world. Nuclear power in Asia supports the children of 1.3 million migrants moving into cities out of the countryside each month. It's the greatest migration humankind has ever experienced. Take a look.

Mankind needs clean water, megatons of rice, a million doctors, cheap modular housing, cures for AIDS/malaria/cholera/TB, and the power to fuel all of the above. Spontaneously self heating minerals (Terrestrial Power) comprise the sole non-polluting solution available. Don't call it nuclear. We've had enough "N"-words. Resident populations at Ramsar & Kerala display 25% less cancer of all kinds than their relatives living 20 miles away. Case closed.

G. Murphy

Robert Hargraves said...

Thanks, Meredith. It's disturbing that you are booed in a public meeting. Maybe that's their only way to argue.

Rod Adams said...


This is an amazing and well written series of posts about a topic for which you have done a lot of research. I fully support your call - eugenics is wrong. It smacks of prejudice, tries to spread fear, and smacks of other nefarious tendencies of separation.

Meredith Angwin said...

Rod. Thank you. In college, I took a course called Population and Genetics. We read Galton in the original, reviewed and calculated models of genes moving through populations, studied Favism (a genetic syndrome, not an art movement) and so forth. I was a chem major, and I became a physical chemist in grad school, but I had a flirtation with biochem as an undergrad. I follow modern advances in genetics in the popular press.

I was afraid I was wasting too much time on these posts. I usually try to stick more directly to VY. However, the Grannies hand this stuff out. I got very upset at the PSB meeting as I kept reading and rereading this handout. By the time I got up to testify, I was really distressed. As a friend said;" Wow, Meredith I have never seen you so upset." Another friend said: "what did you say? I couldn't hear you for all the booing." " It was a general mess.

I finally decided to NOT let the incident just sit there. I can just imagine what plant opponents say about it. Heck, they said some of it to me! The woman who threw manure at a previous meeting hissed at me about how little I know! I can imagine them saying: Did you see what Meredith did at that meeting? She called people racist and she was totally out of control...

I felt I had to explain the model the Grannies are using to bash nuclear, and explain WHY it is so wrong and so dangerous.

I deeply appreciate your comments, because I kept thinking...hey, there's the new ruling on Feed In Tariffs, and there's Gundersen's accusations against the State of Vermont and here I am blogging about the Grannies, for Pete's sake. Wasting my time writing these long posts against the Grannies views of genetics!

Thank you for helping me feel it wasn't time wasted.

By the way, some of the things Caldicott says fit into the eugenics model also, I think.