Sunday, November 04, 2007

Come Here Watson, I need you

Now that James Watson has resigned from Cold Spring Harbor Lab after making racist comments, Newsday has published an article entitled An Echo of the past which mentions the racism of the first head of the lab. Per the Scientific American blog, Cold Spring Harbor was once the center of eugenics studies in America and although there are many great things the Lab has done, and is doing, it is important to remember how even good intentions can lead to bad science and bad things. This is especially important to remember considering James Watson's on the record stance against the Catholic Church for its teaching on (embryonic, not adult) stem cell research. Consider:

Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust, wrote a book about Eugenics called War Against the Weak Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race

The website for the book says: It began on Long Island and Ended at Auschwitz.....and yet it never really stopped. Here is a quote from an interview the author did with the Dallas Morning News:

"Question: All this happened 60 or more years ago. What's the lesson now?

Answer: First, it's important to understand that the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institute and Planned Parenthood were completely cooperative. We should not judge these organizations today by how they were 50 or 90 years ago. These organizations publicly regret the involvement of their originators.
The "take away" is how easy it is to mask racism and prejudice in science. How easy it is to be deluded by credentials and academic titles. Remember, eugenics in the U.S. and in Nazi Germany was based on "settled science." The eugenicists all agreed on it.

Question: You mentioned that, universally, the Catholic Church spoke against eugenics. Why didn't it work? Is there a lesson there for organized religion, in terms of preventing something like this in the future?

Answer: But it did work. Where the Catholic Church was strong – parts of Illinois or Massachusetts, for instance – eugenics measures were not enacted. The problem was that organized religion failed to project itself beyond its small sphere of influence. If there had been a more universal approach, had the Catholic Church and other churches ... been far more aggressive in defending human rights during the 12-year Hitler era, things might have been different. But, you have to understand, eugenics never acted in the name of an organized religion. Eugenics held itself out to be its own religion.

Question: Is there a religious issue here?

Answer: Sanctity of life is a religious issue. The devaluation of human life is a religious issue. Once you say, "I want to improve society by doing away with someone else, or someone else's family," you're into genocide. No matter how pure your heart is.

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