Eugenics history: university geneticists respond

Pomiankowski A, Thomas MG, Jones S, Ekong R, van Dorp L, Maniatis N, Lane N, Rutherford A, Walker C, Swallow D. Nature 580: 321 (2020). doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01080-7

We wish to correct Angela Saini’s misleading claim that University College London’s geneticists were “willing to overlook” their department’s links with the Galton Laboratory, founded for research into eugenics in 1904 (Nature 579, 175; 2020). This undermines several decades of determined effort by us and our predecessors to confront the laboratory’s troubling history.

Over the years, this engagement has informed ethical debates relevant to our research. It has guided the development of genetic-counselling protocols and the debunking of the foundations of eugenics, as well as the related issue of ‘race’ as a biological concept. We have taught this pernicious history to tens of thousands of students who have taken our various courses.

Members of our department have written and spoken openly and critically to the media and the public on the subject. The report produced by the university’s eugenics inquiry failed to acknowledge this properly, which is one of several reasons why the majority of the inquiry committee refused to sign it.