"What a galaxy of genius might we not create!" burbled Francis Galton in 1865, exuberant about his conception of a voluntary human breeding program, to be informed by Darwinism. Subpar intelligence, he was convinced, lay at the root of poverty, promiscuity, disease, and antisocial behavior of all kinds. A similar enthusiasm girds contemporary social and behavioral genetics, or "sociogenomics." In fact, every revolution in our understanding of heredity prompts a new wave of enthused hereditarianism: Darwinism, Mendelism, cytogenetics, molecular biology, genomics. With every advance, scientists and the public ask new versions of the same questions, such as: Can we identify born criminals and stop crime before it starts? and, Is genius born or made? Although the questions persist, technology and society are ever evolving. This lecture will examine continuity and change in our enduring impulse to take control of our own evolution, as well as the benefits and risks of our perennial drive to understand, and improve, human nature.
This event is sponsored by the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum. Our office advances the historical understanding of the biomedical research conducted at the NIH by documenting, preserving, and interpreting the history of significant NIH achievements, scientists, and policies. Visit us athttps://history.nih.gov.
Nathaniel Comfort is Professor of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Tangled Field: Barbara McClintock's Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control (2001), editor of The Panda's Black Box: Opening Up the Intelligent Design Controversy (2007), and author of The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes became the Heart of American Medicine (2012).