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January 15, 1973

Genetics and American Society: A Historical Appraisal

JAMA. 1973;223(3):332. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220030066039

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This book is a history of the interaction between genetics and public policy in the United States—a fascinating story that should be more widely known. When Mendel's principles of heredity were discovered by the scientific world in 1900, they became at once the basis for the development of the science of genetics, but they were also appropriated as a catechism by the eugenics movement. Ludmerer traces the shameful story of the eugenicists' use of distorted Mendelian theory to give scientific color to their propaganda for sterilization laws to rid society of "the unfit" and for the restriction of immigration on a basis of racial discrimination. He shows how the experimental geneticists, at first sympathetic to eugenics and even supportive of it, gradually became skeptical and then hostile as genetic research showed more and more clearly that eugenic dogma was not sound science.

By the 1930s the excesses of the eugenicists