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eugenics and statistics


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slides supporting my discussion at the JSM 2020 session: Eugenics and Its Intersection with Statistics and Society Over Time: A Conversation

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eugenics and statistics

  1. 1. eugenics & statistics [in quotes] Christian P. Robert U. Paris Dauphine PSL & Warwick U. & CREST ENSAE [Mostly based on Kevles’ In the Name of Eugenics (1984) and with further cut&paste from Wikipedia]
  2. 2. Dedicated to the memory of Gertrude Mac´e (? – 1988), sterilized by the Nazis for having a baby with a French prisonner of war, with whom they were eventually re- united after the war.
  3. 3. Origins prevention of hereditary diseases natural (?) consequence of Darwin’s theory of evolution high of European imperialism and nationalisms evolution or scientism as new religion fin de si`ecle pessimism on society’s decline State socialism ideals / fear of proletarian socialism
  4. 4. Darwin on races “The various races, when carefully compared and mea- sured, differ much from each other — as in the texture of hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even the convolutions of the brain (...) The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatization and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental charac- teristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotion, but partly in their intellectual faculties.” (C. Darwin, The Descent of Man, Chapter VII).
  5. 5. Darwin on races “It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst an- imals to breed.” (C. Darwin, ibid., Volume 1, page 168).
  6. 6. Fashionable eugenism “British eugenics was marked by an hostility decidedly more of class than race.” D. Kevles, ibid. Support of most members of UK and US intellectual elite and establishment like F.D. Roosevelt and W. Churchill (vice-president of the first International Eugenics Conference) B. Shaw: “some of us are driven to prescribe the lethal chamber as the solution” J.M. Keynes (director of the British Eugenics Society from 1937 to 1944) W. Beveridge, W.E.B. Du Bois, F. Nightingale, A. Huxley, V. Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence
  7. 7. Fashionable eugenism and much fewer opponents H.G. Wells moved from eugenism (1901) to anti-eugenism: “Mankind from the point of view of a biologist is an animal species in a state of arrested differentiation and possible admixture.” (1921) G.K. Chesterton: “the essence of Nazi Nationalism is to preserve the purity of a race in a continent where all races are impure” Catholic authorities quickly rejected eugenism for many reasons (from South Mediterranean and mostly catholic immigrants being considered as “inferior” in the US, to doctrinal opposition to birth control, incl. sterilisation, to scientific against divine intervention, and to the theory of evolution)
  8. 8. Positive consequences of eugenics birth control development and legalisation sexual education and child welfare reproductive rights, incl. abortion pre-natal and pre-nuptial health examinations prevention of heritable diseases artificial procreation human genetics
  9. 9. Human genetic variations [D. Church, Nature 28 May 2020] “What do the differences between each per- son’s genetic code mean for their individ- ual development and health? Several fac- tors have hampered researchers’ ability to answer this question.” “First, understanding genetic variation requires analysing huge numbers of sequences, because we carry many rare variants. Most of these have no effect, with just a few causing genetic diseases.”
  10. 10. Human genetic variations [D. Church, Nature 28 May 2020] “Second, most of our understanding of ge- netic variation has come from studying single nucleotide variants, but structural variants can have a larger impact on phys- iological traits, and are major contributors to disease.” “Third, we lack an understanding of variation outside protein-coding sequences.”
  11. 11. Annals of Eugenics created by K. Pearson in 1925 for the study of “agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, physically or mentally.” edited jointly with Ethel M. Elderton R. Fisher taking editorship over in 1934 supported by the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics, UCL published quantitative genetics and statistics papers by Fisher, Yates, Jeffreys, Haldane (and national eugenic papers by Pearson and Elderton)
  12. 12. Annals of Eugenics (till 1951) “The papers in the Annals’ early years were concerned with ordinary aspects of inheritance in humans. What they were reporting was science of high quality. But the science was used by scientists, physicians, and policy makers, to impose a particular Darwinian view of so- cial responsibility that led them to incarcerate, sterilize, experiment on people, or even to exterminate them.” K. Weiss and B. Lambert, A Human Genetics, 2011
  13. 13. J.B.S Haldane (1892–1964) served on the battlefield during WW I communist party member (till 1949), freedom fighter during the Spanish Civil War took Indian citizenship (for India being “a better model for a possible world organisation”),
  14. 14. J.B.S Haldane (1892–1964) served on the battlefield during WW I communist party member (till 1949), freedom fighter during the Spanish Civil War took Indian citizenship (for India being “a better model for a possible world organisation”), Galton Eugenic Professor at UCL in 1933 head of the biometrics unit at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Kolkata from 1956
  15. 15. Haldane as founder of human genetics almost single-handedly developed mathematical theory of population genetics between WWI and WWII, along with Fisher, Penrose and Wright first demonstrated (with his sister) genetic linkage in mammals, certain genetic traits being likely to be inherited together mathematical linked natural selection as the central mechanism of evolution with Mendelian inheritance established human gene maps for haemophilia and colour blindness on the X chromosome, codified rule on sterility in the heterogametic sex of hybrids in species
  16. 16. ...and contributions to statistics “I have also made some minor discoveries in mathemat- ics.” JBS, ca. 1940 earliest method using maximum likelihood for estimating human linkage maps pioneering methods for estimating human mutation rates first estimates of mutation rate in humans and first notion that there is a “cost of natural selection” Bayesian Haldane’s (improper) prior early representation of the Bayes factor as associated with a mixture of priors (Etz and Wagenmaker, 2017)
  17. 17. Haldane and eugenics proponent then opponent to (mainstream) eugenism, supported human cloning (whom he christened) and artificial breeding of individuals, devised the name and concept of ectogenesis as a tool for creating “better” individuals, “[mental defect is] often not certified among the rich, although a glance at the press will convince anyone that they include a number of persons who satisfy the legal criterion of imbecility (...) any [sterilization] legislation which does not purport to apply, and is not actually ap- plied to all social classes alike, will probably be unjustly applied to the poor.” (J.B.S. Haldane, Nature, 1937)
  18. 18. References Desrosi`eres, A. (1998) The Politics of Large Numbers. Harvard U Press. Etz, A. and Wagenmakers, E.-J. (2017) J.B.S. Haldane’s contribution to the Bayes factor hypothesis test. Statistical Science, 32, 313-329. Kevles, D. (1984) In the Name of Eugenics. Harvard U Press [reprinted in 1995] Kevles, D. (1999) Eugenics and human rights. British Medical J, 319(7207): 435–438 Keynes, J.M. (1925) A short view on Russia. Lou¸c˜a, F. (2009) Emancipation Through Interaction – How Eugenics and Statistics Converged and Diverged. J History Biology 42, 649-684. Weiss, K.M. and Lambert, B.W.(2011) When the time seems ripe: eugenics, the Annals, and the subtle persistence of typological thinking. A Human Genetics, 75(3):334-43.