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Bestselling author to discuss the ‘dark history and troubling present of eugenics’

Mon, 02/27/2023

LAWRENCE — A scientist, broadcaster and bestselling author who focuses on the complicated, interwoven history of genetics and race will give a public seminar at the University of Kansas in early March.

Adam RutherfordAdam Rutherford will discuss “Eugenics and the Misuse of Mendel” at 5 p.m. March 7 at the Lied Center of Kansas Pavilion. During a reception following the talk, Rutherford will sign copies of his most recent book, “Control: The Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.” The Raven Book Store will be on hand to sell the book.

“The emergence and translation of (Austrian scientist Gregor) Mendel’s discoveries about genetics into English coincided with the rise of eugenics and provided its most devoted apostles with a biological mechanism to justify their bigotry,” Rutherford wrote in a preview of his seminar. “An ideological commitment to Mendelian pedigrees formed the pseudoscientific basis for mass sterilization and genocide.”

“We now have a much more sophisticated understanding of human genetics,” he wrote. “But this eugenic specter limps on in our culture, reinforcing a view of biology that is simplistic, deterministic and wrong.”

The seminar is sponsored by the KU Center for Genomics, which brings together both biomedical researchers and those using genomics to study fundamental biological questions of development, behavior, evolution and ecology.

“Dr. Rutherford is one of the most accomplished science communicators in the world and is especially adept at translating the mind-bogglingly complex concepts in genetics and evolution to nonspecialist audiences,” said Jennifer Raff, associate professor of anthropology and Center for Genomics advisory board member. “He is at the forefront of the movement to confront racist rhetoric with hard scientific data and challenge commonly held assumptions about heredity. The KU Center for Genomics is hoping that his visit will help inform essential conversations about science and society in our community.”     

Rutherford is a lecturer in biology and society at University College London. His doctoral research centered on development of the retina, but he now focuses on the interface between genetics and society, and public understanding of genetics, with a particular interest in the history and legacies of scientific racism and eugenics.

He has written several bestselling books, including “A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived” and “How to Argue With a Racist.” He also presents a number of radio programs for the BBC, including “The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry” and a series on eugenics called “Bad Blood.” 



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