Are the choices we make purely a function of free will shaped by life experience? Or, are our choices and accomplishments largely determined by predispositions and potentialities? Dr. Ann Lang, a professor of behavioral genetics, sought a deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms that shape us. Over the course of her research into heritable human characteristics, particularly intelligence, she discovered an unexpected family link to the very foundation of the once discredited and a now revived branch of human genetics. In the course of her work and evolving personal life, she is confronted by choices that would subordinated collective moral values to emerging social and political imperatives - forces that promise the advancement of human potential.
Nigel began work at Karl Pearson's well-funded Eugenics Record Office at University College on May 1, 1910. After a brief orientation during which he was told, "The principle goal of the ERO is without political agenda, but is in fact a search for truth," his initial assignment was to perform the complex calculus linking what were thought to be inherited characteristics with the proximity of familial relationships. He worked in a room with long tables amidst mostly women. Pearson employed top female graduates in mathematics because he was able to pay them less. Although the makeup of his co-workers required some adjustment, in time Nigel adapted to the personal chatter, and was able to engage in conversation during rare interludes between silent working. His duties required intense concentration, as the computations were laborious. Distractions easily produced errors that were hard to locate after the fact. While the women worked without complaint, Wellbourne grew weary of the tedium. Fortunately, each worker was given a complete data set regarding some particular human characteristic. Nigel had been lucky that he was initially assigned calculations related to observed intelligence. He found the subject of his particular calculations to be of much greater interest than studies of the more distasteful human characteristics, such as drunkenness, disease, licentiousness, physical malformation, nomadism, and similar symptoms of wantonness and degeneracy. Such were the range of "defectives," as eugencists termed it, that were studied at the lab. To keep himself fully engaged, he looked for ways to improve the research process. Not long after beginning his job, Wellbourne observed that comparing subjective ratings of student intellect with the proximity of familial relationships would not enable the precise measurement that the nature of the problem warranted. Absent the proof of a Gaussian distribution, and with a relatively small sample of data, he repeatedly asserted to anyone who would listen that Spearman's statistical approach would have been a better choice.
[Of such finicky parsing are scholars made.]
He had said so in several formal letters to his superiors. After first being taken aback by criticism from a new employee, they ultimately conceded his point. It was a bold move, given the well-known rivalry between Karl Pearson and Charles Spearman, acknowledged leaders in the field of statistical computation.
Although the ERO's calculation methods were not modified, his superiors began to pay closer attention to Wellbourne. They had seen in him something that, though peculiar, might augur a more significant future role. Not long after he sent his last letter on calculation methods, Wellbourne penned another recommendation. Examining the files where the field-workers' case notes were kept, Nigel concluded that the coding system could be improved. He proposed that each case questionnaire would be given a five-place category code. The first digit, on a scale from one to four, would indicate intelligence, with 1 being superior and 4 deficient. The second digit would be numerically coded to indicate temperament, such as lunacy, pauperism, criminality, promiscuity, well adjusted and the like. The third code would indicate morphology, or peculiar physical characteristics, such as head or extremity deformities, or movement anomalies. The fourth would indicate any special ability, such as math skills, musicality, or athleticism. The fifth would be a familial or surname indicator to indicate family groupings. Admittedly more laborious, his approach would enable researchers to quickly spot patterns within and between characteristics. One could see at a glance at the files that those with exceptional math skills, for example, tended to have higher ratings of intellect.
Wellbourne's superiors were so impressed with his thinking that they hired additional workers to put his coding system into effect. He was placed in charge of training his co-worers, and immediately hung a large sign that explained his coding structure over the work area.
Before the year was up, Wellbourne, who had also begun to travel extensively throughout England to document a wide range of inherited degeneracy, was recognized for his superior contributions. As a result, he came to the attention of Karl Pearson. Pearson had one of his assistants invite Wellbourne to a speech he was to give at the Royal Society. Wellbourne valued the invitation for the direct exposure it provided to the leaders of the eugenics movement. On the cusp of a new decade, he could see that the movement was to take on a much more prominent global position among the intellectual elites.
The night of Pearson's lecture, Wellbourne was detained by his young daughter's illness. Concerned for the health of two-year-old Gracie, Gemma requested that Nigel abandon his plan to attend. Her insistence added considerable tension to his evening, but once the situation at home was seemingly under control, he departed in haste, and arrived at the lecture hall well into Pearson's talk.
"Ladies and gentlemen, as you may know, many acclaimed figures such as G.B. Shaw and the noted Havelock Ellis, as well as your humble speaker, can assert with confidence that class distinctions are indeed barriers to optimal marriage. It must be that our values, our social structures, and indeed our government should be constrained in ways to limit such class distinctions. Accordingly, it is only through optimal marriage between the classes that we can begin to achieve our ultimate aim of scientific propagation. Let me just add parenthetically that my dear cousin Darwin, a social Darwinist himself," he said chuckling, " eventually came to believe that biology is destiny, and in that he, too, like many here present, should have by now much more unreservedly concluded that genius is the greatest of all biological inheritances."
Thunderous clapping punctuated by boisterous shouts of approbation erupted from the gentlemen there assembled, after which Pearson took a few questions.
"Sir, allow me to express my appreciation for your talk. Now, if I may, where do you think Great Britain stands in all this? In other words, what must our nation do?"
"Thank you for those kind words. Let me just say that the ascendancy of the nation, the ascendency of man himself, depends on morality, and morality in turn depends on biological fitness, which I believe can only be achieved through national socialism. If I may be so bold, let me just say that thus far our present civilization has only made the world safe for stupidity."
(I gather that by saying this, he is alluding to social welfare programs.)
Shocked by the assertion, which in its abruptness pointed to a profound truth as they saw it, after a sustained silence, the audience guffawed loudly. It was as if they had finally gotten a most clever joke.
Pearson went on, "Can we not say, then, as in Mendelian science, that just as we have improved plant and animal species, so too we can improve the race of men? But that work must begin at once, and must not stall because of the faint-hearted interventions of those who would maintain the status quo. For even now, my research shows a nervous weakness among our people, a neuropathic taint, the balm for which can only be an improved germ plasm. The revised laws of heredity suggest that human populations can be permanently improved only by biological manipulation. As we have shown, the force of heredity appears to be powerful enough for features like intelligence, so as to dictate selective breeding as the only means of achieving greater social strength. And in consequence, the nation must intercede, because Britain has ceased to breed for intelligence. To that end, it must be social imperialism for our nation. Even now, the demographic trend is dangerous. Population growth comes from the least fit segment, the unfit, which is in my estimation a product of capitalism, and its concomitant demand for cheap labor. Schools cannot correct the problem. No amount of education will help. You must breed it. "
More cheers, as our man Wellbourne was similarly swept up in thrall of Pearson's stunning genius. To Wellbourne, Pearson was a first-rate man, fundamentally sound, and among the ablest of fellows. In thinking that, Wellbourne had at last made the connection between his own vague thoughts formed so long ago, and this new mandate to elevate man himself beyond mere abstractions, to a more pure and noble self. Eugenics, Wellbourne confirmed then, must indeed be his life's purpose, his mission, and his work. He could not wait to get back to the office, but first he must go home to his wife and ailing daughter.
(Bollocks! That was just crazy talk from Pearson. His smug...