April 14, 2024

More protests over eugenics, this time at Michigan State

A leading administrator has been sacked for his unpopular views

Stephen Hsu / Michigan State University

Away from the main battlegrounds of the war on racism and on the unresolved legacy of slavery in the United States, there are bitter skirmishes over eugenics.

This week Michigan State University's senior vice president of research and innovation Stephen Hsu walked the plank after vehement criticism of his views on inherited IQ. He will remain as a tenured professor of theoretical physics.

“I believe this is what is best for our university to continue our progress forward,” MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr explained. “The exchange of ideas is essential to higher education, and I fully support our faculty and their academic freedom to address the most difficult and controversial issues. But when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.”  

The controversy has become so heated that it is difficult to assess what it is all about. However, Dr Hsu has worked with BGI, a Chinese genome-sequencing company which is trying to market genome-sequencing for parents who want babies with high IQs.

In 2017, he co-founded a company called Genomic Prediction, which provides advanced genetic testing for IVF. According to its website its technology identifies “candidate embryos for implantation which are genetically normal” – screening for Down syndrome, for instance, which no one at MSU objected to.

What was controversial was Hsu’s suggestion that his company might be able to spot embryos with genes that make a high IQ more likely.

He has also defended the notion that people with higher intelligence are more useful to society. “If you study the history of science or technology, you're going to inevitably come to the conclusion that it's people who are of above average ability who make these breakthroughs and generate a disproportionate amount of value for humanity,” he told the Lansing State Journal in 2012.

Views like this were enough for critics on Twitter and elsewhere to tag his work as promoting “scientific racism, sexism, eugenicist research and conflicts of interest”.

Petitions for and against Hsu circulated on the internet. Harvard’s Professor Steven Pinker and about 1500 others argued that

The charges of racism and sexism against Dr. Hsu are unequivocally false and the purported evidence supporting these charges ranges from innuendo and rumor to outright lies. We highlight that there is zero concrete evidence that Hsu has performed his duties as VP in an unfair or biased manner. Therefore, removing Hsu from his post as VP would be to capitulate to rumor and character assassination.

But, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and his association with eugenics, Hsu was doomed. The #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia movement was influential on the MSU campus and its activists appear to have forced his resignation. (It argues that “Academia and STEM are global endeavors that sustain a racist system, where Black people are murdered.”)

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   

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