July 1, 2022

The company they keep

Why has Britain’s scientific establishment named its new research institute after a eugenicist?

“Europe’s superlab”, a £700 million research institute, the Francis Crick Institute, opens this year. It is Europe’s largest biomedical research centre, a partnership between six of the UK’s best known scientific and academic organisations – the government funded Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Wellcome Trust, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King’s College London.

It has been named after Sir Francis Crick, who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins.

But in times when universities are being battered for naming building and institutes after colonialists and racists, why has the UK’s science establishment named its “altar to biomedical science” (in the words of The Guardian) after an outspoken eugenicist?

This is a question posed by Philippa Taylor in her blog on Christian Medical Comment.

Crick was so convinced of the power of genetics that he even questioned the equality of “Negros”. In February 1971 he wrote in a letter to members of the American National Academy of Sciences that:

“more than half the difference between the average I.Q. of American whites and Negroes is due to genetic reasons, and will not be eliminated by any foreseeable change in the environment. Moreover I think the social consequences of this are likely to be rather serious unless steps are taken to recognize the situation…”

In 1970 he told Dr Bernard Davis, of Harvard Medical School, that people who were “poorly genetically endowed” should be sterilised:

“…My other suggestion is in an attempt to solve the problem of irresponsible people and especially those who are poorly endowed genetically having large numbers of unnecessary children. Because of their irresponsibility, it seems to me that for them, sterilization is the only answer and I would do this by bribery. It would probably pay society to offer such individuals something like £l,000 down and a pension of £5 a week over the age of 60. As you probably know, the bribe in India is a transistor radio and apparently there are plenty of takers.”

The name is doubly unfortunate, she suggests, because the focus of the new Institute is precisely developing the biomedical tools which will make do-it-yourself eugenics possible. Some people might forgiven for being sceptical of oaths taken never to engage in eugenics.

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Francis Crick