By Jaydee Hanson

from GeneWatch 31-1 | Jan-July 2018


A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream, 106 minutes. Directed by Stephanie Welch, produced by Stephanie Welch, N. Jed Riffe; Executive Producers: Mary R. Morgan, Andrew Kimbrell, Writers: Stephanie Welch, Andrew Kimbrell. Available from Bullfrog Films PO Box 149 Oley, PA 19547  $350 purchase, $95 to rent. Activist groups can request reduced purchase and rental rates.

A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream is a powerful new movie that explores how the idea of eugenics, first explored in the 1800s by Charles Darwin and his cousin, Francis Galton, gained new energy in the 20th Century. The myth that an all-powerful gene predetermines the worth of an individual became genetic determinism, and states from Virginia to California used this myth as a justification for state sanctioned crimes against their poorest and most vulnerable citizens, violating the civil rights of millions.

Directed by Stephanie Welch and written by Ms. Welch and Andrew Kimbrell, this documentary interviews social thinkers like Van Jones and Robert Reich along with key genetic scientists who are critical of the way genetic science has been used to argue against equal rights for all people. A Dangerous Idea radically reassesses the meaning, use and misuse of gene science. This documentary shows how false scientific claims were used to fight against gains in equality for all people and how powerful interests are again using a false representation of genetic science to push back against gains in racial and gender justice. Once again, the "gene myth" is attacking the American dream of liberty and justice for all.

While the film was completed before Donald Trump became the U.S. president, it is made timelier because of the Trump administration's threat of a new biologically determined politics. Trump takes an almost social Darwinian view of immigrants, women, and people living in poverty. A Dangerous Idea attacks the false science that underpins Donald Trump's complaint about too many people from [....hole] countries like Haiti wanting to come the U.S. and not enough from Norway. The great value of the film is that it critiques the new eugenics as a dangerous antidemocratic way of understanding human beings and society in the face of commonly accepted beliefs that genes determine destiny.

Ralph Nader, the political scientist and consumer advocate, calls the film "an effective dissection of the genetic determinist worldview, rising again in new garb and aided by the Trump Administration. This documentary provides a timely rebuttal to those who continue to embrace this dogma, and offers a critique that both Liberals and Conservatives can readily converge behind."

Barbara Katz Rothman, Professor of Sociology at City University of New York and author of The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Implications of the Human Genome Project, warns us about the gene myth and endorses the film: "Yes, this is a dangerous idea - and if you want to better understand why, watch this film and see the history, development and presentation of this idea that there is a book of life, a program that determines, from the moment of conception, all that we are and can be. It is indeed one of the more dangerous ideas humans have come up with."

Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College and a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics, gives the film a strong endorsement: "An essential and engaging work that I would like to see on the curriculum of every high school, and played in every library, in the United States. It highlights a shameful side of our society, the devaluation of racial minorities and the poor with supportive pseudoscience, which was mainstream policy for much of the nation's history ... These corrosive ideas, accompanied by newer, equally bad science, are now back in full force. This film has appeared at the right time to help turn back this poisonous tide."

The American Experience has always been about making the country more equal, not making it less equal. The false science of eugenics attempts to distort the American Dream with the false siren of inherent genetic inequality. This documentary reminds us that we need real political alignment to work together. It doesn't mean we will agree about everything, but we need to trust each other and not sell out for the sake of expediency or by following this false science that underpins false political narratives. This means planning, organizing and fundraising in accordance with our principles and values. A Dangerous Idea makes the strong case that eugenics and its sloppy genetic science have no place in our principles and values.

Jaydee Hanson is Policy Director for Human Genetics at the International Center for Technology Assessment.

Mr. Hanson notes that Andrew Kimbrell, the writer and producer of this documentary, is his supervisor.  The film has won top prizes for a documentary at the Santa Fe, NM and Savannah, GA Film Festivals. It has recently been shown at Howard University Law School in Washington DC and in Atlanta by Humanity in Action, in collaboration with National Center for Civil and Human Rights.


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