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UCL cancels eugenicist but not his eugenics

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THE label has changed, but the product is the same. University College London (UCL) is as much at the vanguard of Net Zero as it was for the eugenics movement. Describing itself today as ‘London’s global university’, with 51,000 students and £billions in research funding, UCL has considerable influence as an academic centre of climate crisis propaganda. Indeed, it is appropriate that the 1950s film of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four used the university’s imposing senate building as the Ministry of Truth.

In February 2017 we discovered that UCL was on the verge of renaming a lecture theatre named after one of its major benefactors, Sir Francis Galton. We wrote an article for Times Higher Education arguing that the ‘father of eugenics’ should not be erased from academic history. A UCL officer wrote to the editor denying the plan, and we found that our original source had been removed from the internet. 

However, soon after publication of our article, rumours began to circulate. By 2020 UCL had indeed ‘denamed’ spaces and buildings in Galton’s honour and in 2021 issued a ‘formal public apology’ for an undesirable legacy. The reason for the cancellation of Galton, his associate Karl Pearson and other scholars of a hundred years ago was their involvement in eugenics, a term coined by Galton. 

The decision to rename three areas associated with Galton, including the Galton Lecture Theatre, the Pearson Lecture Theatre and the Pearson Building was taken by the then President and Provost, physician Professor Michael Arthur, who appears to have caved in to pressure from ‘students, activists and staff, whose tireless efforts over many years made this a reality’, as he put it. Incidentally, and lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, the Galton Lecture Theatre, the Pearson Lecture Theatre and the Pearson Building were renamed respectively Lecture Theatres 115 and G22, and the North-West Wing.

The Galton Laboratory, established by the man himself, which enabled UCL to become ‘the first institution in the world to study human genetics as a science’, was originally named the Francis Galton Laboratory for the Study of National Eugenics. Decades after eugenics per se had ceased as a formal field of study, the title survived until 1967 when it became the Department of Human Genetics and Biometry. In 2013 the name was revised again to the Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment Community.

The contemporary reaction to the concept of eugenics is to recoil in horror. This endeavour to improve human heredity gained notoriety from the practices of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, with its ideology of an Aryan master race. It is unfair, however, to blame Galton for Nazi crimes against humanity. If Galton displayed racist attitudes, he was no different from the intelligentsia of the time; indeed, there were figures who wrote or said much worse things than he did, and who have not been cancelled by modern ‘progressive’ revisionists.

Take, for example, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, one of a group of prominent members of the Fabian Society who founded the London School of Economics in 1921. As a socialist, Shaw benefits from the Manichean law: he was on the side of good, and must have meant well. Tony Blair, prime minister at the time, unveiled the Fabian Window commemorating Shaw at the LSE in 2006. Blair declared that ‘a lot of the values that the Fabians and George Bernard Shaw stood for would be very recognisable – at least I hope they would – in today’s Labour Party’. 

There is a tendency to characterise eugenics as ‘right-wing’, but calls for sterilisation and euthanasia mostly came from the same political and intellectual sources of support for the Soviet experiment. Overlooked by Blair was the proposal of Shaw, in 1910, for gas chambers as a humane disposal of the undesirable elements of society.  

Actually, the most significant contribution of Galton and Pearson to the advancement of science was in the mathematical branch of statistics. They, respectively, developed two tests of correlation between variable which remain key to statistical training. However, Galton’s work in eugenics, now dismissed as pseudoscience, should not be airbrushed from his record. 

From his own words, it is clear that Galton was vexed about how to give the brightest young men an optimal education to nurture their talents. He considered this crucial to the progress of society. He referred to ‘judicious mating’ and wanted marriage to be ‘held in as high honour as in ancient Jewish times’. He toyed with ideas about positive breeding, but the other side of this coin was preventing procreation of tainted stock. Yet legislation of eugenics was the responsibility not of Galton but of politicians and ‘do-gooders’ in states such as California, which enacted sterilisation of ‘feeble-minded’ young women. Such policy was supported by eugenicist, Hitler enthusiast and alumna of UCL, Marie Stopes. Far from being cancelled, Stopes often appears in lists of the most important women in history.

Galton was a polymath who, according to his Wikipedia entry, contributed to meteorology (publishing the first weather map, now a staple of newspapers and television), psychology, criminology (use of fingerprinting) and, most notably, to the modern study of genetics. Yet, hypocritically, his detractors and his former university focus only on his links to eugenics, while continuing to reap the benefits of his pioneering work on genetics and his establishment of laboratories that made UCL a leading centre for the genetic study of disease.

UCL, despite its embarrassment about Galton, is actively engaged in what is arguably rebranded eugenics. This trajectory is described in co-author Niall McCrae’s book Green in Tooth and Claw (2024). Eugenics, discredited in the public mind by Nazi atrocities, needed a new set of clothes. Through the seminal work of eugenicist Julian Huxley, head of Unesco, a green cloak was donned. As the book explains, the claimed ecological crisis is a means of creating a technocratic elite, wielding total control of population and resources. 

On February 14 this year, Ben Rubin of UK Column News attended an event at UCL titled ‘Local to National: Achieving Green Transition’. UCL is in partnership with the Climate Reality Project, an activist network led by Al Gore, founded in the same year of publication of his prophecy of doom An Inconvenient Truth (2006). 

A recorded speech by Gore shown to the audience praised UCL for its commitment to Net Zero and ending the ‘fossil fuel complex’. Gore chastised oil-guzzling humankind for ‘using the sky as a sewer’. Adulation for this green billionaire was similar to that shown to Bill Gates in a meeting held by King’s College London experts during Covid-19. A leading speaker present was UCL professor of earth system science Mark Maslin, an extremist of the cause.  

The concept of social justice was prominent at the event, according to Rubin. Those attending could congratulate themselves on their ecological and emancipatory virtue, blissfully ignorant of how the Net Zero agenda will impoverish, enslave and ultimately depopulate the masses. UCL is a nursery for climate activists, whose academic credentials give a scientific sheen to their dismal enterprise. 

For UCL to cancel Galton while pushing Net Zero at every turn is an irony missed on that particular ivory tower. They cancelled Galton, but not his eugenics. 

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Niall McCrae and Roger Watson
Niall McCrae and Roger Watson
Dr Niall McCrae is a lecturer in mental health and Roger Watson is Professor of Nursing at the University of Hull.

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