Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Rehabilitating Eugenics

By Michael Cook

Kits that charge thousands of dollars to genetically test consumers for genes with supposed links to social characteristics are heralding a new era of eugenics.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Ten years ago, in February 2001, the draft human genome sequence was published to great fanfare. US President Bill Clinton had celebrated the completion of the project the year before as if man had just landed on Mars: “Genome science will have a real impact on all our lives – and even more, on the lives of our children. It will revolutionise the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.”

That was the hype. The reality is impressive but hardly revolutionary. As Nature commented in its editorial, “the complexity of post-genome biology has dashed early hopes that this trickle of therapies would rapidly become a flood”.

Scientists are acutely aware of the gap between promise and performance. The battle against common diseases still has not advanced much because so many genes are involved. But somehow their battle-weary skepticism has failed to filter down to the science-dazzled public.

Biopolitical Times, an excellent blog based in California, has taken to running a brief feature called “gene of the week”. These are based on press releases from scientists (normally social scientists) proposing correlations between genes and personality types.

For instance the “slut gene” disposes people to one-night stands, there is a gene for being in a gang, and also an early-loss-of-virginity gene. There’s a “ruthless dictator...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Michael Cook is editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.