Michael Gerson is taking cues from the ID cranks

Or is unintentionally channeling them is my conclusion from reading his latest WaPo Op-Ed entitled, “The Eugenics Temptation”. This Watson nonsense has somehow convinced all these conservatives that lurking beneath the surface of every scientist is a seething eugenicist, biting at the bit to escape and kill off all we see who are inferior. I’ve agreed with Gerson on a thing or two, but this essay is a real stinker.

“If you really are stupid,” Watson once contended, “I would call that a disease.” What is the name for the disease of a missing conscience?

Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science — and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.

The temptation is eugenics. Watson is correct that “we already accept” genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children. About 90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome are aborted in America. According to a recent study, about 40 percent of unborn children in Europe with one of 11 congenital defects don’t make it to birth.

This creates an inevitable tension within liberalism. The left in America positions itself as both the defender of egalitarianism and of unrestricted science. In the last presidential election, Sen. John Kerry pledged to “tear down every wall” that inhibited medical research. But what happens when certain scientific views lead to an erosion of the ideal of equality? Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a rising academic analyst of these trends, argues: “Watson is anti-egalitarian in the extreme. Science looks at human beings in their animal aspects. As animals, we are not always equal. It is precisely in the ways we are not simply animals that we are equal. So science, left to itself, poses a serious challenge to egalitarianism.”

“The left,” Levin continues, “finds itself increasingly disarmed against this challenge, as it grows increasingly uncomfortable with the necessarily transcendent basis of human equality.

Aside from the obvious absurdity of such statements, I find it offensive how willing these conservative commentators are to deny the humanity of scientists and liberals. For one, the data quoted in the article stands in direct contradiction to this statement. Think about it. “…90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome are aborted in America” so are 90% of us liberal? Are 90% of Down’s kids born to liberal parents? 90% of Down’s kids are born to evil eugenicists scientists? Of course not. But 100% of us are human, and humans have a very real tendency to want their children to be born with every advantage possible, as close to perfect as the parents can manage. This isn’t liberalism, this is human freaking nature, and if anything it exposes the hypocrisy of the right wing’s stance against abortion. They yell and scream it should be banned but clearly for large numbers of conservatives aborting fetuses for genetic disorders abortion is only proscribed for other people.

These attacks from Gerson and the ID cranks deny the humanity of scientists and liberals. They are based on small-minded and simplistic bigotries of right-wingers, that ignore their own participation in this problem, and try to lay the blame with those who have the decency to at least not be hypocrites. Further, there is not a trend towards eugenics among scientists as a group. This is a tendency in people, to want to improve their fitness and the fitness of their offspring. Scientists know that eugenics, historically, was not practiced in a scientifically-legitimate way but was instead racism masquerading as science. Ideology and bias was the basis of the eugenics movement, not rigorous observation and collection of data. If anything it’s the the Disco Institute’s behavior that resembles the bad science of eugenics. I tire of having members of my profession, and a broad swath of people being denigrated for being somehow morally incomplete and inhuman as if we are to blame for this tendency.

We will have to address the ethics of eliminating and propagating certain traits in our offspring as the science improves and we have the ability to screen for positive or negative traits. We’ve all seen Gattaca, we get it. But it doesn’t help when these assholes sit around saying it’s our problem, or a defect in our morality, when clearly they engage in this behavior too, only while hypocritically mouthing platitudes against it. We should acknowledge the desire to artificially improve the biology of our offspring is ultimately a very understandable motive for people, and instead of casting blame on the scientists who have figured out how it all works, come to an understanding of what will be acceptable and unacceptable based on a balance between the rights of individuals and society.