Let me start this off with a huge confession (and/or hidden shame) — I’m not a podcast person. Even though I spend an hour in my car every day getting to/from work, I listen to music, not to news or podcasts. However, today was a special day — as the first day of summer for my daughter, I woke up early to make breakfast, and for the first time in the last decade, had food before I left for work. Even crazier, since we don’t have to rush home early to pick up the little one from school, Ana Lobo and myself drove in together!
That is why I was listening to a podcast, you see — my wife is an avid aficionado (and also dislikes a lot of my thumpy music). After subjecting her to 30 seconds of Blow (2015), I relented and we switched to a podcast. In this case, Ana chose an episode of Science Vs. entitled “How Science Created Morons.” I assumed that it would be a podcast about some scientific theory, but wow, was I wrong.
Here be spoilers, so if you haven’t listened the podcast, I’d suggest you flip over to that, before you continue. You have been warned! :D
The story actually has a few distinct parts, starting with the fact that a scientist (a child psychologist) actually invented the term “moron”. Henry Goddard had created a scale for those deemed feeble-minded: idiots (the most stupid), imbeciles, and morons (almost intelligent). He then went on to write an entire book about how, using genetics, it could be proven that feeble-mindedness could (and was) passed down from generation to generation, and would soon be the scourge of the country (and soon, the world).
Fun fact: Goddard basically handed eugenicists scientific proof on a platter.
Funner fact: the Nazis used his book/science as the basis for their master race insanity/extermination scheme.
At this point in the podcast, I was basically ranting and sputtering, much to my wife’s consternation. The fact that I managed to also pilot the tonne of metal and plastic that I was driving is a pleasant surprise!
The latter portion of the podcast was then devoted to David Smith, and how he debunked the book/study, and Goddard’s work. We all know that, while genetics has some part to play in our development, environment also plays a huge part. However, Goddard’s work hadn’t been officially proven wrong; it had simply been swept under the rug after the horrors of what the Nazis and Japanese had perpetrated during WW2. Smith did significant research into Goddard’s work, and discovered that it was poorly researched at best, and completely fabricated at worst. So, some of the most horrible atrocities inflicted on people was done based on lies.
Funnest fact: we think that this would never happen in our enlightened age, but one simply has to examine Andrew Wakefield’s publication in The Lancet correlating the MMR vaccine with autism. Even though it was debunked, it took The Lancet nearly 12 years to retract the study, well after the damage was done. Thanks to “celebrity” spokespeople like Jenny McCarthy hyping it up, and stating that she would not vaccinate her children, millions of people followed her example. To this day, we have cases of diseases that were thought exterminated, or only cropping up in developing countries, having incredible resurgences.
All due to one person’s “work.”