Posts Tagged ‘Genetics’

Trump Passes Law Allowing Gene Testing by Bosses

March 14, 2017

This is another, very chilling step towards genuine Fascism by Trump, who’s surrounded himself with Fascists and White Supremacists. In this piece from the David Pakman Show, the host and his producer, Louis, reveal how Trump introduced legislation that would permit employers to demand their employees take genetic tests and hand over information about the DNA. This was slipped past Congress when the public had their attention on the colossal mess that is Trumpcare. This overturns previous legislation which prevented employers from demanding such information, not least under US privacy laws. The legislation permits US employers to do this if they are running ‘wellness’ programmes. Pakman states that this is all about employers having the ability to charge people more for their healthcare, if they find out they have certain genetic conditions.

This is exactly what the authors Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald wished to expose and counter in their book, Exploding the Gene Myth (Boston: Beacon Press 1997).

The book is subtitled ‘How Genetic Information Is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators and Law Enforcers’. It’s about the way the above have tried to link illness and criminality to heredity since the 19th century, and how this has led to eugenics legislation in which the ‘genetically unfit’ were sterilised and institutionalised in order to prevent them breeding. Or else it was used as pretext to prevent the passage of welfare legislation. The argument here was that it would be a waste of resources supporting those, who were unable to work as their illness was down to their own faulty biological heredity, not the terrible working conditions and industrial hazards of the time.

Eugenics was a favourite topic amongst the European and American chattering classes from the late 19th century until it was discredited by the horrors of the Nazi regime during World War II. But Hubbard and Wald warned that it was coming back with the drive to find a genetic basis for illnesses like schizophrenia and other traits. The book has the following chapters

1. Of Genes and People
The Role of Genetics in Our Lives
Genes for Deafness, Genes for Being Raped
A Word about Scientists
Heredity and Environment
What Are Genes?

2. Genetic Labelling and Old Eugenics
The Birth of Eugenics
Genetic Labelling
Involuntary Sterilisation
Eugenic Immigration Policies.

3. The New Eugenics: Testing, Screening and Choice
Overt and Subtle Eugenics
Parenting, Disabilities and Selective Abortion
Genetic Screening
Fallacies of Genetic Prediction.

4. A Brief Look at Genetics
Heredity and Genes
The Beginning: Gregor Mendel, “Traits” and “Factors”
From Mendel to the Double Helix
Genes and Proteins
How Chromosomes and Genes Are Duplicated
X and Y: The Sex Chromosome
From DNA to RNA to Proteins
How Genes Function
Sequencing the Human Genome
RFLPs: Linking DNA with Traits

5. Genes in Context
Definitions of Health and Disease
Individualisation of Health and Illness
Genes as Blueprints
Diagnostic Labeling

6. “Inherited Tendencies”: Chronic Conditions
Some Underlying Assumptions
Conditions that Run in Families
High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and Strokes
Oncogenes and Anti-Oncogenes
Cancer Prevention and Cancer Screening
Breast Cancer
Cancer Prevention versus Cancer Therapy

7. “Inherited Tendencies”: Behaviours
Which Behaviours?
Problems of Linking Genes to Behaviour
Pitfalls of Behavioural Research: The XYY Fallacy

8. Manipulating Our Genes
Conventional Treatments for Inherited Conditions
Modifying DNA: Somatic Cell Manipulations
“Germ-Line Gene Therapy”: Changing Future Generations

9. Genes for Sale
Funds for Research, Profits for Biotechnology
Commercialisation and Conflicts of Interest
Owning the Genome
What to Do?

10. Genetic Discrimination:
Education, Employment and Insurance

Genetic Testing and the Schools
Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace
Measures in Counter Employment-Related Discrimination
Genetic Discrimination in Insurance

11. DNA-Based Identification Systems, Privacy, and Civil Liberties
DNA and the Criminal Justice System
Scientific Problems with DNA Profiles
Genetic Privacy and Civil Liberties
Employment- and Health-Related Issues
Controlling Genetic Information.

There is also a preface, in which they give their reasons and aims for writing the book, a conclusion and afterword, as well as an appendix on mitochondrial DNA, notes, glossary and a bibliography and list of other resources.

There were a series of scandals regarding the enforced genetic testing of employees in the ’80s and ’90s, one of which was compulsory genetic testing of a set of recruits in the US army. They also make it very clear that the insurance companies wanted to introduce it as a way of charging those with ‘faulty’ genes higher premiums.

And from that, it’s a very short step to eugenics and then the mass slaughter of the congenitally disabled under the Third Reich’s Aktion T4.

The forcible genetic testing of US recruits is mentioned in one of the books that came out on the X-Files, as an example of how the paranoid fantasies of the show nevertheless had a factual basis in this instance. To be fair to the Christian Right in the America, they are very hostile to sterilisation and eugenics. However, it’ll be interesting to see if they oppose this noxious piece of legislation. In much of the rhetoric of the religious right, such legislation is linked to oppressive, totalitarian states, like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. It’ll be interesting to see if they oppose it when it’s introduced by an ostensibly democratic government (yeah, I know, it ain’t really), dominated by big business and which is bitterly hostile to any kind of Socialism.

I don’t think you’ll see a word against it. As Pakman explains, when it came to voting, all the Republicans voted for it, all the Democrats against. And I doubt the right-wing Conspiracy fringe will oppose it either. Alex Jones on Infowars has been pumping out pro-Trump propaganda since the Orange Nazi’s election campaign. He wants Americans to believe that Trump is somehow ‘anti-globalist’, despite the fact that he’s stuffed his cabinet full of globalists and monopoly capitalists.

This is truly terrifying, as it does bring us once step closer to the genetic dystopia of the film Gattaca.

And it’s yet more proof of the Nazism at the core of Trump’s administration.

The War on Drugs, Racism and Eugenics in Modern America

January 29, 2016

There’s a particularly chilling passage in the chapter ‘The History of “Black Paranoia” in Cockburn and St. Clair’s End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, where they describe the revival and continuation of eugenics policies, including the use of castration and sterilisation, and the US government’s ‘war on drugs’. The chapter as a whole is intended to show that Black Americans have very good reason for not trusting the US government, considering the numerous policies that have been deliberately enacted against them. This has includes treating them as unwitting subjects for human experimentation, and the way crimes have been specifically framed by the legal authorities so that punishment bears down hardest on Blacks and other ethnic minorities. The various anti-drugs legislation is a case in point. Although middle class White Americans also used opium, marijuana and cocaine, the laws against them were formulated and promoted to specifically attack Blacks, Mexicans and Chinese, as a way of making them seem threateningly foreign. Cannabis was originally just called ‘hemp’. It was renamed ‘marijuana’ as a way of associating with Mexican workers, who were then competing with White workers in the Depression for jobs. It was associated with the racial threat supposedly posed by Black men, often using the crude imagery of school playground racial stereotype. One government headline screamed that ‘Negroes with Big Lips Lure White Women with Marijuana and Jazz.’ And all this was going on a mere few decades after one US cigarette manufacturer offered smokers cocaine-laced ciggies for their consumption.

The Destruction of Black Communities by the War on Drugs

Cockburn and St. Clair talk about the devastation wrought in downtown L.A. by the War on Drugs, which effectively turned poor Black neighbourhoods into war zones. Wards were walled off from each other, curfews imposed, and Black men were stopped and searched on the street. 89 per cent of those arrested were released without charge. Unemployment soared, as did the proportion of Blacks in US prisons. Poverty increased, and for the first in a century, the average Black life expectancy fell.

Fred Goodwin on Inner City Men Evolving Backwards

And as conditions in the inner cities deteriorated, there was a revival of eugenics. In 1992, Fred Goodwin, the director of ADAMHA, or the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, declared that the increase in Black violence in the inner cities may well have been due to a gene for violence. He recommended that a national biomedical campaign should be launched to isolate the gene and treat the gene’s carriers. In February of that year he gave a speech to the National Mental Health Advisory Council, in which he explicitly stated that violence had increased, as individuals in the jungle conditions of the inner cities had reverted to more ‘natural’ behaviour. He stated:

There are discussion of “biological correlates” and “biological markers”. The individuals have defective brains with detectable prefrontal changes that may well be predictive of later violence. The individuals have impaired intelligence, in this case “cognitive deficit” … Now, one could say that if some of the loss of social structure in this society, and particularly within the high impact inner city areas, has removed some of the civilising evolutionary things that we have built up and that maybe it isn’t just the careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all of the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilisation over thousands of years in our evolution.

Planting Electrodes in Brains to Control Violence

Cockburn and St. Clair link Goodwin’s attempt to find the genetic origins of violence and a medical treatment, with that of Lewis “Jolly” West, who presided over the neuropsychiatric institute at UCLA. In 1969 West announced his plan to plant electrodes in the brain of violent offenders, in order to control them. This caused such an outcry that he was forced to abandon his plans. There are shades here of the limiter in the BBC SF series, Blake’s 7. One of the early characters, Oleg Gan, had had a limiter – an electronic device designed to prevent him from killing anyone – implanted in his brain after he killed the Federation trooper, who’d raped his girlfriend. Blake’s 7 was a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ meets Star Wars, in which a motley crew of criminals led by the dissident Blake took on the totalitarian Federation. It was very much of its time, and strongly influenced by the medical abuse of psychiatry against dissidents in the former Soviet Union. West and his electrodes suggest that its creator, Terry Nation, the man, who gave children the world over the terrible joy of the Daleks, was also very much aware of the totalitarian tendencies in western science.

The Castration of the Violent

One of West’s own mentors was Dr Ernst Rodin, who was in charge of the Neurology department of Lafayette Clinic. He recommended neurosurgery and castration for the ‘dumb young males who riot’. His views were echoed by West after the Watts riots, but instead of surgery, West recommended sterilising them with cyproterone acetate. In 1972 he recommended that this should be carried out on the inmates in US prisons. This caused such an outcry that his funding was cut.

The Eugenic Sterilisation of the Unfit

Cockburn and St. Clair also cover the eugenics laws enacted in twelve US states in the first two decades of the last century. Between 1907 and 1964 about 63,678 people had been compulsorily sterilised in thirty states and one colony. But this was probably an underestimate of the true numbers of the policy’s victims. In 1974 Federal Judge Gerhard Gessell, reviewing the suit brought by them, declared that 100,000 to 150,000 people with low incomes had been sterilised annually over the past few years in federally funded programmes. Allan Chase, the author of a book on this, The Legacy of Malthus, states that this is comparable to the rate of the Nazis in their sterilisation campaign.

Such programmes were supposed to be voluntary, but Gessell ruled that an unknown number had been forced into it through the authorities threatening to take away their welfare benefits. Those most frequently targeted with this kind of pressure were women reliant on Medicaid to pay their bills for childbirth. One of the intended victims of this was Katie Relf, who successfully fought it off by locking herself into her room. Chase has estimated that by the end of the 1970s, the US was sterilising 200,000 citizens annually.

Winston Churchill, Eugenics, and the Bengal Famine

And the policy was not without its supporters over here. Winston Churchill also supported the policy, and wanted to see about 100,000 degenerates in the UK forcibly sterilised. This isn’t by far the most loathsome thing the great War Leader ever said or did. Last week, Secular Talk covered the story in the Independent that 40 per cent of Brits miss the Empire. The show covered a series of crimes against humanity committed by the Empire and its servants. These included the Amritsar Massacre, the incarceration of Afrikaaner women and children in concentration camps during the Boer War, and the Bengal Famine, in which 27 million people died of starvation. The wheat that could have fed them was diverted to British troops fighting in Europe in the Second World War. For the victims, Churchill had no sympathy. He said he hated Indians, and that it served them right for ‘breeding like rabbits’. He may have been the great leader who kept Europe free, but that doesn’t stop him from also being a moral slug.

Conclusion: Don’t Trust Those Who Claim to Have Found the Gene For Whatever

Apart from its main point – that American Blacks have every reason to be alienated and distrustful of the government and authorities, the chapter also shows how recently such racist attitudes were accepted by medical authorities, as well as the use of sterilisation against the poor generally. And it also provides very good reasons for being extremely distrustful of scientists when they claim to have found the gene for ‘X’. This includes the gene for schizophrenia, for homosexuality, and for violence. The latter surfaced yet again about a few months ago. Someone was claiming that extremely violent crims had a certain mutated chromosome. Then another biologist pointed out that roughly half of everybody also had the gene, and it didn’t make them into psychos. There’s a real danger here that if we pay too much attention to these scientists, we’ll be back with sterilisation and compulsory lobotomy. Just like the early 20th century and Nazis.

Florence on Government-Approved Pseudoscience In ME and the ‘Nudge Unit’

October 31, 2015

Yesterday I blogged on Mike’s article, criticising a highly dubious report by the Torygraph that scientists at Oxford had concluded that ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was all in one’s mind and could be cured through a mixture of exercise and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I took the view that this was basically pseudoscience. I got two highly interesting comments from Florence confirming this and providing further information. She writes

Reports in the literature from the USA on ME / CFS, The NIH for example, cite fMRI, PET scan (imaging of brain) evidence for CFS/ MEe, along with immunologic and inflammatory pathologies, ie it is a physical disease, with measurable physical changes in the patient. There are ample published critiques of the Oxford authors’ results, analysis and conclusions, poor experimental design and methods, and fatal flaws in the execution of the studies. Not least some medical researchers have raised ethical concerns regarding the Oxford Authors earlier PACE study, which is the basis for CBT/GET therapy in the UK. Indeed the IOM proposed a new name for the disease – Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, embedding the key concept of post-exercise malaise (mental or physical). So much for GET IN fact many of the committees and editorial boards of post-conference publications have expressly bewilderment and concern with the “UK model” of psychological illness. The prominence of this report in the national press demonstrates that these are the preferred Establishment scientists, and they are being rewarded for their work in providing (quasi) scientific support for a political view of this illness. Worrying.

In a nutshell, science has proven that ME is a real disease, and this tripe peddled in Oxford is purely politically motivated pseudoscience.

She adds

It dovetails nicely with the fake, and ethically-damned nudge unit foray into forced psychological “testing” of JSA claimants which was revealed a couple of years ago, plus the new forced CBT for JSA and ESA claimants in the Job Centres, illustrating the govt ideology that worklessness, like disability, is a psychological deficit in every individual. Many years ago I was asked to read & deliver my opinions on a number of publications by those working under Stalin (it was hard going). I took away a couple of things that remain relevant today. The Corporatist control of research, especially since Thatcher, has been quasi-Stalinist, and has been damaging to scientific research generally, but medical research in particular. Second, the current govt is following a descent into Stalinist state use of psychiatry and psychology against those it wants to control.

In other words, it’s just part of a general pseudoscientific model of illness that claims that somehow it’s all imaginary because this fits with Tory and Blairite attitudes to unemployment and those off sick through disability, in the same way that Stalinist policies corrupted science in the Soviet Union.

There are a number of very good books on pseudoscience, and the promotion of spurious, fake, and in the case of eugenics, murderous doctrines in the history of science. The one I mentioned yesterday was Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science.

Another book worth reading is Walter Gratzer’s The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception and Human Frailty (Oxford: OUP 2000).

Undergrowth Science Cover

This has chapters on the following fake science:

1. Blondlot and the N-Rays

2. Paradigms Enow: Some Mirages of Biology
Gurvich and his mitogenic radiation
The curse of the death-ray
Abderhalden and the protective enzymes
The case of the amorous toad
Memory transfer, or eat your mathematics.

3. Aberrations of Physics: Irving Langmuir Investigates
Capturing electrons
Allison’s magneto-optical effect.
Langmuir’s rules.

4. Nor any Drop to Drink: The Tale of Polywater

5. The Wider shores of Credulity
-This includes a number of weird ideas, including the controversy over Uri Geller and his supposed mental powers.

6. Energy Unlimited
– This is about Cold Fusion.

7. What the Doctor Ordered.
This includes a number of examples of extremely bad medicine, such as
-Ptosis, the doctrine that disease was caused by sagging organs, and which resulted in a fad of entirely
useless operation on perfectly healthy people, including their kidneys.
– Intestinal lavage, or colonic irrigation
– Surgical removal of parts of the colon to prevent aging.
– Monkey glands, or the surgical implantation of part of monkey testicles in order to rejuvenate people.
– Homeopathy.
– Drinking radium for your health.
– Lobotomy.

8. Science, Chauvinism and Bigotry.
This is about the growth of the nationalist belief of different countries in their own superiority as

9. The Climate of Fear:
The tragedy of Soviet genetics
The spread of the contagion
Soviet physics: idealism, pragmatism and the bomb
Is there a Marxist chemistry?

10. Science in the Third Reich: Bigotry, Racism and Extinction
The Roots of Fascist biology
The Ahnenerbe: Himmler the Intellectual
Die Deutsche Physik (German Physics): Its friends and enemies
A deutsche Chemie (German chemistry)
Anti-Semitism and mathematics
The consequences of the Nazi incursion into science.

11. Nature Nurtured: The Rise and Fall of Eugenics
The birth of eugenics
Eugenics and politics in Europe and America
Eugenics in the Third Reich
Eugenic nemesis in the Soviet Union
The rise and fall of eugenics: a pathological science.

Ever science Sir Francis Bacon and Descartes in the 17th century, science has been one of the most powerful forces in human society for extending human knowledge, and improving health, living conditions and industrial, technological and economic progress. But it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s made by humans, sometimes fallible human, who can make mistakes, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Some of this is caused when science is moulded by ideological, particular political forces, such as in the Third Reich and Stalin’s Russia. While these cases are notorious, the topic is still highly relevant today, when it seems that nearly every day the papers carry stories claiming that scientists have found the cure for this, or that a particular disease is in reality caused by such-and-such. In many cases scepticism is most certainly warranted. And in the cases of the model of disease now promoted by the DWP, these should be taken with a whole mountain of salt. It’s clear to me that Ian Duncan Smith’s and John Lo Cascio’s ideas on the origins of the disease in the unemployed should also be consigned to the dustbin of dodgy, politically motivated pseudoscience, to be included in future editions of book’s like Glatzer’s.