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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gullibility of press and public and the mass seduction of pseudoscience

Originally published in 1922, this astonishingly prescient text has much to say about our understanding of genetics then (and now), and about the mass seduction of pseudoscience. Chesterton's was one of the few voices to oppose eugenics in the early twentieth century. He saw right through it as fraudulent on every level, and he predicted where it would lead, with great accuracy. His critics were legion; they reviled him as a reactionary, ridiculous, ignorant, hysterical, incoherent, and blindly prejudiced, noting with dismay that "his influence in leading people in the wrong way is considerable."
Yet Chesterton was right, and the consensus of scientists, political leaders, and the intelligentsia was wrong. Chesterton lived to see he horrors of Nazi Germany. This book is worth reading because, in retrospect, it is clear that Chesterton's arguments were perfectly sensible and deserving of an answer, and yet he was simply shouted down. And because the most repellent ideas of eugenics are being promoted again in the 21st century, under various guises. The editor of this edition has included many quotations from eugenicists of the 1920s, which read astonishingly like the words of contemporary prophets of doom. Some things never change -- including unfortunately, the gullibility of press and public. We human beings do not like to look back on our mistakes. But we should. Next (2006)

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