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close-up photo of a researcher wearing a mask

One of the world’s leading universities — University College London (UCL) — has completed an inquiry into its support for the discredited pseudoscience of eugenics. Funds linked to Francis Galton, a racist who believed it was possible to improve the British population through selective breeding, and who founded the Eugenics Records Office at UCL in 1904, continue to line the university’s coffers to the value of more than £800,000 (US$1 million).

The inquiry’s report, released on 28 February, recommended renaming lecture theatres and buildings bearing Galton’s name and that of another prominent geneticist. Although this is welcome, it does not acknowledge just how much yesterday’s mistakes survive in modern science.

As I found while writing my 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science, geneticists today rightly treat eugenics as a laughable proposition, and the concept of biological race — the belief that humans can be subdivided into distinct groups with meaningful differences between them — as easily debunked nonsense. But this ignores how these ideas manifest in the real world. They can only be truly understood as age-old... see more