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a graphic with DNA and a lab technician

In 1923, Princeton University Press published “A Study of American Intelligence” by Carl Campbell Brigham, a eugenicist and professor of psychology at the university.

Brigham, like many men of his class and station at the time, believed in race hierarchy — of a natural order of humanity, with some groups at the top and others at the bottom. He was part of a national effort, among elites and ordinary citizens alike, to improve the “racial fitness” of the American people by restricting immigration and removing the undesirable through sterilization.

As one like-minded eugenicist, Robert M. Yerkes, wrote in his foreword to Brigham’s book, “The author presents not theories or opinions but facts. It behooves us to consider their reliability and their meaning, for no one of us as a citizen can afford to ignore the menace of race deterioration or the evident relations of immigration to national progress and welfare.”

As a scientist, Brigham would bring the laws of heredity and the study of intelligence to bear on the question of race hierarchy. He would purport to show, with scientific...