Adam Rutherford

Lecturer in Biology and Society at University College London.

Dr Adam Rutherford is a lecturer in Biology and Society at University College London. His PhD was in the development of the retina, but his work now focuses on the interface between genetics and society, the public understanding of genetics, with a particular focus on the history and legacies of scientific racism and eugenics. He’s written several bestselling books, including A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, How to Argue With a Racist and most recently Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics. He also presents several radio programmes for the BBC, including the Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, and the series on eugenics called Bad Blood.

“Eugenics, and the misuse of Mendel”

The emergence and translation of Mendel’s discoveries about genetics into English coincided with the rise of eugenics, and provided its most devoted apostles with a biological mechanism to justify their bigotry. An ideological commitment to mendelian pedigrees formed the pseudoscientific basis for mass sterilisation and genocide. We now have a much more sophisticated understanding of human genetics, but this eugenic specter limps on in our culture, reinforcing a view of biology that is simplistic, deterministic and wrong.