Hormones, Heredity, and Race
Spectacular Failure in Interwar Vienna
Publication Year: 2013
Paul Kammerer had spent years gathering zoological evidence on whether environmental change could alter heredity, using his research as the scientific foundation for a new kind of eugenics—one that challenged the racism growing in mainstream eugenics. By 1918, he drew on the pioneering research of two colleagues who studied how secretions shaped sexual attributes to argue that hormones could alter genes. After 1920, Julius Tandler employed a similar concept to restore the health and well-being of Vienna's war-weary citizens. Both men rejected the rigidly acting genes of the new genetics and instead crafted a biology of flexible heredity to justify eugenic reforms that respected human rights. But the interplay of science and personality with the social and political rise of fascism and with antisemitism undermined their ideas, leading to their spectacular failure.
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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...When years ago, as a graduate student, I read Arthur Koestler’s The Case of the Midwife Toad I was persuaded by its tale of how a well-meaning scientist had been framed and maybe even murdered by his enemies. Today, after a wonderful intellectual journey, I know better than to accept the simplicity of heroes and villains in history. But that knowledge has come with the often unwitting ...
1. Three Failed Scientists
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...Nature and nurture were pitted against one another for most of the twentieth century. In the minds of many, they still are. Is an attribute learned or instinctive? Or is it a mix, more learned or far more hereditary? This kind of separated partitioning was, however, not prominent at the beginning of the century. At that time, many important thinkers still accepted the long-held idea that...
Part I. Constructing Heredity
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2. Rehabilitating Sexuality: Degeneration versus Development
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...Richard von Krafft-Ebing was the acknowledged pioneer in the late nineteenth-century study of alternative sexualities, then considered deviant pathologies, and he was near the center of the Euro-American obsession with medicalizing sexual diversity in the early twentieth century. If, the thinking went, pathological sexual deviations from “the normal” could be classified, diagnosed, and ...
3. Paul Kammerer and Flexible Heredity
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...In the mid-1920s, the American psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a review of a book entitled The Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics. The book dealt with heredity, and Menninger, who explored humanity’s destructive tendencies, acknowledged that he had insufficient expertise to assess the book’s scientific merit. His assessment was based not on the science but on his psychiatric...
4. Sex, Race, and Heat Rats: Somatic Induction and the Double Gonad
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...Paul Kammerer had amassed good zoological evidence for the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This was one reason why he was at the center of so much controversy. But new cellular evidence on the mechanisms of heredity— the discovery of chromosomes and the stability and reappearance of attributes in hereditary transmission— raised important scientific questions that required ...
5. “Productive” Eugenics: Harnessing the Energies of Development
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...Paul Kammerer was a visionary– – so said his friend Hugo Iltis. He lived at a time when utopian visions of the new science of eugenics were emerging in biology, and his ideas on biology as a positive force in social evolution began to appear as early as 1910. In 1913, in Sind wir Sklaven der Vergangenheit oder Werkmeister der Zukunft? (Are we slaves of the past or masters of the future?), Kammerer expressed his ...
PART II. Reform Eugenics
6. Heredity, Glands, andHuman Constitutions
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...Paul Kammerer was convinced that his three converging principles, the inheritance of acquired characteristics, mutual aid as a principle of evolution, and offspring quality as a principle of fertility could transform humanity. Modifying the environment in humane ways that focused on the young would improve the species, while respecting human dignity and human rights. Quality nurturance ...
7. Tandler’s Eugenic Enigmas
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...Julius Tandler’s eugenic beliefs remain a series of enigmas; historical treatments of his reforms run the gamut. Some see him as a socialist hero, friend and savior to the working class, a physician of the people who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of working-class children. Others condemn him as a eugenicist, wielding political power to “reform” and remove what he saw as...
8. Working Jewish in Vienna
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...Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, Jewish people were expelled from the city of Vienna several times. Catholic prejudice, superstition, and religious intolerance combined with economic upheaval and competition to ensure severe persecution in which Jews were, for example, restricted to a few kinds of work and placed under great personal constraints. There had been...
9. Asymmetry, Failure, and Flexible Heredity
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...In his retrospective summary of the fifty-year history of the science of genetics written in 1950, Richard Goldschmidt celebrated the triumph of Mendelism. In the process. he used two phrases to dismiss the likes of Paul Kammerer, Julius Tandler, and others, who— heretically by 1950— had seriously explored the inheritance of acquired characteristics, attempting to reconcile it with chromosomal ...
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...For almost fifty years modern genetics was dominated by the so-called “central dogma,” framed by Sir Francis Crick in the 1960s. This is the idea that the flow of causal influence in heredity always moves from the genes outward to protein, organism, and environment, but not in the reverse direction, from environment, organism, or protein back to the genes. The central dogma represents the mid-twentieth...
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About the Author
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...Cheryl Logan was trained as an experimental psychologist and for several years conducted field research on wild songbirds. She now pursues a long-standing interest in the history of biology and the life sciences as an Emerita Professor of Psychology and History at the University of North Carolina Greensboro...
Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Studies in Modern Science, Technology, and the Environment
Series Editor Byline: Mark A. Largent