Science in Courts

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    • 00:00


    • 00:09

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN: Hello.My name is Alison Dundes Renteln.I'm a professor of political science, anthropology, law,and public policy at the Universityof Southern California.The focus of our investigation today is science in courts.And we're going to look at the waysthat courts evaluate scientific knowledge, and the dangers

    • 00:31

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: that this poses.Part of the problem is what counts as expertise.How do legal systems evaluate what counts as science?We need to consider what is the proper role of expertsin the legal system, and perhaps come up with new waysto train judges to evaluate the scientific evidence that's

    • 00:54

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: presented, and also find ways of credentialing peoplewho serve as experts in court.Ultimately, when there are mistakesmade with public policy, when they're based on science thatturns out not to be justified, we alsoneed to consider methods of providing reparations.

    • 01:14

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: So this is a study in historic injustice,and what are the appropriate governmental responses.So eugenics was a movement in the late 19th century thatinvolved trying to find individuals who

    • 01:34

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: had socially desirable traits.So eugenics involves the terms good genes.And it's associated with Social Darwinismand the slogan that probably you've heard,the survival of the fittest.The term eugenics was coined by an English gentleman,Sir Francis Galton.

    • 01:56

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And he was interested in certain aspects of the theoryof his cousin, Charles Darwin.How do we define eugenics?Eugenics is the science of improvingthe qualities of a breed or species, especiallyof the human race, by careful selection of parents.

    • 02:16

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And so what we're going to explorewill be a set of policies that were adoptedon the basis of eugenics and what the implications arefor a democracy.Once the field of eugenics developed,

    • 02:37

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: there had to be methods of deciding whichpeople had the good genes.And so part of that social movementwas the use of is intelligence tests.One of the early forms of intelligence testingwas created by Binet and Simon.And they claimed that they could distinguishbetween native intelligence and acquired knowledge.

    • 03:00

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And eventually, these rudimentary testsbecame what was known as IQ tests.So Simon and Binet trained peopleto go and measure intelligence in different communities.And they found very high rates of so-called feeble-mindedness.

    • 03:21

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: Feeble-mindedness signifies a lack of intelligence,obviously.And they claimed that people who were in prisonswere feeble-minded, that women who were prostituteswere feeble-minded.And rather than beginning to questionthe validity of these IQ tests, instead, they

    • 03:45

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: argued that Americans should be afraid of the threatto the collective biological heritage of the society posedby these individuals who were feeble-minded.

    • 04:06

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: This field of eugenics, or pseudo-science,as we will later see, the fact that it came acrossas being scientific in nature lenta certain air of credibility to the claims of the eugenicists.And so it allowed them to promote their causeand make this movement a wildly popular movement.

    • 04:28

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And part of their effort was to persuade the governmentto adopt specific public policies to protect what wascalled the National Germplasm.I think what is important to recognizeis that while there is a genetic basisfor certain specific traits-- and that's

    • 04:49

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: what Mendel discovered, the monk,in terms of when he studied peas and he cross-bred them--the difference between the early work in geneticsand eugenicists was that eugenicists claimedthat certain traits, psychological and charactertraits, were innate.So they claimed that there was a genetic basis for sincerity

    • 05:12

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: and insincerity, truthfulness or lack of truthfulness,and so forth.And so they made the claim that biology determinedthe character of individuals.And hence, people who were feeble-minded,they equated that with a lack of moral character.In the history of the eugenics movement,

    • 05:35

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: there were certain key figures-- for example,Lombrosos, Cesare Lombroso.He was a professor of legal medicine at Turin.And he did studies of the cranial structuresof prisoners.And he argued that there was a genetic predispositionto criminality.

    • 05:56

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And he amassed a huge collection of skulls.And this has led to a popular movementto have repatriation of these skulls.But Lombroso's work exemplifies the risksassociated with making jumps from biological measurements

    • 06:18

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: to certain kinds of conclusions regarding the characterof particular people.So let's turn now to the public policies that eugenicistspromoted.There were different kinds of policies.So one kind of eugenic policy was positive eugenics,

    • 06:42

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: as it was called.And that has to do with encouragingpeople who have socially desirable traits to marry.One example of that might be in Singapore,where the prime minister offered subsidies to educated womenso that they could afford daycare,and even guaranteeing them spots in day care.So those would be examples of positive eugenics.

    • 07:05

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: The policies that cause-- give cause for alarmare those that are associated with negative eugenics.The policies associated with negative eugenicsare much more troublesome.For example, some eugenicists thought that the only wayto ensure that feeble-minded people would notthreaten the collective biological heritage

    • 07:27

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: of their societies was extermination.So genocide was one of the policiesthat some overzealous eugenicists promoted.Another policy favored by eugenicistswas restriction on marriage, so that peoplewho were known to have epilepsy or any other kind

    • 07:49

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: of serious disease would not be permittedto apply for marriage licenses.And this was also, in some states,used to prevent people who had a criminal record from marrying.Immigration quotas-- that's another exampleof the type of policy that eugenicists promoted.

    • 08:12

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And they-- based on their study of patternsof traits-- they believed that individualswho came from southern and eastern Europeshould not be allowed to come to the United States.So immigration restriction is another typeof public policy associated with eugenics.Some eugenicists promoted the idea of higher taxation,

    • 08:34

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: so that people who were not desirablecould not survive based on inherited wealth.Even prohibition, because some peoplebelieved that alcohol damaged the germplasm.And finally, the one that really I want to focus onis compulsory sterilization.This was the policy that resulted in a Supreme Court

    • 08:55

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: decision, Buck versus Bell, that looked atwhether forcing people to be sterilizedif they were deemed feeble-mindedwas consistent with the Constitution.Sterilization became more acceptableat the turn of the century, between 19th and 20th century,because there were less drastic techniques.

    • 09:17

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: Prior to the new techniques, the only methodwas castration, which obviously hadvery profound effects in terms of hormonal upset and so forth.But with the development of techniques like salpingectomy,the cutting and tying of the fallopian tubes,and vasectomy, the cutting and tying of the vas deferens,

    • 09:37

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: sterilization was easier.It involved fewer side effects.And it was more readily available.And many people supported the use of sterilization.For example, the prominent birth control advocate,Margaret Sanger, suggested that sterilization should beused as a way to lower taxes.

    • 09:58

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And so what we witness then is the use of sterilization,sometimes even in prisons, to sterilizepeople who were incarcerated.So this social movement began to gain momentum.And there were a number of organizations and actors

    • 10:20

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: that were part of the eugenics campaign.One main actor was the American Breeders Association, the ABA,which later became the American Genetics Association.In the government, they established the Eugenics RecordOffice to gather data, and to compile manuals, and to draft

    • 10:41

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: model laws.In Congress, the House Committee on Immigrationhired eugenicists to help develop public policies relatedto immigration quotas.The leading figure in all of this was Harry Laughlin.He was the eugenics expert who served the House Committee

    • 11:02

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: on Immigration.And he was responsible for these various manuals and model laws.And in fact, the law-- the model law that he draftedwas used by Virginia.And it was the law that was challengedin the famous Supreme Court case, Buck versus Bell.Indeed, the model law that Harry Laughlin draftedwas used by the Nazis to develop their law

    • 11:27

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: under Hitler's regime.Increasingly, states adopted lawspermitting eugenic sterilization.By 1925, 23 states had these types of laws.They were subject to challenges of various kinds-- for example

    • 11:49

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: that they violated equal protection,because only the people who had been institutionalizedwere being sterilized.Feeble-minded people who had not been institutionalizedand who still lived with their families or in the communitywere not subject to sterilization.In addition to equal protection, therewas a due process challenge that once a decision had

    • 12:09

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: been made to sterilize these individuals,they had no way to challenge that decision.And a third objection that was also raisedwas that this was cruel and unusual punishment,that to sterilize people in prisonsviolated the Eighth Amendment prohibition.So the eugenicists were concerned

    • 12:29

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: that the laws that were being adoptedwere being invalidated by courts.And they wanted to get the US Supreme Court to hand downa decision that would validate eugenic sterilization.And so they sought a test case.And the test case was Buck versus Bell.

    • 12:52

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: The case of Buck versus Bell is onethat's quite surprising, because the decision was writtenby Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, known as the patronsaint of civil liberties.And it's a very short court decision.And it shows that he was very much imbued with eugenic ideas.After the case was handed down, more states

    • 13:15

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: passed sterilization laws.And even though the frequency of eugenic sterilizationdid not increase, the potential for sterilization did increase.And ultimately, some 60,000 people in the United Stateswere sterilized under these eugenic laws.

    • 13:38

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: The field of eugenics was becomingincreasingly discredited.The scientific basis of it was shown to be spurious.Scientists began to realize that native intelligence wasa much more complex idea, and that it was also only oneof many elements making up a whole personality.The intelligence tests of Simon and Binet came under attack.

    • 14:01

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: And so really, the whole scientific basis of this fieldwas rejected.Nevertheless, the case that was based on this logic of eugenicshas never been overturned.It's still the law of the land.This case shows the risks associatedwith having courts base decisions

    • 14:22

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: on scientific knowledge.The case stands for the propositionthat sterilization of people without their consentis constitutional under some circumstances.And so we witness sterilization abuse,not only in the United States, but this alsooccurs around the world.And to some extent, the fact that the US Supreme Court

    • 14:45

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: validated this allows for this type of human rightsviolation to continue.The case of Buck versus Bell has notbeen overturned, even though the scientific basisof the decision has been entirely discredited.

    • 15:07

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: What lessons do we learn from this historical episodeof eugenics and the effect of it on the legal system?There are risks of having uncritical acceptanceof science.And this is partly a consequence of judgesnot having background to evaluate evidence

    • 15:29

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: about science, that experts present their knowledgewithout adequate attention to their credentials.When there is a paradigm shift in science,it can be difficult to change the law,so that even though the eugenics movement has been undermined,nevertheless, we still have Buck versus Bell-- a landmark

    • 15:50

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: case still is considered a precedent in our legal system.And finally, sterilization abuse can still occur,because the logic of eugenics is still part of our legal system.Let's consider some questions for reflection.What is the status of eugenics now?

    • 16:12

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: How does it differ from fields like sociobiology?Do you think that compulsory sterilizationis a defensible governmental policy?What are the implications of havingcompulsory sterilization?Is it ever justifiable?What are the class implications?If we recognize that most of the individuals who

    • 16:33

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: were subject to sterilization in institutions were women,we have to ask whether this social movement wassexist or misogynist.For further reading on the historical aspects of eugenics,I would recommend Mark Haller's book, Eugenics, HereditarianAttitudes in American Thought.

    • 16:56

      ALISON DUNDES RENTELN [continued]: Stephen Gould's book, The Mismeasure of Manis an important work on intelligence testing.And a film that discusses the roleof eugenics in the adoption of sterilization laws,In the Shadow of the Third Reich, Nazi Medicine-- that'sa documentary that you will find very interesting.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Science in Courts

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Professor Alison Dundes Renteln examines science in the courts, particularly focusing on eugenics. When eugenics was still considered a real science, many states permitted compulsory sterilization of people deemed to be a threat to the American genetic base. The Supreme Court upheld this policy, and even though eugenics has now been discredited, the precedent still stands.

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Science in Courts

Professor Alison Dundes Renteln examines science in the courts, particularly focusing on eugenics. When eugenics was still considered a real science, many states permitted compulsory sterilization of people deemed to be a threat to the American genetic base. The Supreme Court upheld this policy, and even though eugenics has now been discredited, the precedent still stands.

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