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Three book reviews

Andre Pichot’s version of the “Darwin caused Hitler” mythography is critiqued in the THES by Simon Underdown.

Rohan Maitzen at The Valve has a haunting review of Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost, coincidentally.

And Will Thomas has some things to say about Lorraine Gaston and Peter Gallison’s Objectivity at Ether Wave Propaganda.


  1. Allen Hazen Allen Hazen

    Underdown cites Pichot’s claim that “only” Bernard and Pasteur’s work (and not Darwin’s) was of direct practical benefit, but doesn’t subject it to withering scorn. Leaving this sort of nonsense uncriticized just gives comfort to the sort of cretin that thinks governments should support “applicable” research and allow mere “curiosity driven” research to wither!

    There are “new diseases,” and combatting them is
    about as practical a matter as any. But, if you look at the scientific approach to anything from AIDS to Swine Flu, you see phylogenetic and evolutionary concepts being employed on a daily basis: the effort to understand (and so be able to respond usefully to) novel diseases makes ESSENTIAL use of conceptual tools arising out of the development of Darwin’s curiosity-driven investigation in the hands of his successors.

  2. TomS TomS

    Underdown wrote:

    They occasionally used pseudo-Darwinian ideas to lend a veneer of respectability and rationality to their actions,

    Is it even the case that they used pseudo-Darwinian ideas? I’ve seen self-serving references to other biologists, such as Koch, Pasteur, or Mendel. And some of the precursors and contemporaries of Hitler were decidedly anti-Darwin.

    After all, the concept that purposeful intervention is needed to prevent deterioration of a population is quite the opposite of “darwinism”.

  3. John Wilkins John Wilkins

    I agree with you both. The Nazis used the notions of “racial hygiene” based on Koch and Pasteur, whereas you really have to squint to find anything evolutionary in their ideas.

  4. Wes Wes

    The “Darwin –> Hitler” crap is so obnoxious it just makes me want to slap every creationist I see. It’s a lot easier to find examples of Hitler referring to God and Jesus than referring to Darwin. Does that mean that Jesus –> Hitler? Of course not! Why, that would be silly.

    What’s really ridiculous about the whole thing is this idea that breeding people selectively like animals, and weeding out the “unfit”, could never have occurred to anyone before Darwin came along. Have these people not read Plato’s Republic? Or Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus? They both explicitly mention programs which by modern standards would be considered eugenics, and they were both written thousands of years before Hitler came along.

  5. TomS TomS

    One thing that I would like made clear about this is whether there was really any appeal to Darwin and “darwinism” made by these various social/political movements of the early 20th century.

    I have heard this from many people who are fully supportive of evolutionary biology. In the sense that they say things like, “Hitlerites misused evolution, or misunderstood it, or cynically tried for support from it, or made their stuff sound scientific by using evolutionary concepts.”

    • Wes Wes

      Eugenics began with Francis Galton (he actually coined the word), who was Darwin’s cousin. He appealed to Darwin’s ideas quite a bit, though Darwin himself was reluctant to embrace much of it.

      However, other historians have also pointed to what they call a “peace biology” movement around the same time that also appealed to Darwin’s ideas, but for a completely different political purpose. They don’t get as much attention as the eugenics movement, though.

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