TOPEKA — A national group is urging the Kansas State Board of Education to reject on Tuesday a plan to delete coverage of the historical misuses of science from state curriculum standards, including a reference to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment targeting African-Americans.
“The board’s plan to whitewash the history of science is shameful,” said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. West sent a letter to the board on Monday opposing the change.
“Especially disturbing is the board’s proposal — during Black History month no less — to eliminate any mention of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment from the state curriculum, as well as any reference to the eugenics movement that targeted the disabled,” added West.
The Tuskegee experiment, which took place from the 1930s to the early 1970s, left nearly 400 African-American men untreated during the late stages of syphilis in order to collect medical data from their autopsies. Conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, the experiment is one of the most infamous examples of the abuse of human research subjects. President Clinton issued a formal apology for the experiment in 1997.
The eugenics movement, meanwhile, was an attempt to breed human beings by applying the principles of Darwinian biology, and for decades it was championed as good science by America’s leading evolutionary biologists and scientific organizations. This year marks the centennial of the world’s first eugenical sterilization law, passed by the Indiana legislature in March 1907. Kansas passed its own sterilization law in 1913.
“It is only by studying these past abuses that students — our scientists of the future — can learn about the critical importance of science operating within ethical standards,” wrote West to the board. “As has often been said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'”
Kansas’ current standards call for students to understand that: “modern science has been a successful enterprise that contributes to dramatic improvements in the human condition,” but also that “modern science can sometimes be abused by scientists and policymakers, leading to significant negative consequences for society and violations of human dignity (e.g., the eugenics movement in America and Germany; the Tuskegee syphilis experiments; and scientific justifications of eugenics and racism).”
The latter language would be deleted under the proposal to be voted on Tuesday, which is part of a package of changes being championed by the new pro-Darwin majority on the state board.