Watch Eugenics: Science's Greatest Scandal

  • 2019
  • 1 Season

In the early 20th century, eugenics was considered a legitimate science that aimed to improve genetic quality and create a superior human race. The BBC Four documentary "Eugenics: Science's Greatest Scandal" explores the history and legacy of eugenics, shedding light on the devastating impact that this pseudoscientific movement had on society.

The documentary takes the viewer on a journey through time, tracing the development of eugenics from its roots in the works of Francis Galton to its prominence in the United States and Europe in the early 20th century. It examines how eugenics shaped the policies of governments and institutions, leading to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people deemed "unfit" for reproduction.

One of the central figures in the documentary is Sir Francis Galton, the British scientist who coined the term "eugenics" and advocated for selective breeding to eliminate undesirable traits from the gene pool. Galton's ideas were embraced by the upper echelons of British society, and his work on eugenics helped pave the way for the implementation of eugenic policies in the United Kingdom.

The documentary also explores the role of the United States in the eugenics movement, particularly the infamous sterilization campaign that took place in California in the early 1900s. Under the guise of "scientific breeding," thousands of California residents were sterilized against their will, based on race, ethnicity, and perceived mental or physical deficiencies. The documentary delves into the devastating impact that these policies had on families and communities, and how they continue to resonate to this day.

The legacy of the eugenics movement is far-reaching, and the documentary shows how it paved the way for some of the darkest chapters in human history. The Nazi regime in Germany famously embraced eugenics, using it to justify the systematic murder of millions of people during the Holocaust. The documentary explores the disturbing parallels between Nazi eugenics policies and those of other countries, and how the legacy of eugenics continues to shape our understanding of race and genetics today.

Despite the profound ethical and moral shortcomings of eugenics, the movement continued to exert a powerful influence on scientific thought well into the 20th century. The documentary examines the ways in which eugenics influenced other fields, such as anthropology and psychology, and how its legacy continues to be felt today in contemporary debates around genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

Overall, "Eugenics: Science's Greatest Scandal" is a thought-provoking and deeply unsettling documentary that sheds light on a dark chapter in human history. It challenges us to confront the legacy of eugenics and the ways in which it continues to shape our understanding of genetics and race today.

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Episode 2
2. Episode 2
October 10, 2019
Science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson uncover the shocking story of eugenics, the controversial idea that the human race can be improved by selective breeding. It is commonly thought that eugenics disappeared after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, but the presenters discover how eugenic practices, such as the sterilisation of the poor, continued on a global scale for many more years. The presenters meet the victims of this ideology, including a woman who was sterilised. The presenters ask if eugenic-style attitudes towards the poor and disabled continue to shape today's society, and explore if breakthroughs in medicine, such as screening and gene editing, will combine with prejudice against the disabled to bring a form of eugenics back. They weigh the undoubted benefits of modern medicine with the possibility of their misuse in the name of human enhancement. They look into the story of the first attempts to edit the genomes of humans in China and explore the latest science on the issue of what's more important--nature or nurture.
Episode 1
1. Episode 1
October 3, 2019
Science journalist Angela Saini and disability rights activist Adam Pearson, reveal that eugenics - the controversial idea that was a driving force behind the Nazi death camps - originated in the upper echelons of the British scientific community. The presenters uncover how shocking eugenic beliefs permeated the British establishment and intelligentsia; supporters included figures such as Winston Churchill and Marie Stopes. They see how eugenics influenced the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, which resulted in thousands of disabled people being locked up for decades. Eugenics shaped immigration law, education policy and even town planning. The documentary uncovers disturbing links between British universities and German race scientists in the first half of the 20th century, and investigates how eugenics fed into the racist ideologies of Nazi Germany.
  • Premiere Date
    October 3, 2019