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Hormones, Heredity, and Race: Spectacular Failure in Interwar Vienna

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Hormones, Heredity, and Race
    Book Description:

    Early in the twentieth century, arguments about "nature" and "nurture" pitted a rigid genetic determinism against the idea that genes were flexible and open to environmental change. This book tells the story of three Viennese biologists-Paul Kammerer, Julius Tandler, and Eugen Steinach-who sought to show how the environment could shape heredity through the impact of hormones. It also explores the dynamic of failure through both scientific and social lenses. During World War I, the three men were well respected scientists; by 1934, one was dead by his own hand, another was in exile, and the third was subject to ridicule.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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5970-4
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Three Failed Scientists
    (pp. 1-14)

    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 persistent changes in the environment could alter the nature of heredity, so that an individual developed under the influence of heredity that was molded by his or her environment. There could even be several...


    • 2 Rehabilitating Sexuality: Degeneration versus Development
      (pp. 17-38)

      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 defined, they could also be managed. And management according to prevailing social standards would preserve sexual restraint, protect the healthy norm, and maintain a sexual division of labor by which men would control society and women would prevail in the home. Krafft-Ebing was known for his extensive...

    • 3 Paul Kammerer and Flexible Heredity
      (pp. 39-63)

      In the mid-1920s, the American psychiatrist Karl Menninger published a review of a book entitledThe 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 analysis of its author, Paul Kammerer. Menninger framed the review as a dialog between the missing patient (Kammerer), whose “symptoms” were reflected in the pages of the book, and his unsought-after therapist (Menninger). The patient, the psychiatrist concluded, was clinically paranoid. Through his writing,...

    • 4 Sex, Race, and Heat Rats: Somatic Induction and the Double Gonad
      (pp. 64-88)

      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 a different kind of answer. The validity of the idea no longer depended on zoological demonstrations like the ones that Kammerer had developed. Instead, evidence in physiology and cell biology was necessary to bring the concept into modern discussions framed by chromosomes and the...

    • 5 “Productive” Eugenics: Harnessing the Energies of Development
      (pp. 89-116)

      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, inSind wir Sklaven der Vergangenheit oder Werkmeister der Zukunft?(Are we slaves of the past or masters of the future?), Kammerer expressed his enduring hope for an improved humanity.¹ The advances he envisioned went beyond better living conditions, good housing, good nutrition, health, and medical reform. For Kammerer, life...


    • 6 Heredity, Glands, and Human Constitutions
      (pp. 119-142)

      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 could even instill a new ethic—a species-wide drive to help that would elevate humanity to a deeper morality. He had what he believed to be a solution to the troubled state of Central Europe at the end of the Great War. But Kammerer...

    • 7 Tandlerʹs Eugenic Enigmas
      (pp. 143-170)

      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 damaging and “inferior” people. Doris Byer states, “The decisive problem remained: who determined the border between the ‘natural’ and ‘social’ environment? The question of the boundary is the question of power.” Her treatment, however, acknowledges only natural...

    • 8 Working Jewish in Vienna
      (pp. 171-190)

      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 repeated calls to ban Jews completely from the city. As late as the 1750s, the Enlightenment empress Maria Theresa refused to speak to Jews. As a result, many Jews lived outside of Vienna, in regions of the empire such as Bohemia and Moravia. This changed...

    • 9 Asymmetry, Failure, and Flexible Heredity
      (pp. 191-201)

      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 cell division and Mendel’s laws. Lamarckism, Goldschmidt said, reflected an “historical oddity” of the young science; it was one of “the childhood diseases of genetics” in its youth.¹ By contrast, he compared the impact of “mature” genetics to that of Galileo;...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 202-204)

    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.¹ The central dogma represents the mid-twentieth century rejection of the possibility that environmental influences could act indirectly, through the body, on genes. But, since the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s, scientists have increasingly questioned the central dogma....

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 205-236)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 237-244)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)