In Brief

What is eugenics and why are Tory aides interested in it?

Pressure mounts on Downing Street to sack aide who praised merits of selective programme

Boris Johnson is under pressure to sack a 27-year-old adviser who praised the merits of eugenics.

It has been revealed that Andrew Sabisky, who was appointed by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, said in 2016: “Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things. Intelligence is largely inherited and correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness.”

Eugenics refers to the belief and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population by excluding genetic groups judged to be inferior, and promoting genetic groups judged to be superior.

As Kenan Malik wrote in The Guardian, eugenicists believe the state should “encourage the ‘enlightened’ to have more children and discourage the lower orders, whether the poor, the disabled or the immigrant, from breeding”.

This controversial concept began with Plato but has in more recent terms been linked to Nazi Germany and then the white supremacy movement.

Sabisky’s comments are potentially embarrassing for the government and there has already been criticism from within the Conservative Party. The FT says a Tory official has asked: “Would a minister survive if remarks like that came to light?”

However, Cummings himself has written about eugenics. In a 2013 blogpost, he cited research that concluded that discovering “genes responsible for general cognitive ability and specific abilities and disabilities” would “enable truly personalised education including early intervention for specific learning difficulties”.

Cummings also highlighted a study from the geneticist Robert Plomin, which he said showed 70% of a child’s educational performance came down to “heritability” genes.

He added: “When forced to confront such scientific developments, the education world and politicians are likely to handle them badly partly because there is such strong resistance across the political spectrum to accepting scientific evidence on genetics.”

Turning to education, Cummings argued that: “a child's performance has more to do with genetic makeup than the standard of his or her education”. Writing in New Scientist, Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology, said Cummings beliefs were “sheer fantasy”.

In response to controversy when his remarks were widely shared, Cummings insisted that he had “warned of the dangers of public debates being confused by misunderstanding of such technical terms”.

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