Subhadra Das: What part has science played in racism? (British scientist Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) © Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Subhadra Das: What part has science played in racism?

Historian and museum curator Subhadra Das explains how science history played a part in fuelling the racism seen in society today.

Not so long ago, English scientists believed that they could study differences between people and that certain ethnicities were ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others – of course, white Europeans were put at the top of any list.


In the 19th Century, anthropologist and statistician Francis Galton took this even further when he coined the term ‘eugenics’, the idea that science could better the human race by promoting the spread of certain genes, deemed ‘good’, and by halting the distribution of those deemed bad.

While these Victorian ideas have since been refuted and discarded by the scientific community, there are those in society that turn to race science in an attempt to justify their bigotry and racism.

Subhadra Das has spent the last eight years as a museum curator for the science collections at University College London, specialising in the history of scientific racism and the history of eugenics.

She tells us how Francis Galton’s idea spread through Victorian society, and why it’s important to understand science’s racist history in order for us to move forward.

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