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September 27, 2006 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-09-27

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Continued from page 10B
of a not very strict standard of mental
selection in our present methods of civi-
And yet compared to some of the com-
pany he kept at the conference, Little
comes across almost as soft and compas-
sionate. Appealing to a strain of xenopho-
bia so base it would make even the campus
organizers of "Catch an Illegal Immigrant
Day" flinch, the chairman of the Commit-
tee on Immigration and Naturalization of
the U.S. House of Representatives made
this observation is a speech titled "The
Menace of the Melting Pot Myth": "History
records that the Founders of the Republic
felt keenly that the indiscriminate min-
gling of varied races and inharmonious
cultures constituted a danger to the suc-
cess of the great experiment that they had
launched upon the seas of time." Certainly,
the Smithsonian Institution would no lon-
ger advocate the racist views a curator
from its division of physical anthropology
shared at the Race Betterment Conference:
"The limited influx of white (blood) into
the colored blood is a gain to the latter.
The danger lies in the colored stream flow-
ing eventually wholly into the body of the

larger white group."
The relative moderation of Little's com-
ments at the conference might reflect a
degree of tolerance in his thought, his
eugenic views notwithstanding. It's per-
haps more likely that after the criticism he
received for advocating birth control, Lit-
tle had learned to temper, at least slightly,
his controversial views.
Little ultimately didn't have much suc-
cess avoiding turmoil. In addition to
criticism for his views on birth control,
eugenics and euthanasia, Little's often
combative personal style - and his divorce,
at a time when such things simply weren't
done - didn't win him many friends in
Ann Arbor. He resigned the presidency in
1929, and spent the next 25 years research-
ing eugenics and cancer research at a pri-
vate institute, the Jackson Laboratory.
His lifelong support for eugenics aside,
the final phase of Little's career leaves his
character rather in doubt. After leaving the
Jackson Laboratory in 1954, Little became
the first scientific director of the Tobacco
Industry Research Committee, an organi-
zation funded by the tobacco companies
themselves. As a respected geneticist skep-
tical of environmental causes of cancer as
well as of statistical epidemiological stud-
ies, Little was the perfect scientific mer-
cenary to defend Big Tobacco against an

increasing consensus that smoking caused
Little's critics during his time at the Uni-
versity found that the President was stub-
born; that tenacity helped him hold on to
scientific beliefs as they fell out of fashion.
He persisted in his support for eugenics
after its disastrous application in Germa-
ny; he continued defending cigarettes until
his retirement at age 81 in 1969. For those
keeping score at home, that's five years
after a prominent 1964 report by the U.S.
surgeon general linked smoking to cancer
and other diseases.
It's perhaps unfair to judge historical
figures by today's standards: We don't
ignore George Washington's or Thomas
Jefferson's contributions to our nation,
even though both were slave owners. Little,
however, was a controversial and arguably
immoral figure even in his own day. It cer-
tainly seems he should have known better
in his old age than to continue defending
the tobacco companies.
Yet a closer examination of his ideas
reveals he wasn't always off base.
Euthanasia, which Little supported,
remains divisive and got Jack Kevorkian
(or "Dr. Death") thrown in prison decades
later. Eugenics has become unspeakable
- though some of its principles live on
more or less benignly in genetic counsel-

Little was the
perfect scientific
method to defend
Big Tobacco
against an increas-
ing consensus
that smoking
caused cancer.
But birth control, which was shocking
in Little's day, is mainstream today. The
exponential population growth that led
Malthusian fears in Little's day has leveled
off, at least in the developed world. His-
torical figures like Clarence Cook Little
might seem amoral at best viewed in the
light of their own day and grossly immoral
by today's standards. They nonetheless
can wind up contributing to what we today
view as right and just.

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