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Facing the Past

A piece of genetics' unsavory past is on display at New York University, the New York Times reports.

The exhibit, Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office, at the NYU Asian/Pacific/American Institute offers a look at the eugenics movement in the US and includes papers from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's eugenics office. The CSHL office opened in 1910 and received money from prominent New York families and institutions to pursue its goal of "breeding better citizens" through genetics, the Times says.

Within 10 years, it adds, the office was influencing immigration policy and forced sterilizations in the US. After the outbreak of World War II, the Times notes that public opinion swung against eugenics, a review by the Carnegie Institution said the office was biased and relied too much on anecdotal evidence, and the office closed in 1939.

"At the NYU exhibit, the ethical line between genetics and eugenics is blurred in every cabinet; legitimate science and blatant racism vie for space on every page," the Times says. "The reconstructed eugenics office can force viewers to think about the ethical implications of today's genetic research."