University College London has launched an urgent investigation after it emerged that one of its honorary academics had hosted secret conferences on eugenics and intelligence on its campus.
Dr James Thompson, a member of the university’s Psychology Department, is believed to have overseen the London Conference on Intelligence, which has been described by organisers as a series of presentations on “empirical studies of intelligence, personality and behaviour”, for the past three years.
Speakers who have given talks at the annual conference include white supremacists and a researcher who has previously advocated child rape.
The brochure for 2016’s conference includes the quote from Edward Thorndike, a notorious 19th-century American psychologist and geneticist, that reads: “Selective breeding can alter man’s capacity to learn, to keep sane, to cherish justice or to be happy.”
London-based student newspaper London Student has revealed that the conference dealt with topics such as the research on the alleged link between genetics and racial disparities regarding intelligence, the claim that racial “admixture” has a negative impact on the quality of the population, and the idea that “skin brightness” plays a role in global development.
We have suspended approval for any further conferences of this nature by the honorary lecturer and speakers pending our investigation into the case. As part of that investigation, we will be speaking to the honorary lecturer and seeking an explanation
– UCL Spokesperson
Speaking to the London Student, writer and geneticist Adam Rutherford described the views presented at the conference as a “pseudoscientific front for bog-standard, old-school racism”.
He explained: “As soon as you begin to speak about black people and IQ you have a problem, because genetically-speaking ‘black people’ aren’t one homogenous group. Any two people of recent African descent are likely to be more genetically distinct from each other than either of them is to anyone else in the world.”
Professor David Colquhoun also told of his disbelief that such an event could be hosted at the University, adding that Thompson “clearly doesn’t understand genetics”.
During his speech to a conference in Canada held by the International Society for Intelligence Research last year, Toby Young outlined the various attempts Thompson took to keep the eugenics conference secret.
According to Mr Young: “Attendees were only told the venue at the last minute, an anonymous ante-chamber at the end of a long corridor, called ‘lecture room 22’, and [were] asked not to share this information with anyone else.”
Dr Thompson has denied that the conference promotes eugenics, stating: “Eugenics is one topic, but many topics are discussed. The reason we have the meeting at UCL is due to the London School – the idea that intelligence is heritable.”
The university wants to uncover how Thompson was able to host such events without informing senior officials, who were unaware of the speakers who would be in attendance. A spokesperson for the university has stated: “We are an institution that is committed to free speech but also to combatting racism and sexism in all forms.”
“We have suspended approval for any further conferences of this nature by the honorary lecturer and speakers pending our investigation into the case. As part of that investigation, we will be speaking to the honorary lecturer and seeking an explanation”.