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Survey: Americans Favor Education on Scientific Racism; Call for Famed Zoo, Museum to Apologize

scientific racism

According to a new nationwide survey conducted by Discovery Institute, 85 percent of American adults believe “it is important that students learn about the history of scientific racism in America.” Young adults under age 30 are even more supportive, with 93 percent saying it’s important for students to learn about America’s history of scientific racism.

Most Americans also think that two leading scientific institutions in New York City should apologize for their notorious actions promoting scientific racism in the first half of the 20th century.

Call for Apologies

In September 1906, the Bronx Zoo put African pygmy Ota Benga on display in a cage in its Monkey House as an evolutionary “missing link.” Nearly a quarter of a million Americans flocked to the zoo to see the demeaning spectacle. Some 67 percent of survey respondents say the zoo should apologize for having sponsored the display.

Instead, as noted by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow David Klinghoffer at Evolution News, current Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny has said about the caging of a human being in the Monkey House, “It’s certainly something that shouldn’t have happened.” “That is an anaemic excuse for an apology,” Klinghoffer commented.

The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, meanwhile, hosted two international conferences promoting eugenics, the effort by scientists to breed a better race by applying the principles of Darwinian biology. The conferences were held in 1921 and again in 1932, the year before Hitler came to power in Germany, quickly boosting eugenic efforts to new and catastrophic levels. The museum also mounted virulently racist exhibits to go along with the conferences. Again, 66 percent of American surveyed said they thought the museum should apologize for its role hosting the eugenics conferences.

Learn from the Past

“Most Americans realize we need to learn from the past,” said Dr. John West, Vice President of Discovery Institute. “But we can’t learn from the past if we cover it up.”

West is the writer and director of Human Zoos, a new multiple award-winning documentary that tells the shocking story of how thousands of indigenous peoples were put on public display in America in the early decades of the 20th century. The documentary also investigates the history of the American eugenics movement, and it exposes how the contemporary “alt-right” movement is seeking to resurrect the arguments of scientific racists and Social Darwinists from the past. 

“Scientific racism is still with us,” said West. “If we don’t confront those trying to promote it, we are asking for trouble. Human dignity needs to be defended in every generation.”

For reporting on the contemporary white nationalist movement and its promoting of Darwinian evolution, see “Evolution and the Alt-Right” and “Evolution and the Alt-Right, Continued,” by David Klinghoffer writing at Evolution News.

Human Zoos is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Prime video. More information about the documentary is available at a multimedia educational site, See below for survey results and methodology.

Survey Results

The following tables provide more detailed information about the survey results, including cross-tabulations comparing responses to the questions by gender, age, and party affiliation. Note: Some percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

1. Rate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following statement: It is important that students learn about the history of scientific racism in America.

Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree
All Respondents (n=1,032) 38% 47% 11% 4%
Men (n=483) 33% 49% 14% 4%
Women (n=547) 43% 46% 8% 3%
Age: 18-29 (n=194) 49% 44% 5% 2%
Age: 30-44 (n=280) 43% 45% 10% 2%
Age: 45-60 (n=279) 34% 50% 11% 5%
Age: 60+ (n=277) 30% 49% 16% 5%
Party: Democrats (n=325) 55% 38% 5% 2%
Party: Independents (n=494) 35% 50% 11% 3%
Party: Republicans (n=213) 20% 54% 19% 7%

2. In 1906, the Bronx Zoo in New York City publicly displayed an African man named Ota Benga in a cage with a chimpanzee in the zoo’s Monkey House. Should the zoo apologize for having sponsored this display?

Yes Now
All Respondents (n=1,051) 67% 35%
Men (n=491) 62% 38%
Women (n=558) 70% 30%
Age: 18-29 (n=203) 76% 24%
Age: 30-44 (n=285) 59% 41%
Age: 45-60 (n=282) 64% 36%
Age: 60+ (n=279) 67% 33%
Party: Democrats (n=330) 76% 24%
Party: Independents (n=501) 67% 33%
Party: Republicans (n=220) 48% 52%

3. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City hosted and promoted two international conferences advocating “eugenics,” the effort to breed a better race through forced sterilization and other methods. Both conferences included displays that demeaned non-white races. Should the Museum apologize for hosting these conferences?

Yes No
All Respondents (n=1,040) 66% 34%
Men (n=487) 61% 39%
Women (n=551) 70% 30%
Age: 18-29 (n=197) 76% 24%
Age: 30-44 (n=285) 60% 40%
Age: 45-60 (n=279) 62% 38%
Age: 60+ (n=277) 69% 31%
Party: Democrats (n=328) 77% 23%
Party: Independents (n=497) 64% 36%
Party: Republicans (n=215) 52% 48%

Survey Methodology

The data for this national survey was collected over the period May 1-7, 2018 by Discovery Institute using SurveyMonkey Audience, a national panel of more than 6 million people recruited from the 30+ million people who take SurveyMonkey surveys each month. The SurveyMonkey platform has been utilized for public opinion surveys by NBC News, the Los Angeles Times, and other media organizations. Survey respondents were randomly sampled from members of SurveyMonkey Audience in the United States who are 18 years of age or older, and there were 1,032  respondents for the overall survey. 

According to SurveyMonkey, “As with most online sampling, respondents have internet access and voluntarily joined a program to take surveys, so they’re representative of an online population. We automatically balance Contribute and Rewards panels according to census data of age and gender, while location tends to balance out naturally.” More information on how respondents are recruited for SurveyMonkey Audience is available here: 

Image: American Museum of Natural History, New York City, as it appeared in the 1920s when the 1921 Second International Eugenics Congress was held, H. Finkelstein & Son [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.