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A Dangerous Idea

There is a dangerous idea that has threatened the American Dream from the very beginning. It is a strong current of biological determinism which views some groups, races and individuals as inherently superior to others and more deserving of fundamental rights. Despite the founders' assertion that 'all are created equal,' this idea was used to justify disenfranchising women, blacks and Native Americans from the earliest days of the Republic.

A DANGEROUS IDEA: EUGENICS, GENETICS AND THE AMERICAN DREAM reveals how this dangerous idea gained new traction in the 20th century with an increasing belief in the concept of an all-powerful 'gene' that predetermines who is worthy and who is not. The film reveals how this new genetic determinism provided an abhorrent rationale for state sanctioned crimes committed against America's poorest, most vulnerable citizens and for violations of the fundamental civil rights of untold millions.

Featuring interviews with social thinkers including Van Jones and Robert Reich as well as prominent scientists in many fields, A DANGEROUS IDEA is a radical reassessment of the meaning, use and misuse of gene science. Like no other film before it, this documentary brings to light how false scientific claims have rolled back long fought for gains in equality, and how powerful interests are poised once again to use the gene myth to unravel the American Dream.

'Yes, this is a dangerous idea--and if you want to better understand why, watch this film and see the history, development and presentation of this idea that there is a book of life, a program that determines, from the moment of conception, all that we are and can be. It is indeed one of the more dangerous ideas humans have come up with.' Barbara Katz Rothman, Professor of Sociology, City University of New York, Author, The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Implications of the Human Genome Project

'The never-ending challenge with eugenics is making that abhorrent history relevant to a contemporary audience. A Dangerous Idea meets that challenge by showing how the very same biological justifications of inequality that were used in the past to justify involuntary sterilization, slavery, and genocide are employed in the 21st century to justify anti-immigration policies, the gender pay gap, and racial health disparities. As modern science and modern medicine focus more and more on genetics, A Dangerous Idea reminds viewers that this obsession with genetics is employed by many to promote a vision of society made up of biological 'haves' and 'have nots'.' Dr. James Tabery, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, University of Utah, Author, Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture

'An essential and engaging work that I would like to see on the curriculum of every high school, and played in every library, in the United States. It highlights a shameful side of our society, the devaluation of racial minorities and the poor with supportive pseudoscience, which was mainstream policy for much of the nation's history...These corrosive ideas, accompanied by newer, equally bad science, are now back in full force. This film has appeared at the right time to help turn back this poisonous tide.' Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, New York Medical College, Founding Member, Council for Responsible Genetics

'An exceptionally important film. The scientific world is much too DNA centric and when this world view is sold to the public by the scientific elite, it could lead to the destruction of democratic societies. With the ability to manipulate and then sequence DNA, many scientists assumed that this information would lead to curing most diseases and making genetically modified plants that would feed the world...More complex diseases such as Alzheimer's and traits such as intelligence are not the result of simple genetics, but of the complex interactions between individuals, social, and environmental factors. Making policy decisions based upon genetics is not only dangerous, but also not scientifically valid.' Dr. Dave Schubert, Professor and Head, Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

'A Dangerous Idea is not only rich historic storytelling but an important reminder about the connection between science and equality; a subject that couldn't be more relevant. This film should be shown in schools as it is ripe for intense discussion and needs to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.' Aaron Leventman, Director of Programming, Santa Fe Film Festival

'An effective dissection of the genetic determinist worldview, rising again in new garb and aided by the Trump Administration. This documentary provides a timely rebuttal to those who continue to embrace this dogma, and offers a critique that both Liberals and Conservatives can readily converge behind.' Ralph Nader, political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney

'Extremely timely because of the new Trump administration and the threat of a new biologically determined politics. Trump takes an almost social Darwinian view of immigrants, women, people living in poverty and others. And that's dangerous.' Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California - Berkeley, Former U.S. Secretary of Labor


Main credits

Welch, Stephanie (editor of moving image work)
Welch, Stephanie (screenwriter)
Welch, Stephanie (film producer)
Welch, Stephanie (film director)
Kimbrell, Andrew (screenwriter)
Riffe, N. Jed (film producer)
Harvey, Neil (narrator)

Other credits

Editors, Maureen Gosling, Sara Maamouri, Stephanie Welch; composer, Jonathan Zalben; camera, Waldemar Hauschild [and 16 others].

Docuseek subjects

Distributor subjects

African-American Studies
American Democracy
American Studies
Civil Rights
History of Science
Human Rights
Indigenous Peoples
Native Americans
Race and Racism
Reproductive Rights
Science, Technology, Society
Social Psychology
Women's Studies


eugenics, genetics, gene science, determinism, disenfranchisement, sterilization, civil rights, Garland Allen, Ignacio Chapela, Barry Commoner, Troy Duster, Fidelma Fitzpatrick, Agustin Fuentes, Ruth Hubbard, Oliver James, Van Jones, Jay Joseph, Evelyn Fox Keller, Andrew Kimbrell, James Lefanu, Joseph J. Levin, Richard Lewontin, Robert Pollack, Robert Reich, William H. Tucker; "A Dangerous Idea"; Bullfrog Films; race, racism, class, classism, xenophobia, equality, refugees, immigration, poverty, social darwinism, inequality, anti-semitism, white nationalism, nazism, native americans, african americans, women, women's rights, inherited, welfare, human rights, intelligence, poverty; forced sterilization;