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Douglas Wahlsten

Professor Emeritus

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About Me

Doug Wahlsten took an early retirement package in 1999 and became Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta, an affiliation that continues today. His "retirement" agreement allowed him to maintain a lab at U of A and continue research funded by a $2 million grant from the NIMH in the USA. In 2004 the lab was moved to the University of Windsor where Doug returned to the classroom as Professor of Biological Sciences, and then in 2008 the lab moved to the University of North Carolina Greensboro where Doug became Visiting Professor. Finally the lab was closed in 2011 when the grant ended, and he moved back to Alberta.

Having no lab duties, he was able to focus attention on a work that had been in progress for many years, and in 2019 it was finally completed when Genes, Brain Function and Behavior was published by Elsevier/Academic Press. The book will be of interest to many in psychology and neuroscience, and it can serve as a text for advanced undergrad and graduate courses.

Recent work has continued the investigations of eugenics in Alberta that was begun in 1995 during the time of Leilani Muir's lawsuit against the government for wrongfully sterilizing her. Doug served as Editor for Muir's autobiography, A Whisper Past, that was published in 2014 by Friesen Press. Further details on her case and other former inmates of the Provincial Training School in Red Deer are provided at the Living Archives of Eugenics in Alberta (eugenicsarchive.ca).

 

Further work on eugenics in Alberta has culminated in a book chapter in the forthcoming work edited by Stahnisch and Kurebgovic (2019) and a review by Wahlsten (2019) of policies and procedures of the Aberta Eugenics Board. A synopsis of the Stahnisch and Kurebgovic chapter is provided here.

Synopsis: Eugenics as a doctrine and government policy arose in the 19th century before the birth of genetics as a science. It was based on an ancient notion of “like begets like” that was not derived from scientific investigation. Implementation of eugenic policies in Alberta and elsewhere began in the 20th century and continued for many years after the scientific principles of genetic transmission were well understood. The Alberta Eugenics Board did not apply the new knowledge to its practice of selective breeding of people through eugenic sterilization. It is shown here that information readily available to the Board in the 1950s and 1960s, when hundreds of children were forcibly sterilized, demonstrated the futility and error of eugenic policies. The actual change in intelligence arising from all those sterilizations must have been trivially small. Furthermore, abundant evidence indicated that impoverished environments contributed in a major way to low scores of many children on IQ tests during that period. The eugenic creed apparently blinded many politicians and practitioners to environmental sources of mental insufficiency.

Writing continues on articles based on extensive data collected on mice at three different universities. One article in 2014 showed how differences in test results at different universities can arise from effects of the specific experimenter who administers the tests. This continues the work first published in Science in 1999 that demonstrated how identical tests given at the U of A and two other universities yielded different data (Crabbe, Wahlsten and Dudek, 1999).

In 2006 Doug was given the Distinguished Scientist award by the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society (www.ibangs.org).

Doug owns Wood Frog Farm, a 160 acre nature preserve near Pigeon Lake, that has a conservation easement held by the Nature Conservancy of Canada on the title in perpetuity. The land is described in its own website: woodfrogfarm.ca.

References to recent publications:

Wahlsten, D. (2019) Genes, Brain Function and Behavior. New York: Elsevier/Academic Press.

Wahlsten, D. (2019) The consequences of eugenic sterilization in Alberta. In F. Stahnisch and E. Kurbegovic (Eds.), Eugenics: The Alberta Experience. Univ. of Athabasca Press, in press. 

Wahlsten, D. (2019) Policies and Procedures of the Alberta Eugenics Board 1950 to 1970. Forthcoming.

Muir, L. (2014) A Whisper Past. Childless after Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta, edited by D. Wahlsten. Friesen Press.

Bohlen, M., Hayes, E.R., Bohlen, B., Bailoo, J.D., Crabbe, J.C., and D. Wahlsten. (2014) Experimenter effects on behavioral test scores of eight inbred mouse strains under the influence of ethanol. Behavioural Brain Research, 272: 46-54.


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