In the next Perspectives on Science seminar, Marion Godman (Aarhus university) will give a talk on “The Nordic Racial Hygiene Studies: How Science becomes a Force for Cultural Domination“.

The seminar takes place in hybrid format in person and online via Zoom from 14:15 to 15:45 on Monday the 13th of January 2023. To join the seminar, please contact for the location or Zoom invitation.

Perspectives on Science is a weekly research seminar which brings together experts from science studies and philosophy of science. It is organized by TINT – Centre for Philosophy of Social Science at the University of Helsinki. More information about the seminar here.


This paper argues that science can become a force for cultural (group) dominance and thus is a topic ripe for scrutiny by political philosophy. I review the case of the Nordic racial hygiene studies – a branch of physical anthropology in the northern Nordic region in the early 20th century. I argue that although it is highly likely that there were racist biases and ideological influences affecting these researchers, this is not why we primarily should find fault with them. We should instead focus on condemning them for their epistemic conduct that means they abused the epistemic authority invested in them. As Michele Luchetti (2022) has argued for American craniologists active at the same time, there were serious problems that had to do with both circularity and coordination in the measurement assumptions employed – problems which were also pointed out to the researchers at the time, only to be ignored. It is this neglect coupled with the epistemic authority that I argue translates into a problem of reactivity and eventually new patterns of cultural dominance when these scientists interacted and disseminate their research results.  

So far, the moral problems of interactivity have mostly been seen from the purview of an individualistic research ethics framework. Based on this case, however, I try to show that it is really (also) a problem of political philosophy, in two ways: first, it is a problem for scientific institutions and their certification of scientific authority; and, second, the effects of scientific reactivity often lies at the level of populations (the kinds of people under study) and as such has their more troubling and lasting effects. 

Author bio:

Marion Godman is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus university, a core member of their Centre of Excellence of the Experimental Philosophy of Discrimination, (CEPDISC) and an affiliated scholar of the History and Philosophy of Science department, Cambridge university. Between 2012 and 2018 she was also based at Helsinki university working at TINT/Centre of Excellence in Philosophy of the Social Sciences.

She works on a range of issues with philosophy of biology, philosophy of social science & political philosophy and endeavours to find a synthesis between these different areas as can be seen in her first book, The Epistemology and Morality of Human Kinds (2020, Routledge).