|Style over substance|
“”We must, if we are to be consistent, and if we're to have a real pedigree herd, mate the best of our men with the best of our women as often as possible, and the inferior men with the inferior women as seldom as possible, and bring up only the offspring of the best.
|—Plato, The Republic, Book V, Pt. VI|
Eugenics is the purported study of applying the principles of natural selection and selective breeding through altering human reproduction with the goal of changing the relative frequency of traits in a human population and manipulating human evolution. It hay have a good intention of eliminating genetic disorders, but mutated into the most notorious form of biological determinism in modern history.
 Origins in brief
Eugenics was first developed in the 19th century, an outgrowth of an intellectual milieu in the light of Charles Darwin's misguided influence which included a spate of works on genetic disorders (many of which are incurable horrors), "scientific racism" and the Social Darwinism of the likes of Herbert Spencer. The term "eugenics" was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, in his 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development. Galton was responsible for many of the early works of eugenics, including attempts to connect genetics with a most prized trait known as intelligence, which is now being tested by psychologists through "adopted twins" studies to see if identical twins in different environments mean identical raw IQ.
In the United States, it was the biologist Charles Davenport who laid the groundwork for the establishment of eugenics programs. Eugenics gained traction as it was championed by the nascent Progressive movement of the late 19th century into the early 20th century, finding prominent political proponents in presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. However, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Winston Churchill were also fans of eugenics.
Some eugenics-based ideas were implemented both in the United States and in Europe. In the U.S., this strongly influenced immigration policy, as in the Johnson Immigration Act of 1924, which showed a preference for Northern Europeans, as they were believed to be somehow superior to Asians and South and Eastern Europeans.
The first U.S. state to implement eugenics was Indiana, in 1907, in which those housed in penal and mental institutions could be forcibly sterilized. The first European country to implement forced sterilization was Denmark, in 1929. California was the third U.S. state to implement eugenics, in 1909. California would go on to become responsible for a third of all of the forced sterilizations conducted in the United States (~20,000 out of ~60,000).
North Carolina had a eugenics policy from 1929 through 1977. In 2012 a gubernatorial committee proposed a settlement of USD$50,000 to each of the remaining living
survivors victims of this policy.
The Supreme Court gave legal backing to forced sterilization using eugenic ideas in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, a eugenics proponent, wrote in the decision, "Three generations of imbeciles is enough." The Buck v. Bell decision encouraged more states to enact eugenics legislation. 23 states had such legislation prior to Buck v. Bell and 32 after. 18 states never had eugenics legislation.
 Fun with eugenics!
One way eugenics was popularized was through "Better Baby" contests. These contests were sponsored by hospitals to determine the most "fit" baby, who all happened to be WASPs, naturally. This was spun off into "Fitter Family" contests, which would be held at state fairs and carnivals to allow entire families to compete.
 Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany saw the most sweeping application of a eugenics program, which is unsurprising, given the Nazis' maniacal obsession with racial purity, or "racial hygiene" as they called it. The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was implemented within half a year of Hitler's rise to power, and resulted in the forced sterilization of up to 400.000 people that were diagnosed with hereditary mental or physical disabilities. After the outbreak of the war, this policy was carried to another extreme: people bearing hereditary defects were designated as "unfit to live," and the eugenics program moved from sterilization to extermination. Within the scope of "Action T4," an estimated 200,000 children and adults were systematically killed in order to avoid having to bear the costs of institutional care. Achieving racial purity through eugenics on a grand scale can also be seen as an important motivation behind the Holocaust, which saw the murder of millions of "undesirables," such as gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, the disabled, and Jews.
 Argumentum ad Hitlerum and the types of eugenics
Because of eugenics' association with Nazi Germany, a common bullshitting tactic is to declare some historical figure that endorsed eugenics a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer (see, e.g., Margaret Sanger). This is ahistorical as not every eugenics proponent supported the measures of Nazi Germany (or were even around to see it). Indeed, if this were the case, that would make US presidents such as Teddy and Silent Cal Nazis as well.
Galton divided eugenic practice into "positive" and "negative eugenics." The positive variety consisted of political and economic incentives, such as tax breaks and sex education, for the "fit" to reproduce and the negative type consisted of disincentives such as birth control or forced sterilization. "Dysgenics" refers to the deterioration of the human stock -- many eugenicists concentrated on "improvement" of the human race by reversing alleged dysgenic forces. There is also a split between "liberal eugenics" and "authoritarian eugenics." Liberal eugenics promotes consensual eugenic practice while authoritarian eugenics promotes state-mandated and enforced programs. Proponents personally emphasized different aspects of eugenics, positive, negative, dysgenic forces, etc. Thus, they often disagreed on matters of policy, much less were they all Nazis.
 The absurdity of eugenics
Eugenics is in itself not a valid science (just in case the pseudoscience sidebar didn't tip you off). The most obvious flaw with eugenics is that it conflates phenotypical (read:superficial) traits with genotypical traits. Even humans (or any species) that look fit on the outside may carry recessive traits that don't exhibit themselves but will be passed on.
The extreme reductionism of eugenics often crossed into what is now comical territory. Nearly every social behavior, including things such as "pauperism" and the vaguely defined "feeble-mindedness," could be traced back to a single genetic disorder according to eugenicists. Many works of eugenics recall the similar trend evident in phrenology (indeed, there was some overlap between eugenics and phrenology). An example of this fallacy occurs when a eugenicist tries to argue that stupid alcoholic parents mean stupid alcoholic children. Yes, there are logical reasons for discouraging stupidity and alcoholism in parenthood (e.g. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and risks of child abuse), but that does not mean that said children will follow their parents' stupidity and alcoholism because their genes told them to.
Racial purity, even though said "inferior races" do not produce an overall correlation with genetic disorders, was very often an element in eugenicist works. Eugenics drew heavily from various racist and racialist tracts of the period. This concept of "purity" is also flawed in that it creates many of the same problems as inbreeding — a loss of biodiversity can in fact lead to increased susceptibility to a common concentrated weakness. An example of this would be deer populations. A long time ago, natural selection selected for fitter males with antlers, but cue the rise of sport hunting and antlered populations plunged down fast. Another example of concentration is haemophilia which became the plague of the royal families.
The development of the field of epigenetics, i.e. heritable environmental factors in genetic expression that occur without change to underlying DNA structures, poses further problems for eugenics.
While eugenics gained widespread support in the early 20th century even within the scientific community of a number of nations, there was also strong opposition during this period. The biologist Raymond Pearl, for example, once a supporter of the movement, turned against it in the late 1920s. The geneticist Lancelot Hogben argued that eugenics relied on a false dichotomy of "nature vs. nurture" and that it infected science with political value judgments. Clarence Darrow famously denounced it as a "cult." The Carnegie Institute, which initially funded the Eugenics Record Office, withdrew its funding after a review of its research, leading to its closing in 1939.
 See also
- Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement and the archive of criticisms of eugenics
- Bibliography of works related to eugenics
- Eugenics and bioethics project, Georgetown University
- Eugenics and Its Shadow, New York University
- Eugenics and the German Medical Establishment, Humanitas International
- David Micklos and Elof Carlson. Engineering American Society: The Lesson of Eugenics. Nature Reviews, vol. 1, Dec. 2000.
- Paul A. Lombardo. Disability, Eugenics, and the Culture War. Saint Louis University Journal of Health Law and Policy.
- Diane B. Paul and Hamish G. Spencer. The Hidden Science of Eugenics. Nature, 374, 302-304 (23 March 1995)
- Kenneth L. Garver and Bettylee Garver. The Human Genome Project and Eugenic Concerns. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 54:148- 158, 1994
- Barron H. Lerner. The Black Stork: Eugenics and the death of “defective” babies in American medicine and motion pictures since 1915. N Engl J Med 1996; 335:527.
- Children of Tomorrow, a 1934 anti-eugenics flick
- ↑ All of Galton's writing on eugenics is archived at galton.org.
- ↑ People and Discoveries: Charles Davenport, PBS
- ↑ GE Allen. Eugenics and American social history, 1880-1950. Genome, 1989;31(2):885-9.
- ↑ Thomas Leonard. Mistaking Eugenics for Social Darwinism.
- ↑ Eugenic Laws Against Race Mixing, Paul Lombardo, University of Virginia.
- ↑ Brief History of American and European Eugenics Movements, excerpts from "A History of the American Eugenics Movement," University of Illinois, Ph.D. Thesis, 1988 by Barry Mehler
- ↑ Churchill and Eugenics, The Churchill Centre and Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms
- ↑ Eugenics in Indiana
- ↑ Bent Sigurd Hansen. Something Rotten in the State of Denmark: Eugenics and the Ascent of the Welfare State, in Eugenics and the Welfare State, eds. Gunnar Broberg and Nills-Roll Hansen.
- ↑ 
- ↑ Findlaw.com entry on Buck v. Bell (1927)
- ↑ "Georgia was the 32nd and last state to implement a sterilization law."
- ↑ Photography Changes Social and Cultural Hierarchies, Carol Squiers, click!
- ↑ "The Biological State: Nazi Racial Hygiene, 1933-1939", US Holocaust Memorial Museum
- ↑ "Final Solutions: Murderous Racial Hygiene, 1939-1945", US Holocaust Memorial Museum
- ↑ Liberal Eugenics: In Defense of Human Enhancement by Nicholas Agar
- ↑ VL Hilts. Obeying the laws of hereditary descent: phrenological views on inheritance and eugenics. J Hist Behav Sci. 1982 Jan;18(1):62-77.
- ↑ GE Allen. Eugenics and modern biology: critiques of eugenics, 1910-1945. Ann Hum Genet. 2011 May;75(3):314-25.
- ↑ Raymond Pearl's "Mingled Mess", Johns Hopkins Magazine
- ↑ Sahotra Sarkar. Lancelot Hogben, 1895-1975. Genetics, 142, 655-660 (March, 1996)
- ↑ "The Eugenics Cult," in Closing Arguments: Clarence Darrow on Religion, Law, and Society, ed. S.T. Joshi.  Reprint in Thoughts in a Haystack.
- ↑ Eugenics in New York, University of Vermont