Home / Technology and Science / Eugenics and Francis Galton: Crash Course History of Science #23

Eugenics and Francis Galton: Crash Course History of Science #23

After Darwin blew the doorways off the medical group, so much of folks did some bizarre and unscientific stuff along with his concepts. Francis Galton and a couple of others determined herbal variety may well be used to make the human race “higher” and got here up with Eugenics.


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  1. In regards to a common question in the comments: "Why was Eugenics bad/bad science, a terrible idea, etc…" Here are responses from our writer and consultant. Thanks for being curious, y'all! 🙂

    Response 1:

    Super short version, there were a number of serious problems from the jump.

    For one, eugenics assumed that people are like plants or nonhuman animals: driven primarily by instinct, capable of only so much change in a lifetime—basically, products of “nature,” not “nurture,” as we say in the episode. In fact, the opposite appears to be true about most traits. Most traits also appear to be multifactorial, meaning that, alas, there is not one gene for awesomeness, e.g., but a complex interaction among several regions of the genome, plus nurture.

    Basically, the eugenicists profoundly oversimplified human genetics. They worked before the modern synthesis, so they literally got the math wrong, but moreover, they reduced human nature to a small number of classical genes, which isn’t accurate.

    But probably the simplest way in which eugenics was bad science was that the core publications behind the discipline were riddled by serious basic errors, as I believe we point out re the Kallikak study and Davenport’s work on race. So, even if eugenics had been “right,” they screwed up or falsified their own research.


    Response 2:

    I want to be consistent with our assertion from the beginning that people in the past weren’t stupid, and that they were trying to make sense of the world around them. To be fair to the eugenics enthusiasts, we really shouldn’t judge their science based on our modern understanding of genetics because that would contradict the historic perspective that we’ve been trying to argue throughout the series. We also shouldn’t try to say it was bad science from our current moral perspective.

    However, we are perfectly within our right to say it was bad science based on early 20th century standard best practices of science, which it totally was. (Caveat that eugenics started with some scientists doing sorta legitimate investigations, but as it evolved into a social movement, there was significantly more dubious practitioners & applications of “science” (ie, not really science).)

    First point of bad science: In a rush to make genetics responsible for everything, there was a clear blurriness between causation and correlation. Eugenics proponents would want to look for traits (such as honest/depravity, frugalness/thrift) & look at family patterns. There might be a very clear hereditary correlation, but that in no way means that a gene is responsible for the trait. There was a jump to a conclusion that skipped the experimental elimination process that is key to the scientific method. Many of the traits that the eugenicists were investigating could actually be disproven through twin studies.

    Second point of bad science: Germ theory was finally accepted & genetics seemed to be the next frontier, so lots of people jumped on the bandwagon of redefining disease. Conditions like feeblemindedness were now categorized as diseases, which needed to be fixed or eliminated. A hundred years later, we are still discovering what conditions are caused by pathogens, heredity, environment, etc, and we are left with a whole lot of unknowns. Mostly, what we have learned is that it is a lot more complicated than anyone thought.

    Third point of bad science: Points 1 & 2 weren’t really tested in any kind of sciency way, ie with control groups, repeatable experiments, double blind parameters. Granted, lots of those ideas really solidify over the 20th century (partly in response to the bad science of eugenics), but there was enough of an ethos of best practices that definitely shows this wasn’t rigorous science. Eugenics did a lot of data collection & observation – on their own, good aspects of science – but then used that data to look for correlation patterns.

    Fourth point of bad science: Eugenicists began conflating poorly defined “scientific” causes, like feeblemindedness (re point 2), with social causes, like poverty or immigration or race, which created a seemingly scientific legitimacy for poorly argued ideas. This gets more at an ethics position that even the early legitimate scientists allowed dubious science to go mainstream.

  2. Did Galton have any influence from phrenology by any chance?

  3. read more assume less

    Nazi’s race laws and Nazi doctors, such as ss dr. Josef Mengele.
    Elimination of all “feeble minded” citizens by the german government
    Millions murdered and lives destroyed thanks to Gaulton’s pseudoscience.

  4. Yes, those studies were flawed, and misogyny and racism are a big problem. If you would base the model in a general way then you could still use eugenics as a way to improve the general health of the population by culling deceases and malformations until we find viable cures. In a species where natural selection hardly operates anymore, we require an implemented solution for such ailments. As for sterilization…well, iit would help on a bunch of problems but would be quite dystopian.

  5. Eugenics in the sense that we can select for better genes is not necessarily bad science. It however inately posesses a massive moral hazard. That is why before its death, it had gotten loaded with bad science. it's application was based on horrible science, and policy makers should be kept as far as possible from any similar ideas.

  6. Genetic superiority is just another regurgitation of the idea of the chosen people. Not chosen by god now but by evolution.

  7. It's weird that you talk about the American practice of sterilization of "people with different abilities" rather than what you mean, which is disabled people. Call a spade a spade. Even the spade prefers you to call it a spade.

  8. Hey, it would be awesome if you could post the titles/links of the books referenced in the videos.

  9. Brenden Spanbauer

    Is it wrong to want rapist to be cauterized

  10. Juuuuuust a couple of sound foams would make a huge difference here.

  11. There are still eugenics fans in the Current Year. Wat

  12. IQ tests arent racist, they are the most accurate method of predicting cognative/ socioeconomic ability and criminal tendencies ( stupid people get caught/commit more crimes than smarter people}, if it turns out that you find the results unpalatable, then the problem is with you and not the results, facts are not based on your political leanings

  13. Dominic Martin Antonio

    Awww no love for genetics and my main man Gregor Mendel

  14. While I would never in a million years advocate eugenics for race or cosmetic traits, I do feel that people with severe genetic illnesses or disabilities should be discouraged. Forced sterilization could be a bit extreme, but given the enormous potential for suffering of the child, something should be done. As somebody who suffers from a genetic illness, myself, I know better than anyone that genetics can play a massive role in quality of life. So far as I am concerned, knowingly having a child with a severe illness should be considered a form of abuse. The parents obviously do not care about their childs wellbeing, but merely their selfish, bestial drive to reproduce. While again, forced sterilization or abortion could obviously lead to inhumane practices, I think that some form of incentive should be done. Financial and legal penalties would be a start, but I think the best solution would be to seperate the child from the parents at birth. Somebody who deliberately has a severely sick child lacks the moral character to be a suitable parent, and would likely abuse or neglect the child in other ways. I'd go so far as to say that it would be nothing short of evil for someone like me to have children. I would never inflict what I have and will continue to endure on my worst enemy. I don't know how anyone could handle the guilt of inflicting suffering, or even death on an innocent child. As such, i got the snip when i turned 18, and never looked back. Every child has the right to health, and a long life. If saving children from having a shorg and/or painful life requires making some ethically questionable decisions, then so be it. The child comes first. The parents wishes are inconsequential by comparison. Something has to be done to stop the cycle of suffering!

  15. Allthenews ordeath

    Stop using the term different ability, or differently abled, no one knows what the heck you’re talking about.
    As a blind person just use the term disabled for Christ sake, and no being blind does not mean that I have daredevil hearing.

  16. Can’t wait for crash course eugenics it’s gonna be lit

  17. You missed the most important point: even if eugenics was good science, it would still be bad ethics.

  18. Works on animals, would on people but people are to stupid to be able to do it correctly. Encouraging healthy, intelligent people once education and medical care are are equivalent. LOL Like that is going to happen wile people are running things.

  19. SoFlo Shylock@Pranks.tv

    Eugenics is really morally wrong but I find it so morbidly fascinating. Like imagine making the perfect athlete or like the strongest, biggest person ever. Like how different would these people be from "normal" people.

  20. Where did Galton came up with Eugenics?
    me: 4Chan?

  21. Much like Carl Marx, I don’t believe he was a bad person, but he inspired many bad people.

  22. Eugenics? Like aborting babies because they have genetic markers for certain conditions or are the wrong sex? This is totally going on in world today.

  23. Ibn Sina was not an Arabic ; He was Turkish. By the way , he wasn't black . I think you should look over to your thoughts about the people of world. Thanks for everything !

  24. Also, wouldn't this kind of "eminence breeding" need thousands if not millions of years to significantly change the population? Even if it would technically work, I feel like it would take forever.

  25. Resilience vs Adverse Childhood Experiences or nature and nurture

  26. Дмитрий Веселов

    But with the advance of the automation,​ this is exactly what will happen. The baseline of intelligence needed to get a job is rising and stupid people will have no means of living and have no kids.

  27. Is the term half cousin a correct one.??

  28. So Crash Course mentioned the Army using IQ tests that were racist, but didn't mention Margaret Sanger being extremely racist? Is it because she founded Planned Parenthood?

  29. hey Hank! i like how carefully you're tackling this topic. though, just for your assurance, its ok to call people disabled and not just different. of course eugenics targeted a lot of things that weren't disabilities, so the "different" descriptor is still relevant, but you can indeed call disabilities what they are too. using the word disabled is a good thing, i think, because avoiding the word means we think disability is bad when it isn't. i know that's not your intention at all, and you're trying your best to be respectful and as someone with disabilities, i appreciate it a lot.

  30. How about we limit eugenics to Crusader Kings 2, it seems to work just fine there

  31. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce

    Don’t believe me?
    Go watch a flat earth compilation.

  32. You forgot to mention that margaret sanger founded planned parenthood

  33. For humans in the modern industrial world, the money (and how the family uses that money) you're born into is the biggest factor over genetics or anything else.
    It's possible but hard to move up the ladder – it's real easy to go down.

  34. I admire polymaths, but any science headline can be taken to dark, hellish places by the misguided.

  35. This sounds like the ideas that lead to the split of the triplets in 'Three identical Strangers' and many other unfortunate twins that were seperated at infancy by adoption agencies.

  36. What does "different abilities" mean? In context, I can infer that it means "disabilities", but using a euphemism for "disability" just seems overly PC to the point of absurdity. Especially because ti leads to confusion.

  37. Strange that nobody mentions of the problem with artificial breeding in animals. Look at dog for example. Many of dog of “pure races” have diseases associated with them. For example, cocker spaniel usually ten to suffer of ears diseases. You can also check the problem with many members of the European royal families, hemophilia. When you reduce the number of genes available to a population you’re no only keeping good ones, but also bad ones. A stronger specie has more diverse gene pool.

  38. We know that eugenics is nonsense. It is a misunderstanding of how evolution works. It also neglects the nature versus nurture debate. It also ignores neural plasticity.

    However I do wonder what the world would be like if eugenics was correct? What would be the implications of this? How would society be different if this theory was absolute fact?

    I want to double, triple, quadruple emphasise that I disagree wholeheartedly with eugenics without reservation. I flat out disagree with this theory. I am just curious about what might have happened if it was correct.

  39. cough "the great replacement" cough

  40. I would suggest an alternate title of this episode of "How bad science can change the world."

  41. Wow, there's a lot of pathetic little white men in the comments section arguing in favor of eugenics, and somehow not realizing that THEY wouldn't be allowed to breed because of all their physical and mental shortcomings. Actually, you know what, forget I said anything! Bring on the eugenics where we'll be able to rid ourselves of these pathetic little white men 🙂

  42. Thomas R. Jackson

    Thank you for a really important episode in this series. Science is conducted by humans, and it messes up, sometimes spectacularly. Thank you especially for at least mentioning the connection between American scientists and political institutions and the Nazis. As for eugenics being “bad science”, yes and for the reasons you outline on this thread (thank you for that), but it also was respectable science, and carried the panache of coming from scientists (you mentioned Margaret Sanger capitalising on this respectability). It is a reminder that that the truth of science comes from scientific inquiry and methods, things that do not exclusively belong to scientists by any means, and not from the profession or standing of scientists, who are often wrong. Every time some one says “x percentage of scientists agree…”, or “science says… “, it simply misrepresents the true value of science.

  43. Eugenics is how we have dogs. Positive eugenics sounds like a good idea to me, negative eugenics is where the problem lies.
    Additionally, while our understanding of genetics is much greater now, that does not invalidate the original hypothesis, that things are heritable and we should leverage that. Now we have the ability to not only leverage it, but also modify it with gene editing.

    So just like Miasma theory Eugenics is not 'bad science' they have just been labelled so by unrelated political tides. Something we should not allow in the sciences. Where would we be if physics and engineering had been similarly disregarded? Not where we are today that is for sure.

    As we learn more we need to use that to update models that were flawed, not abandon the entire concept.

    Also, the way we use fingerprints in the modern world is entirely unreliable and has disastrous consequences.

  44. Shoutout to Cumbrian Wrestling, Yeah!

  45. does he really speaks that way?

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