Eugenics Vocabulary

What is eugenics?

eugenics (noun): the study of improving the genetic "quality" of the human population through controlled breeding


Glossary with example sentences

Each of the following terms, listed in alphabetical order, has 1) a basic definition and 2) an example sentence showing how the term may be used in context.

biological determinism (noun): the belief that human behavior is primarily determined by biological factors — Eugenicists often espouse biological determinism to justify their ideas about racial superiority and inferiority.

dysgenic (adjective): relating to or promoting the proliferation of undesirable traits in a population — The eugenicists argued that certain social policies were dysgenic and would lead to societal degeneration.

eugenic legislation (noun): laws designed to promote eugenic goals, such as sterilization or marriage restrictions — Several countries enacted eugenic legislation in the early 20th century.

eugenic stereotyping (noun): the categorization of individuals based on eugenic criteria such as race or intelligence — Eugenic stereotyping has been used to justify discriminatory practices against marginalized groups.

eugenicist (noun): an advocate or practitioner of eugenics — Many eugenicists believed that social problems can be solved through selective breeding.

eugenics (noun): the (scientifically questionable) study of "improving" the genetic quality of the human population through controlled or selective breeding — The eugenics movement of the early 20th century aimed to promote "desirable" traits through selective breeding.

feeble-mindedness (noun): a derogatory term historically used to describe intellectual disabilities — Many eugenic policies targeted individuals labelled as feeble-minded.

genetic counseling (noun): the process of providing individuals or families with information about the genetic risks of inherited conditions — Genetic counseling can help individuals make informed decisions about family planning.

genetic discrimination (noun): unfair treatment of individuals based on their genetic makeup or predisposition to certain traits or diseases — Laws have been enacted to prevent genetic discrimination in employment and healthcare.

genetic engineering (noun): the manipulation of an organism's genes using biotechnology — Genetic engineering holds promise for curing genetic diseases and enhancing desirable traits.

genetic screening (noun): the process of testing individuals for genetic disorders or predispositions — Genetic screening can help identify individuals at risk of passing on genetic diseases to their offspring.

genetic variation (noun): the diversity in gene frequencies among individuals in a population — Genetic variation is crucial for the adaptability of a species to changing environments.

genome editing (noun): the alteration of an organism's DNA using biotechnological techniques — CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful tool for genome editing with potential applications in treating genetic disorders.

genotype (noun): the genetic makeup of an organism — The phenotype, or observable traits, are influenced by the genotype.

heredity (noun): the passing of traits from parents to offspring through genes — Eye color is determined by heredity, with certain genes inherited from each parent.

heritability (noun): the proportion of phenotypic variation in a population that is due to genetic variation — The heritability of height is estimated to be around 80%, indicating a strong genetic influence.

human betterment (noun): the supposed improvement of the human species through eugenic measures — Many eugenicists framed their work as aiming for human betterment and societal progress.

involuntary sterilization (noun): sterilization performed without the consent of the individual — In the early 20th century, many states in the United States practiced involuntary sterilization as part of eugenic policies.

mental deficiency (noun): a condition characterized by impaired cognitive abilities — Eugenicists often targeted individuals with mental deficiency for sterilization.

negative eugenics (noun): the discouragement or prevention of reproduction by individuals with undesirable traits — Negative eugenics policies targeted those deemed "unfit" for reproduction.

positive eugenics (noun): the encouragement of reproduction by individuals with desirable traits — Positive eugenics programs often provided incentives for "fit" individuals to have more children.

racial hygiene (noun): the pseudoscientific concept of maintaining racial purity through eugenic measures — The Nazis used the idea of racial hygiene to justify their policies of genocide and forced sterilization.

reproductive fitness (noun): the ability of an organism to successfully reproduce and pass on its genes to the next generation — Evolutionary theory emphasizes the importance of reproductive fitness in natural selection.

selective breeding (noun): the intentional mating of organisms with desirable traits to produce offspring with similar traits — Farmers have been practicing selective breeding for centuries to develop crops with higher yields.

sterilization (noun): the process of rendering an individual incapable of reproduction — Forced sterilization has been practised in many countries as part of eugenic policies.

Brief history of eugenics

The history of eugenics spans from the 19th century to the 21st century, involving various influential figures who shaped its ideology and implementation.

In the 19th century, Sir Francis Galton, a British polymath and cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term "eugenics" in 1883. Galton advocated for the improvement of human hereditary traits through selective breeding, emphasizing the role of genetics in shaping society.

Moving into the 20th century, figures like Charles Davenport, an American biologist, and Karl Pearson, a British statistician, further developed eugenic theories. Davenport established the Eugenics Record Office in the United States, which collected data to support eugenic policies, while Pearson applied statistical methods to analyze hereditary traits.

The eugenics movement gained momentum globally, with prominent supporters like Margaret Sanger, an American birth control advocate, who promoted eugenics as a means of controlling population growth.

However, the darker side of eugenics emerged through policies of forced sterilization and racial hygiene, notably championed by figures like Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, leading to atrocities during the Holocaust.

In the 21st century, eugenics continues to be a controversial topic, with advancements in genetics and biotechnology raising ethical concerns about genetic engineering and discrimination. Figures such as James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, have sparked debates by expressing support for genetic enhancement.

Overall, the history of eugenics reflects both the pursuit of scientific progress and the dangers of its misuse in promoting discriminatory and unethical practices.

Reference and further resources