Pub. date: 2009 | Online Pub. Date: January 26, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412964517 | Print ISBN: 9781412909167 | Online ISBN: 9781412964517 | Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
N. Ann Davis
Eugenics, a term derived from “eugenes,” Greek for “well-born,” was coined in 1883 by Charles Darwin's first cousin Francis Galton to provide a succinct way of characterizing the science of “improving the stock.” This entry will discuss the social and theoretical applications, the main problems, and the resurgence of eugenics. Drawing upon recent discoveries that showed that Mendel's laws of inheritance could be applied to such human physical traits as eye color, scientists sought to apply Mendelian principles more broadly. If human traits could be sorted into eugenic (good) and bad (dysgenic) ones, then “eugenic science” could be used to frame social policy. The proportion of individuals with good traits could be increased by encouraging “fit” individuals to have more children (so-called positive eugenics) and discouraging “unfit” people to have fewer children (“negative eugenics”). Eugenic thinking was widely embraced, and quickly enshrined both in public policy and in academia in ...