About the SA Blog Network

Guest Blog

Guest Blog

Commentary invited by editors of Scientific American
Guest Blog HomeAboutContact

Is Individuality the Savior of Eugenics?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

Is eugenics a historical evil poised for a comeback? Or is it a noble but oft-abused concept, finally being done correctly?

Once defined as “the science of human improvement through better breeding,” eugenics has roared back into the headlines in recent weeks in both Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll personae. The close observer may well wonder which will prevail. The snarling Mr. Hyde is the state control over reproduction. Although this idea may evoke visions of Nazi genocide, the U.S. itself has a long, unsavory eugenic history, peaking between 1910 and the mid-thirties but tailing out through the 20th century. And now into the 21st: the recent investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which showed that between 2006 and 2010 nearly 150 pregnant prisoners had been sterilized against their will in California, was a stunning reminder that traces of the old eugenics remain in our own time.

Another recent story—a polemical but informative three-part series on the continued efforts of Project Prevention—a private organization begun in 1997 that pays poor and drug-addicted women to be sterilized—highlights some of the complexities of reproductive rights. Payment of the poor or incarcerated has long been acknowledged as a form of coercion; yet some such women genuinely welcome the opportunity to simultaneously forgo children they can ill afford without becoming celibate. Sorting out these issues has been a problem at least since North Carolina’s eugenics program, begun in the 1940s, which sterilized thousands through the 1950s and 1960s, with the express approval of the state. A dabbing of eyes and collective sigh of closure accompanied the news this month that the North Carolina legislature will pay a total of $10 million to the program’s victims, or, as they were known at the time, patients.

Eugenics critics are still the vocal majority, spanning the political spectrum. But in recent years, a growing constituency of Drs. Jekyll within the biomedical community has sought to resurrect eugenics as a practice that, if done correctly, can be beneficent. The key to the new eugenics, they say, is individuality—a word with complex resonances ranging from “individualized medicine” to individualism, a cherished American value. Indeed, the new eugenics is sometimes called “individual” eugenics. A recent article by Jon Entine, of the Center for Genetic Literacy at George Mason University, exemplified this push for eugenicists to come back out of the night. Prenatal genetic diagnosis is eugenics, Entine says—“and that’s okay,” because it is controlled by individuals, not governments. This sparked a lively debate on both his blog and mine. The question then is whether individuality can save the soul of eugenics.


Individuality is one of the oldest and newest terms in medicine. The Hippocratic physicians diagnosed each patient in terms of their unique constellation of heredity, environment, and experience (although individualized treatment was, as today, reserved for those who could afford it). In the second century A.D., Rufus of Ephesus stressed the importance of interrogating the patient as to habits, preferences, experiences, and congenital diseases as an aid to diagnosis. The development of the case-study method in the Early Modern period signaled new attention to individual; each case came to be understood as a unique manifestation of disease.

This trend toward individualized treatment halted in the 19th century, with one of the greatest transformations in medicine—the concept of specific disease, caused by a specific disease agent such as the cholera vibrio or the tubercle bacillus. Increasingly, physicians treated the disease rather than the patient. Although this development led to enormous gains in the potency of medical therapy, some have rued the disappearance of the “sick man.” The current fad for “individualized” or “personalized” medicine is, among other things, the latest call for a return to patient-centered medicine. Increasingly, the physician interrogates the patient’s genome, learning far more from the sub-microscopic ticker-tape of DNA in her cells than Rufus’s wildest dreams could conjure.

But some question whether this new technology really puts the person back into medicine. Critics point out that personalized medicine often seems to concern profit more than health. Indeed, tech business sites show that personalized medicine is one of the healthcare industry’s biggest growth areas. Cui bono? Here is where individuality meets individualism—the libertarian swing that has captured much of American culture in recent decades. Events as disparate as the stock-market bubble, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, and “right-to-carry” laws illustrate the resurgence of this quinetessential American value.

Individualism, of course, runs deep in the American identity, but not since the Gilded Age have the individualist mythos and free-market economics enjoyed such dominance. Indeed, the main arguments in domestic politics today seem to concern how and how fast to cut costs and disempower the government. Individualized medicine can also be seen as individualist: many advocates stress that the new medicine must be “participatory,” meaning that the patient has increased responsibility for their own care. Modern individualism means everyone looks out for their own interests—from biotech CEOs to hospitals to patients.


The old eugenics was top-down and collectivist. Francis Galton proposed eugenics in Victorian England, as a humane alternative to the ruggedly individualist but misleadingly named social Darwinism. (More accurate though less sonorous would have been “social Spencerism,” after Herbert Spencer.) Rather than letting the weak kill off themselves and each other, Galton proposed a system of tax incentives and education programs he thought would lead the poor, sick, and stupid to voluntarily have fewer children—and the healthy, wealthy, and wise to voluntarily breed like rabbits. Human evolution could thus be gently directed toward perfection with much less suffering. Galton counted on evolution’s losers to “unselect” themselves, for the greater good.

After 1900, eugenics became yet more collectivist and much more potent, particularly in Progressive-era America. Progressivism was, fundamentally, a reaction to the exploitative practices of what Mark Twain called the “Gilded Age”—the industrial boom of the 19th century. Americans were fed up with the selfish greed and worker exploitation of Andrew Carnegie (an avid social Spencerist), Cornelius Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and other “Robber Barons.” (The fact that this narrative oversimplifies the history of American industrialism doesn’t discount public perception at the time.) Progressives counted on Government as the only social entity powerful enough to stand up to industry, but even many who did not identify with the Progressive Party valued personal sacrifice for the greater good.

The first part of the twentieth century was, by American standards, a moment of profound shift toward collectivism. However, progressivism was also about science. The rediscovery of Mendel’s principles in 1900 seemed to do for heredity what Marie Curie’s radium and Rutherford’s splitting of the atom did for physics: crack open the secrets of nature, providing hitherto unknown power to harness natural forces for the good of humanity.

Harry Laughlin

Harry Laughlin

The combination of collectivism and science could be deadly. Progressive-era eugenics grew highly coercive and—as politics always does—reflected the prejudices of the day. State after state passed laws that prevented miscegenation, restricted marriage, and permitted sterilization without consent for people with “defects” ranging from epilepsy to mild mental retardation to tuberculosis. Congress heard testimony from arch-eugenicist Harry Laughlin before passing the restrictive 1924 Johnson Immigration Act, and, to his great pride, Laughlin’s “Model Sterilization Law” served as the basis of the Nazi eugenic law of 1933.

Thirty-five states ultimately had sterilization laws on the books. Contrary to widespread belief, the Second World War did not crush the eugenic spirit, though it did modulate it. Eugenics became increasingly medicalized. For example, the North Carolina eugenics program was run by credentialed, even distinguished physicians and scientists. Although coerced sterilizations dropped sharply during the Cold War, many of the laws remained on the books into the 1970s.

Not entirely coincidentally, about that time, “eugenics” became a dirty word. Even through the 1960s, it was possible for respected scientists to write that eugenics had a “sound core,” despite having been abused by the Germans. The conscious betterment of our gene pool, the self-direction of human evolution, had been a goal of human genetics throughout the field’s history. But by the 1980s, explicit discussion of eugenics had become Verboten, and even eugenics critics tended to think that the term had simply become too loaded to be productive. Calling someone a eugenicist was tantamount to calling him a Nazi.

It is fascinating, then, to watch a small but growing contingent within the scientific community again begin to use “eugenics” publicly. In recent years, authors such as DJ Galton (no relation), Nicholas Agar, John Harris, Matt Ridley, Julian Savulescu, and others have argued that it is time to reopen a discussion of eugenics. Like the original Galtonian eugenics, this new eugenics is voluntary and aspirational, but it trades collectivist altruism for individualist choice.

Some of the new eugenicists have been coy about the term: “In point of fact, we practise eugenics when we screen for Down’s syndrome, and other chromosomal or genetic abnormalities,” said Savulescu in a 2005 interview. “The reason we don’t define that sort of thing as ‘eugenics’, as the Nazis did, is because it’s based on choice. It’s about enhancing people’s freedom rather than reducing it.” However, others called a spade a spade. Agar, for example, used a similar argument about choice—“prospective parents should empowered to use available technologies to choose some of their children’s characteristics”—but titled his 1998 book Liberal Eugenics.1


Modern medicine, yielding to the demands of real progress, is becoming less a curative and more a preventive science. From an art of curing illness, it is becoming a science of health. It is safe to predict, I believe, that…medical men generally will be more of the order of guardians of the public health than doctors of private diseases.2

Though those words could stand as an epigram for genomic individualized medicine, they were written one hundred and one years ago, in an article called “Eugenics and the medical curriculum,” by Harvey Ernest Jordan, later the Dean of Medicine at the University of Virginia. His next sentence, however, gives away that he was writing in 1910, not 2010: “This represents the medical aspect of the general change from individualism to collectivism.” To adapt Jordan’s quote to our century, we’d only need to reverse those last three words. Today’s nouveau eugenicists argue explicitly that the general change from collectivism to individualism is what defangs the new eugenics. In Cold Spring Harbor’s 2008 reissue of Charles Davenport’s big book, 1910’s Heredity and Eugenics, Matt Ridley writes,

There is every difference in the world between the goal of individual eugenics and Davenport’s goal. One aims for individual happiness with no thought to the future of the human race; the other aims to improve the race at the expense of individual happiness.3

I see two main problems with that remark. First, it is disingenuous. “Control and nothing else is the aim of biology,” wrote Jacques Loeb in 1905.4 Work such as the J. Craig Venter Institute’s efforts to engineer life “from scratch” or the “BioBricks” project—an open-source genetic engineering project, like SourceForge for wetware—make clear that designing living things from the DNA up is a conscious and widespread goal, with human health as one of its aims. Further, concern for individual happiness has never been mutually exclusive of concern for the race.

In 1912, Charles Davenport recognized this when he wrote that physicians have an obligation to practice eugenics, for the individual, for the family, for the community, and for the race. Concern for your individual child is concern for a member of your family lineage. Similarly, Savulescu’s principle of procreative beneficence—that one has a moral obligation to bring the best children possible into the world—grades into the view that we have such an obligation, collectively. Individual eugenics, in other words, dissolves into a species of collective eugenics. Focusing on individual health does not absolve us of the evolutionary question, Whither humankind?

Second, is giving no thought to our future truly anodyne against disaster? If collectivism carries the risks of the slavish embrace of ideology and the concentration of power, individualism carries the risks of selfishness and lack of foresight. Consider other individualistic approaches to technology—to name but one example, the impact of technology on our climate. Aiming for individual happiness with no thought to the future of the human race has led to countless inventions that provide individual happiness for millions of people every day: air conditioning, automobiles, smartphones, cheap food, global travel, and much more. However, all these devices and industries contribute massively to climate change. We have understood the climatic effects of anthropogenic CO2 for decades, but individual happiness (including not least that of the corporate CEOs) has trumped any thought for the future. We have, in short, altered an enormously complex system without meaning to, and the results, according to scientific consensus, may be catastrophic.

Our genome creates a climate within our body. Recent findings make clear that the genome is a dynamic, complex system—a “sensitive organ of the cell,” as Barbara McClintock wrote presciently in 1984. Our knowledge of this ecosystem is changing incredibly rapidly; it is certain that in 20 years, today’s knowledge will seem almost incomprehensibly primitive. One can view marriage and sterilization laws, then, as regulating whole bodies and their relations, while modern genomics regulates single genes and their relations. By thus bringing the decision within the body’s boundaries, the new eugenics makes individual choice possible. But it also disrupts a complex genetic ecosystem, which any scientist will admit we know almost nothing about.

Almost inevitably, altering individual components of the system in isolation will have unforeseeable consequences. Dog breeders, exercising individual choice, produced modern Labrador Retrievers, a breed blessed with qualities of temperament, strength, and beauty, but plagued by eye problems and a tendency to hip dysplasia. Selection at the level of individual genes is likely to increase, not decrease, such problems. Individual choice, then, is subject to pressures of fashion and the profit motive, which are no better guides to evolution than bureaucracy.

We already live in the new age of eugenics, notes the blogger Razib Khan. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that the latest political pendulum swing immunizes us against its risks. Individualism solves the problems of collectivism in mirror image of the ways that collectivism solves those of individualism. To treat either approach as a panacea is both naive and dangerous. The sociologist Nikolas Rose argues that our health status is becoming more important than our labor in shaping our identity. Many people today may find more in common with a fellow cancer victim or celiac sufferer than with a fellow plumber or banker. Such “biological citizenship” will obviously be profoundly influenced by genome screening, prenatal diagnostics, and other techniques of the new eugenics. This fact should remind us that although our identity may be unique, it is never isolated. We are all individuals within a collective.


Comfort, Nathaniel. The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine. Yale University Press, 2012.

———. The Tangled Field: Barbara Mcclintock’s Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Davenport, Charles. “Eugenics and the Physician.” New York Medical Journal June 8 (1912): 1195-99.

Jewson, N. C. “The Disappearance of the Sick-Man from Medical Cosmology, 1770-1870.” Sociology 10 (1976).

Schoen, Johanna. Choice & Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Stern, Alexandra Minna. Telling Genes: The Story of Genetic Counseling in Modern America.  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

Rose, Nikolas. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton University Press, 2006.


Rufus of Ephesus. “On the Interrogation of the Patient.” In Greek Medicine, Being Extracts Illustrative of Medical Writers from Hippocrates to Galen, edited by Arthur John Brock. xii, 256 p. New York,: AMS Press, 1972.


1 Agar, Nicholas. “Liberal Eugenics.” Public Affairs Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1998): 137-55, p. 2.

2 Jordan, H. E. “The Place of Eugenics in the Medical Curriculum.” In Problems in Eugenics: Papers Communicated to the First International Eugenics Congress. 396-99. Adelphi, W. C.: Eugenics Education Society, 1912.

3 Ridley, Matt. “Davenport’s Dream.” In Davenport’s Dream: 21st Century Reflections on Heredity and Eugenics. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2008, ix-xi.

4 Loeb, Jacques. Studies in General Physiology.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1905, ix.

Images: Human Betterment League of NC and Truman State University

Nathaniel Comfort About the Author: Nathaniel Comfort is Associate Professor of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is the author, most recently, of The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine (Yale, 2012). He also writes the blog Genotopia. Follow on Twitter @nccomfort.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 29 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Scienceisnotagenda 10:19 am 08/23/2013

    This article is somewhat culturally myopic. What matters is China, India, etc….not the motes on the dots happening in a California prison.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Hitchiker of the Galaxy 10:40 am 08/23/2013

    No, individuality disproves the whole assumption of euthanasia: that some people are heritably better or worse. The existence of individuality shows that yesterday’s healthy, rich, intelligent and competitive did not out-bred yesterday’s sick, poor, stupid and timid. Their superiority did not stand the time. They were not better at all.

    Why all human populations show such variation in strength, intelligence, personality etc. is rather interesting topic for research.

    Link to this
  3. 3. comfort 11:45 am 08/23/2013

    Scienceisnotagenda: Focus≠myopia. I’m well aware of the global history of eugenics, but my interest in this piece is what’s happening in the upper echelons of biomedicine, where the U.S. still leads–at least for the time being.

    Hitchhiker: You seem to be confusing eugenics with euthanasia. Agreed, though, about variation being a fascinating topic.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Scienceisnotagenda 12:03 pm 08/23/2013

    Hmmm. This is not about ‘history’ but today and tomorrow. Internal domestic debates in the USA past or present are a sideshow. Eugenics and population selection is an everyday event in every city in China and India….almost every town. Tens of millions already ‘chosen’ or not.

    Selected abortions, sterilization are real and part of everyday life….on a much larger scale than anything Europe or the USA ever experienced. Multiple times larger. Toss in advances in genetic engineering and the USA will be left debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, while the Chinese in 30 years are producing Olympic athletes, IQs of 140, etc.

    ‘We are all individuals within a collective’…a fluffy statement out of a junior high school essay. Reality is that human children are going to be a commodity imbued with whatever excellence a parent in China or India can afford. Human evolution in a test tube is going to be the norm and it’s just around the corner.

    Link to this
  5. 5. comfort 12:35 pm 08/23/2013

    As to the historicism of the article, let me spell it out: a century ago, they thought they were evolving out of individualism into collectivism. Today, we think we are evolving out of collectivism into individualism. Both eras justified eugenics on the prevailing principle of the day. What can we learn from that, and how can/should it guide our actions?

    As to the Chinese, again: I don’t deny that Chinese eugenics is fascinating and important. The thing is, that’s not what I wrote about. You’re committing the elementary fallacy of criticism, arguing, “You didn’t write the article that I wanted to read.”

    Link to this
  6. 6. JayMan 12:51 pm 08/23/2013

    Excellent article.

    Also see this post, which discusses the moral issues involved, but does it from a different viewpoint:

    What’s Wrong With Eugenics? | Theden | Thedening the West:

    Also worth reading:

    Kevin Mitchell’s post decrying eugenics, and my response to his post:

    Wiring the Brain: The New Eugenics – same as the Old Eugenics? – Comments –

    Also worth seeing are my posts on fertility trends, particularly my latest entry (a new one is upcoming):

    Who’s Having the Babies? | JayMan’s Blog –

    As well, see Greg Cochran on why maintaining the genetic integrity of society isn’t just academic – it’s absolutely vital, if we want civilization as we know it to survive.

    Sustainability | West Hunter –

    Link to this
  7. 7. comfort 12:56 pm 08/23/2013

    Also, I think any women who are coercively sterilized–wherever they are– feel like a little more than a “sideshow.”

    Link to this
  8. 8. Noone 1:24 pm 08/23/2013

    The author really seems to skate around the question of people wanting their children to be better than others. Perhaps we should ask the Jews of Europe why they wanted their children to be significantly smarter than others, and thought that a positive moral objective contributing to family and clan survival.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Hepzebah 1:28 pm 08/23/2013

    Cui bono. Not qui bono.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Scienceisnotagenda 1:28 pm 08/23/2013

    Comfort…your response goes back to your myopic view. Science isn’t about history or geographic boundaries. What happened in western society in 1913 has minimal impact on attitudes as opposed to what is happening in China or India. 1.3 billion and 1.1 billion (and growing) are what carries weight. Parents that will choose their children and a totalitarian regime that will encourage direction in breeding. China’s one child policy has had more impact on male/female ratios and thus future breeding than anything else in human history.

    What matters is ‘their ‘ culture and attitude. Not ours. Western norms are secondary. It is Eastern attitudes towards offspring, family, society that are and will actively guide human breeding.

    Link to this
  11. 11. rshoff 1:48 pm 08/23/2013

    There was an article recently about the genetic heritage of India. The population basically came from two tribes (races?). Anyway, those genetics mixed, the individuals (over the course of a thousand years) started grouping themselves together into subgroups. Those subgroups then emerged as new genetic pools. They perceive themselves as from different races, when in fact, the population is a mix of the two original races.

    So what do I mean? I mean that the goal of eugenics can only be realized for a brief period measured in generations. Genetics mixing and remixing, will continue to happen regardless. And even after the mixing, new groups will emerge that perceive themselves as a distinct race.

    Link to this
  12. 12. geojellyroll 2:05 pm 08/23/2013

    I just checked my astronomy map an discovered this is Planet Earth in the 21st century. 7 billion people and most of them don’t look like me. I was in Singapore in March and many sure do not think like me. For every forced sterilzation in Nazi Germany there has been a thousand in Asian countries either by the state or social pressure. Hard to sift through the propaganda but a cursory Google search indicates a policy in China that prevented marriage for those not seen as fit to have children. Supposedly this still exists but who to believe.

    Link to this
  13. 13. comfort 2:08 pm 08/23/2013

    Hepzebah: Duh. Editors didn’t catch that either. Thanks.

    Link to this
  14. 14. geojellyroll 2:16 pm 08/23/2013

    rshohh. Your info is interesting but I doubt with science and technological advances that any past models tell us much about future human evolution.

    I see the reverse and humans will choose from a buffet of traits they want for their children. It may be like going from two to a thousand options on your TV. This won’t be the near future but also not the distant future.This may just be few generations away as biology is reduced to basic chemistry and human life parsed out into basic models.

    Link to this
  15. 15. comfort 2:49 pm 08/23/2013

    geojelly: Thank you for getting back on topic. So my questions are: first, what if it doesn’t work as planned? And second, what if it does? Let’s cut the hype and really think through what kind of world that would be, and how we can avoid the worst pitfalls.

    Link to this
  16. 16. WRQ9 2:59 pm 08/23/2013

    Sometimes, the self infatuations of scientists are endearing, sometimes they are just sad. The difference is when it affects the quality of their work. A good “self interested” scientist’s self image is equal to the quality of his/her work. Any other cue on that scale sends immediate signals about depth and self awareness.
    in any capitalist culture, to most folks, a job is a ticket to procreate. If you cannot get a job, The likelihood you will find a spouse is directly related to your attractiveness or breeding. This was not, on it’s own cultural steering. In the seventies colleges made a power grab that redefined the nature of education in this country. By specifically defending their “turf” rather than having graduates freely compete with anyone vying, they successfully insured themselves as a cornerstone of the American economy. The roots of genetic steering began there. An inception of a movement directly correlated with the advancement of women in the cultural marketplace.
    I would speculate that fully 80% of the changes in public and educational policies since then have been in support of, if not inspired completely for the facilitation of genetic selection. The difference is in the genetic preferences being selected. The trend is impossible to prove without taking into account certain thinly veiled scientific studies in “biometrics”, and the educational implications associated with the target characteristics. We even redefined intelligence in order to affect the acceptability of students according to the priority of penis size.
    By these means we have, in fact, created a self perpetuating self promoting lock-down on genetic priority trending in this country that can not be subject to any outside evaluation as to it’s inherent cultural value. In fact, we made the “root” transition from litigious to genetic priority without a popular vote.

    Link to this
  17. 17. rshoff 2:59 pm 08/23/2013

    The implications are that those news ‘groups’, are made up of individuals. Individuals will ultimately decide which genes are passed on. They (the discrete genes) cannot be snuffed out by government policy or eugenics. They may become recessive, but that’s about it. What kind of world will it be? It won’t be our world regardless of what we do or don’t do. It will be a new world where our values have no bearing.

    Link to this
  18. 18. Scienceisnotagenda 3:41 pm 08/23/2013

    Re the above. Our values will only have bearing by chance. If one thinks there is competition in the smartphone market, wait until the baby gene market hits the market. Ten thousand labs in Asia all competing to bioengineer the latest and greatest son or daughter.

    Link to this
  19. 19. rshoff 5:46 pm 08/23/2013

    @Science, you are correct. But that is not our privilege to argue. It is not our lives, our culture, our humanity. Those are choices that belong to our decedents, not us.

    Besides, unless they rebuild the genetic code from the bottom up, the most they will do is create new dominant traits. There will continue to be recessive traits and even mutations. Those dominant traits selected for will be only temporary within those generations.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing or disagreeing with you. Just adding my flavor to the opinions.

    Link to this
  20. 20. comfort 6:01 pm 08/23/2013

    JayMan—thanks for your comments. I know your work but not all of it, and appreciate your linking me to the others.

    Greg Cochran sounds a great deal like Hermann J. Muller in the late ’40s and ’50s. See chap. 5 in my book and:
    Muller, Hermann Joseph. “Our Load of Mutations.” American Journal of Human Genetics 2, no. 2 (1950): 111-76.
    Also, Paul, Diane. “‘Our Load of Mutations’ Revisited.” Journal of the History of Biology 20, no. 3 (1987): 321-35.

    Link to this
  21. 21. comfort 6:02 pm 08/23/2013

    rshoff, (re)building the code from the bottom up is just what Craig Venter is aiming for. Synthetic life.

    Link to this
  22. 22. rshoff 7:28 pm 08/23/2013

    In Emily Litella’s infamous words…. “Oh. Never mind.”

    Link to this
  23. 23. coolplace 1:01 pm 08/25/2013

    Western societies are too conflicted about eugenics for much to be accomplished here. The Chinese however seem to have embraced the idea of producing an intellectually superior race of humans through embryonic selection. The BGI Shenzhen project is now actively researching the genomes of thousands of gifted persons from all over the world looking for genetic markers associated with intelligence. If and when this yields positive results the plan is to set up a program across China where couples will be able to have a set of their embryos examined and the best one implanted according to the positive criteria for intelligence.

    Link to this
  24. 24. Hitchiker of the Galaxy 4:57 am 08/26/2013

    Eugenics can be done by sterilization, euthanasia, voluntary abstaining or anything. But you didn’t address the core fact: observing humans across generations shows that humans with traits favored by proponents of eugenics (IQ, strength etc.) simply don’t survive or reproduce better over longer timescale. Otherwise, natural selection would ensure that since centuries, Earth would contain only healthy geniuses.

    Human IQ and physical health, in contrast, respond well and quick to environment (better child nutrition, simulating surroundings etc). If somebody feels that society needs more people with high IQ should work on those. Chinese actually improved their education and nutrition and reap benefits. From nutrition and education, not from organized or individual selection of children. USA – well, answer yourself, after looking at junk food, failing education system and dumbed down TV.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Hitchiker of the Galaxy 4:59 am 08/26/2013

    Just to show that eugenics in not just immoral, it is plain nonsense.

    Link to this
  26. 26. 3:10 pm 08/26/2013

    Is there a difference between taking someone’s reproductive rights away from them because they are short and taking them away because they like to molest children?

    Link to this
  27. 27. 6:46 pm 08/26/2013

    Regarding the 150 pregnant prisoners had been sterilized against their will in California; all of these women signed a waiver, so it was not against their will. What happened was one or two had second thoughts, so they complained. Also, I have looked into what kind of mothers these women were and none of them I would want for my mother, and I doubt any reader of this article would look at these mothers’s record of child rearing and would want them for their mother either. There is a difference between taking someone’s reproductive rights away because they are short and taking their reproductive rights away because they have a felony conviction for child abuse; it is the difference between eugenics and euthenics.

    Link to this
  28. 28. as901 7:25 am 08/27/2013

    If we could breed out hate, jealousy, or our territorial instinct I would be all for it, but let’s be honest. Each scientist or MD comes with their own prejudices and selfish thoughts. No matter how hard we try, eugenics can and would be used in harmful ways.

    Humans are far too imperfect to impartially pick and choose how people should be. It would be far too easy to make a blindly loyal soldier, or a dumb worker, custom made to work for little or nothing.

    Link to this
  29. 29. Cindy96 8:43 pm 01/17/2015

    We are all individuals within a collective’…a fluffy statement out of a junior high school essay.Cheap Beanie Hats

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article