Francis Galton (1822-1911) was the half cousin of Darwin who had opened up the fields of evolutionary biology and heredity, especially through his publication On the Origin of Species (1859). Galton had a numerical bent and applied statistics to factors of inheritance in order to prove that:
“... a man’s natural abilities are derived by inheritance, under exactly the same limitations as are the form and physical features of the whole organic world.”
His work Hereditary Genius was influenced by the current discussions on the nature of Romantic genius which was increasingly viewed in Victorian times as antithetical to the predominant work ethic.
His aims are summarised in the word 'eugenics' and he outlines the idea in this quote:
“If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create!”
Some contemporary readers complained that Galton's outcome was to breed humans like cattle. Further, he relied on 'reputation' as the basis for deciding good breeding. This concept depended on opinion plus a powerful narrative to convince readers. His approach in Hereditary Genius was to support the narrative information of the chapters with data in the appendices. He depended on his data pools to support his stories. Reviewers of his work may have disagreed with his theories, but they recognised his dedicated use of a positivist scientific methodology, which presented data in a quantifiable manner.
Another contemporary debate concerned the influence of terms also coined by Galton: nature vs. nurture. He considered that eminent professionals were likely to produce eminent sons. This, he said, was evidence for the genetic rather than environmental transmission of intelligence. He rejected the environmental argument that an eminent father would be more able to find an eminent position for his son than another in a less fortunate position.
Hereditary Genetics (1869) is made up of a number of papers. Galton recognises that the ideas are controversial and he is at pains to explain his approach using statistics to extract patterns from his data. He explores the idea of intelligence as inherited and determined by genetics.
This is an index of the work:
PREFATORY CHAPTER TO THE EDITION OF 1892.
CLASSIFICATION OF MEN ACCORDING TO THEIR REPUTATION.
CLASSIFICATION OF MEN ACCORDING TO THEIR NATURAL GIFTS.
COMPARISON OF THE TWO CLASSIFICATIONS
THE JUDGES OF ENGLAND BETWEEN 1660 AND 1865
APPENDIX TO JUDGES.
APPENDIX TO STATESMEN.
ENGLISH PEERAGES. THEIR INFLUENCE UPON RACE.
APPENDIX TO COMMANDERS.
APPENDIX TO LITERARY MEN.
MEN OF SCIENCE.
APPENDIX TO MEN OF SCIENCE.
APPENDIX TO POETS.
APPENDIX TO MUSICIANS.
APPENDIX TO PAINTERS.
APPENDIX TO DIVINES.
SENIOR CLASSICS OF CAMBRIDGE.
APPENDIX TO THE SENIOR CLASSICS OF CAMBRIDGE.
APPENDIX TO OARSMEN.
WRESTLERS OF THE NORTH COUNTRY.
APPENDIX TO WRESTLERS OF THE NORTH COUNTRY.
COMPARISON OF RESULTS.
THE COMPARATIVE WORTH OF DIFFERENT RACES.
INFLUENCES THAT AFFECT THE NATURAL ABILITY OF NATIONS.
In the Introductory chapter the author outlines his main concept: "genius". He describes it as
"that which is exceptional in intellectual power and creative faculty."
Against the prevailing Victorian interpretation Galton argues that genius is not only the consequence of hard work or education, but is driven by inheritance in the forms of temperament, creativity and intelligence. He explains that the aim of his book is to examine the role of heredity of the exception people in science, literature and the arts. His methodology is to explore the biographies of famous people and decide how their ancestors influenced their abilities.
"The Judges of England between 1660 and 1865" uses statistics to conclude that most judges were drawn from the upper classes and had inherited a high level of intelligence. He adds that the selection process could be improved by including ancestry as well as professional qualifications.
"English Peerages: Their Influence Upon Race," is a paper which examines how the hereditary tradition of nobility has impacted the genetic composition of the English population. He uses his data to support the claim that peerages are determined by hereditary. This, he argues, has resulted in the continuation of some genetic traits in the nobility such as creativity, intelligence and leadership and a genetic elite in the population. He admits that some individuals without nobility have achieved success, but that these are rare cases.
In "Literary Men" the author examines whether remarkable literary ability is the result of heredity or environment. He presents data on the families of Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth to conclude literary ability is mostly inherited since it is regulated through innate qualities such as intelligence, temperament and creativity. He adds, however, that there are numerous examples of people who had no environmental advantages, yet achieved literary success. There are some exceptions, but heredity is the rule.
"Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims" In this 1904 paper Galton presents the concept of eugenics. This introduces the idea that improvements in the human population can be achieved through selective breeding. It is a form of social darwinism whereby natural selection is replaced by human intervention. Aldous Huxley presented a highly critical view of this systematic genetic selection in Brave New World (1932).
In "Poets" Galton analyses the roles of nature and nurture in poetic ability. His argument that exceptional poets mostly inherit their ability is based on data of the background of successful poets. These owe to inheritance their sensitivity and ability to imagine, create and use language.
"Painters" examines the hereditary versus environmental aspects of artistic ability which he defines as the skills to produce works of merit. He examines the families of renowned painters such as Raphael, Rubens and Van Dyck and concludes that it is their genetic inheritance which gave them their artistic abilities of visual perception, imagination and creativity. He adds that there have also been famous painters who did not inherit their talents.
"Oarsmen" was largely inspired in the Oxford vs. Cambridge rowing race. He notes that the belief that winning a race was due to practice and training was popular in his time. He studied the physical attributes such as strength, endurance and coordination of successful oarsmen in his argument for inherited ability.
"The Comparative Worth of Different Races" considers the question of the differences in abilities and intelligence between races. He acknowledges that the subject is controversial and argues that it merits scientific study. He presents data on intelligence, literacy, education and test measures of a variety of ethnic and racial groups. His conclusion is that there exist differences determined by genetics.
"Influences that Affect the Natural Ability of Nations" looks at factors affecting the intellectual capabilities in a population. His argument is that height and weight in a population can be linked to intellectual ability. He also relates environmental factors such as climate and diet to cognitive development. He then adds the existence of a literate culture as encouraging thoughtfulness.
Cultural traits, which Galton calls national character, for example individualism or innovation, he associates with higher intellectual levels. On the other hand he relates cultural traditions of obedience with lower cognitive levels.
Historical evolution of 'eugenics'
In 1883 Francis Galton coined the term eugenics from the Greek, meaning 'of good birth'. He worked to demonstrate that heredity was the key to 'good stock'.
The biologist Alfred Ploetz coined the term ´racial hygene´ in 1904 and founded Archiv für Rassen - und Gesellerschaftsbiology (The Archive for Racial and Social Biology) whose focus was on racial hygene and eugenics. He insisted that Nordic and Ayran races were superior. A similar organisation, The Galton Institute, was founded in the UK about the same time.
An International Eugenics Congress was held in New York in 1921. There were attendees from Europe, the United States and Central and South America. Immigration was a central issue and the director of the Eugenics Record Office, funded by the cereal magnate Kellog among others, put forward the idea that European immigrants were intellectually inferior and that their birthrates, which were higher than the Nordic races, were a threat. The discussion was based on how Mendel´s findings in plant genetics influenced eugenics. William Bateson, who had founded and named the field of genetics, refused an invitation to the Congress replying that genetics and eugenics should be treated as seperate issues.
Immigration was a hot political topic at the beginning of the 20th. century in the USA. Most migrants were from countries where the population did not speak English, such as Poland and Italy. These immigrants were branded as more criminal than those from Nordic countries and so, encouraged by eugenisists, an Act was passed in 1924 putting a quota on Southern and Eastern European immigrants and excluding Asians. This Act allowed more immigration from northern European countries. In the same year Virginia passed a sterilisation Act which allowed the state to forcibly sterilise those thought to be "intellectually disabled".
When World War II began in 1939 the uses of eugenics by the Nazi regime in forced sterilisation of Jews and minorities turned the US population against the theory. The US Eugenics Record Office was closed that year. After the war many states repealed their sterilisation laws but Virginia waited until 1974 and California, which had sterilised over 20,000 people, repealed the law in 1979.
In Japan 25,000 people were forcibly sterilised under the eugenics law, passed there after World War II. The law forced people to have operations to prevent them having children believed to be inferior, since the parents had physical disabilities or mental illnesses. The law was repealed, after 48 years, in 1996.
In 1994 Hernstein and Murray published The Bell Curve which repeated eugenic theories and argued that African Americans and European Americans had different IQ scores due to genetics. James Watson, famous together with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, for the determination of the molecular structure DNA, has repeatedly made comments supporting the racist claims voiced in The Bell Curve.