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(yo͞ojĕn`ĭks), study of human geneticsgenetics,
scientific study of the mechanism of heredity. While Gregor Mendel first presented his findings on the statistical laws governing the transmission of certain traits from generation to generation in 1856, it was not until the discovery and detailed study of the
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 and of methods to improve the inherited characteristics, physical and mental, of the human race. Efforts to improve the human race through bettering housing facilities and other environmental conditions are known as euthenics.

Sir Francis GaltonGalton, Sir Francis
, 1822–1911, English scientist, founder of eugenics; cousin of Charles Darwin. He turned from exploration and meteorology (where he introduced the theory of the anticyclone) to the study of heredity and eugenics (a term that he coined).
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, who introduced the term eugenics, is usually regarded as the founder of the modern science of eugenics; his emphasis was on the role of factors under social control that could either improve or impair the qualities of future generations. Modern eugenics is directed chiefly toward the discouragement of propagation among the unfit (negative eugenics) and encouragement of propagation among those who are healthy, intelligent, and of high moral character (positive eugenics). Such a program involves many difficulties, especially that of defining which traits are most desirable.

The first half of the 20th cent. saw extreme coercive application of such principles by governments ranging from miscegenation laws and enforced sterilization of the insane and "feebleminded" (in truth, often poor and less educated), frequently by Progressive jurists, in the United States and other nations to the HolocaustHolocaust
, name given to the period of persecution and extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany. Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and others were also victims of the Holocaust.
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 of Nazi Germany. Regulated eugenics continues in some parts of the world; China enacted restrictions on marriages involving persons with certain disabilities and diseases in 1994.

In the United States in recent years, interest in eugenics has centered around genetic screening (see genetic testinggenetic testing,
medical screening for genetic disorders, by examining either a person's DNA directly or a person's biochemistry or chromosomes for indirect evidence. Testing may be done to identify a genetic disorder a person has, whether the disorder is already evident or not,
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). It is known, for example, that hemophilia, albinism, and certain structural abnormalities are inheritable. Family gene maps, called pedigrees, can help families with serious diseases avoid having children with the same diseases through genetic counseling, and, increasingly, prospective parents can be tested directly for the presence of genes linked to inheritable diseases and abnormalities. If conception has occurred, tests such as amniocentesisamniocentesis
, diagnostic procedure in which a sample of the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus is removed from the uterus by means of a fine needle inserted through the abdomen of the pregnant woman (see pregnancy).
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 and chorionic villus samplingchorionic villus sampling
(CVS) or chorionic villus biopsy
(CVB) , diagnostic procedure in which a sample of chorionic villi from the developing placenta is removed from the uterus of a pregnant woman (see pregnancy) using a fine needle inserted through the abdomen or
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 can be used to detect certain genetic defects in the fetus. Embryo screeningembryo screening,
procedure (see genetic testing) in which a single cell is removed from an embryo two or three days after it has been conceived through in vitro fertilization and tested for genetic abnormalities.
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 can be used in conjunction with in vitro fertilizationin vitro fertilization
(IVF), technique for conception of a human embryo outside the mother's body. Several ova, or eggs, are removed from the mother's body and placed in special laboratory culture dishes (Petri dishes); sperm from the father are then added, or in many cases a
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 prior to pregnancy to test embryos for genetic abnormalities; only those found free of defects are implanted and allowed to develop.


See J. H. Bennett, Natural Selection, Heredity, and Eugenics (1983); D. J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (1985); M. B. Adams, ed., The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil, and Russia (1989); E. A. Carlson, The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea (2001); A. Cohen, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck (2016); T. C. Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era (2016).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


the study of human heredity founded by Francis Galton (Hereditary Genius, 1870), which led him and his followers to propose selective policies designed to improve the stock, e.g. fiscal and other policies to discourage child-rearing by those intellectually least well-endowed. Apart from wider ethical considerations, such policies assume a relationship between heredity and intellectual and cultural characteristics which has not been demonstrated.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the study of the genetic health of man and of the ways of improving his genetic characteristics, of possible methods of actively influencing the evolution of mankind for the purpose of further perfecting his nature, of the conditions and laws of inheriting giftedness and talent, and of the possible limitation of transmission of hereditary diseases to future generations.

The main principles of eugenics were formulated by the English biologist F. Galton in the book Hereditary Genius (1869). Despite the fact that progressive scientists set humanitarian goals for eugenics, it has often been used by reactionaries and racists, who, basing their ideas on pseudo-scientific notions of the inferiority of certain races and peoples and on national prejudices and dissensions, have justified racial and national discrimination; these reactionaries and racists have in the end replaced eugenics, as fascism did for its own political ends, with so-called racial hygiene and have legalized genocide. Controversy rages around the term “eugenics.” Along with those who consider the use of this term rightful in the present and in the future, there are scientists who believe that the basic content of eugenics (including its tasks and goals, as well as the most reasonable means of achieving them) will be transferred to such vigorously developing branches of science as human genetics, or anthropogenetics, and medical genetics.

These sciences, which study the inheritance and variability of characters of the human organism, have shown that the diversity of human beings is due both to their hereditary disposition and their conditions of existence (including natural-climatic and socioeconomic conditions). The study of monozygotic twins, in particular of their mental development, and also genealogical observations, testify to the fact that heredity plays a large, but by no means exclusive, role in determining the mental and creative abilities of a human being. If man’s morphological characters are determined predominantly by heredity, his mental characteristics and behavior are very strongly influenced by his environment, and chiefly his social environment—rearing, education, work habits, and the influence of the collective. There are many more persons with outstanding creative potential than there are persons who have succeeded in realizing that potential. It is for this reason that it becomes so important to bring out all positive potentialities deposited in the genotype of the individual by creating conditions that in every possible way foster his development and his formation as a personality. V. I. Lenin wrote: “Capitalism stifled, suppressed, and crushed the mass of gifted persons among the workers and toiling peasants. These gifted persons perished under the yoke of necessity, poverty, and outrage practiced upon human personality. Our duty now is to know how to find these gifted persons and put them to work” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 39, p. 235).

With respect to the possibilities and methods of improving human nature, there are different points of view. Much can be done along these lines by medical genetics, whose tasks include the study of the action of mutagens—chemical ones, radiation, and other factors of the external environment that damage genetic structures in human germ cells—and the prevention (including by sanitation of the environment in which man lives) of harmful mutations that threaten the health of future generations. The manifestation of harmful mutations is especially promoted by marriages between relatives, since in such cases the probability of obtaining from both parents an ordinarily masked (recessive) harmful character is increased. This explains the fact that in isolated human groups (isolates), where, as a rule, marriages between close relatives are more frequent, the percentage of hereditary diseases and deformities is higher. The harmful consequences of marriages between close relatives were noted even in antiquity, which led to their condemnation, prohibition by custom, and subsequently also by law. Prevention of the spread of harmful mutations and their combinations by limiting marriages between carriers of such mutations is accomplished by medical genetic consultations, whose purpose is to evaluate the possibilities of manifestation of a defective heredity in the off-spring of persons entering marriage. Quite precise predictions in this respect can already be made for many hereditary diseases, such as hemophilia and color blindness. Contrary to precautionary (preventive) measures, which prevent deterioration of human heredity, so-called positive measures of acting on human nature (including artificial insemination, creation of “semen banks,” and “heteronomous fertilization”), which predominantly contemplate increasing the number of offspring among persons with outstanding mental or physical qualities, are addressed to the future. Such methods of improving the human species have been repeatedly criticized and have not been recognized or practiced on a large scale. The solution of the problems associated with strengthening the genetic health of mankind, which remains an important contemporary problem, requires further detailed research in human genetics, with ever wider use of the methods and achievements of molecular genetics.


Neel, J. V., and W. Schull. Nasledstvennost’ cheloveka. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from English.)
Lobashov, M. E. Genetika, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1967.
Biologiia cheloveka. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English.)
Efroimson, V. P. Vvedenie v meditsinskuiu genetiku, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968.
Stern, C. Osnovy genetiki cheloveka. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The attempt to improve the phenotypes of future generations of the human population by fostering the reproduction of those with favorable phenotypes and genotypes and hampering or preventing breeding by those with “undesirable” phenotypes and genotypes. The concept is largely discredited.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the study of methods of improving the quality of the human race, esp by selective breeding
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(5) I chose to use the term 'eugenist' over 'eugenicist' because this was the title preferred by the proponents of the organised eugenics movement.
This came in addition to the recognition from within the eugenics movement that the early 20th-century eugenists' 'one gene, one trait' understanding of human genetics was over-simplistic and that most human traits were a result of the interaction of multiple genes and could indeed be altered by environmental factors.
The text is clear that eugenic revolutions, such as birth control, should not be used as freedom from motherhood, which is "the first glorious goal for the eugenist on the negative side of the question." (23) In addition, the text explicitly states that marriage and maternity are inextricably bound, and that the only legitimate reason for marriage (and sex) is procreation: "Unless a young lady believes that motherhood is noble, is honorable, is divine, and is willing to carry out that sacred function of her nature, she had a thousand times better refuse every proposal and enter some other honorable profession." (24) The "primary end of marriage is ...
King is exercised that the eugenists reasoned in so superior a way about how to solve the social problems of the less fortunate.
and guided by the nation's anthropologists, eugenists [sic] and social philosophers, has been able to construct a comprehensive racial policy of population development and improvement that promises to be epochal in racial history.'" (182)
The restrictions eugenists proposed were, however, in his view far more rational.
Social reformers, doctors and eugenists documented the harm they believed wage-earning mothers inflicted on babies and children.
The philosophy of this program is essentially a variant of the theory of the self-perfectibility of man, a philosophy first proposed by Pelagius in the fifth century and used today by the secular eugenists who espouse a particularly arrogant and ominous program for the improvement of the human race.
The Australian Inland Mission sisters to some extent resisted contemporary views, held by eugenists, that certain races were inherently superior, and that the upper and middle classes produced offspring healthier and more intelligent than those born of working class parents.
Although not overlooked, more emphasis might be placed on the link between physical anthropology and the statistical study of human populations pioneered by Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, and other eugenists. By the 1920s, these pursuits also found a home in psychology where Cyril Burtt and others led the quest for a measurement of human intelligence.
Eugenics sounds like a euphemism when eugenists create Deltas and Epsilons, semi-morons whom behaviorists teach to relish doing society's unpopular chores.
"The Eugenics of the Utopians: The Utopia of the Eugenists." Eugenics Review 40 (January 1949) 191-198.