DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior

By R. Grant Steen | Go to book overview

3
The Dark History of Eugenics

A large part of the reason why the subject of nature and nurture is so laden with emotion for so many people is that the new science of behavioral genetics has intellectual roots in the old ideas of eugenics. Eugenics is that field of study dealing with improving the inborn qualities of the human race, particularly through the control of hereditary factors. The emotional resonance of the nature versus nurture controversy cannot be fully appreciated without an understanding of the dark history of eugenics. No one should forget that the ideas touched on here are explosive; problems in human biology are fascinating, but they are also emotionally charged. It is simply impossible to study our own species as dispassionately as we would study an insect or a bird. Social values are inherent, or potentially so, in any scientific finding about humans, and the scientist who is unaware of this is naive and open to exploitation.

Eugenics originated as a scientific movement, validated by the leading scientists of the time. To call eugenics a "pseudoscience" is to make it seem less threatening, but it is also incorrect; the great majority of scientists at the turn of the century believed in eugenics. In 1916, all five scientists who founded the American journal Genetics were advocates of eugenics, even though each was an established scientist of great reputation.12 If most practicing scientists adhere to a certain view of the world, that viewpoint is, by definition, mainstream science.

Although eugenics began as a scientific concern for the betterment of the human race, it evolved into a social and

-33-

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DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • 1 - Genes and Human Behavior 1
  • 2 - The Old Nature Versus Nurture Debate 21
  • 3 - The Dark History of Eugenics 33
  • 4 - The Nature of Nurture Defining Environmental Influences 49
  • 5 - New Tools for an Old Problem 63
  • 6 - New Improvements in the Old Tools 79
  • 7 - The Inheritance of Disease a Paradigm for the Inheritance of Behavior? 93
  • 8 - Intelligence 113
  • 9 - Mental Disorders 137
  • 10 - Personality Traits 161
  • 11 - Sexual Orientation 185
  • 12 - Alcoholism and Addictive Behavior 203
  • 13 - Crime and Violence 217
  • 14 - Sex, Genes, and Testosterone 239
  • 15 - Biology and Social Responsibility 261
  • Epilogue 279
  • References 283
  • Index 293
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