American Eugenics Movement: Measurements

American eugenics
Figure 1.--Eugenicists had a passion for measurement. This is a series of photographs taken for a Baltimore anthropometric study in 1922. We are not sure yet who conducted the study. Ot looks to have been conducted in a school, but as a wide age range was included in the study, it may have been an orphanage of some kind with an attached school. At the time Maryland had seggregated schools and state institutions. Measurement of black children would have taken place at other schools or orphanages. Click on the image for a fuller discussion of the Baltimore study.

Eugenicists had a passion for measurement. This undoubtedly reflected their claim that eugenics was a science. This included both physical and intelectual mwasurements. The actual meaurements were a fairly simple matter. The first system for human physical measurements (anthropometry) was developed by the French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon. Eugenicist Francis Galton adopted Bertillon's system. His work with his student assistant Karl Pearson provide the basis for modern anthropometric statistics. Physical measurements by themselves are data of some actual scientific and soicietal utility. The use eugenicists made of the data compiled, however, was not scientific. American eugenicists had already formed their conclusions before even beginning to collect theiur data which as any 7th grade general science call tell you in the anthisis of real science. Eugenicists wanted to use anthropometry to support their belief that the white race was superior. Many of these studies were conducted in public schools, prisons, and state mental hospitals where study populations could be readily studied. Draftees in World War I (1917-18) provided another large study population. These institutins provided a cross section of children and adults from the different racial and ethnic groups. As far as we can tell, the actual measurements taken were accurate. The conclusions drawn from the studies were a very different matter. Although the eugeniits claimed to be scientsts, they attempted to draw conclusiond from the data with out considering variables that could affect body measurements. Again any 7th grade science fair participant could tell you that his was not science. The eugenicists ignored variables such as nutrition and access to medical health care that varied among racial and ethnic griups which could have an impact on growth and development and thus influence the differences dound. Physical measurements could be done with considerable accuracy. Measuring intelligence, however, was a very different matter. And it was a very critical matter as eugenicists advocated sterilization for the mentally deficient. Efforts to measuring intellgence first began after the turn of the 20th century. French psychologist Alfred Binet first created what is now known as a Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test (1905). He sought to assess a child's "mental age". He wanted a test which could be used as an aid to direct primary school children to either academic or vocational education tracks. Binet's system classified a child of average intelligence as having a mental age equal to his chronological age. Binet's mental age was used to generate an IQ (1910). The mathematical calculation was mental age/chronological age x 100). IQ scores can range from 0 to 200 and are designed to fit a bell curve, and by definition average 100. Average IQs range from 86 to 115. A variety of terms were used to develop individuals below (moron, imbecile, and idiot) and above (bright and genius) the average. Eugenicists eagerly employed IQ or other intelligence tests to compare different racial and ethnic groups. These comparisons purportedly showed whites were more intelligent than blacks, native-born Americans were more intelligent than foreign-born immigrants, and northern Europeans were more intelligent than southern Europeans. Eugenicits failed to assess the validity if the early IQ tests or other variables besides race ad ethnicity. The early IQ tests were useful, but they did not measure innate intelligence, but rather education. And of course many factors can affect education besides innate intelligence. Immigrants and poor Americans who had little who often came families with illiterate parents and had limited educational opportunities. They as a result scored poorly on these IQ tests.


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Created: 9:30 PM 9/11/2009
Last updated: 9:30 PM 9/11/2009