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Science and Government

Nature volume 96, pages 717718 (24 February 1916) | Download Citation



PROF. E. B. POULTON, in delivering the third Galton lecture before the Eugenics Education Society on 'February 16, said that the justification of the society lies in the fact that man, acting in a community, cannot help letting loose the forces that “improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally.” When these forces are tremendous, as in war, immense future effects must follow. The victory of Germany would impose upon mankind a new criterion, leading to the predominance of a revolting type. But every law, custom, or tradition by which society helps or restrains any of its individual members has some effect for the good or for the evil of future generations. Society is influenced by the tradition that marriage between first cousins is injurious. In consequence of this tradition such marriages are less frequent than they would otherwise be. There is no evidence that the tradition is well founded, and, in July, 1870, Charles Darwin wrote to Sir John Lubbock, pointing out that it was “manifestly desirable that the belief should either be proved false, or should be confirmed,” and suggesting that the proper queries should be inserted in the forthcoming census. When the Bill was considered in committee, Lubbock moved to insert the words, “whether married to a first cousin,” but the motion was opposed for all sorts of frivolous reasons, and finally rejected by 92 votes to 45. The neglect of eugenics by the Government has been as conspicuous as its neglect of other branches of science. The next general election will reveal a revolution in the political thought of the country, and the urgent necessity for the society will be to fight alongside the other sciences and the great business interests of the country, ensuring that scientific men and business men shall have weight in our future form of Government. When the war came the late Prof. Meldola, with his unrivalled knowledge of the relations between science and industry, was asked by the authorities to preside over some committees and to serve on others in order to help the Government, and the country, out of the dilemma. He was too patriotic to refuse, but the strain was too great for one who was far from strong, and he died after a few months of overwork. How can the country be saved from the disastrous consequences of the neglect of science? How can the society hope to improve, by means of an enlightened Government, the racial qualities of future generations? The remedy is simple, but there is every reason to believe that it will be effective. All that is necessary is to change the character of the examination for the Civil Service posts and for the Army, giving science a far more important place than it has held hitherto. This change would at once react on our public schools and the old universities, and would bring the members of future Parliaments under the influence of science.

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