Biological Theories of Crime

F. The Implications of Heredity and Evolution

Francis Galton (1822–1911) and Eugenics

It was in the work of Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, that statistics, biology, and sociology reached a harmonic state. Reading Darwin’s theories about variations in the traits of domestic animals set Galton on a path to study variations in humans. In doing so, he developed measurement techniques and analytic techniques to help him make sense of what he was observing. He first was interested in whether human ability was hereditary, and he collected biographical information about numerous prominent men of the time to chart the families’ abilities over several generations. He published his results in a book called Hereditary Genius (1869), in which he concluded that human ability was inherited. He followed this work with a survey of English scientists (1883) in which he attempted to determine whether their interest and abilities in science were the result of heredity (nature) or encouragement (nurture). Galton stimulated interest in the question of (and coined the phrase) nature versus nurture.

Although Galton’s work at that point was useful and had resulted in the development of numerous measurement tools (e.g., the questionnaire; fingerprint analysis) and statistical concepts (standard deviation, correlation, regression), it was his work with twins that provided the impetus for future inquiries into the nature-versus-nurture debate. Galton surveyed sets of twins to determine whether twins who were identical exhibited differences if raised in different environments and whether twins who were fraternal exhibited similarities if raised in similar environments. This work was published as “The History of Twins as a Criterion of the Relative Powers of Nature and Nurture” in 1875.

In 1883, Galton developed the concept of eugenics, his most controversial and abused philosophy. Eugenics advocated the encouragement, through the distribution of incentives, of “able” couples to reproduce in an effort to improve human hereditary traits. Part of his proposals included manipulating social morals to encourage the reproduction of the “more fit” and discourage reproduction of the “less fit.” Galton’s proposals were to change social mores and values rather than forcibly manipulating reproduction or eliminating those who were considered less fit. He believed that, without encouragement, it was the natural state of man (and thus of society) to revert to mediocrity, a phrase that came to be clarified as “regression toward the mean,” which he viewed as repressive of social and individual progress.

Prevailing thought at the time was receptive to such ideals, in the belief that these policies would reduce or eliminate poverty, disease, genetic deformities, illnesses, and crime. Eugenics was originally conceived as a concept of social responsibility to improve the lives of everyone in society by encouraging individuals to selectively breed good traits in and bad traits out, but many who followed would use Galton’s philosophies toward less than desirable ends. After Galton’s efforts, others attempted to document that crime was a family trait. In 1877, Richard Dugdale (1841– 1883) published The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity, in which he traced the descendants of matriarch Ada Jukes and found that most of the Jukes family members (although they were not all biologically related) were criminals, prostitutes, or welfare recipients. Another family study, published in 1912 by Henry H. Goddard (1866–1957), traced 1,000 descendants of a man named Martin Kallikak, comparing his descendants who were conceived within wedlock to a woman of “noble birth” to his descendants who came from the bloodline he conceived out of wedlock with another woman, one of ill repute. Goddard concluded (although he later retracted his conclusions) that the legitimate bloodline was “wholesome,” whereas the illegitimate bloodline was characterized by “feeblemindedness.”