Gini addresses the Third International Congress of Eugenics

Corrado Gini attended the Third International Congress of Eugenics held in the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, 22-23 August 1932. Here is the address that he gave to that Congress:

It is a great honour for me to take part in the Third International Congress of Eugenics as head of the delegation sent by the Italian Government, and as representative of the Italian Society of Genetics and Eugenics, the Italian Committee for the study of Population Problems, and the Central Institute of Statistics. It is also a great honour to have been invited by the Organizing Committee to address the General Assembly. I presume it is the wish of the Organizing Committee that I express my own personal point of view, and that of the scientific bodies I represent, on the Congress we have just opened and on the program of our science.

The adherence and the contribution I have given to the two previous International Congresses of Eugenics held at London and New York, my initiative in favor of the two Italian Congresses of Eugenics in 1924 and 1929, whose success was made more complete by the participation of eminent representatives of the foreign Eugenic Societies and of their International Federation, the prominent part I assigned to Eugenics at the International Population Congress of Rome (September 1931) show the importance I attach to international meetings of the followers of our science.

Indeed, they afford an opportunity to sum up what has been done and what we should do, and they also enable us to become personally acquainted and to exchange our own ideas with those of men of theory and men of practice, who in very different fields of science and of life take an interest in the problems of heredity and the improvement of the human races.

The interest taken by eugenists of many countries in the recent International Population Congress of Rome, and the official participation at this New York Congress of the Italian Committee for the study of Population Problems, afford, I believe, a further recognition of the truth that in the matter of population, as in other fields, the problems of quantity and quality are indissolubly connected. As I see it, they are indissolubly connected not only because in practice it is difficult to think of a measure affecting the number of inhabitants which does not also affect their qualitative distribution, or of a measure hindering or encouraging the reproduction of certain categories of people which does not also modify, directly or indirectly, the number of the population, but also and above all because population is a biological whole, subject, as such, to biological laws which show us that mass, structure, metabolism, psychic phenomena, the reproduction of organic life are all indissolubly connected, both in their static conditions and in their evolution, so that it would be vain to try to modify some of these characters without taking into account the stage of development attained by the others. In conformity with the strictly scientific character, explicitly laid down in its statutes, the Italian Committee for the study of Population Problems which I have the honour to represent, leaves out of account all questions of demographic policies, but that does not prevent it from noting with satisfaction the interest which nearly all Governments now officially take in quantitative and qualitative population problems, and the fact that many of them are guided in their action by the results secured by science.

The very fact that genetic and eugenic studies in Italy are coordinated by the same Society, and, as was the case at the Second National Congress in 1929, are frequently discussed at the same scientific meetings, indicates that we recognise the necessary connection between the two sciences. We are therefore much pleased to see the Third International Congress of Eugenics, and the Sixth International Congress of Genetics rise and grow as twin Congresses.

If we accept Galton's definition of Eugenics, that is, the study of agencies under social control which may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, it is clear that Eugenics is quite distinct from Genetics.

And that is so not only because Eugenics is exclusively concerned with man, not only because factors apt to improve or impair the qualities of the human species, exist outside of "genes," but also and essentially because Eugenics considers the factors, apt to improve or impair the racial qualities of humankind not only from the view-point of their causes, as does Genetics, but also from that of their practical consequences, of their history, of their diffusion, of their economic, political, moral, cultural reflexes, and because, last but not least, its ultimate purpose is the social control of the factors in question. Even those who think, as I do, that we, at least in the majority of cases, are still too ignorant to exercise such control, cannot help acknowledging that, if the character of a science is determined by its purpose, the character of Eugenics is prevalently sociological. And here allow me to seize this occasion in order to point out the danger which, according to the opinion of others and myself, is hovering threateningly above Eugenics; the danger, namely, that, by considering Eugenics from a narrow point of view as a chapter of Genetics applied to man, or worse still, of experimental Genetics applied to man, and by neglecting all other problems, so vast, complex and delicate, which it embraces, we do not attain the aim of assuring for our national and international organizations the support of the majority of biologists, who may feel justified, on the strength of such a view- point, in considering Eugenics as absorbed by Genetics, and that we lose, on the other hand, the support of the students of social sciences who may find that the eugenists are not sufficiently prepared to face the ultimate and most difficult problems of their field or endeavor. I feel it my duty to emphasize here this warning not only on my behalf but on behalf also of the Italian Eugenic and Genetic Society, and as a unanimous expression of the feeling of the Italian Delegation.

Although its prevalently sociological character does not allow Eugenics to be merged with Genetics, yet it is undoubtedly true that the science of Eugenics must obtain from that of Genetics many of the fundamental facts on which to base its theories and their applications. This is true even, indeed especially, if Eugenics is to outstrip, as in my opinion it will have to, its old program, Limited to the negative purpose of eliminating beings inferior by heredity, and to the positive purpose of increasing the reproductivity of the best, and if it is to acquire, as in my presidential address at the Second Italian Congress of Genetics and Eugenics (Rome 1929) I expressed the hope it would, the character of regenerative Eugenics. Regenerative Eugenics has the special purpose of studying, through series of successive generations, how new stocks rise, what circumstances determine their formation in the midst of the obscure mass of the population — a formation which can hardly be explained by the heredity of superior factors heretofore non-extant — and what importance may be ascribed in their formation to the influence of happy combinations arising from cross-breeding and favored by natural selection, such as the change of environment caused by emigration, or the selection of the original populations which occurs in emigration.

If we thus enlarge the horizon of Eugenics, it becomes evident on the one hand, that its work cannot be based solely on laboratory research but will demand wide research in the field of history controlled by statistics. Statistics above all, if I am not blinded by the affection due to long familiarity with that branch of knowledge, together with Genetics, brings an indispensable contribution to Eugenics. Genetics and Statistics appear to me to be the foundations on which rest, as on a bridge built between the biological and social sciences, the whole structure of Eugenics. If Genetics supplies, on the one hand, the foundations and directing principles of Eugenic research and programs. Statistics on the other hand enables us to verify by strict methods the results over an adequate number of observations. Statistics enables us, moreover, to carry our enquiry into fields where laboratory experimentation would be impossible or inadequate. This explains the keen interest the Central Institute of Statistics, which has acquired so much importance of late years in Italy, has always taken in Eugenic problems. Not only has that Institute desired to be officially represented at this Congress, but it has also wished to make a worthy contribution to the annexed exhibition by sending a series of large colored diagrams showing density of population, birth-rate, and death-rate of the several Italian Communes, and two collections of graphs showing the variations in the Italian death-rate during the past forty years, and the composition of large Italian families, as well as many aspects of the marriage and death rates of their members.

Were you to ask me what the program of Eugenics should be in the immediate future, I would repeat the opinion I expressed last year at the opening of the International Congress for Population Studies. "Facts, facts, facts." It seems to me that this should be the motto of Eugenists.

No less than natural and economic phenomena, scientific research proceeds with a rhythm in which periods of theoretic elaboration alternate with periods of fact collecting. In the field of Eugenics it seems to me that in the past too much time has been spent in building up theories and in multiplying programs, and too little attention has been paid to broadening and consolidating the foundations on which the edifice was rising with a disproportionate excess of superstructures.

Those who share my views on this matter will be encouraged by seeing at the head of this Congress Dr Charles Davenport, who has devoted so much of his activity in the field of Eugenics to the collection of facts.

On behalf of the Italian Government and of the scientific bodies I represent, I take pleasure in extending to him and to the organising Committee of the Congress our cordial wishes for the success of our meeting.

Last Updated July 2012