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Francis Galton

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Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) was a British polymath, evolutionary theorist, explorer, inventor, author, perhaps the most important person in statistics of all time … and the granddaddy of eugenics. He was the half-cousin of Charles Darwin.

Eugenics and hereditarianism[edit]

Unlike many other social Darwinist thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, Galton was a staunch opponent of Lamarckian evolution. Galton was inspired by Darwin's On the Origin of Species to apply natural selection to humans[1] and then extend that argument to support the use of artificial selection, or "eugenics," on the human population. However, his hereditarian views seemed to have taken shape prior to this point, especially during his voyages to south-west Africa in the early 1850s. Galton conducted ethnographic research there and began to develop some of his early psychological theories. This experience seems to have provided much of the basis of his works espousing scientific racism, which was fairly extreme even by the standards of Victorian England.[2] His first book-length work on heredity, Hereditary Genius, was published in 1869.[3] The book included hundreds of subjects' scores on mathematical and civil service tests as well as the lineages of the subjects. Galton argued that "genius" was primarily inherited by noting the normal distribution of the scores and the closeness of "great" men on their family trees. He coined the term "eugenics" in 1883 with his book Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development, which further developed his study of individual differences in psychological traits.[4] He was the first to make use of twin studies in his research on heredity, a method which is still used in behavioral genetics today.[5]

Curiously, despite being a eugenicist in Victorian England, he was actually a pro-semite, stating that the persecution that Jews have historically faced resulted in a race "suited to meet hard conditions".[6] Surprisingly, he opposed colonialism in Africa… because it was the wrong climate for Anglo-Saxons. Apparently, sunshine and warm weather are like poison to the British.[7] Instead, he had suggested that Europe help the Chinese expand and displace the local Africans, having rather… positive views of the Chinese.[8] This just goes to show that the idea behind "I'm not a racist because I think the Chinese are smarter than whites" is not a modern invention.

Other contributions[edit]

  • In his early days, he was known mostly as an inventor of what were considered trivial diversions such as the Galton whistle, a dog-whistle type device he used to test the range of human audition.[9] Also invented a plinko-like device to demonstrate the Gaussian Normal Distribution.
  • In his studies of biology and psychology, Galton first conceived of or created many of the basic elements of statistics such as the correlation coefficient[10], standard deviation, and reversion toward mediocrity regression to the mean.[11]
  • He also created discovered the lognormal probability distribution (originally called the Galton distribution), which is basically a normal distribution for exponential functions.
  • Created the first meteorological maps and proposed the theory of anticyclones; his notation is still mostly in use to this day.[12]
  • Developed fingerprinting techniques.[13]
  • Debunked Darwin's theory of pangenesis, in which inheritance was based on tiny blood particles called "gemmules."[14]
  • Published research refuting the efficacy of prayer.[15]

External links[edit]



  1. Which would, of course, make it no longer natural
  2. Raymond E. Fancher. Galton in Africa. American Psychologist, Jun. 1982
  3. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences (2nd ed.) hosted at
  4. Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (2nd ed.) hosted at
  5. Burbridge, D. Francis Galton on Twins, Heredity, and Social Class. Br J Hist Sci. 2001 Sep;34(122 Pt 3):323-40.
  6. Eugenics and the Jew, Francis Galton, 1910
  7. That would explain why the British thought Australia was the perfect place to send their criminals. Of course, given their sensitivity to sunburn, it's not too far off to say sunshine is poison to the British.
  9. Galton's Whistle, c. 1900, Science and Society Picture Library
  10. Stephen M. Stigler. Francis Galton's Account of the Invention of Correlation. Statistical Sciences, Vol. 4, No. 2, May, 1989
  11. Introduction to Linear Regression, Duke University
  12. NEQ Spotlight: Dr. Francis Galton, Northeast Quadrant
  13. Francis Galton and Fingerprints,
  14. Correspondence Between Charles Darwin and Francis Galton,
  15. C.P. Blacker. Galton's Outlook on Religion. Eugenics Review, vol. 38, no. 2