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]

See the main articles on this topic: Eugenics and Hereditarianism

Unlike many other Social Darwinist thinkers (such as Herbert Spencer), Galton staunchly opposed Lamarckian evolution. Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, inspired Galton to apply natural selection to humans[note 1] and then to 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-western Africa (in present-day Namibia) 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 were fairly extreme even by the standards of Victorian England.[1] He published his first book-length work on heredity, Hereditary Genius, in 1869.[2] 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 — based on his observations on the normal distribution of the scores and on the closeness of "great" men within 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.[3] He pioneered the use of twin studies in his research on heredity, a method which behavioral geneticists continue to use today.[4]

Curiously, despite his eugenicist work in Victorian England, Galton was actually a pro-semite, stating that the persecution that Jews have historically faced resulted in a race "suited to meet hard conditions".[5] Surprisingly, he opposed colonialism in Africa… because it had the wrong climate for Anglo-Saxons. Apparently, sunshine and warm weather are like poison to the British.[note 2] Instead, he suggested that Europe help the Chinese expand and displace the local Africans, having rather… positive views of the Chinese.[6] 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.[7] 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,[8] standard deviation, and reversion toward mediocrity regression to the mean.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • Invented the dog whistle. No, not that one.
  • Developed fingerprinting techniques.[11]
  • Debunked Darwin's theory of pangenesis, in which inheritance was based on tiny blood particles called "gemmules."[12]
  • Published research refuting the efficacy of prayer.[13]

External links[edit]



  1. Which would, of course, make it no longer natural
  2. 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.


  1. Raymond E. Fancher. Galton in Africa. American Psychologist, Jun. 1982
  2. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences (2nd ed.) hosted at
  3. Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (2nd ed.) hosted at
  4. Burbridge, D. Francis Galton on Twins, Heredity, and Social Class. Br J Hist Sci. 2001 Sep;34(122 Pt 3):323-40.
  5. Eugenics and the Jew, Francis Galton, 1910
  6. Africa For The Chinese, Francis Galton, 1873
  7. Galton's Whistle, c. 1900, Science and Society Picture Library
  8. Stephen M. Stigler. Francis Galton's Account of the Invention of Correlation. Statistical Sciences, Vol. 4, No. 2, May, 1989
  9. Introduction to Linear Regression, Duke University
  10. NEQ Spotlight: Dr. Francis Galton, Northeast Quadrant
  11. Francis Galton and Fingerprints,
  12. Correspondence Between Charles Darwin and Francis Galton,
  13. C.P. Blacker. Galton's Outlook on Religion. Eugenics Review, vol. 38, no. 2