Francis Galton


Francis Galton : biography

16 February 1822 – 17 January 1911

He became very active in the British Association for the Advancement of Science, presenting many papers on a wide variety of topics at its meetings from 1858 to 1899 . He was the general secretary from 1863 to 1867, president of the Geographical section in 1867 and 1872, and president of the Anthropological Section in 1877 and 1885. He was active on the council of the Royal Geographical Society for over forty years, in various committees of the Royal Society, and on the Meteorological Council.

James McKeen Cattell, a student of Wilhelm Wundt who had been reading Galton’s articles, decided he wanted to study under him. He eventually built a professional relationship with Galton, measuring subjects and working together on research.

In 1888, Galton established a lab in the science galleries of the South Kensington Museum. In Galton’s lab, participants could be measured in order to gain knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Galton also used these data for his own research. He would typically charge people a small fee for his services.Hergenhahn, B.R., (2008). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Colorado: Wadsworth Pub.

During this time, Galton wrote a controversial letter to the Times titled ‘Africa for the Chinese’, where he argued that the Chinese, as a race capable of high civilization and (in his opinion) only temporarily stunted by the recent failures of Chinese dynasties, should be encouraged to immigrate to Africa and displace the supposedly inferior aboriginal blacks.

Heredity and eugenics

The publication by his cousin Charles Darwin of The Origin of Species in 1859 was an event that changed Galton’s life.Forrest DW 1974. Francis Galton: the life and work of a Victorian genius. Elek, London. p84 He came to be gripped by the work, especially the first chapter on "Variation under Domestication" concerning the breeding of domestic animals.

Galton devoted much of the rest of his life to exploring variation in human populations and its implications, at which Darwin had only hinted. In so doing, he established a research programme which embraced multiple aspects of human variation, from mental characteristics to height; from facial images to fingerprint patterns. This required inventing novel measures of traits, devising large-scale collection of data using those measures, and in the end, the discovery of new statistical techniques for describing and understanding the data.

Galton was interested at first in the question of whether human ability was hereditary, and proposed to count the number of the relatives of various degrees of eminent men. If the qualities were hereditary, he reasoned, there should be more eminent men among the relatives than among the general population. To test this, he invented the methods of historiometry. Galton obtained extensive data from a broad range of biographical sources which he tabulated and compared in various ways. This pioneering work was described in detail in his book Hereditary Genius in 1869. Here he showed, among other things, that the numbers of eminent relatives dropped off when going from the first degree to the second degree relatives, and from the second degree to the third. He took this as evidence of the inheritance of abilities.

Galton recognized the limitations of his methods in these two works, and believed the question could be better studied by comparisons of twins. His method envisaged testing to see if twins who were similar at birth diverged in dissimilar environments, and whether twins dissimilar at birth converged when reared in similar environments. He again used the method of questionnaires to gather various sorts of data, which were tabulated and described in a paper The history of twins in 1875. In so doing he anticipated the modern field of behavior genetics, which relies heavily on twin studies. He concluded that the evidence favored nature rather than nurture. He also proposed adoption studies, including trans-racial adoption studies, to separate the effects of heredity and environment.