Francis Galton

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A nation need not be a mob of slaves, clinging to one another through fear, and for the most part incapable of self-government, and begging to be led; but it might consist of vigorous self-reliant men, knit to one another by innumerable ties, into a strong, tense, and elastic organisation.

Sir Francis Galton F.R.S. (16 February 182217 January 1911) was an English Victorian polymath, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician. He was a half-cousin of Charles Darwin.


Hereditary Genius (1869)[edit]

  • I HAVE no patience with the hypothesis occasionally expressed, and often implied, especially in tales written to teach children to be good, that babies are born pretty much alike, and that the sole agencies in creating differences between boy and boy, and man and man, are steady application and moral effort. It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality. The experiences of the nursery, the school, the University, and of professional careers, are a chain of proofs to the contrary.
    • Hereditary Genius (1869; 2005), p. 56
  • The long period of the dark ages... is due... in a very considerable degree, to the celebacy enjoined by religious orders on their votaries. Whenever a man or woman was possessed of a gentle nature that fitted... deeds of charity, to meditation, to literature, or to art... they had no refuge elsewhere than in the bosom of the Church. ...celibacy. ...thus, by a policy so singularly unwise and suicidal... the Church brutalized the breed of our forefathers. if she had aimed at selecting the rudest portion of the community to be alone the parents of future generations. She practised the arts which breeders would use, who aimed at creating ferocious, currish, and stupid natures. ...
    The policy of the religious world in Europe... by means of persecutions... brought thousands of the foremost thinkers and men of political aptitudes to the scaffold, or imprisoned them during a large part of their manhood, or drove them as emigrants into other lands. ...Hence the Church, having first captured all the gentle natures and condemned them to celibacy, made another sweep of her huge nets catch those who were the most fearless, truth-seeking, and intelligent ...and therefore the most suitable parents of a high civilization, and put a strong check, if not a direct stop, to their progeny. Those she reserved... to breed the generations of the future, were the servile, the indifferent, and again, the stupid. Thus, as she... brutalized human nature by her system of celibacy applied to the gentle, she demoralised it by her system of persecution of the intelligent, the sincere, and the free.
    • Hereditary Genius (1869) pp. 357-358.
  • There is a steady check in an old civilisation upon the fertility of the abler classes: the improvident and unambitious are those who chiefly keep up the breed. So the race gradually deteriorates, becoming in each successive generation less fit for a high civilisation.
    • Hereditary Genius (1869), p. 414

Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883)[edit]

  • I have already spoken in Hereditary Genius of the large effects of religious persecution in comparatively recent years, on the natural character of races, and shall not say more about it here; but it must not be omitted from the list of steady influences continuing through ancient historical times down, in some degree, to the present day, in destroying the self-reliant, and therefore the nobler races of men.
    • Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883), p. 80
  • A really intelligent nation might be held together by far stronger forces than are derived from the purely gregarious instincts. A nation need not be a mob of slaves, clinging to one another through fear, and for the most part incapable of self-government, and begging to be led; but it might consist of vigorous self-reliant men, knit to one another by innumerable ties, into a strong, tense, and elastic organisation.
    • Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883), p. 80

Memories of My Life (1908)[edit]

  • My friend Sir G. Johnson subsequently became the leader of one of the two opposed methods of dealing with cholera. His was the “ eliminative” view, namely, that there was mischief in the system that Nature strove to eliminate, so he prescribed castor oil to expedite matters; others took the exactly opposite view, consequently there was open war between the two methods. I read somewhere that one of Johnson’s most fiery opponents considered the number of deaths occasioned by his method to amount to eleven thousand. Leaving aside all question of the accuracy of the estimate of this particular treatment, it is easy to see that when a pestilence lies heavily on a nation, the numbers affected are so large that a proper or improper treatment may be capable of saving or of destroying many thousands of lives. By all means, then, let competitive methods be tested at hospitals on a sufficiently large scale to settle their relative merits. Of this I will speak further almost immediately.
    • Ch. III Medical Studies
  • I wish that hospitals could be turned into places for experiment more than they are, in the following perfectly humane direction. Suppose two different and competing treatments of a particular malady ; I have just mentioned a case in point. Let the patients suffering under it be given the option of being placed under Dr. A. or Dr. B., the respective representatives of the two methods, and the results be statistically compared. A co-operation without partisanship between many large hospitals ought to speedily settle doubts that now hang unnecessarily long under dispute.
    • Ch. III Medical Studies
  • All male animals, including men, when they are in love, are apt to behave in ways that seem ludicrous to bystanders.
    • Chapter V Cambridge
  • As these lines are being written, the circumstances under which I first clearly grasped the important generalisation that the laws of Heredity were solely concerned with deviations expressed in statistical units, are vividly recalled to my memory. It was in the grounds of Naworth Castle, where an invitation had been given to ramble freely. A temporary shower drove me to seek refuge in a reddish recess in the rock by the side of the pathway. There the idea flashed across me, and I forgot everything else for a moment in my great delight.
  • The following question had been much in my mind. How is it possible for a population to remain alike in its features, as a whole, during many successive generations, if the average produce of each couple resemble their parents? Their children are not alike but vary...
    • Ch. XX Heredity (1909 ed.)
  • After much consideration and many inquiries, I determined, in 1885, on experimenting with sweet peas, which were suggested to me both by Sir Joseph Hooker and by Mr. Darwin. ...The result clearly proved Regression; the mean Filial deviation was only one-third that of the parental one, and the experiments all concurred. The formula that expresses the descent from one generation of a people to the next, showed that the generations would be identical if this kind of Regression was allowed for.
    • Ch. XX Heredity (1909 ed.)
  • All the formulæ of Conic Sections having long since gone out of my head, I went on my return to London to the Royal Institution to read them up. Professor, now Sir James Dewar, came in and probably noticing signs of despair in my face, asked me what I was about; then said, "Why do you bother over this? My brother in law, J. Hamilton Dickson of Peterhouse, loves problems and wants new ones. Send it to him." I did so... and he most cordially helped me by working it out... on the basis of the... Gaussian Law of Error.
    • Ch. XX Heredity (1909 ed.)
  • Man is gifted with pity and other kindly feelings; he has also the power of preventing many kinds of suffering. I conceive it to fall well within his province to replace Natural Selection by other processes that are more merciful and not less effective.

    This is precisely the aim of Eugenics. Its first object is to check the birth-rate of the Unfit, instead of allowing them to come into being, though doomed in large numbers to perish prematurely. The second object is the improvement of the race by furthering the productivity of the Fit by early marriages and healthful rearing of their children. Natural Selection rests upon excessive production and wholesale destruction; Eugenics on bringing no more individuals into the world than can be properly cared for, and those only of the best stock.

    • Ch. XXI Race Improvement

Other works[edit]

  • One of the effects of civilization is to diminish the rigour of the application of the law of natural selection. It preserves weakly lives that would have perished in barbarous lands.
    • "Hereditary Talent and Character" in MacMillan's Magazine Vol. XII (May - October 1865), p. 326.
  • General impressions are never to be trusted. Unfortunately when they are of long standing they become fixed rules of life and assume a prescriptive right not to be questioned. Consequently those who are not accustomed to original inquiry entertain a hatred and horror of statistics. They cannot endure the idea of submitting sacred impressions to cold-blooded verification. But it is the triumph of scientific men to rise superior to such superstitions, to desire tests by which the value of beliefs may be ascertained, and to feel sufficiently masters of themselves to discard contemptuously whatever may be found untrue.
    • Cited in Modgil, Sohan, and Celia Modgil, eds. Arthur Jensen: Consensus and Controversy. Vol. 4. Routledge, 1987.

Quotes about Galton[edit]

  • Galton [...] combined analysis and mathematical techniques to great effect, and in so doing, brought many new facts to light. [...] it is part of a grand tradition that, especially in the fields of sociology and psychology, has unleashed a great many intriguing and clever experiments.
    • Samuel Arbesman, The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know has an Expiration Date (2012)
  • Galton's passion shows itself best, I feel, in two essays that may seem more frivolous to us than they did to him. In the first, he computed the additional years of life enjoyed by the Royal Family and the clergy because of the prayers offered up for them by the greater part of the population; the result was a negative number. In the second, to relieve the tedium of sitting for a portrait painter, on two different occasions he computed the number of brush strokes and found about 20,000 to the portrait; just the same number, he calculated, as the hand movements that went into the knitting of a pair of socks.
  • It took Francis Galton several years to figure out that correlation and regression are not two concepts – they are different perspectives on the same concept. The general rule is straightforward but has surprising consequences: whenever the correlation between two scores is imperfect, there will be regression to the mean.

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