produced over 340 papers and books throughout his lifetime and
was knighted in 1909. He created the statistical concepts of regression
and correlation and discovered regression toward the mean, was
the first to apply statistical methods to the study of human differences
and heredity, and introduced the use of questionnaires and surveys
for collecting data on human communities, which he needed for
genealogical and biographical works and for his anthropometric
studies. He was a pioneer in eugenics, coining the term "eugenics"
and the phrase "nature versus nurture".
an investigator of the human mind, he founded psychometrics (the
science of measuring mental faculties) and differential psychology
(the branch of psychology that concerns itself with psychological
differences between people, rather than on common traits). He
devised a method for classifying fingerprints useful in forensics.
As the initiator of scientific meteorology: he invented the weather
map, proposed a theory of anticyclones and was the first to establish
a complete record of short-term climatic phenomena on a European
He was born near Sparkbrook, Birmingham and was Charles Darwin's
half-cousin, sharing the common grandparent Erasmus Darwin. His
father was Samuel Tertius Galton, son of Samuel "John"
Galton. The Galtons were famous and highly successful Quaker gun-manufacturers
and bankers, while the Darwins were distinguished in medicine
families boasted Fellows of the Royal Society and members who
loved to invent in their spare time. Both Erasmus Darwin and Samuel
Galton were founder members of the famous Lunar Society of Birmingham,
whose members included Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood, Priestley, Edgeworth,
Erasmus Darwin and other distinguished scientists and industrialists.
Likewise, both families boasted literary talent, with Erasmus
Darwin notorious for composing lengthy technical treatises in
verse, and Aunt Mary-Anne Galton known for her writing on aesthetics
and religion, and her notable autobiography detailing the unique
environment of her childhood populated by Lunar Society members.
was by many accounts a child prodigy--he was reading by the age
of 2, at age 5 he knew some Greek, Latin and long division, and
by the age of six he had moved on to adult books, including Shakespeare
for pleasure, and poetry, which he quoted at length. He attended
numerous schools, but chafed at the narrow classical curriculum,
which bored him. His parents pressed him to enter the medical
profession, and he studied for two years at Birmingham General
hospital and King's College Medical School in London.
followed this up with mathematical studies at Trinity College,
University of Cambridge, from 1840 to early 1844. A severe nervous
breakdown altered his original intention to try for honours. He
elected instead to take a "poll" (pass) B.A. degree,
like his cousin Charles Darwin. (Following the Cambridge custom,
he was awarded an M.A. without further study, in 1847). He then
briefly resumed his medical studies. The death of his father in
1844 left him financially independent but emotionally destitute,
and he terminated his medical studies entirely, turning to foreign
travel, sport and technical invention.
his early years Galton was an enthusiastic traveler, and made
a notable solo trip through Eastern Europe to Constantinople,
before going up to Cambridge. In 1845 and 1846 he went to Egypt
and traveled down the Nile to Khartoum in the Sudan, and from
there to Beirut, Damascus and down the Jordan. In 1850 he joined
the Royal Geographical Society, and over the next two years mounted
a long and difficult expedition into then little-known South-Western
Africa (now Namibia). He wrote a successful book on his experience,
"Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa".
was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal in 1853
and the Silver Medal of the French Geographical Society for his
pioneering cartographic survey of the region. This established
his reputation as a geographer and explorer. He proceeded to write
the best-selling The Art of Travel, a handbook of practical advice
for the Victorian on the move, which went through many editions
and still reappears in print today.
1853 he married Louisa Butler, who also came from an intellectually
distinguished family, and after a honeymoon in Florence and Rome,
they took up residence in South Kensington, where he remained
almost until his death in 1911. They had no children.
Galton was a polymath who made important contributions in many
fields of science, including geography, statistics, biology and
anthropology. Much of this was influenced by his penchant for
counting or measuring. The result was a blizzard of discoveries
and investigations as varied as detailed research into the perfect
cup of tea and his discovery of the anti-cyclone. He became very
active in the British Association for the Advancement of Science,
presenting many papers on wide variety of topics at its meeings
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.
historiometry and eugenics
The event that changed his life and gave him direction was the
publication by his cousin Charles Darwin of The Origin of Species
in 1859. Galton was gripped by the work, especially the first
chapter on Variation under Domestication concerning the breeding
of domestic animals. He devoted much of the rest of his life to
exploring its implications for human populations, which Darwin
had only hinted at. In doing so, he ultimately established a research
programme that came to embrace all 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 gathered.
was interested at first in the question of whether human ability
was indeed 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. He obtained
his data from various biographical sources and compared the results
that he tabulated in various ways. This pioneering work was described
in detail in his book Hereditary Genius in 1869. 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. He also proposed adoption studies,
including trans-racial adoption studies, to separate out the effects
of heredity and environment.
method used in Hereditary Genius has been described as the first
example of historiometry. To bolster these results, and to attempt
to make a distinction between 'nature' and 'nurture' (he was the
first to apply this phrase to the topic) he devised a questionnaire
that he sent out to 190 Fellows of the Royal Society. He tabulated
characteristics of their families, such as birth order and the
occupation and race of their parents. He attempted to discover
if their interest in science was "innate" or due to
the encouragements of others. The studies were published as a
book, English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture in 1874.
In the end, it illuminated the nature versus nurture question,
though it did not settle it, and provided some fascinating data
on the sociology of scientists of the time.
recognized the limitations of his methods in these two works,
and believed the question could be better studied by comparisons
of twins. His method was 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.
invented the term eugenics in 1883 and set down many of his observations
and conclusions in a book, Inquiries in Human Faculty and its
Development. He believed that a scheme of 'marks' for family merit
should be defined, and early marriage between families of high
rank be encouraged by provision of monetary incentives. He pointed
out some of the dysgenic tendencies in British society, such as
the late marriages of eminent people, and the paucity of their
children. He advocated encouraging eugenic marriages by supplying
incentives for the able to have children.
ideas would greatly influence similar movements in many other
countries. He cautioned, however, against the sorts of extreme
proposals that the eugenics movement soon produced when it was
taken up enthusiastically by socialists such as George Bernard
Shaw, HG Wells, and their followers, who were enthusiastic about
state compulsion and social engineering.
study of human abilities ultimately led to the foundation of differential
psychology, the formulation of the first mental tests, and the
scientific study of human intelligence. Many of his insights have
taken many decades of research to verify; for example, his study
of reaction time as a measure of intelligence was only vindicated
a hundred years later, as was his assertion of a relationship
between head size on intelligence (MRI measures are now known
to correlate at approximately 0.4 with I.Q.).
conducted wide-ranging inquiries into heredity. In the process
he was able to refute Darwin's theory of pangenesis. Darwin had
proposed as part of this theory that certain particles, which
he called 'gemmules' moved throughout the body and were also responsible
for the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Galton, in consultation
with Darwin, set out to see if they were transported in the blood.
In a long series of experiments in 1869 to 1871, he transfused
the blood between dissimilar breeds of rabbits, and examined the
features of their offspring. He found no evidence of characters
transmitted in the transfused blood. Galton explicitly rejected
the idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarckism),
and was an early proponent of "hard heredity" through
came close to rediscovering Mendel's particulate theory of inheritance,
but was prevented from making the final breakthrough in this regard
because of his focus on continuous, rather than discrete, traits
(now known as polygenic traits). He went on to found the Biometric
approach to the study of heredity, distinguished by its use of
statistical techniques to study continuous traits and population-scale
aspects of heredity. This approach was later taken up enthusiastically
by Karl Pearson and W.F.R. Weldon; together, they founded the
highly influential journal Biometrika in 1901. (R.A. Fisher would
later show how the biometrical approach could be reconciled with
the Mendelian approach.) The statistical techniques that Galton
invented (correlation, regression - see below) and phenomena he
established (regression to the mean) formed the basis of the biometric
approach and are now essential tools in all the social sciences.
also devised a technique called composite photography, described
in detail in Inquiries in Human Faculty and its Development, which
he believed could be used to identify 'types' by appearance, which
he hoped would aid medical diagnosis, and even criminology through
the identification of typical criminal faces. However he was forced
to conclude after exhaustive experimentation that such types were
not attainable in practice.
regression and correlation
His inquiries into the mind involved detailed recording of subjects'
own explanations for whether and how their minds dealt with things
such as mental imagery, which he elicited by his pioneering use
of the questionnaire.
invented the use of the regression line, and was the first to
describe and explain the common phenomenon of regression toward
the mean, which he first observed in his experiments on the size
of the seeds of successive generations of sweet peas. In the 1870s
and 1880s he was a pioneer in the use of normal distribution to
fit histograms of actual tabulated data. He invented the Quincunx,
a pachinko-like device, also known as the bean machine, as a tool
for demonstrating the law of error and the normal distribution.
He also discovered the properties of the bivariate normal distribution
and its relationship to regression analysis.
examining forearm and height measurements, Galton introduced the
concept of correlation in 1888. His statistical study of the probability
of extinction of surnames led to the concept of Galton-Watson
also developed early theories of ranges of sound and hearing,
and collected large quantities of anthropometric data from the
public through his popular and long-running Anthropometric Laboratory.
It was not until 1985 that this data was analyzed in its entirety.
In a Royal Institution paper in 1888 and three books (1892, 1893
and 1895) Galton estimated the probability of two persons having
the same fingerprint and studied the heritability and racial differences
in fingerprints. He wrote about the technique (inadvertently sparking
a controversy between Herschel and Faulds that was to last until
1917), identifying common pattern in fingerprints and devising
a classification system that survives to this day. The method
of identifying criminals by their fingerprints had been introduced
in the 1860s by William Herschel in India, and their potential
use in forensic work was first proposed by Dr Henry Faulds in
1880, but Galton was the first to place the study on a scientific
footing, without which it would not have been accepted by the
In an effort to reach a wider audience, Galton worked on a novel
entitled ‘Kantsaywhere’, from May until December of
1910. The novel described a utopia organized by a eugenic religion,
designed to breed fitter and smarter humans. His unpublished notebooks
show that this was an expansion of material he had been composing
since at least 1901. He offered it to Methuen for publication,
but they showed little enthusiasm. Galton wrote to his niece that
it should be either “smothered or superseded”. His
niece appears to have burnt most of the novel, offended by the
love scenes, but large fragments survive.
He received in 1853 the highest award from the Royal Geographical
Society, one of two gold medals awarded that year, for his explorations
and map-making of southwest Africa. He was elected a member of
the prestigious Athenaeum Club in 1855 and made a Fellow of the
Royal Society in 1860. Over the course of his career he received
every major award the Victorian scientific establishment could
offer, including the Copley medal of the Royal Society. He was
knighted in 1909. His statistical heir Karl Pearson, first holder
of the Galton Chair of Eugenics at University College London,
wrote a three-volume biography of Galton after his death (1914,
1924, 1930). The eminent psychometrician Lewis Terman estimated
that his childhood I.Q. was on the order of 200, based on the
fact that he consistently performed mentally at roughly twice
his chronological age.