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Galton, Sir Francis - THE DARWIN/WEDGWOOD/GALTON RELATIONSHIPS

investigations society royal human

By studying mental ability within families, concluded that intelligence is predominantly due to inheritance rather than environment, a view he presented in his book Hereditary Genius (1869). His own very inter-related family provided the basis for his observations. More recent work, such as studies of identical twins brought up in contrasting environments, has led to a different view: most psychologists now see heredity and environment as comparable contributors in the shaping of individual abilities. Three of Galton’s family have entries in this book (shown in heavy type) and others have arguable claims for inclusion.

(1822–1911) British geographer and anthropologist: invented the statistical measure of correlation.

Galton was born near Birmingham. His family included prosperous manufacturers and bankers as well as scientists and, from an early age, he developed a life-long passion for scientific investigation. In 1844 he graduated from Cambridge and, in that same year, his father’s death left him with the independence of a financial fortune. Galton wanted to undertake scientific geographical exploration and a cousin (Douglas Galton) introduced him to the Royal Geographical Society in London. With the Society’s advice, Galton financed and led a 2-year expedition to an uncharted region of Africa. On his return to England in 1852, his geographical work brought him recognition in scientific circles. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1856 and took up the life of a London-based scientist-at-large. He never held, or sought, paid employment but was an active officer in the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Society, the Anthropological Institute and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. These societies gave him contact with leading scientists and also the opportunity to report his own investigations.

Galton’s investigations were many and varied but he consistently stressed the value of quantitative evidence. His motto was: ‘whenever you can, measure and count’. For example, in order to construct large-scale weather maps, he sent a questionnaire to several weather stations around Europe asking for specified measurements on specified dates. When he received and mapped these data, in 1863, he discovered and named the now familiar ‘anticyclone’. In 1875 he published, in The Times , the first newspaper weather map. He invented a useful whistle which is ultrasonic (to human ears) but audible to dogs.

Throughout his life, Galton energetically pursued a variety of investigations. However, in 1859, a book appeared which stimulated him to concentrate more and more on the measurement of human individual differences. This book was The Origin of Species by , who was another of Galton’s cousins .

People obviously differ greatly in their physical and mental characteristics, and the question that intrigued Galton was: to what extent do these characteristics depend on heredity or on environmental conditions? He pursued this question by various investigations, eg selectively breeding plants and animals and collecting the medical histories of human twins, who are genetically identical. In his human investigations, he faced the challenge that there was, at that time, no reliable body of measurements across generations. For example, how do the heights of parents relate to the adult heights of their children? He assembled large amounts of intergenerational data about height and other characteristics. Then he faced the further problem that there was, at that time, no mathematical way of expressing compactly the extent to which, say, the heights of offspring vary as a function of the heights of parents. By working over his accumulated measurements Galton solved this problem and, in 1888, he presented to the Royal Society his technique for calculating the correlation coefficient.

Galton’s technique of 1888 was basically sound, but crude by modern standards. It was much improved by later workers. It provided a powerful new tool which nowadays is widely used, for example in medical science. Galton was a pioneer in several areas: he invented the term ‘eugenics’ to describe the science of production of superior off-spring and was largely responsible for the introduction of fingerprinting as a means of identifying individuals in criminal investigations . But his most enduring contribution is perhaps his invention of the correlation coefficient.

Gamble, James - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: James Gamble [next] [back] Galois, √Čvariste

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