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Galton, Sir Francis (1822–1911)

Galton, Sir Francis (1822–1911)

Galton, Sir Francis (1822–1911), English scientist, biometrician, and explorer. Francis Galton founded the science of eugenics and introduced the theory of the anticyclone in meteorology.

Francis Galton was born on Feb. 16, 1822, at Birmingham, the son of Samuel Galton, a businessman, and Violetta Galton. After schooling in Boulogne and privately, he began to study medicine in 1838 but also read mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge.

The death of Galton's father in 1844 left him with considerable independent means, and he abandoned further medical study to travel in Syria, Egypt, and South-West Africa. As a result, he published Tropical South Africa (1853) and The Art of Travel (1855). His travels brought him fame as an explorer, and in 1854 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Geographical Society. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1856.

Turning his attention to meteorology, Galton published Meteorographica (1863), in which he described weather mapping, pointing out for the first time the importance of an anticyclone, in which air circulates clockwise round a center of high barometric pressure in the Northern Hemisphere. Cyclones, on the other hand, are low-pressure centers from which air rushes upward and moves counterclockwise.

Meanwhile, Galton had developed an interest in heredity, and the publication of The Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin won Galton's immediate support. Impressed by evidence that distinction of any kind is apt to run in families, Galton made detailed studies of families conspicuous for inherited ability over several generations. He then advocated the application of scientific breeding to human populations. These studies laid the foundation for the science of eugenics (a term he invented), or race improvement, and led to the publication of Hereditary Genius (1869) and English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture (1874).

Finding that advances in the study of heredity were being hampered by the lack of quantitative information, Galton started anthropometric research, devising instruments for the exact measurement of every quantifiable faculty of body or mind. In 1884 he finally set up and equipped a laboratory, the Biometric Laboratory at University College, London, where the public were tested. He measured such traits as keenness of sight and hearing, color sense, reaction time, strength of pull and of squeeze, and height and weight. The system of fingerprints in universal use today derived from this work.

Galton's application of exact quantitative methods gave results which, processed mathematically, developed a numerical factor he called correlation and defined thus: "Two variable organs are said to be corelated when the variation of the one is accompanied on the average by more or less variation of the other, and in the same direction. Co-relation must be the consequence of the variations of the two organs being partly due to common causes. If wholly due . . . the co-relation would be perfect." Co-relation specified the degree of relationship between any pair of individuals or any two attributes.

The developed presentation of Galton's views on heredity is Natural Inheritance (1889). A difficult work, with mathematics not beyond criticism, it sets out the "law of 1885," which attempts to quantify the influence of former generations in the hereditary makeup of the individual. Parents contribute each one-quarter, grandparents each one-sixteenth, and so on for earlier generations. Claims that Galton anticipated Mendel's ratios seem without foundation. For Galton, evolution ensured the survival of those members of the race with most physical and mental vigor, and he desired to see this come about in human society more speedily and with less pain to the individual through applying eugenics. Evolution was an unresting progression, the nature of the average individual being essentially unprogressive.

Galton used his considerable fortune to promote his scientific interests. He founded the journal Biometrika in 1901, and in 1903 the Eugenics Laboratory in the University of London. He died at Haslemere, Surrey, on Jan. 17, 1911, after several years of frail health. He bequeathed £45,000 to found a professorship in eugenics in the hope that his disciple and pupil Karl Pearson might become its first occupant. This hope was realized.


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