(Not noding my homework, per se, but not originally written for E2.)
Francis Galton has been called the last of the gentleman scientists -- men who dabbled in science as a hobby rather than a profession. Galton was brilliant and, with hundreds of publications to
his name, prolific, but he was also a dilettante -- his inquiries ranged
from the effectiveness of prayer to the body weights of British nobles.
Many of his ventures were successful: he pioneered the use of fingerprints
for identification, tested Charles Darwin's less successful theories, and discovered the
anticyclone. But his most notable contribution to science is a source of
more infamy than fame: eugenics, the study of improving a human population
by selective breeding, a cause that would later be championed by bigots
It is understandable that Galton would have latched on to the idea
that intelligence and talent are hereditary. He himself came from an
eminent family -- Charles Darwin was his cousin, Erasmus Darwin his
grandfather. Francis showed intelligence, even genius, from an early age;
by age 4 he could multiply, tell time, and read English, Latin, and some
French. For all his brilliance, however, he was never a fan of scholarship; he entered medical school at age 16, but used it mostly as a
chance to systematically sample the pharmaceuticals cabinet, in
alphabetical order (he stopped at C, when a dose of Croton oil made him vomit). Even the Croton oil was not as unpleasant to him as the grueling schedule,
though, and when his father's death left him with a substantial inheritence, Galton was quick to be done with school for good.
After school, Galton made a name for himself as an explorer,
earning a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society (of which he
would later become a fellow) for his excursions into uncharted southern
Africa. In 1853, having satisfied at least some of his wanderlust, he settled down,
married Louisa Butler, and gradually began dabbling in science. Despite his occasionally bizarre forays – one of his “experiments” involved sitting on a bench noting the relative attractiveness of passing women, and calculating various areas’ beauty quotients – he gradually began making substantial contributions. For instance, he was
the first to use statistics to determine correlation in biology -- the
phenomenon where if one variable, like arm length, varies, another one, like leg length, will vary in the same way (a person with long arms will,
on average, have longer legs than a person with short arms). This concept
was in many ways revolutionary, especially in Galton's own work, which
often involved correlating people's intelligence with that of their
ancestors or offspring.
These experiments with hereditary intelligence represented the part
of his work Galton was most passionate about. He was enthusiastically interested
in the budding science of genetics; one of Galton's most notable
experiments involved disproving Charles Darwin's theory that
hereditary traits were passed down by tiny particles called "gemmules" that were found in every part of the body. Galton believed that "eminence" – his somewhat poorly-defined term for a cocktail of intelligence, fame, talent, and money -- was one of these
heritable traits. He studied England's most prominent family trees, and found
that any individual's eminence was directly related to that of his parents
and grandparents (though he somehow forgot to factor nepotism and the educational benefits of money into the picture). These findings, inconclusive as they would have been in modern science, led him to propose a program of eugenics, assuring
that notable families would continue to produce notable children.
Statistically, he reasoned, it would take many times more pairings of
unremarkable people to produce as many eminent children as one pair of
geniuses, so in order for a society to grow in eminence certain people
must be encouraged to reproduce while others are discouraged.
Galton thwarted his own plan of selective breeding by dying
childless in 1911. He left behind no “eminent” genes, but he did leave a chair in eugenics at University College, London, endowed in his will; a number of works, like his study of
fingerprints, that would represent his lasting impact on the scientific
world; and a brainchild, eugenics, that would come, for many, to represent the
depths of ignorance.
Forrest, D.W. Francis Galton: The Life and Work of a Victorian Genius.
New York: Taplinger, 1974.
Taton, Rene. "Francis Galton." Dictionary of Scientific Biography, ed.
Charles Coulston Gillespie. New York: Scribner, 1990. vol. V., pp.