Victorian polymath: geographer, meteorologist, tropical explorer, founder of differential psychology, inventor of fingerprint identification, pioneer of statistical correlation and regression, convinced hereditarian, eugenicist, proto-geneticist, half-cousin of Charles Darwin and best-selling author.
And you've probably never heard of him. One of the reasons for this is that if Galton is remembered at all, it is as a proponent of eugenics. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eugenics as the science of using controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics in a population (from the Greek for ‘well born’).
But eugenics is a dirty word in the modern day. More from Galton.org:
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.
So one of the motivations behind Galton's interest in eugenics was an interest in the nature nurture question (something which I discuss frequently on this blog). And despite the sensitivity people may have towards eugenics, these are interesting topics to explore.
However Galton, like many of his contemporaries, was also a product of a Victorian mentality, which saw white-English culture as the pinnacle of evolution (and anything different as inferior). But we now understand that evolution is not directed. We are not evolved from chimpanzees, but evolved from a common ancestor with chimpanzees. Chimps are as evolved as we are, just different. And the differences between the races are far, far less than the difference between man and chimp. Galton talked about the influence of university education, but the proof is in the pudding and the evidence would seem to be that race is no impediment to mental achievements, even if there are undoubtedly genetic differences between races.
More on Galton in the future. If you're interested I suggest looking over this fascinating discussion between between Galton, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and others as published in the 1904 American Journal of Sociology. (It's like an early twentieth century blog)!Go Top