Francis Galton

In contrast to the view of his day, Francis Galton believed that intelligence was inherited. Although most people thought everyone had the same amount of intelligence but that they differed in will and effort, Galton contended that heredity not only played a large role in determining intelligence, it held the primary role. 

In his book (Hereditary Genius, 1869), Galton attempted to show that greatness (in law, medicine, etc.) was a function of family heredity, not environment. It was survival of the intellectually fittest. He believed that a highly intelligent race of people could be established if individuals didn’t select their own mates. Galton wasn’t favoring the old fashioned idea of parents selecting mates for their children; he was promoted the value of science as a matchmaker. Couples should be selected scientifically. The government should pay for the marriages of “desirable” matches and for the education of their offspring. He coined this plan for selective breeding “eugenics.”

Ironically, Galton didn’t need create an aristocracy of intelligence, wealth and influence, he was already part of it. Born in Birmingham, England, his father was a banker, his mother the half-sister to Robert Darwin (Charles Darwin’s father). His family wanted him (the youngest of 7) to become a doctor but Galton wanted adventure. He did attend medical school but took time off to travel through Austria, Turkey and Greece. When he father died, Galton inherited enough money to be financially independent and set off for a two year expedition through Africa. 

It was in Africa that Galton mapped uncharted lands, learned survival skills, and came to the conclusion that the native population was not capable of acting “civilized.” He didn’t blame their poverty or lack of education; they had inherited survival and hunting abilities, not cultural and intellectual abilities. Unfortunately, the arrogance of his racist views were an expression of the culture of the time, not an isolated opinion of one person. Although his views are abhorrent, Galton reminds us that the misapplication of science to prove preconceived notions remains a danger today.

Although Galton’s conclusions have been rejected, his contributions to methodology are remarkable. It was Galton who devised the first weather charts and the use of “high”, “low” and “front.” He pioneered the use survey questionnaires, fingerprints for identification, the study of twins and word association. He also developed scatterplots and the “co-relation” (correlation), and discovered “regression toward the mean.”

Galton developed a number of tests to measure intellectual giftedness. For him, intelligence was a single factor that could be measured by sensory capacities (allowing the best adaptation to the environment). Intelligence would be evident in any task, so Galton put together a collection of disparate tasks, including standing height, sitting height, weight, arm span and strength (pulling, squeezing, etc.). In 1884, Galton had a booth at London’s International Health Exhibition where he measured nearly 10,000 people. Later, at his lab in the South Kensington Museum, people paid to have their reflexes tested and reaction time recorded (return customers received a discount). To analyze his large collection of data, Galton created methods to rank order, group and graph his findings. His findings (e.g., that arm length and leg length are correlated) are less important than his emaphsis on quantification and the analytical methods he developed.


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