History of Francis Galton, and Eugenics impacts on the World

Updated: Jun 10


Picture of Francis Galton
Francis Galton (1822 - 1911)

Francis Galton was the first cousin of Charles Darwin and was inspired to much extent by Darwin’s work. Like his cousin, he studied medicine but didn’t pursue it further. He contributed in multiple fields such as statistics, meteorology, psychology, psychometrics, forensics. He was also honored by the British Royal family as a knight.



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Galton was the first one who introduced the concept of forensics. He demonstrated that every individual processes a unique fingerprint that can’t match with others. He argued that through the method of fingerprinting the criminals could be identified. Galton's assertions were later endorsed by Scotland Yard. From then, the identification of criminals through fingerprints is used integrally in Forensics. Moreover, the impact of the concept was so ground-breaking that today the method of fingerprinting is universally used as the identity mark of a person.


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Galton created the first continental weather map and described the ways to use barometers for understanding the weather conditions. He published a book in 1864 named Meteorographica which means methods of mapping the weather. He argued that through the scientific instrument the future events such as cyclones could be predicted.



However, his most influential contribution was in the field of statistics. In Feb 1877, he was the speaker of Friday evening in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. There he introduced his board model named Quincunx which is today popularly known as the “Galton board.”



In this model, he explained why the majority of people are the same in terms of intelligence and attributes. For example, when a ball is left from the top and passes through the triangular barriers, it can go anywhere. In the continuum from 1 to 11, a ball can fall between 1 to 11 anywhere which means the uncertainty is there. However, if the 1000 balls will be put, the majority of balls will fall in the middle, and as you move away from the middle, the quantity in each section would be decreased figure give below. It is, basically, the normal distribution concept that was introduced by Galton where the largest value is always in the middle.



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Normal Distribution Graph - Maximum Value
Normal Distribution Graph - Maximum is always in middle

A famous incident was when Galton visited a livestock fair where the 800 villagers were asked to guess the weight of an ox. Unfortunately, very few guessed was accurately correct. But, when Galton analyze the data and averaged the guessed of 800 villagers, the mean of the guesses was the same as ox weight.


By extending the statistical method, he, once, found the correlation between those who offer prayers whether they are likely to be more successful or not. He collected the data from people, who were constant religious and those who were not. Note, at that time, it was widely considered that offering prayers would lead you to success. Therefore, he instituted a method of co-relating variables and finding the probability. Interestingly, he found that there was no correlation between offering prayers and success.



Galton gathered a lot of samples of anthropometric (the scientific study of physical measurement of the people) which include height, length, and weight of body features of a person such as fingers, legs, forearms, etc. After applying the statistical rule to the human bodies’ measurements, he found that a tall person arms is usually longer than the average arms of the total, but not longer than the average arm length of the taller persons’ arms average, which means there is also a correlation between the human body’s attributes and parts.


Anthropometric profile of Francis Galton
Anthropometric profile of Francis Galton

The method of co-relation is widely used in research. Researchers from different backgrounds such as economic, sociology, data science, statistics, and so on, prove their hypothesis via co-relating of variables and derive the conclusion.



Coming back to Galton Board, where he described that how the masses are between in the middle. Analogically, he applied his assertions to human intelligence and good morality. For instance, if we replace the starting and ending points with humans’ traits such as imbeciles and intelligence. Resultantly, we would come to know that majority are average in terms of physically and mentally. For instance, neither millions are like Einstein and Newton, nor millions are like those who have no mind. It is something in the middle, and nature always maintains itself.


Majority are Average | Normal Distribution Graph
Majority are Average | Normal Distribution Graph of Intellectualness

The same logic was of Galton. He argued that anything which is on the end of the continuum when reproducing their reproduction reverted to the mean. For instance, the tallest man child will be no taller than him but would be less. Likewise, the shortest man child would not be shorter than him. Their height will revert to the global mean of the height. Galton proved it through several experiments. For the experiment, he critically measured a bunch of seeds. Galton found that the longest seed reproduced a shorter seed, and the shortest seed reproduce less short. From there, he formulated the concept of reversion to the mean which is most commonly known as regression to the mean. After a particular value, the graph backs to move toward the mean.


However, he went ahead one step and said if we want to increase the population of good ones then only those people, who are good breed, should only allow mating, and those, who are not genetically well, should not be matted. Resultantly, the population of the good breed would be increased, and due to no reproduction of bad breed, the global average of intelligence and morality can be enhanced. He named this concept Eugenic which is a Greek word that means “Good breed,” the opposite word is dysgenic which means “Bad Breed” which impacts negatively on the coming generation. In his book “Hereditary Genius” he argued that how the Human race can be better if people start to focus on eminence breed.



Mathematically, his assertion had weightage because in a distribution graph where the date is divided into two halves. If, for example, the right side increases in the number of values, the mean or average would move toward the right side or also will increase. Similarly, if the left side graph values increase, the mean would move toward the left and decrease.


Temperature Movement Graph - How the average changes
Temperature Movement Graph - How the average changes


Was Eugenics a Pseudoscience?

However, Galton’s Eugenic was a pseudoscience because it put the ball of Humans' intellectualness in the corner of nature and squares of nurture and environment role. The factors such as providing equal treatment and better education can also enhance human intelligence and improve morality. However, it had a profound impact on the USA law-making and Nazi Germany. But before moving to understand the impact of his Eugenic concept, we must have to understand the concept of pseudoscience and how it perpetuates adverse impact.


Pseudoscience is a concept when a scientist gives a theory based on his notion or initial analysis of facts which he seems applies to all rather detailed empirical evidence and proves. There are enormous examples in history wherein the thinkers gave their theories which were accepted by the majority as a true depiction, and then generalized as a universal. For instance, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was merely his imagination that perhaps contained strong arguments, but later that was contradicted when the science gets to advance and measures through empirical instruments. However, those, who were wealthy, started considering themselves God-gifted Biological-Elite and claimed the nature had selected them to be superior. Similarly, the theory of Hebert Spencer “the survival of the fittest” led the racial discrimination and manipulate reality by impelling people to think that white is fittest and superior.


How the Eugenics was conceived in the History?


The Impact of Eugenics in America:

The concept of eugenics was started prevailing among people even reached the level of legislation. The many States in the united states passed legislation so the those who are unfit must not reproduce heirs. In 1895, many women were forced to involuntary sterilizations. Those, who had disabilities, were segregated, and not allowed to have government benefits and jobs. Moreover, they were restricted to bring offspring into the world. The reason was clear that State wanted to bread out the people with disabilities. Till, the 1970s, the state had the authority to sterilize people. The change came when the notions of equality emerged, and the Rehabilitation Act was passed which made illegal any form of discrimination against people with disabilities. Later, Education for all Handicapped Children Act (1975) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) expanded the rights of disabled people and end the Eugenics mentality against the disabled.


The Anglo-Saxon themselves were considered superior to Mexican, Black Africans, Asians, and other races. The Jim crow laws and segregations acts were the Eugenic mentalities that were there in the US. Eugenic also led beyond racial discrimination. In 1924, an immigration law passes which discriminates the Anne Frank's family from entering America. Resultantly, the family died. The reason for not allowing was that they were Jews, and Jews community was considered lesser than other communities.



Because white people were more fit in terms of intellectualness, they were considered the Racial fittest. On the other hand, Black people, due to some other factors such as political, segregation, and discriminated education system, could not reach the level of literacy where the white was, considered Racial unfit.


The Horrific consequences of Eugenics in Nazi's Germany:

If the world wants to see that how a pseudoscience could lead to horrible consequences, Nazi Germany is the great example amongst all. Around 400,000 women were forced to sterilize, 255,000 people were murdered, and millions of people were genocide in the name of “Racial Hygiene.” The Eugenics wanted to purify the German breed by replacing the aliens with their ideals.


Adolf Hitler was the biggest proponent of purifying the Nordic race and imagined that the revival of pure Aryan Society would be the ultimate victory. Because there were the beliefs that Aryans are the superior breed, Hitler planned that if he could able to achieve finding the pure Aryans, they could be more bred out and make his reign superior to all. Moreover, according to his views the Norwegians, who were the Nordic brothers of Germans, are more superior than Germans, he, thus, started investing in their territory and infrastructure. Hitler that kind of mindset was truly Eugenic where he was in that mental stage where one race becomes glorified in a person’s views. But, in reality, it had proved that Aryan is not the superior breed rather it was glorified by the Nazis because they traced their origin to it.


Holocaust was a result of Eugenic mindset among Nazi's Elites
Holocaust was a result of Eugenic mindset among Nazi's Elites

In 1933, the “Law for restoration of the professional civil services” was passed named Arierparagraph which means Aryan Paragraph. According to the law, those who were Blacks and Jews were excluded from the mandate of having the Job on a government level. Later, when the nationality was defined, they were included in the list of non-European and lost their citizenship. But this was not the end, the dire reality of the Holocaust where millions of Jews were brutally murdered. According to an estimate, between 1941 to 1945 around 6 million Jews communities were genocide because of Racial discrimination and Hygiene. It is marked as one of the most horrible events in Human History.


Recently, an article has been published at Yale School of medicine in which a Ph.D. student Ayah Nuriddin is doing her research on How the Eugenic can be used positively. In history, she said, we have used eugenics to perpetuate racial discrimination against people, but it can be used positively as well. For instance, it is true that genes' role in shaping a human characteristic, attribute, and intelligence, are prominent. Moreover, some disabilities in humans are also caused innately or they have these in-born. Thus, if it is used fairly by not targeting the specific community, the results of using eugenics can be good. The Eugenic could be utilized for Black lives advancement and their future generations.