Francis Galton, the Father of Eugenics

Posted on June 20, 2011

This week I have turned my attention from the great cricketer AE Stoddart to Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin no less. Galton came to my attention when I read a piece about 2011 being exactly 100 years since his death aged 89, an age which must have been quite a staggering achievement back then considering wars and disease etc etc. Amongst other things, Galton became well known for his work that included standard deviation, regression towards the mean, fingerprinting for detective purposes and the first published weather map in The Times (of course, this makes him a  bit  of hero in my eyes).

Galton published the first ever weather map in The Times

However, what really grabbed my attention was his work in human inheritance, or eugenics, which was published in his book Hereditary Genius. What Galton was trying to decipher was whether the gene pool in a person is what creates them in to the person they are, or whether it is the nurturing of the of the individual by their parents or guardians. Rather brilliantly I thought, Galton was also the first person to discover that whilst two exceptionally tall parents will have a tall child, he or she will not be as tall as them (regression to the mean). I didn’t know that until I read the article, which lends weight to the theory you learn something every day. Galton also engaged in some more comical studies about genes, coming to the conclusion that the women of Aberdeen were genetically the most repulsive people in Britain, a study that presumably didn’t gain him the freedom of that particular city. One also presumes he never visited Portsmouth for his studies.

Here is the fascinating bit about Eugenics though, and I imagine it will have old Franny spinning in his grave. One hundred years on from his death, there is still no absolute certainty of what creates a person, whether it is the 20,000 genes we are made from or whether it is the nurturing (or lack of) we have had from our parents and that we give to our own children. Scientists will have you believe that it you are actually born with genes such as depression, whereas sociologists will claim that genes have nothing to do with it at all and it is all about nurture, it is little wonder there is no love lost between them. Just for a laugh put a sociologist and a scientist in the same room and start a conversation on what creates a personality, then stand well back and watch the sparks fly. Scientists and Sociologists don’t generally get on too well at dinner parties.

Galton: Eugenics Genius

The truth is, and no one can correct me here, nobody knows what creates us. If anyone tries to persuade you otherwise, they are a misinforming you, because the more we discover about the genetic make up of a human being, the more confused and further from the answer we become, it is an absolute minefield where the answers may never be found in our life time. Let people tell you their opinion, but don’t let them tell you they know for a fact what makes someone who they are, because they don’t know. If you tell them what you think and they say that it is fact that you are quite wrong, stand up for yourself and tell them to bugger off, because in this case of a million different theories, there are still no definitive answers.
I have recently been reading extracts from book called Bounce that indicates that sporting ability is not in the gene pool, but can actually trained in to a physically able child with the right input. I can understand that, but I would argue that there needs to be an interest and desire in the chosen sport in the first place. My two children were introduced to the local cricket club at young at the same time, one has gone on to develop in to a good local player who loves every aspect of the game, the other was just not interested and gave up pretty quickly. I didn’t force him to carry on, I didn’t see it as being very fair, there is nurture, then there is bullying and mental abuse. Physically they are not that different, the younger one could have been trained to be a cricketer, but he didn’t want to be one, so end of story. He now studies music, acting and dance, something his brother wouldn’t be interested in now matter how much he was persuaded.
One hundred years after Galton’s death, what makes a person is still very much open to debate, I guess it is a combination of both genes and nurture, but I do think that over nurture is dangerous. You only need to look at some of the tragic lives of some child actors, pop stars and tennis players such as Jennifer Capriati and Andre Agassi who never experienced independence as their parents drove them to success, quite possibly for their own financial gain. Many of these people end up pretty fucked up because their own personalities never developed, spending their thirties with their heads in a bucket of crystal meth or choking on their own vomit outside the Viper rooms, what a great existence.
Make of it what you will, I have no more time to dwell on it as I am busy with my own children…..”George two more hours on the forward defensive…..GET IT RIGHT OR I WILL BEAT YOU WITH THAT BLOODY BAT……………….Harry, get in here and dance you fucker……..they are not blisters……DANCE BOY, DANCE!!!!”.

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