EXHIBITS: Born to Count

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Science  01 Apr 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5718, pp. 29
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5718.29a

Francis Galton (1822–1911) boasted a hefty fortune, wide-ranging curiosity, and the compulsion to measure or count almost everything, from the visual acuity of Londoners to the number of attractive women he passed on the street. The combination helped the English gentleman-scientist make a mark in fields as diverse as statistics, meteorology, and genetics. This virtual library from software engineer Gavan Tredoux of Rochester, New York, who's writing a book on the Victorian polymath, houses all of Galton's major texts and about 300 of his papers, letters, and other writings.

Galton's legacy includes the modern weather chart, which he created by marking locations on a map with the same barometric pressure. He gave fingerprinting a scientific foundation by showing that each person's prints are unique, and he devised the statistical techniques of correlation and regression. You can browse the paper in which he shot down his cousin Charles Darwin's hypothesis for inheritance. Galton, who coined the term “eugenics,” was an early apostle of efforts to breed better humans. Readers can page through his 1869 work Hereditary Genius, in which he marshaled the pedigrees of English luminaries, including Darwin, to argue that ability was innate.


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