17th January 2011 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Sir Francis Galton, one of the most influential scientific figures of the Victorian era.
Galton’s repertoire was as impressive as his appearance (“tall, slim, neatly dressed, with a forehead like the dome of St. Paul’s” in the words of the psychologist Sir Cyril Burt): he made major contributions to biology, meteorology and psychology, as well as dabbling in the perhaps more murky waters of the emerging field of eugenics.
His contributions to statistics were also substantial and wide-ranging, and comprised significant early work on describing variation, correlation and the nature of statistical distributions. His work was rewarded with a knighthood in 1909 and the Copley Medal of the Royal Society the following year, shortly before he died aged 88. Another famous statistician, Karl Pearson, established Galton’s reputation by writing his biography and developing further the theory of statistical inference that is so widely used today.
Columns in the coming weeks will examine aspects of Galton’s contribution to statistics in more detail. In the meantime my colleague Graham Wheeler has written a companion introduction, also on this site; and those interested in finding out more may be interested in the impressive collection of archive material at http://galton.org/.