Article ID: CBB738872407

The Battle Between the Biometricians and the Mendelians: How Sir Francis Galton’s Work Caused his Disciples to Reach Conflicting Conclusions About the Hereditary Mechanism (2015)


Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin, had wide and varied interests. They ranged from exploration and travel writing to fingerprinting and the weather. After reading Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Galton reached the conclusion that it should be possible to improve the human stock through selective breeding, as was the case for domestic animals and cultivated plants. Much of the latter half of Galton’s career was devoted to trying to devise methods to distinguish men of good stock and then to show that these qualities were inherited. But along the way he invented two important statistical methods: regression and correlation. He also discovered regression to the mean. This led Galton to believe that evolution could not proceed by the small steps envisioned by Darwin, but must proceed by discontinuous changes. Galton’s book Natural Inheritance (1889) served as the inspiration for Karl Pearson, W.F.R. Weldon and William Bateson. Pearson and Weldon were interested in continuously varying characters and the application of statistical techniques to their study. Bateson was fascinated by discontinuities and the role they might play in evolution. Galton proposed his Law of Ancestral Heredity in the last decade of the nineteenth century. At first this seemed to work well as an explanation for continuously varying traits of the type that interested Pearson and Weldon. In contrast, Bateson had published a book on discontinuously varying traits so he was in a position to understand and embrace Mendel’s principles of inheritance when they were rediscovered in 1900. The subsequent battle between Weldon and Pearson, the biometricians, and Bateson, the Mendelian, went on acrimoniously for several years at the beginning of the twentieth century before Mendelian theory finally won out.

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Article Erik L. Peterson; Kostas Kampourakis (2015) The Paradigmatic Mendel at the Sesquicentennial of “Versuche über Pflantzen-Hybriden”: Introduction to the Thematic Issue. Science and Education (pp. 1-8). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Pence, Charles H.
Edwards, A. W. F.
Sheldon, Myrna Perez
Farrall, Lyndsay A.
Rushton, A. R.
Castañeda, Luzia Aurélia
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Social Studies of Science
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
British Society for the History of Mathematics Bulletin
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Trafford Publishing
Centre for Sciences and Humanities of the Institute of Contemporary History of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Notre Dame
Probability and statistics
Galton, Francis
Bateson, William
Pearson, Karl
Weldon, Walter Frank Raphael
Mendel, Gregor Johann
Venn, John
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
18th century
Great Britain
British Isles
United States
Royal Society of London
Cambridge University

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