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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index G > Sir Francis Galton Quotes

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Sir Francis Galton
(16 Feb 1822 - 17 Jan 1911)

English anthropologist, eugenicist and statistician.

Science Quotes by Sir Francis Galton (16 quotes)

The Charms of Statistics.—It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once. An Average is but a solitary fact, whereas if a single other fact be added to it, an entire Normal Scheme, which nearly corresponds to the observed one, starts potentially into existence. Some people hate the very name of statistics, but I find them full of beauty and interest. Whenever they are not brutalised, but delicately handled by the higher methods, and are warily interpreted, their power of dealing with complicated phenomena is extraordinary. They are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the Science of man.
— Sir Francis Galton
Natural Inheritance (1889), 62-3.
Science quotes on:  |  Average (42)  |  Statistics (147)

A primâ facie argument in favour of the efficacy of prayer is therefore to be drawn from the very general use of it. The greater part of mankind, during all the historic ages, have been accustomed to pray for temporal advantages. How vain, it may be urged, must be the reasoning that ventures to oppose this mighty consensus of belief! Not so. The argument of universality either proves too much, or else it is suicidal.
— Sir Francis Galton
'Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer', Fortnightly Review, 1872, 12, 126.

Characteristics cling to families.
— Sir Francis Galton
Hereditary Genius (1869), v.
Science quotes on:  |  Heredity (53)

Exercising the right of occasional suppression and slight modification, it is truly absurd to see how plastic a limited number of observations become, in the hands of men with preconceived ideas.
— Sir Francis Galton
Meteorographica (1863), 5.
Science quotes on:  |  Observation (450)  |  Preconception (10)

I know of scarcely anything so apt to impress the imagination as the wonderful form of cosmic order expressed by the “Law of Frequency of Error.” The law would have been personified by the Greeks and deified, if they had known of it. It reigns with serenity and in complete self-effacement, amidst the wildest confusion. The huger the mob, and the greater the apparent anarchy, the more perfect is its sway. It is the supreme law of Unreason. Whenever a large sample of chaotic elements are taken in hand and marshaled in the order of their magnitude, an unsuspected and most beautiful form of regularity proves to have been latent all along.
— Sir Francis Galton
In Natural Inheritance (1894), 66.
Science quotes on:  |  Anarchy (6)  |  Beautiful (144)  |  Chaos (77)  |  Confusion (42)  |  Cosmic (47)  |  Error (277)  |  Express (65)  |  Frequency (14)  |  Imagination (275)  |  Impress (16)  |  Latent (12)  |  Law (515)  |  Magnitude (45)  |  Mob (7)  |  Order (242)  |  Prove (109)  |  Regularity (29)  |  Sample (12)  |  Supreme (37)  |  Unsuspected (7)

It is always the case with the best work, that it is misrepresented, and disparaged at first, for it takes a curiously long time for new ideas to become current, and the older men who ought to be capable of taking them in freely, will not do so through prejudice.
— Sir Francis Galton
From letter reprinted in Journal of Political Economy (Feb 1977), 85, No. 1, back cover, as cited in Stephen M. Stigler, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 (1986), 307. Stigler notes the letter is held by David E. Butler of Nuffield College, Oxford.
Science quotes on:  |  Best (173)  |  Capability (37)  |  Current (54)  |  Disparage (4)  |  Idea (580)  |  Misrepresentation (4)  |  New (496)  |  Old (147)  |  Prejudice (66)  |  Work (635)

It is notorious that the same discovery is frequently made simultaneously and quite independently, by different persons. Thus, to speak of only a few cases in late years, the discoveries of photography, of electric telegraphy, and of the planet Neptune through theoretical calculations, have all their rival claimants. It would seem, that discoveries are usually made when the time is ripe for them—that is to say, when the ideas from which they naturally flow are fermenting in the minds of many men.
— Sir Francis Galton
Hereditary Genius (1869), 192.
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (680)  |  Neptune (11)  |  Photography (8)

My method consists in allowing the mind to play freely for a very brief period, until a couple or so of ideas have passed through it, and then, while the traces or echoes of those ideas are still lingering in the brain, to turn the attention upon them with a sudden and complete awakening; to arrest, to scrutinise them, and to record their exact appearance... The general impression they have left upon me is like that which many of us have experienced when the basement of our house happens to be under thorough sanitary repairs, and we realise for the first time the complex system of drains and gas and water pipes, flues, bell-wires, and so forth, upon which our comfort depends, but which are usually hidden out of sight, and with whose existence, so long as they acted well, we had never troubled ourselves.
— Sir Francis Galton
Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883),185-6.
Science quotes on:  |  Idea (580)  |  Psychology (143)

The conditions that direct the order of the whole of the living world around us, are marked by their persistence in improving the birthright of successive generations. They determine, at much cost of individual comfort, that each plant and animal shall, on the general average, be endowed at its birth with more suitable natural faculties than those of its representative in the preceding generation.
— Sir Francis Galton
In 'The Observed Order of Events', Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development (1882), 229.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (359)  |  Average (42)  |  Birth (93)  |  Birthright (3)  |  Comfort (49)  |  Condition (163)  |  Cost (44)  |  Determine (76)  |  Endow (14)  |  Evolution (535)  |  Faculty (70)  |  Generation (141)  |  Improve (56)  |  Individual (221)  |  Live (272)  |  Natural (173)  |  Order (242)  |  Persistence (20)  |  Plant (200)  |  Precede (23)  |  Representative (14)  |  Successive (23)  |  World (898)

The phrase 'nature and nurture' is a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence without that affects him after his birth.
— Sir Francis Galton
English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture (1874), 12.
Science quotes on:  |  Nature Of Man (4)  |  Nurture (16)  |  Personality (47)

The processes concerned in simple descent are those of Family Variability and Reversion. It is well to define these words clearly. By family variability is meant the departure of the children of the same or similarly descended families from the ideal mean type of all of them. Reversion is the tendency of that ideal mean type to depart from the parent type, 'reverting' towards what may be roughly and perhaps fairly described as the average ancestral type. If family variability had been the only process in simple descent, the dispersion of the race would indefinitely increase with the number of the generations, but reversion checks this increase, and brings it to a standstill.
— Sir Francis Galton
Typical Laws of Heredity (1877), 513.
Science quotes on:  |  Heredity (53)

The publication in 1859 of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin made a marked epoch in my own mental development, as it did in that of human thought generally. Its effect was to demolish a multitude of dogmatic barriers by a single stroke, and to arouse a spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities whose positive and unauthenticated statements were contradicted by modern science.
— Sir Francis Galton
Memories of My Life (1908), 287.
Science quotes on:  |  Charles Darwin (301)  |  Origin Of Species (42)  |  Thought (546)

We greatly want a brief word to express the science of improving stock, which is by no means confined to questions of judicious mating, but which, especially in the case of man, takes cognisance of all influences that tend in however remote a degree to give to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had. The word eugenics would sufficiently express the idea; it is at least a neater word and a more generalised one than viviculture, which I once ventured to use.
First use of the term Eugenics.
— Sir Francis Galton
Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883), 25, footnote.
Science quotes on:  |  Eugenics (4)  |  Nomenclature (138)

We shall therefore take an appropriately correct view of the origin of our life, if we consider our own embryos to have sprung immediately from those embryos whence our parents were developed, and these from the embryos of their parents, and so on for ever. We should in this way look on the nature of mankind, and perhaps on that of the whole animated creation, as one Continuous System, ever pushing out new branches in all directions, that variously interlace, and that bud into separate lives at every point of interlacement.
— Sir Francis Galton
'Hereditary Talent and Character', Macmillan's Magazine, 1865, 12, 322.
Science quotes on:  |  Embryo (23)  |  Heredity (53)

What nature does blindly, slowly and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly and kindly.
— Sir Francis Galton
In Nature (2 Feb 1911), 85, 444.
Science quotes on:  |  Blind (47)  |  Cloning (4)  |  Kind (140)  |  Nature (1223)  |  Quickly (18)  |  Ruthless (6)  |  Slow (56)

Whenever you can, count.
— Sir Francis Galton
Quoted in James R. Newman, Commentary on Sir Francis Galton (1956), 1169.
Science quotes on:  |  Measurement (161)  |  Statistics (147)

Quotes by others about Sir Francis Galton (2)

Francis Galton, whose mission it seems to be to ride other men's hobbies to death, has invented the felicitous expression 'structureless germs'.
Letter from James Clerk Maxwell to Professor Lewis Campbell, 26th Sep 1874. Quoted in Lewis Campbell and William Garnett (eds.), The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1884), 299.

The one who stays in my mind as the ideal man of science is, not Huxley or Tyndall, Hooker or Lubbock, still less my friend, philosopher and guide Herbert Spencer, but Francis Galton, whom I used to observe and listen to—I regret to add, without the least reciprocity—with rapt attention. Even to-day. I can conjure up, from memory’s misty deep, that tall figure with its attitude of perfect physical and mental poise; the clean-shaven face, the thin, compressed mouth with its enigmatical smile; the long upper lip and firm chin, and, as if presiding over the whole personality of the man, the prominent dark eyebrows from beneath which gleamed, with penetrating humour, contemplative grey eyes. Fascinating to me was Francis Galton’s all-embracing but apparently impersonal beneficence. But, to a recent and enthusiastic convert to the scientific method, the most relevant of Galton’s many gifts was the unique contribution of three separate and distinct processes of the intellect; a continuous curiosity about, and rapid apprehension of individual facts, whether common or uncommon; the faculty for ingenious trains of reasoning; and, more admirable than either of these, because the talent was wholly beyond my reach, the capacity for correcting and verifying his own hypotheses, by the statistical handling of masses of data, whether collected by himself or supplied by other students of the problem.
In My Apprenticeship (1926), 134-135.
Science quotes on:  |  Admirable (19)  |  Apprehension (16)  |  Attention (121)  |  Attitude (59)  |  Beneficence (3)  |  Capacity (64)  |  Collected (2)  |  Compressed (3)  |  Conjuring (3)  |  Continuous (38)  |  Contribution (60)  |  Convert (22)  |  Curiosity (106)  |  Data (120)  |  Deep (124)  |  Distinct (46)  |  Enigma (10)  |  Enthusiastic (6)  |  Eye (222)  |  Eyebrow (2)  |  Face (108)  |  Fact (733)  |  Faculty (70)  |  Fascinating (22)  |  Figure (69)  |  Firm (24)  |  Friend (86)  |  Gift (61)  |  Grey (10)  |  Guide (65)  |  Handling (7)  |  Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (12)  |  Humour (103)  |  Thomas Henry Huxley (126)  |  Hypothesis (252)  |  Ideal (72)  |  Impersonal (5)  |  Individual (221)  |  Ingenious (26)  |  Intellect (192)  |  Lip (4)  |  Listen (41)  |  John Lubbock (Lord Avebury) (26)  |  Memory (106)  |  Men Of Science (130)  |  Mental (78)  |  Method (239)  |  Misty (5)  |  Mouth (21)  |  Observation (450)  |  Penetrating (3)  |  Perfect (89)  |  Personality (47)  |  Philosopher (166)  |  Physical (134)  |  Poise (4)  |  Problem (497)  |  Process (267)  |  Prominent (6)  |  Rapid (32)  |  Rapt (5)  |  Reach (121)  |  Reasoning (100)  |  Reciprocity (2)  |  Regret (21)  |  Relevant (5)  |  Scientific (236)  |  Separate (74)  |  Smile (19)  |  Herbert Spencer (37)  |  Statistics (147)  |  Student (203)  |  Talent (63)  |  Tall (9)  |  Thin (16)  |  Train (45)  |  Uncommon (14)  |  Unique (41)  |  Upper (4)

See also:
  • 16 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Galton's birth.
  • A Life of Sir Francis Galton: From African Exploration to the Birth of Eugenics, by Nicholas Wright Gillham. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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