Galton: Eugenicist Founder of Statistics – Part B of Lec 5:Descriptive Statistics-An Islamic Approach. This portion discusses the racist ideas of Galton, and some statistical tools he developed in his attempts to prove them.

The Islamic tradition asks us to look at both the nature of the knowledge, as well as the character and intentions of the transmitters of knowledge. In this lecture, we will look at Sir Francis Galton, the Founder of Eugenics. The following quote from his student and admirer Karl Pearson (1930, p. 220) explains Eugenics:

“The garden of humanity is very full of weeds, nurture will never transform them into flowers; the eugenist calls upon the rulers of mankind to see that there shall be space in the garden, freed of weeds, for individuals and races of finer growth to develop with the full bloom possible to their species.”

Looking through the metaphor of flowers (Europeans) and weeds (others), Eugenics call for the EXTERMINATION or STERILIZATION of inferior races, as well as inferior specimens among the Aryan (White) race. This reflects WIDELY HELD views among Europeans. NOTE the conflict with WISDOM of Quran: All Human Beings are Brothers and Sisters, Sons & Daughters of Adam and Eve. Furthermore, ALL human lives are infinitely precious – each life counts as heavily as the entire humankind.

The value of actions depends on intentions. An essential part of the Islamic approach to the acquisition of knowledge involves making the intention of serving the creation of God, out of the love of the Creator. Evil intentions lead to bad outcomes. In particular, some evil intentions are mentioned in the Hadeeth as follows: He who seeks knowledge to argue with Experts, to dispute with the ignorant, or to attract attention (seek popularity), all his deeds will be in vain.

We can document the intentions of Galton were exactly the ones which are forbidden for Muslims. He sought popularity and fame, to enter into disputes with the experts to impress the ignorant. For documentation, see Becoming a Darwinian: The Micro-Politics of Sir Francis Galton’s Scientific Career 1859–65. These intentions had a strong effect on the quality of knowledge produced – creating wrong paths of research and wrong ways of thinking, which continue to influence production of knowledge in the field of statistics in harmful directions. We discuss this in somewhat greater detail below.

Sir Francis Galton was the founder of Eugenics, while both Sir Karl Pearson, and Sir Ronald Fisher were prominent members of the deeply Racist movement of Eugenics. Their research was meant to create a Scientific basis for Racism. This had two aspects.

  1. Positive Eugenics: Use of breeding to create a superior stock of human beings.
  2. Negative Eugenics: Extermination or Specialization of Inferior Races. Specialization refers to assigning some subhuman and subservient role to a race – such as assigning blacks to be slaves of the Master Races.

The consequences of these ideas were horrific, leading to sterilization of thousands, culminating in the brutal killing of millions of Jews by Hitler. Because of these shameful consequences, even the name of the field has been erased from history. For one look at the evil consequences of the idea (which is current and dominant) that man is just another species of animal, see The Darwin Effect by Jerry Bergmann. The idea that mass killing of inferior peoples is actually necessary to reach an advanced state of civilization has been expressed by Karl Pearson, successor of Galton, and one of the eminent founders of statistics, as follows:

“History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely, the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race. If you want to know whether the lower races of man can evolve a higher type, I fear the only course is to leave them to fight it out among themselves, and even then the struggle for existence between individual and individual, between tribe and tribe, may not be supported by that physical selection due to a particular climate on which probably so much of the Aryan’s success depended.” (Karl Pearson, 1901, pp. 19-20)

What were the statistical tools created to support the cause of Eugenics, or mass extermination of “inferior” people? Galton invented  “correlation”.  Why was Galton trying to measure relationship between heights of fathers and sons? He want to prove that heredity was all important in determining the heights of sons. But how does height relate to personality and intelligence? We must understand the strong hold of materialism on 19th Century minds. Everything was matter and was observable. Things which could not be observed did not exist. Weighing a body before and after death, scientists concluded that the soul did not exist, because the weight did not change. Thoughts were considered to be fluid secretions of the brain. Phrenology was in vogue – this pseudo-scientific field took measurements of the skull to determine personality. So if physical characteristics were hereditary, it would be sufficient to establish that personality, intelligence, character, etc. were also hereditary. This was the contribution of Galton – whereas Darwin’s followers had only considered physical characteristics, Galton argued that intelligence and personality were also hereditary, and subject to evolutionary pressures. This is also called “social Darwinism”, where it was argued that human societies could evolve to become better, by the ruthless survival-of-the-fittest mechanism, which eliminate the weakest members, to strengthen the race.

We look briefly at some technical details of Galton’s ideas about correlation and heredity. For any characteristic – like IQ, height, strength, etc. – we can subdivide the population into three groups: High, Medium, and Low. The question of correlation between sons and fathers was subject of intensive research by Galton and his followers. The following Diagram shows PERFECT correlation, the type of result that they were hoping to find:


This diagram shows 100% Correlation: High IQ fathers always have High IQ sons. Similarly, the characteristics of the parents are transmitted to the children perfectly, for mid-level and low-level IQ as well. If the effect of heredity is strong, this justifies BREEDING human beings, like dogs and horses, to create a stock of SUPERMEN. Select High IQ people, ensure that they mate with each other, and sterilize or exterminate the rest of the population. This was one of the major GOALS of Eugenics.

To achieve clarity in understanding any concept, it is always useful to look at the opposite alternative: NO inheritance. This can be represented in the following diagram:


Here regardless of any parentage, the children are equally divided among the three categories. There is no effect of heredity. Even when there is 100% correlation, we cannot establish that this is due to heredity because smarter and wealthier parents are able to provide a better educational environment for their children. The Eugenics arguments becomes much weaker if the effects of heredity are weak. If children of any type of parents can achieve any level of intelligence via training and education, then breeding for intelligence becomes impossible. Eugenicists were stubbornly opposed to this idea, and resisted any interpretation of empirical evidence against heredity and in favor of environment.

The teachings of Islam, and the example of our Prophet Mohammad SAW show us that every human being is valuable, because everyone has a soul, and the capability to know God. With appropriate training, everyone can achieve high levels of spirituality. No one is born with these traits, and it requires struggle against the desires of the Nafs to advance from primitive spiritual stages to the higher ones. Anyone with some levelof spiritual development would have known that the idea of breeding human beings was patently ridiculous. The higher stages of human development can only be achieved by struggle, and all human beings are born with the capability of carrying out this struggle. The research program of the Eugenicists was possible only because of the low level of spiritual development of the founders of statistics. Human beings who make their desires their God reduce themselves to the lowest of the low, and make themselves similar to animals. Only then it becomes possible to consider breeding humans like animals and killing them like animals. This was the effect of widespread materialism in Europe.

The weaknesses of the tools in statistics arose because the Eugenicists were out to prove something which was not true. Only bad tools could accomplish this goal – if statistics had been constructed on the correct foundations, they would have been unable to prove their favorite theses. We provide some further description of these twisted tools developed to achieve racist goals.

We have shown the graphical version of perfect versus zero correlation in Inherited Characteristics. An alternative way of showing the same quantitatively is via Markov Transition Probabilities. Here the first table below shows the case of perfect correlation:

Father\/          Son=> High Medium Low
High 100% 0 0
Medium 0 100% 0
Low 0 0 100%


The rows show the characteristic of the fathers, while the columns are the sons. The transition probabilities show that 100% of High IQ fathers have High IQ sons, and similarly for Medium and Low IQ. There is perfect correlation between fathers and sons. The next table shows the case of ZERO correlation:

Father\/        Son=> High Medium Low
High 33.33% 33.33% 33.33%
Medium 33.33% 33.33% 33.33%
Low 33.33% 33.33% 33.33%


In this case, regardless of the type of father, all sons are equally divided into the three possibilities of High, Medium, and Low IQ. Empirical evidence regarding heights shows that there is roughly a 50% correlation, which corresponds to a 50-50 mix of the two polar case of perfect and zero correlation. This can be displayed in the following table:

Father\/          Son=> High Medium Low
High 66.67% 16.67% 16.67%
Medium 16.67% 66.67% 16.67%
Low 16.67% 16.67% 66.67%


Here the majority 2/3 of children fall in the same category as the father, while the rest are equally divided among the other two categories – this equal division may be replaced by other assumptions, and does not matter for what follows. What we would like to show is that, in all cases OTHER than perfect correlation, we will see the phenomenon of “Regression Towards the Mean”. Note that if High IQ parents do not have 100% High IQ children, then they will necessarily have children of LOWER intelligence. That is the ADVANCED intelligence will be REDUCED towards the average, or medium, intelligence. Similarly, in the LOW category, if all children are not LOW IQ than they will have HIGHER IQ and therefore move UP towards the mean. That is, there is a tendency of both extremes to move towards the normal. This “Regression towards Mean” causes problems for Eugenics. We cannot rely on High IQ parents to produce High IQ children based on heredity. ALSO, there is no reason to sterilize or exterminate Low IQ parents, because their children may move UP the IQ scale.  Nonetheless, deprived of the light of the message of the Quran about human equality and brotherhood, Eugenicists continued to mis-interpret empirical evidence, and advocate selective breeding of superiors and extermination of inferiors. The horrors of the Holocaust, where millions of innocent men, women, and children, were burnt alive, eventually discredited the cause of Eugenics.



Ideas are far more powerful than atom bombs – after all, it was ideas which led to the creation of atom bombs. The idea that man is an ANIMAL (Darwinism) has led to a lot of damage. By denying the existence of spirituality, It has made spiritual progress impossible. This idea has penetrated minds of Muslims through  Western education, which is purely materialistic. The potential for excellence in men is unlimited, and this can only be achieved through spiritual training – This CANNOT be inherited. Failure to recognize this potential reduces us to animals. This conception of man as an animal is at the heart of the Social Sciences developed in the West over the past few centuries. Because of this fundamental flaw at the roots, all productions of knowledge in this intellectual tradition are tainted. Statistics forms one part of the tools used to try and validate the racist ideas of the originators of the subject. Although it has moved far from these roots, and has many valuable accomplishments and ideas to its credit, the current shape of the subject continues to be affected by its origins, as we will show in later lectures.

RELATED: See previous post on Malthus and the Birth of Statistics

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

7 thoughts on “Galton: Eugenicist Founder of Statistics

  1. What is the direct evidence for R A Fisher’s racist views? and when do they date from? He was a serious Christian later in life, say from the mid 1930’s.

    • He was president of Eugenics Society, editor of the main Eugenics journal, and thought of himself primarily as a Eugencist more than a statistician – here is a quote: Fisher clearly stated in 1914:
      Eugenics is not inherently associated with nationalism; but in the world of nations, as we see it, nationalism may perform a valuable
      eugenic function. The modern nation is a genetic, a territorial, and an economic unity, and the modern tendency is to emphasise its
      essential unity, the community of interests of its individual members; European nations are grouping themselves along ethnic lines, and
      the individual finds himself more and more closely engaged in serving the greater interests of his race (…). The socially lower classes
      have a birth rate, or, to speak more exactly, a survival rate, greatly in excess of those who are, on the whole, distinctly their eugenic
      superiors. It is to investigate the cause and cure of this phenomenon that the Eugenic Society should devote its best efforts
      For a detailed discussion with references, see – Emancipation Through Interaction – How Eugenics and Statistics Converged and Diverged

  2. Pingback: Fisher’s Failures & the Foundations of Statistics | An Islamic WorldView

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  5. A thought provoking lecture and it highlighted a completely different viewpoint of statistics. I learned a lot even from this brief lecture. JazakAllah

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