Francis Galton and Fingerprints

Born: February 16, 1822, England

Died: January 17, 1911 (aged 88) Haslemere England

Awards And Honors: Copley Medal (1910)

Notable Works: “Hereditary Genius” “Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development”

Subjects Of Study: Human Intelligence

Francis Galton

Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin, was an English Victorian polymath, anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician who lived from February 16, 1822, to January 17, 1911. Galton was knighted in 1909 for his various accomplishments and prolific publishing. He discovered “regression toward the mean” and in vented the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. Galton was the first person to use statistical methods to investigate human differences and intelligence inheritance.

He created psychometrics, the science of assessing mental faculties, and differential psychology, the field of psychology concerned with psychological variations among persons, as a human mind researcher. Galton also designed a fingerprint classification system that has been beneficial in forensics.

Fingerprints are unique to each individual. Even identical twins, who share the same DNA, have unique fingerprints. Fingerprints can be utilized for a variety of purposes, including background checks, biometric security, mass catastrophe identification, and, of course, criminal circumstances, due to their uniqueness. For more than a century, fingerprint analysis has been used to identify criminals and solve crimes, and it remains a highly valuable tool for law enforcement.

His most controversial work was in eugenics, in which he proposed that humankind would benefit from encouraging those who exhibited “good” characteristics to marry and produce offspring while discouraging those who exhibited undesirable characteristics, increasing the number of people exhibiting desirable qualities. Unfortunately, this proposal, which is founded on a lack of scientific understanding, is not only morally questionable but has also been used to justify genocide by groups such as the Nazis.


Francis Galton was born near Sparkbrook, Birmingham, England, on February 16, 1822, and was a cousin of British naturalist Charles Darwin, with whom he had the same grandparent Erasmus Darwin. Samuel Tertius Galton, the son of Samuel “John” Galton, was his father. The Galtons were well-known and prosperous Quaker gunmakers and bankers, while the Darwins were well-known in medicine and science.


Francis Galton was a child prodigy by many accounts—he was reading by the age of two, understood some Greek, Latin, and long division by the age of five, and by the age of six had progressed to adult novels, including Shakespeare, which he enjoyed reading, and poetry, which he quoted at length. He went to several schools but disliked the restricted classical curriculum, which he found boring.

His parents encouraged him to pursue a career in medicine, and he spent two years studying at Birmingham General Hospital and King’s College Medical School in London. From 1840 to 1844, he combined his medical studies with mathematics studies at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. A severe nervous breakdown altered his original intention to attain academic honors. Instead, like his cousin Charles Darwin, he chose to pursue a “poll” (pass) B.A. degree. In 1847, he was awarded an M.A. without further study, as is normal at Cambridge. He then restarted his medical studies for a short time.

After his father died in 1844, he became financially independent but emotionally destitute, and he discontinued his medical studies totally, focusing instead on foreign travel, sport, and technical invention.


Galton made significant contributions to geography, statistics, biology, and anthropology, among other branches of study. His passion for counting and measuring affected a lot of this. The result was a blizzard of discoveries and inquiries, ranging from in-depth research into the “ideal cup of tea” to the invention of the silent dog whistle.

Galton devised the weather map, suggested an anti-cyclone hypothesis, and was the first to compile a comprehensive record of short-term climatic events on a European scale as the father of scientific meteorology.

From 1858 to 1899, Galton was an active member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, presenting numerous papers on a wide range of themes at its meetings. From 1863 to 1867, he was general secretary, then president of the Geographical Section in 1867 and 1872, and the Anthropological Section in 1877 and 1885.

The publication of his cousin Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 transformed Galton’s life and gave him focus. The study captivated Galton, particularly the first chapter, “Variation under Domestication,” which dealt with the breeding of domestic animals. He spent the rest of his life trying to figure out what it meant for human populations, which Darwin had only hinted at. Galton built a research program in the process that eventually encompassed all areas of the human variety, from mental qualities to height, from facial images to fingerprint patterns. This required the development of innovative trait measurements, large-scale data collectors, and, ultimately, the development of new statistical tools for characterizing and comprehending the data gathered.

Galton was initially interested in the topic of whether human aptitude was hereditary, and recommended that notable men’s relatives be counted in varying degrees. He reasoned that if the qualities were hereditary, there should be more eminent men among the family than in the general population. He gathered his information from a variety of biographical sources and contrasted the results he tabulated in various ways before publishing his book, Hereditary Genius, in 1869. He demonstrated, among other things, that the number of eminent relatives decreased as one passed from first to second-degree relatives, and then from second to third degree.

Galton was the first to identify and explain the phenomena of “regression toward the mean,” which he discovered in his tests on the size of consecutive generations of sweet pea seeds. Galton was a pioneer in using the normal distribution to fit histograms of actual tabular data in the 1870s and 1880s. As a tool for showing the law of error and the normal distribution, he designed the Quincunx, a pachinko-like contraption commonly known as the “bean machine.” He also found the bivariate normal distribution’s features and how they relate to regression analysis.

Galton proposed the concept of correlation in 1888 after studying forearm and height measurements. His statistical study of the probability of extinction of surnames led to the concept of Galton-Watson stochastic processes.

Through his popular and long-running Anthropometric Laboratory, he also explored early ideas of sound and hearing ranges and collected vast amounts of anthropometric data from the general people. It wasn’t until 1985 that these data were thoroughly examined.


Galton created the term “eugenics” in 1883, and his book, Inquiries in Human Faculty and its Development, contained many of his findings and conclusions. Galton concluded that many qualities of human beings, both physical and mental, were to a significant extent intrinsic based on his research. He was also interested in examining the conditions that allowed for optimal development (environmental factors), although his main focus was on hereditary features (genetic factors). He felt that excellent human attributes could be identified and that selective breeding of those with such characteristics would be beneficial to society.

Galton proposed that a system of “marks” indicating family merit be established and that monetary incentives be provided to encourage early marriage between high-ranking families. He highlighted some of the dysgenic tendencies in British society, such as eminent people marrying late and having few children. He called for encouraging eugenic marriages by providing financial incentives to individuals who can have children.

Similar movements in many other countries were greatly influenced by Galton’s theories. He cautioned, however, against the radical suggestions that the eugenics movement quickly developed when it was eagerly adopted by socialists like George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and their followers, who were passionate about state compulsion and social engineering.


Galton evaluated the chance of two people having the same fingerprints and explored the heredity and ethnic differences in fingerprints in an 1888 Royal Institution study and three subsequent volumes (1892, 1893, and 1895). He described a strategy for detecting common patterns in fingerprints and developed a categorization system that is still used today. Though William Herschel introduced the method of identifying criminals by their fingerprints in India in the 1860s, and Henry Faulds proposed their potential use in forensic work in 1880, Galton was the first to put the study on a scientific footing, without which it would not have been accepted by the courts.


Galton got the Royal Geographical Society’s highest prize, one of two gold medals awarded that year, for his explorations and mapping of southwest Africa, further establishing him as a serious scientist. He was elected a member of the elite Athenaeum Club in 1855, and in 1860, he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Galton received every major honor the Victorian scientific establishment had to give throughout his career, including the famous Copley medal of the Royal Society. Galton was knighted in 1909 for his substantial contributions to numerous sectors of mathematics and science. After Galton’s death, his statistical heir, Karl Pearson, the first Galton Chair of Eugenics at University College London, produced a three-volume biography of him (1914, 1924, and 1930). The eminent psychometrician Lewis Terman estimated that Galton’s childhood IQ was on the order of 200, based on the fact that he consistently performed mentally at roughly twice his chronological age.

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