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Saturday, 20 July 2019


By Scott  Forster and Tom Leonard

KARL PEARSON, Unscrupulous Statistician,  Ablist, Racist, Anti-Semite and Eugenicist
First Galton Professor of Eugenics. The Department of Applied Statistics at UCL was founded by him in 1911. Originally suggested by Florence Nightingale. it was the first University Statistics Department in the world. 

Together with Sir Francis Galton, and the second Galton Professor, Sir Ronald Fisher, Pearson caused much human misery and mental anguish around the world, and their dystopian influences have continued to this very day.

Note added 6th March 2020: We have just learnt from Subhadra Das's podcast (ably assisted by Professor Tom Fearn), that Karl Pearson's son Egon Pearson was a eugenicist. I thought that I knew him well! But like father like son.

In my well-received VERBAL SUBMISSION of 19th July 2019, I referred to our previously submitted written submission, but also exposed the third and fourth Galton professors, Lionel Penrose and Harry Harris for the harm they did in psychiatry and Eugenics.

to meUCL.EugenicsScott
Dear Tom and Scott,

Thank you for taking the time to contribute to the work of the Commission of Inquiry into the history of eugenics at UCL. We are very grateful for your testimonial and the insights that you shared when you attended the meeting last Friday. The Commission particularly appreciated your open and honest answers to the questions posed.

The documents you sent (including your verbal presentation and these additional documents) have been uploaded to the Commission’s shared folder. As agreed at the meeting, we will make these public in due course.

Thanks once again for a tour de force of a presentation, which was highly informative and enjoyable.

Best wishes,

Professor Iyiola Solanke
Chair, Commission of Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL

After presenting our verbal and written evidence to the Commission, I have circulated it to several of my statistical friends around the world for their informal comments. I have received substantial positive feedback, but with howls of protest from the noted statistical historian Professor Stephen Stigler of the University of Chicago who fiercely protests Galton's entire innocence on these matters!!


Michael Evans

6:24 PM (3 hours ago)
to me
Dear Tom;

Many thanks for the paper. I knew a little about this but
your paper was quite enlightening. It is still the case
that Fisher has a big influence on the field of statistics – witness
the current torturous arguments concerning vain attempts
to justify the p-value. Not to take away from his accomplishments, which are certainly many, but maybe revealing
his attitude concerning eugenics will make those who believe everything he said is gospel stop and think a bit about some of his views on statistics too.

All the best, Mike

From Sir Bernard Silverman F.R.S.:

Dear Tom,

How good to hear from you!   Where are you living now and how are you doing?

I will look at this, but my prior view on a cursory read is that you are absolutely right.   The problem we have is how to deal with excellent work done by dreadful people. (Or how you distinguish between “excellent” and “dreadful” work done by the same person.)   The risk is that we throw out our whole subject because its founders were really nasty.   

I had a similar argument with the Royal Society about Marie Stopes.    I won’t go into it now....

In response to a question by Stephen Stigler querying our evidence that Sir Francis Galton seriously influenced the German anthropologist Dr. Alfred Ploetz in 1904, I have prepared the following blog post

During August 2019, I discovered to my dismay that David Finney, my predecessor to the Chair of Statistics at the University of Edinburgh, was himself a Eugenicist, having been strongly influenced in this respect by Sir Ronald Fisher. See 

Finally, here is our written submission to the UCL Inquiry:





2. A Selective Early History of Statistics and Eugenics

2.1. Sir Francis Galton and his Sphere of Influence

2.2. Karl Pearson and his International Connections

2.3. Sir Ronald Fisher, Geneticist and Statistician

3. The Crimes of Eugenics

3.1. Discussion

3.2. Eugenics Programs

4. Recommendations

APPENDIX A: Discriminant Analysis (Ronald Fisher and Lionel Penrose)

APPENDIX B: A letter from Sir Francis Galton to the Times of London




When I, Tom Leonard, was studying for my Masters Degree and Ph.D. between 1970 to 1972 in the still remarkably elitist Statistics Department at UCL. I was taught to revere and respect the pioneering contributions to Statistics and Eugenics by Karl Pearson and Sir Ronald Fisher, as disciples of the much idolised Sir Francis Galton. In hindsight, this whitewashing of Eugenics appears to amount to institutional indoctrination, and I remain to be convinced that it isn't still going on.
I was also aware of the still ongoing close collaboration between the Department of Statistics, its Statistical Laboratory, the Galton Lab, and the Eugenicists. I remember Karl Pearson's son Egon Pearson (1895-1980)  sitting in the staff lounge as a venerable old man, sometimes with Neil Please (who ran the Statistical Laboratory as a UCL-wide consulting facility). Though much less involved in Eugenics than his father, Egon became assistant editor of Biometrika in 1924 during a period when many of the articles in this 'house journal' related to Eugenics.

While I was writing my Personal History of Bayesian Statistics (2014), I became more fully cognisant of Galton's brilliant contributions to Bayesian Inference.

But I became distinctly less impressed over the next few years, while working on my Scottish mental health campaign, when I discovered that the efforts of Galton and his followers were detrimental to the mental health of vast swathes of the world's population. 

I have since become concerned by the highly racist nature of many of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher's contributions to Eugenics, which influenced colonialism around the world. I have studied the adverse effects of Eugenics on our  working class, for example during the creation of the Welfare State. I was particularly appalled by the way eugenics gave greater strength to racism and colonialism.

It has to be emphasised that Galton, Pearson, and Fisher were all very active eugenicists, and influential in international terms. Their eugenics 'research' tarnished and tainted early statistics and genetics as racial sciences. The USA and Germany latched very quickly onto their teachings, with horrendous consequences e.g. in respect to forced sterilizations and even genocide on the basis of race, or perceived inferiority or so-called feeble-mindedness”. Pearson published many of his findings in his 'house journal' Biometrika, which he lightly edited and totally controlled between 1901 and 1936, and published a racist diatribe in the first issue of the Annals of Eugenics which he founded in 1925.

Fascism which arose from the 1920s and 1930s onwards could not have existed without the supporting framework of the 'Scientific racism' that backed colonialism. That colonialism abroad returned home as fascism. The eugenics of UCL has contributed to the rise of Fascism in Italy, in Germany and further abroad up to the present day.

 Since Eugenics has also been rife in various departments at UCL throughout the last century or so, this must be regarded this as an ongoing institutional failure of the highest proportions. We would reject the recent attempt by the President of the Royal Statistical Society to whitewash Sir Francis Galton.

I am deeply ashamed that the subject of Statistics in its modern form was largely created by Galton, Pearson, and Fisher, and that my very own  Alma Mater, where I earned my Masters and Ph.D, degrees, was responsible for housing so many socially harmful academics, who caused a massive amount of human damage throughout the twentieth century while trumpeting the virtues of their own class, race, and supposed intellectual superiority. Apologies and cosmetic changes are not enough, very substantial institutional changes are called for.

Much could be said on the history and political nature of eugenics, but for the purposes of the brevity of this submission much has been left out. I write from the perspective of a retired Professor of Statistics (Universities of Wisconsin-Madison and Edinburgh) with help from my very diligent historical assistant. Witnesses to the Commission of Inquiry from other disciplines will doubtlessly offer other broader perspectives.



ir FRANCIS GALTON (1822-1911) spent much of his life exploring variation in human populations, and its implications. See for example his work Hereditary Genius (1869).

In 1883, Galton coined the term Eugenics. In his book Enquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, Galton called for eugenic marriages promoting 'able' married couples to have children, and advocated endowments for these couples(p214). As indicated later, some of the material in this book (on criminals and insanity) would appear to amount to pseudo-science.

Following his publication of Hereditary Genius, Galton's “quest for data and accountability”i would involve treating human beings as open to classification and categorisation in the same way as plants or animals. Playing with themes of 'degeneration' and 'contagion' Galton called for restrictions on those he deemed genetically inferior.

According to Francis Galton, British Psychologist ii , which references Jensen (2002), Simonton (2003), and Irvine (1986)

“It seemed obvious and even unarguable to Galton that, from a eugenic viewpoint, superior mental and behavioural capacities, as well as physical health, are advantageous, not only to an individual but for the well-being of society as a whole (Jensen,2002). Within this mindset led the inevitable value-laden categorization or ranking of populations based on measurable traits and natural ability”.
The article continues that “It followed that Galton estimated from his field observations in Africa that the African people were 'two grades' below Anglo-Saxons' position in the normal frequency distribution of general mental ability, which gave claim to the scientific validation of Africans' mental inferiority compared with Anglo-Saxons (Jensen, 2002); findings that continued to spark controversy in academia today”.

This proves that Galton was a racist in the worst possible terms. He imposed his white supremacist measures of mental ability on Africans and used statistical 'science' to justify British Colonialism.

Furthermore "Galton was the first to 'demonstrate' that the Laplace-Gauss distribution or the "normal distribution" could be applied to human psychological attributes, including intelligence (Simonton, 2003). From this finding, he coined the use of percentile scores for measuring relative standing on various measurements in relation to the normal distribution (Jensen, 2002). He even established the world's first mental testing centre, in which a person could take a battery of tests and receive a written report of the results (P. Irvine, 1986). Given the dubious nature of the statistical methodology (see below), this method of psycho-analysis would appear to be open to question,

All of this was played out against a growing recognition of the rottenness of an increasingly industrialized and urbanized Britain. See Andrew Mearn's 1883 publication The Bitter Outcry of Outcast London and the 1890 appearance of William Booth's In Darkest England and the Way Out.

Eugenics was not universally popular in its heydays. Early critics of Eugenics included Lester Frank Ward, GK Chesterton(see his 1917 book Eugenics and Other Evils), Franz Boas, Halliday Sutherland, and Aldous Huxley. Liberal MP Josiah Wedgwood would speak against the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. This Act, though containing elements of welfare state provision, also made judgements on mental abilities as if they were fixed and biological rather than the result of material social conditions.

The early eugenicists cannot therefore be exonerated on the grounds that their preachings were unquestioned at that time.

The Eugenics Education Society was founded in 1907 by Galtoniii who acted as its first president until his death. From 1926 the Society was renamed the Eugenics Society and later became the Galton Institute Eugenics. (Lucy Bland and Lesley A. Hall, Oxford Handbook of the history of Eugenics, 2010, P.214)

It has been said  that  Galton's “new science spread like wildfire in the UK and USA” (Grenon and Merrick, Intellectual and Developmental Difficulties, Front Public Health, 2014).

In 1907, The State of Indiana passed a law enabling the prevention of the “procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists” ivwhich is claimed to be the world's first eugenic lawv.

Galton's efforts to improve the human race by the selective breeding of those with perceived greatest talent, must, at that time, have been interpreted by one and all as discriminating against those with less supposed talent. Furthermore, by setting his own standards, he tried to mould the population towards what he a wealthy Victorian colonialist would want it to be.

When judging the merits of different people, Galton and his followers fitted the 'Laplacian or Gaussian distribution' to observations of a large variety of measures e.g. of mental ability. Some of his followers fitted this distribution to measures of 'inferiority' or of 'feeble-mindedness' (including 'idiocy' and 'imbecility').

Galton and Pearson had the temerity to rename this the 'Normal' distribution even though this probability distribution is not valid that frequently in practice when modelling statistical observations. (Owing to the Central Limit Effect the normal curve is however frequently accurate for describing the distributions of test statistics, though only under specific theoretical assumptions). The reasons for using the term 'normal' would appear to be highly political. It enabled Galton and his followers to regard too many people as 'abnormal'. Galton had an obsession with the normal distribution because of the theoretically derived Central Limit Effect and falsely believed that a great many variables are normally distributed,

The normal distribution has a bell-shaped density with remarkably thin, symmetric tails. In practice, and as noticed by many twentieth century statisticians, many data sets are better describable by probability distributions whose densities have at least one thicker tail that the normal. For example, an individual discarded as 'mentally defective' or;'feeble-minded', because his arbitrary measure of 'feeble-mindedness' lies below the naively estimated third population percentile, might be falsely discarded, since the actual third population percentile could be considerably smaller.

According to Bernard Norton in Karl Pearson and Statistics: The Social Origins of Scientific Innovation (Social Studies in Science, 1978, P.8-9),

“In the 1890s, Francis Galton was one of Britain's leading 'men of science'. As several authors have pointed out, he was a man motivated by strong eugenic views, a man whose attempts to understand human heredity were inspired by the hope of showing the dominance of nature over nurture; and this, in turn, led him to uncover certain crucial statistical notions - notably those of a distribution of variations, of correlation and of regression. Before 1900, Galton was able to attract only a small following for eugenics, which remained more of a catalyst to research than a social movement. But, as several authors have noted, the events of the Boer war, coming as they did in a period occupied with a 'quest for national efficiency', were to pave the way for a strong popular interest in eugenics in the first decade of the twentieth century”.

It should be noted that statistical correlation is a very dangerous concept. In A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume (1738-40) argued that correlation can never be used to prove causality. Moreover, statistical correlations are all too often potentially spurious vi in the sense that further 'confounding variables' may become apparent which render any observed correlation between the two variables of interest to be meaningless.

For example, any supposed correlations between measures of mental ability and any other key variables, e.g. social status, are potentially spurious. In addition to abnormal behaviour and very low scores on IQ tests, eugenicists frequently linked "feeble-mindedness"to promiscuity, criminality, and social dependency.

Galton's somewhat farcical discourse on criminality and the insanevii describes numerous very subjective supposed correlations many of which should be treated with a pinch of salt. This has the appearance of pseudo-science.

According to Hailey McKinnon ,Galton took Eugenics as "the science of improving stock", not only by judicious mating, but whatever tends to give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing over the less suitable than they otherwise would have”viii.

The Liberal Welfare Reforms of 1906 to 1914 led to the beginnings of the British welfare state. Often benevolently remembered, they were pushed by Fabian eugenicists and imperialists of the Liberal Party (particularly the group known as the 'Co-efficients') with ties to the 'National Efficiency' movement in Britain who feared degeneration of 'the British race' might lead to the loss of the British empire. This fear was generated by battle losses and large rejection of potential recruits during the Second Boer Warix.

On the 5 June 1873, Galton wrote an extremely racist letter to the Times of London, entitled Africa for the Chinese (see Appendix B). During this long rant, Galton poured scorn and ridicule on the 'inferior Negro race', Hindus, and Arabs.

Galton also expressed anti-semitic opinions. On the 27th of October 1884, Galton wrote to Alphone de Candolle, “It strikes me that the Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations, and that there is need of evidence that they are capable of fulfilling the varied duties of a civilized nation by themselves”x.
The German doctor Alfred Ploetz proposed his theory of 'racial hygiene' (Rassen-hygiene; race-based Eugenics in his 1895 book Racial Hygiene Basics.(Grundlinien einer Rassenhygiene).

In her book From Racism to Genocide, Anthropology in the Third Reich, Gretchen E. Schafft (2004, P.43) describes the influence of Galton on Ploetz. Ploetz attended Galton's
1904 lecture Eugenics, its Definition, Scope, and Aims.

Then in 1905, Ploetz created the German Society for Racial Hygienexi, which was renamed the International Society for Racial Hygiene in 1907. This Berlin-based society maintained good relations with Francis Galton and his British Eugenics Society and other Eugenics societies around the world. How much Galton and Pearson influenced what happened next is open to question. Ploetz would go on to advise the Nazis about racial policyxii.


KARL PEARSON (1857-1936), an ardent disciple of Galton, was appointed as the first Galton Chair of Eugenics at UCL in 1911 at which time he created the Department of Applied Statistics. into which he incorporated the Biometrics Lab and the Eugenic Records Office. While lacking in theoretical innovation when compared with Galton and Fisher, he is credited with founding much of mathematical statistics though primarily, it seems, with the aim of obtaining 'objective' data-based conclusions relevant to Eugenics. Such nefarious objectives seem to have seriously affected the authenticity of classical frequency-based mathematical statistics to this very today.

Pearson was chief editor of Biometrika from 1901 to 1936, and used this platform to publish numerous papers in Eugenics, even if they didn't introduce any novel statistical technique.

According to Nathaniel Joselson:
The cross-pollination between Eugenics and theoretical statistics meant that racial eugenics (measuring skulls, disease frequencies, or intelligence over different races) was mainstream statistical knowledge”xiii.

Pearson pandered further to his racism by creating the Annals of Eugenics, later the Annals of Human Genetics, in 1925.

Pearson has often been claimed to have been socialist. In fact, he was associated with the Fabian Societyxiv which contained many supporters of colonialism and eugenicsxv. Instead, arguably many of Karl Pearson's ideas contain precursors of fascism. His views have been described by Diane B. Paul as “what a later generation would call national socialism”xvi.

Many of Pearson's works contain heavily problematic arguments in favour of racism, colonialism and other forms of oppression. Here we will only highlight a selection to give a (distasteful) flavour of Pearson's perspective.

For example, in his lecture National Life from the Standpoint of Science (1900), which was published during the Second Boer War, Pearson argues (p21) that South Africans and other black groups have never produced civilisation like “the Aryan”. He then talks of survival of the “physically and mentally fitter race”. On page 50 of the same work, he says, “We shall never have a healthy social state in South Africa until the white man replaces the dark in the fields and in the mines.” Later in the text, Pearson discusses what he terms “the national deterioration”(p.65) and he rails against “the undesirable alien” (p.104 ).

Pearson's book The Problem of Practical Eugenics (1909) appears to be arguing that the reform of child labour laws has turned children into an economic burden to parents and society and it would seem Pearson's solution is to call for a repeal of child labour and work lawsxvii. Early within this work Pearson suggests “legislation devoted to the improvement of the race by change of environment may not only be be ineffectual but may be positively detrimental, if its result is to modify selective action”(P.8).

In "The Scope and Importance to the State of the Science of National Eugenics (1911) Pearson pointed to Plato as the forerunner of Eugenics (p25) and argued that while he is not opposed to sympathy that it must be channelled to “promote racial efficiency and not lead us straight towards national shipwreck”(P.26).

Pearson in The Grammar of Science(1911), saw it as of benefit to humanity that white people replaced indigenous and people of colour when, as the colonialists saw it, the colonized peoples “neither utilize its land” or “contribute its quota to the common stock of human knowledge”( p. 438)

In the very first issue of the Annals of Eugenics: A Journal for the Scientific Study of Racial Problems (1925), Pearson wrote a very lengthy treatise entitled The Problem of Alien Immigration into Great Britain, illustrated by an Examination of Russian and Polish Jewish Children.

Pearson with Margaret Moul in The Problem of Alien Immigration discussing Jewish immigration, and apparently in agreement with his master Galton) argued “But to stress this fact is not essential, if we start from the principle that: The admission of aliens to a crowded country is only advisable when those aliens in physique or mentality are the superiors of the autochthonous race”xviii.

The data included anthropometric methods, medical information, sociological facts, and intelligence ratings for samples of 600 Jewish boys, almost as many Jewish girls, and comparative samples of non-Jewish school children. Coefficients of correlation and of mean squared contingency were employed to measure the purported relationships between the variables. The Jewish children were 'found' to be 'inferior' in the bulk of categories dealt with.

However, Joselson in Eugenics and Statistics, Discussing Karl Pearson and R. A. Fisher xix reports that Pearson had to pick and choose measures of genetic inferiority to ensure that his conclusion that Jews are an inferior race would be satisfied. 

Joselson in the same text summarizing Pearson's views suggests, “Pearson was convinced of the genetic superiority of Anglo-Nordic races because harsh living conditions had “sped up” the process of natural selection so that the European natives were more highly evolved than people living in warmer climates. He welcomed any scientific achievement which allowed Great Britain to further its colonial domination of the rest of the world because his view was that colonialism was a positive and necessary implication of European superiority over the inferior races of the world.”xx

Internationally, Karl Pearson would strongly influence American eugenicist Charles Davenport. Indeed Pearson, Galton and Davenport met in London in 1899xxi.Pearson and Davenport's friendship was such that Davenport was appointed co-editor of Biometrikaxxii and would write for the publicationxxiii. Davenport founded the U.S. Eugenics Record Office in 1910xxiv.Davenport himself would have worldwide influence , finding a willing audience for his racist inspired 'science' and aiding in the passing of eugenic laws. In The Nazi Connection (1994) Stefan Kuhl reports (p68) that Davenport stayed in contact with various Nazi institutions and publications after Hitler's rise to power in Germany and until and during the Second World War. Davenport worked alongside Harry Laughlin, one of the most influential US eugenicists and a major supporter of compulsory sterilization. Both men praised Nazi sterilization programsxxv.

As reported by the UCL museum creator Suhadra Das xxvi some Museum Studies students at UCL have re-examined a hair gauge. They came to the conclusion that the hair gauge was probably designed around 1905 by the German eugenicist Professor Eugen Fischer and used by him on a pseudo-scientific basis around 1908 to judge the relative 'whiteness' of mixed race people in what is now Namibia(until 1919 known then as German South West Africa) site from 1904 to 1907 of what has been described as “a prototypical act of racial genocide” xxvii during which medical experiments were done on the indigenous African peoples of that area.

 As suggested by Das the museum curator, the hair gauge may well have been brought into UCL and put into his collection by Karl Pearson( or one of his close colleagues).

Clarence Lusane in Hitler's Black Victims (2002,p50) describes Fischer carrying out racial 'tests' on African children and argues these events were a staging ground for Nazi eugenics during the Holocaust – Yet again colonialism inflicted on a non-white population returns home as fascism to visit hell upon a broader cross section of society- a theme repeating itself throughout our research.

How strongly the thoroughly evil Professor Fischer was influenced by the teachings of Galton, Pearson, and their American colleagues is, given the pre-existing Anglo-German-American connections and the time scales, open to discussion. But it is hard to imagine Pearson was unaware of its uses or what occurred in Namibia.

Nathaniel Joselsonxxviii expresses his discomfort with the language and statistical thinking which we have inherited from Pearson's Eugenics, for example an obsession with “significant difference” which nowadays can seen as the backbone of classical frequency-based statistics,

We should also be concerned with Pearson's obsession with statistical correlation, a delicate concept which he applied more blandly than Galton did to demonstrate possibly spurious associations between different variables.

In the 
The Grammar of Science (1911), Pearson devotes a whole chapter to unpacking “correct” statistical research. This research is hypothesis driven where the null hypothesis to be "proven" wrong if  there is no statistically significant  difference between the populations. 

Joselson (2016b) observes that populations could be "proven" different after performing a t-test or an F-test or a chi-squared test, in which case the research was successful and worth publishing. It is this exact format that is taught to this day in undergraduate statistics.

A statistically significant difference is sometimes said to be "strongly significant" if the p-value from the test is less than 1%. However statistical significance is nothing like the subjective notions of "practical" or "clinical" significance and it is not at all obvious how to interpret the p-value in any meaningful way, especially when the 'statistical experiment" is non-randomised and un-replicated. For example, when the sample sizes are large, minor differences between the populations can be regarded as strongly significant, when they have very little practical significance at all.

compulsive focus on statistically significant difference (a very useful tool for colonialists wishing to impose hard-line opinions on the people they rule) and (possibly spurious) correlation coefficients, e.g. when addressing Jewish people, have detrimentally influenced Eugenics and the entire subject of Statistics (much of which was nurtured by Eugenicists for their own foul purposes) for over a century.

Joselson is also concerned by Fisher's approach to discriminant analysis (see our Appendix A). We very much concur with Joselson's opinion to the effect that the spuriously objective developments of statistical significance, correlation, and discriminant analysis, which Pearson and Fisher pursued in order to achieve their goals as Eugenicists, has detrimentally affected interdisciplinary Statistics ever since.

Despite all of the historical efforts towards objectivity, it in the final analysis only seems possible to draw subjective conclusions from observational statistical data sets, and it always seems important to reflect the data against its real-life background and any related anecdotal evidence rather than blandly applying statistical techniques (whatever their philosophical persuasion)xxix.


Sir RONALD FISHER (1890-1962) succeeded Karl Pearson to the Galton Chair of Eugenics in 1933 and served as head of the Department of Eugenics at UCL from 1933 to 1939. He was seriously and publicly at odds with Pearson and resigned from the Royal Statistical Society because of an ongoing dispute over the chi-squared test which got completely out of hand.

During the sixteen years that the first co-author taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Fisher's pivotal contributions to Statistics and Genetics were extolled by his highly informed colleague George E.P. Box, who however never even once mentioned his much revered father-in-law's experiences in Eugenics.

Dr Bernard Nortonxxx argues that Fisher was primarily a eugenicist. and that this motivated his interest in Statistics and Genetics. Indeed, in 1911 he founded the Undergraduates Eugenics Society at the University of Cambridge. In 1912, Fisher also served as a steward at the first International Eugenics Congress at the University of London in South Kensington in 1912xxxi.

Nathaniel Joselson xxxii reports in critical terms how Fisher's book  The Genetic Theory of Natural Selection (1930) devotes three chapters to his endorsements of colonialism, white supremacy, and eugenics.

A number of Fisher's contributions to the Eugenics Movement are discussed by Richard Soloway (1995) in his text Demography and Degeneration. For example, on page 159, he reports concerns by Fisher and C.A. Stock (from Eugenics Review 6 No.4. January 1915xxxiii), that during WW1 as women workers were more necessary, both partners needing to work was becoming common amongst those seen as 'eugenically better classes'. Fisher naturalized the gendered nature of housework typically assigned to women. Therefore in Fisher's eyes everyone must keep in their 'rightful place' and he thought women should get back in the kitchen arguing “That the best energies of married women should be devoted to the interests of home and family is a proposition about which there is not likely to be any difference of opinion”.

While this was probably unexceptional during the First World War period (and perhaps today too, even in some places!) the misogynist arguments of Fisher are made with a basis in statistics and in the theory of eugenics. Eugenics became a driving force of patriarchal gender roles. These class conscious and quite chauvinistic attitudes provide substantial evidence that Fisher was a bigoted reactionary who was quite prepared to use pseudo-science to achieve his dire socio-political objectives

Joselson (2016a) describes Fisher's analysis of the British 1911 census data, as reported in the Genetic Theory of Natural Selection: 

Fisher’s found a high correlation between inter-generational fertility rates and a strong negative correlation between income and number of children. From this he concluded that fertility rates are genetic, and that genes for low fertility are related to hard work and intelligence”.xxxiv This remarkable leap of logic seems to incorporate Fisher's fanciful idea about gene associations with interpretations of correlations which may require further interpretation in the light of the possible influence of confounding variables.

      Based upon these highly subjective, somewhat twisted, conclusions, Fisher proposed giving family allowances to those defined as “fit” which inevitably with Fishers eugenic class prejudices meant the wealthierxxxv.



During the twentieth century and beyond, Eugenics embodied the truly intersectional nature of systems of oppression such as colonialism, white supremacy, trans-phobia, ableism, and patriarchy.

The ideas of eugenics were taken from Britain to the US and then around the world. By its encouragement of pseudo-scientific 'scientific racism', the eugenics at UCL has contributed to the rise of Fascism in Italy, Germany, and further abroad, right up to what we are witnessing in present day with the Alt-right and neo-fascism across the globe.

This is by no means an attempt to draw a straight line from Galton to Hitler. But my argument is that (1) So-called 'scientific racism' is a constituent part of fascism (2) Eugenics contributes to scientific racism (3) Therefore Eugenics is one of the ideological building blocks of fascism.

Fascism as a movement which emerged post-WW1 was born out of very specific historical conditions the blame for which cannot be laid upon eugenics and its return also reflects specific material conditions. However Fascism would have been hard to conceive or conceptualize without the pseudo-scientific 'scientific racism' of colonialism. Colonialism abroad has a tendency to return home as fascism.

As already discussed in our Section 2, The Nazis looked to the US and Britain for their ideas about racial eugenics, and its 'scientific' justifications and we find similar arguments today amongst the Alt-right and neo-fascists.

This connection between Colonialism and Fascism is why we need to decolonize Statistics, decolonize UCL and decolonize the world. Nathaniel Joselson, whose work we are very much indebted to in writing this article, writes, “Decolonization is questioning, disrupting and (hopefully) destroying these systems of oppression and privilege on both a physical and psychological level. This is a grass-roots project of education and conscientisation, but also, interestingly, an academic project”xxxvi.

The Eugenics that UCL gave to the world has been like a Pandora's box which when opened unleashes untold horrors.

Eugenics has detrimentally affected the lives of indigenous populations in settler colonial countries such as the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, not to mention almost every other country on the globe. As a major pillar of 'scientific racism', eugenics operates through the systems of colonialism and white supremacy. It gave us the 'stolen generations' in Australia, harsh residential schools for the indigenous children of Canada, and harsh discrimination against racial minorities in the U.Sxxxvii.

The legacy of UCL's Eugenics is still with us, and its destructive force cannot be understated. Eugenics is still a motivating force and ideology that seeks to provide legitimization for racist, colonialist and patriarchal acts that damages the most marginalized and oppressed people of the world particularly working class women, the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, the neuro-diverse, the mentally distressed, indigenous and colonized peoples, people of colour, Jewish people, Muslims, and Romani/Travelling people.

The impact of Eugenics around the world is extremely well documented and so it's unnecessary for us to attempt to needlessly reproduce that documentation here. We will only give a smattering of examples to demonstration the scope of the suffering and harm eugenics has caused globally. For those who wish to learn more about the global impact of eugenics we cannot recommend highly enough The Oxford Handbook of The History of Eugenics edited by Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine.


Not all of the Eugenics programs enacted since the days of Galton can be directly linked to the Eugenics at UCL. But as Sasha Baker and Iona Jenkins write in The Cheese Grater (February 5, 2019):

While UCL is not culpable for everything done in the name of eugenics, it is an institution connected to its development, possibly more so than any other. UCL has not done enough to confront its past in this respect..xxxviii

The Eugenics policies and programs enacted since Galton include:

Unjust policies towards asylum seekers whose lives are at risk in their own countries

War against countries whose populations are considered to be 'ethnically' inferior

Marriage restrictions on certain categories of people such as those who are mentally disabled

Racial abuse

Racial segregation.

Mistreatment of Indigenous Populations xxxix.

Colonial denigration of the intelligence of the colonized by the colonizers and attempts to 'scientifically' prove this e.g. in Kenya, particularly during the 1930sxl.

Some cases of ethnic cleansing, such as the Rohingya Muslims.

Population control, such as of Burmese Muslims where a two child policy is imposed.xli

Apartheid in South Africa

Forced Sterilization around the world such as in Japanxlii; in Peru 1990-2000xliii; in Indiaxliv ; in Canadaxlv; in USAxlvi including California prisons use sterilizationxlvii.
Uzbekistan was reported to have carried out forced sterilizations and hysterectomies in 2007xlviii. Forced sterilization of Romani women in Hungaryxlix.
China's one child policy in practice until 2015.

Compulsory abortions.

Enforced birth control.

Forced pregnancies.

Financial penalties for extra children in a family.

The segregation and forced sterilization of the mentally distressed is a particularly appalling crime against humanity.

Use of 'science' to falsely judge mental capacity e.g. IQ tests.

The negligent or forced treatment of mental health patients with psychiatric medications.

The negligent or forced treatment of mental health patients by ECT or brain surgery

Homophobic discrimination.

Transphobia and social control against non binary or gender fluid people. Practices of social control fuelled by Eugenics influenced colonial attitudes to the Gender Binary such as in Indial.

Reduced affordable medical treatment based on age or social status

Austerity programs

Stopping or reducing benefits for the impoverished or disabled

Disability assessments for benefits. such as PIP or ESA

Cut of child benefit for third child in Britain has seen been correctly, in our view, seen as negative eugenicsli.




The legacy of UCL's Eugenics is still with us, even in the present for example in the form arguments for population control, 'race realism', white supremacists and nationalists. As such the destructive force of the legacy of UCL's eugenics history cannot be understated.

In January 2018, The Guardian reported that a senior academic(James Thompson) at UCL hosted a pseudo-scientific conference on eugenics and intelligence with speakers who included white supremacists and advocates of paedophilialii.

UCL's response was inadequate and sat on the fence, hiding behind the law, using ideas of free speech and the 'marketplace of ideas'liii. While President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur claims he “will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence” it has been stated that the conferences have been held four times since 2014 and included associations with the US organisation, the Pioneer Fundliv (originally co-funded by US eugenicist Henry Laughlin, a friend of Charles Davenport).

Fiddling at the margins just won't cut it. For the history of Eugenics at UCL to be addressed requires the decolonization of it as an institution. This cannot but mean change at an institutional widespread level. As Nathaniel Joselson argues “Decolonization is not a box to be checked while keeping all other aspects of university culture constant”lv.

A question which looms over our heads like the sword of Damocles is Just how far can an institution such as a university entangled as it is in the oppressive structures of existing society do to rectify its historic wrongs? Can the university truly be decolonized? I'm undecided.

First and foremost, UCL must be persuaded to listen and answer to the working class people, women, people of colour, indigenous, disabled, Jewish and psychiatrized worldwide who are living with the legacy of eugenics.

I wish to thank the students and lecturers whose collective pressure pushed this commission onto the agenda. I offer my unconditional support to the UCL students organising around issues of eugenics, white supremacy, patriarchy and other systems of oppression and we wish to express our support for those involved in Decolonize UCL and #UCLfacesRacelvi

UCL should decolonize itself, devoting its resources into saving the world from climate change which so disproportionately affects the working class, women, people of colour and indigenous peoples around the world.

I can do no better than to quote student Ayo Olatunji from 2018,

When we look at the legacy of eugenics there is heavy focus on race, class and disability, but the legacy also notably houses the ideals that led to the fatal persecution of LGBT people globally, through the instillation of imperialist colonial laws. We must acknowledge eugenics was and is intersectional no matter how perverse the ideas it generated, therefore the decolonial work that seeks to dismantle its legacy must also be intersectional. The centre’s research, teaching and engagement must be intersectional. Those sitting on the advisory board must have internal and external input of academics, staff, students and community activists from the below groups”.lvii

With these thoughts in mind, I offer up my proposals:-

(A) I would very much support the creation of an Institute for Critical Eugenics and Race which could explore eugenics links to white supremacy and colonialism. This appears to be in its early beginnings

B) I would also like to recommend the creation of a Centre for the Inter-Sectional Treatment of Mental Distress which rejecting a reductionist medical model would investigate how to achieve improvements in mental distress diagnosis and treatment exploring the relational interaction between biology, personal experience and socio-political conditions. While psychiatry is still tainted by its harmful, pseudo-scientific treatment programs, an institute of this type would do much to atone for the appalling number of incarcerations, forced sterilizations, maltreatments and deaths of people with mental health issues which have been brought about by Eugenics, and for the spuriously objective statistics devised by the early eugenicists which has totally misled the psychiatric profession ( see Appendix A).

(C) Since Pearson and Fisher once worked in the same Pearson building, I think that this building should be renamed following a vote by students and lecturers and that plaques bearing the true reality of what occurred and a full apology should be maintained in perpetuity in the College quadrangle and in the entranceway of the Department of Statistical Science.

(D) UCL could pay reparations to victims of eugenics worldwide. Which specific groups need to be determined. Jewish groups or those victims of the Genocide in Namibia spring to mind initially. This must be done with the qualification that it is not tokenistic.

FUTURE TEACHING AND RESEARCH: As students have asked “why is my curriculum white?”lviii. We must thoroughly decolonize the curriculumlix and make it more intersectional by having it orientated towards the thought and research of non-white, non-European, non-male thinkers, statisticians and scientists. (Joselson gives an excellent example of an under-emphasised Indian Mathematicianlx)

UCL needs to ensure none of its present and future research e.g. relating to the human genome project, stem cell research, and new productive technologies, contributes to even further Eugenics.

APPENDIX A: DISCRIMINANT ANALYSIS (Ronald Fisher and Lionel Penrose )
The pre-eminent psychiatrist Lionel Penrose was the fourth incumbent (1945-63) of the Galton Chair of Eugenics at UCL. He drastically simplified the “discriminant function” method of Fisher conventionally used to discriminate between two populations (e.g. one of 'normal' subjects and the other of 'psychotic' subjects) on the basis of vectors of measured characteristics. See his papers Discrimination between normal and psychotic subjects by revised examination (Bulletin of the Canadian Psychological Association, 1945) and Distance, size, and shape (Annals of Eugenics, 1954).

But neither Penrose's nor Fisher's method can be regarded as at all objective in situations where the statistical data do not result from a randomized experiment. One of several reasons for this is that neither of the two sets of assumed multivariate normal observation vectors can obviously be assumed to be mutually statistically independent, implying that any assessment of their joint sampling distributions will be quite subjective.

Penrose did not therefore seem to have any objective way of comparing a sample of 'normal' subjects with a sample of 'mentally deficient' subjects, based on measured characteristics.


Content Warning: Contains Galton's Racism.

A very racist letter from Francis Galton, to the Editor of the Times of London. June 5, 1873

Sir, - In a few days Sir Bartle Frere will return to England, and public attention will be directed to the East Coast of Africa. I am desirous of availing myself of the opportunity to ventilate some speculations of my own, which you may, perhaps, consider of sufficient interest to deserve publication in the Times. My proposal is to make the encouragement of the Chinese settlements at one or more suitable places on the East Coast of Africa a par of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race. I should expect the large part of the African seaboard, now sparsely occupied by lazy, palavering savages living under the nominal sovereignty of the Zanzibar, or Portugal, might in a few years be tenanted by industrious, order loving Chinese, living either as a semi-detached dependency of China, or else in perfect freedom under their own law. In the latter case their would be similar to that of the inhabitants of Liberia, in West Africa, the territory which was purchased 50 years ago and set apart as an independent State for the reception of freed negroes from America.

The opinion of the public on the real worth of the Negro race has halted between the extreme views which have been long and loudly proclaimed. It refuses to follow those of the early abolitionists, that all the barbarities in Africa are to be traced to the effects of a foreign slave trade, because travelers continually speak of similar barbarities existing in regions to which the slave trade has not penetrated. Captain Colomb has written a well-argued chapter on this matter, in his recent volume. On the other hand, the opinion of the present day repudiates the belief that the negro is an extremely inferior being, because there are notorious instances of negroes possessing high intelligence and culture, some of whom acquire large fortunes in commerce, and others become considerable men in other walks of life. The truth appears to be that individuals of the mental caliber I have just described are much more exceptional in the negro than in the Anglo-Saxon race, and that average negroes possess too little intellect, self-reliance, and self-control to make it possible for them to sustain the burden of any respectable form of civilization without a large measure of external guidance and support. The Chinaman is a being of another kind, who is endowed with a remarkable aptitude for a high material civilization. He is seen to the least advantage in his own country, where a temporary dark age still prevails, which has not sapped the genius of the race, though it has stunted the developed the of each member of it, by the rigid enforcement of an effete system of classical education which treats originality as a social crime. All the bad parts of his character, as his lying and servility, spring from timidity due to an education that has cowed him, and no treatment is better calculated to remedy that evil than location in a free settlement.

The natural capacity of the Chinaman shows itself by the success with which, notwithstanding his timidity, he competes with strangers, wherever he may reside. The Chinese emigrants possess an extraordinary instinct for political and social organization; they contrive to establish for themselves a police and internal government, and they give no trouble to their rulers so long as they are left to manage those matters by themselves. They are good-tempered, frugal, industrious, saving, commercially inclined, and extraordinarily prolific. They thrive in all countries, the natives of the Southern provinces being perfectly able to labor and multiply in the hottest climates. Of all known varieties or mankind there is none so appropriate as the Chinaman to become the future occupant of the enormous regions which lie between the tropics, whose extent is far more vast than it appears, from the cramped manner in which those latitudes are pictured in the ordinary maps of the world. But take a globe and examine it, and consider the huge but poorly-peopled bulk of Africa, by whose side the areas of India and of China look insignificant, and think what a field lies there for the development of a suitable race. The Hindoo cannot fulfil the required conditions nearly as well as the Chinaman, for he is inferior to him in strength, industry, aptitude for saving, business habits, and prolific power. The Arab is little more than an eater up of other men's produce; he is a destroyer rather than a creator, and he is unprolific.
The history of the world tells a tale of the continual displacement of populations, each by a worthier successor, and humanity gains thereby. We ourselves are no descendents of the aborigines of Britain, and our colonists were invaders of the regions they now occupy as their lawful home. But the countries into which the Anglo-Saxon race can be transfused are restricted to those where the climate is temperate. The Tropics are not for us, to inhabit permanently; the greater part of Africa is the heritage of people differently constituted to ourselves. On that continent, as elsewhere, one population continually drives out another. Consider its history as it extends over successive centuries. We note how Arab, Tuarick, Fellatah, Negroes of uncounted varieties, Cadre, Hottentot surge and reel to and fro in the struggle for existence. It is into this free flight among all present that I wish to see a new competitor introduced-namely, the Chinaman. The gain would be immense to the whole civilized world if we were to out-breed and finally displace the negro, as completely as the latter has displaced the aborigines of the West Indies. The magnitude of the gain may be partly estimated by making the converse supposition namely, the loss that would ensue if China were somehow to be depopulated and restocked by negroes.
The pressure of population in China is enormous, and its outflow is great and increasing. There is no lack of material for a suitable immigration into Africa. I do not say that it would be possible at any moment to persuade communities of men and women from Southern China to establish themselves in Africa; but I am assured, by excellent authorities, that occasions of political disturbances frequently arise when it would be practicable to do so by the promise of a free, or nearly free, grant of land. The Chinese have a land hunger, as well as a love for petty traffic, and they would find a field in which to gratify both of these tastes on the East African Coast. There are many Chinese capitalists resident in foreign parts who might speculate in such a system and warmly encourage it. If once successfully started, it ought to maintain itself. The colonist could not starve; and when they began to succeed they would send money to their relatives to enable them to follow, just as they now do from the many other parts of the world where they are located. For these reasons it is probable that the streams of emigration from China have sufficient "head" to enable them to reach and overflow the coasts of Eastern Africa if they were watched and judiciously diverted in that direction.
I have finally to speak of the political effort necessary to secure a free right of occupancy and of settlement at suitable points on the coast. No very serious obstacle seems to stand in the way; certainly none was met with when Liberia was founded. It is probable that as the success of such an enterprise would be of equally great value to all nations commercially interested in those parts, no national jealousy would be excited by its promotion, and the necessary territory could be obtained with little difficulty and at a small cost, to be advanced in the first instance as a charge on the land and hereafter to be redeemed.
-Francis Galton


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Melvyn Conroy, Tudor Georgescu, Nazi Eugenics: Precursors, Policy, Aftermath.

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ii Galton, British Psychologist, Human Intelligence,

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vi Box, Hunter, and Hunter, Statistics for Experimenters (2005) P.8-9, last accessed June 2019 .

vii Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development(1883) p.42-46.

ix Searle, National Efficiency, P.64; M.E. Chamberlain, Imperialism and Social Reform, British Imperialism in the 19th Century,(1984) Ed. C.C. Eldridge ,P.163 ; Lauren Marshall, Rewriting Empire: The South African War, The English Popular Press, and Edwardian Imperial Reform , Dissertation, University of Virginia, (August, 2017), P.194-195; P.228-241. G.R. Searle, The Politics of National Efficiency and of War, 1900-1918, P.58; Lauren Marshall, Rewriting Empire: The South African War, The English Popular Press, and Edwardian Imperial Reform , Dissertation, University of Virginia, (August, 2017), P.241-244.)

x Karl Pearson , The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton P.209.

xi German Eugenics and the Wider World, Paul Weindling, P.315, Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics.

xii Stefan Kuhl, For the Betterment of The Race (2013), P.93.

xiii Nathaniel Joselson, Eugenics and Statistics Part Two, Reflections and Implications, Meditations on Inclusive Statistics blog, 2016 accessible at , last accessed June 2019 .

xivBernard Norton, Karl Pearson and Statistics: The Social Origins of Scientific Innovation, Social Studies of Science, Vol. 8, No. 1, Theme Issue: Sociology of Mathematics (Feb.,1978), p 28 ; Theodore M. Porter, Karl Pearson: The Scientific Life in a Statistical Age, p108.

xv On their eugenics see The Fabian Society in Late Victorian Britain

Dr Andrzej Diniejko, D. Litt, last accessed June 2019 ; The Fabian connection to imperialism and Colonialism is well documented. On their colonialism see Gregory Claeys, Imperial Sceptics: British Critics of Empire, 1850–1920(2010) P.180 or A. M. Mc. Briar ,Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884-1918(1962)P.124 or Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian 2012 , last accessed June 2019 .

xvi Diane B. Paul Controlling Heredity 1995, p35.

xvii Karl Pearson, The problem of Practical Eugenics(1912),, P.24,, last accessed June 2019 .

xviii Karl Pearson and Margaret Moul, The Problem of Alien Immigration Into Great Britain, P.51, last accessed June 2019.

xix Nathaniel Joselson (2016) ).

xx 20. Nathaniel Joselson, Eugenics and Statistics, Discussing Karl Pearson and R. A.Fisher , last accessed June 2019.

xxi David R. Bellhouse, Karl Pearson's Influence in the United States ,International Statistical Reviews, 2009, p.53 .

xxii D. R. Cox , Biometrika: The First 100 Years ,Biometrika, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Mar., 2001) P.1.) .
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xxiv Steggerda, M. (1944). Charles Benedict Davenport (1866-1944); The man and his contributions to physical anthropology, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, P.172 .

xxv Kuhl, The Nazi Connection (1994, p46)
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xxvii Saul Dubow, South Africa, p.285, Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics).

xxviii Joselson, Eugenics and Statistics Part 2: Reflections and Implications, Meditations on Inclusive Statistics Blog.

xxixFor my argument on this see The Life of a Bayesian Boy: An interview with Thomas Hoskyns Leonard, Statistics (2014), last accessed June 2019.

xxx Bernard Norton, A 'Fashionable Fallacy' Defended, New Scientist, 27 April 1978, p224.

xxxi R,A. Fisher, International Biometrics Society ,last accessed June 2019.

xxxiii R. A. Fisher, C. S. Stock, The employment of married women
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xxxivJoselson,, last accessed June 2019.

xxxv Richard Soloway, Demography and Degeneration, P.185; P.295.

xxxvi Joselson, A Motivation for Decolonizing Statistics,, last accessed June 2019.

xxxvii See The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics for more in-depth exploration of these issues.

xxxviii Sasha Baker and Iona Jenkins, A Brief History of Eugenics (2019) last accessed June 2019.

xxxix See Diane B. Paul et al collection, Eugenics at the Edges of Empire or the Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics.

xl See Chapter 16, Eugenics in Kenya, Oxford Handbook of The History of Eugenics.

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xliii Liz Ford ,Peru's forcibly sterilised women find their voice(2016),The Guardian,, last accessed June 2019 .

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xlvii Corey Johnson ,California was sterilizing its female prisoners as late as 2010(2013),The Guardian,, last accessed June 2019.

xlviii Natalia Antelava ,Uzbekistan's policy of secretly sterilising women(2012), ,last accessed June 2019.

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lviiiWhy is my curriculum white?(2014), Youtube ,, last accessed June .
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lxNathaniel Joselson, Decolonization can be hard to see,


  1. And now theyre effectively sterilizing men with neuroleptics and telling them they have a chemical imbalance of the brain !