Search This Blog

Saturday, 24 August 2019

PROFESSOR DAVID FINNEY, F.R.S, F.R.S.E, and Sir Godfrey Thomson, Edinburgh Eugenicists.

My recent discovery that Finney was once a eugenicist, has made me bit alarmed because he later developed systems for considering the safety of drugs. Many drugs are still unsafe. For example, most of our neurotoxic psychiatric drugs are quite unsafe, and their uninformed or enforced prescription is in itself a form of eugenics.. How thorough was the monitor that Finney developed? I leave this as an open question.

        David Finney, famous for his work on developing systems which improved the safety of drugs, was my predecessor in the Chair of Statistics at the University of Edinburgh. He passed away in Morningside, Edinburgh in December 2018 at age 100, and I attended his funeral.

                                                                  FINNEY AND DRUGS               

      different types of program.


51:16: Closure of interview, with several themes:
  • Did the systems really ‘detect’ new events, or were they mainly instrumental in providing data once a suspicion had arisen?
  • How did Finney’s original mathematical and statistical career help him in devising his “monitor”?
  • What was the significance of the thalidomide tragedy: why did it prove to be the turning point that led governments to set up systems for the study and detection of adverse events?

        Following my and Scott Forster's investigation of the History of Eugenics at UCL, I  discovered that Finney, who was much influenced while working in the Galton Laboratory of University College London  by the arch-Eugenicist Sir Ronald Fisher, was himself a Eugenicist (rather than a Eugenicist by association, as has since been suggested by one of Finney's erstwhile colleagues in Medical Statistics)  Indeed, in 1952 Finney was elected Honorary Life Fellow of the Eugenics Society (later the Galton Institute), see Royal Society of Edinburgh Obituary (2018). He is listed as a Fellow in The Eugenics Review (1957)  along with the likes of Hans Eysenck, and while he was working in the Department of Statistics at Aberdeen. (one of his colleagues there was the statistician, geneticist, and Fisherphile A.W.F. Edwards, but Edwards seems to have been focusing mainly on Likelihood at the time)

      In 1940 and 1941, Finney published a series of three papers in the Annals of Eugenics on the Detection of Linkage resulting from his work with Fisher in the Galton Laboratory. See

                Eugenics, Human Genetics and Human failings by Pauline Mazumbar

       It is easy to purchase a copy of this splendid book, and to look up the references to Finney.

       By reference to the pre-existing Eugenics literature, Finney for example suggested that there might be a linkage between the genes of allergic disease and the genes determining blood groups, MN groups,and the eye colour of man, and that allergic disease might be inherited.

     Here is one of his papers  THE DETECTION OF LINKAGE. Finney considers dominant and recessive abnormalities and concurs with Fisher's objectives "to give a treatment appropriate to pedigree collections in which the procedure of ascertainment is unknown and may vary from family to family".

Fisher's daughter Joan Fisher-Box reported in her 1978 book that this work was very much influenced by Fisher, though Finney produced most of the mathematics. In 1935, Fisher had published a paper in the Annals of Eugenics entitled 'The Detection of Linkage with dominant abnormalities'.

Finney's 1947 paper in the Annals of Eugenics on the truncated binomial distribution concerned the occurrence of abnormalities in samples of sibships, He also published several papers elsewhere on genetics, which I have not as yet investigated. The implications in Eugenics of his 1945 paper in the Annals of Eugenics on fractional factorial experiments are as yet unclear to me; However the factorial experiments at Rothampstead Agricultural Research Station with which Fisher was involved in his early years there seem to have been inspired by factorial Mendelian randomisation (using genetic variants to assess interactions). See Mazumdar (p119) and Rees, Foley, and Burgess (International Journal of Epidemiology, 2019)

Finney arrived to stay in Scotland in about 1956 following the death in 1955 of Sir Godfrey Thompson of Moray House in Edinburgh, Thompson's work on intelligence testing and the eleven plus is nowadays regarded as eugenicist, in similar fashion to Sir Cyril Burt's in England (as critically described in the first episode of the recent BBC4 series on Eugenics),. Note that intelligence tests all too frequently measure 'white middle class intelligence, and still often refer Galton-style to the thin-tailed normal distribution a misleading population distribution for general intelligence.


       Ian Deary's various laudatory accounts of Thomson's work.also mention (the eugenicists) Spearman and Eysenck.According to Deary et al (2010)

          He (Finney)visited Thomson in Edinburgh as a young statistician. He later rose to be Professor of Statistics at the University of Edinburgh.

         According to Bartholomew et al (p476) they discussed applications of quantal response theory for biossay (which is relevant to drug testing) to mental testing, While Finney and Thomson were both eugenicists at the time, it is unclear how much eugenics content there was to their conversation, but mental test theories involving probits and logits still abound in the psychometric literature, at times notoriously. Indeed in 1944, Finney wrote a paper on the application of probit analysis to the results of mental tests, and his 1947 book Probit Analysis, while primarily aimed a biomedical applications, also mentions mental tests as one of several areas of application, While I have also published a paper or two in this area, I now regard such mental test models as presenting as potentially unfair ways of measuring human ability,

        Note that the relatively recent paper by Deary et al (2004) has very scary eugenic-style undertones and describes historical studies in Scotland which were funded by the Eugenics Society and the Rockefeller foundation. Finney and Deary were colleagues at the University of Edinburgh when Finney was Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Deary interviewed Finney later, in 2006,.

            Note that the celebrated statistician Maurice Bartlett corresponded with Thompson on intelligence testing and controversial matters relating to factor analysis.. Bartholomew et al (2009) report that Derrick Lawley (later Finney's colleague at the University of Edinburgh) also worked with Thomson,

         At least one of Finney's erstwhile colleagues at the University of Edinburgh has expressed surprise at the idea  that Finney was a eugenicist, . I beg to differ. (Finney retired as half-time Chair of Statistics at Edinburgh in 1984, and I knew him later).

Further reading: Sir Ronald Fisher: Highly Negative Eugenicist

Wednesday, 21 August 2019



ON CLIMATE CHANGE: For South Edinburgh Quaker Business Meeting on 25th August 2019

                                                            Tom Leonard

It is very important to understand the enormously grave difficulties we face in trying to prevent climate change from destroying the world as we know it within the next few decades. I understand that lots of scientific research is currently being directed at determining the very drastic sorts of measures that need to be taken (e.g. refreezing the polar icecaps, directly reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, complete cessation of war).

It is very well established, geologists, that greenhouse emissions are continuing to severely harm our natural environment,

However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a nation to nation basis, while highly laudable, is simply not enough. It is also virtually impossible to enforce since individual nations are very likely to manipulate and misrepresent the (in Scotland very sparse) statistics to their advantage,

Furthermore, the short and medium term profit motives of our three-centuries-old Capitalist system will almost certainly prevent the drastic sorts of changes we need to save the world. Maybe I am pipe-dreaming when I express the hope that Capitalism can be persuaded to peacefully destroy itself in its current form. But failing this we face the real prospect of a terrible Armageddon, namely the possibility of a violent world-wide revolution in a last ditch attempt to save the planet, followed by the probable destruction of everything we know by natural disaster.

The only small contribution I have made to this process is to recommend to the Commission of Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL that UCL funds more research into the Climate Change problem. Climate change has numerous intersectional effects. It for example already discriminates against many of our indigenous populations.

I am now contemplating whether to support the Edinburgh Green Anti-Capitalist Front since it offers a much more rational, and less clownish, perspective than Extinction Rebellion.

Maybe, however, we should simple encourage our children to think and act for us.


Monday, 5 August 2019

On the great statistician and economist Corrado Gini and De Finetti- Style Coherence

                                                             Corrado Gini (1884-1965)           

 For Maria Sophia Quine's account of the dreadful racist Eugenics in the Mussolini era of the otherwise great Italian Statistician and Economist Corrado Gini see pages 392-394 of the Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (2010). Gini lead the Italian delegation to the globally influential First International Congress of Eugenics in South Kensington, London in 1912, After that he practised so-called positive eugenics on the Italian and other Latin nations. He also pushed  his demography and population statistics ever closer to biology and human genetics in order to encourage the practice of very cruel negative eugenics on 'inferior' nations around the world.

       See also Maria Quine's 1990 University of London Ph.D, thesis (e.g. pages 30-33)

     Also in 1912, Gini published his much celebrated Gini Coefficient in a paper entitled Variability and Mutability, This is still a commonly used Economic index for measuring inequality of wealth, or income, in a population.

     Bruno de Finetti (1906-1985) was a presumably misguided (e.g. by Gini) fascist whose over-mathematrized concept of 'coherence' has both bewitched and constrained the minds of Bayesian statisticians and scientists ever since. De Finetti's 'axioms of coherence' are infinitely more complex than what they are taken to imply, and seem to attempt to impose false rationalities. They lead to an over-formalised notion of subjective probability, which is a reasonable enough notion in itself, though not globally applicable.

     De Finetti-style coherence seems to me to be like a Eugenic-style notion of trying to 'improve the human mind'. Its origins lie in Fascist Italy. For later developments along these lines see BAYESIAN BRAINS.

      De Finetti's early work in population genetics has been related by A.W.F. Edwards to natural selection. See, for example "Natural selection and the de Finetti Diagram (Cannings and Edwards, Annals of Human Genetics, 1968)

     During the Mussolini Era, De Finetti developed models for predicting the evolution of the Italian population, though without getting much credit from Gini for his contributions. See Eugenio Regazzini's Interview in Statistical Science.These predictive models  may well have strongly impacted on the eugenic policies of Mussolini's regime in regard to immigration, emigration, and colonialist racial segregation. See,

       The Organization of Demographic Totalitarianism: Early Population Policy in Fascist Italy
                                              by Carl Ibsen


    This all set the scene for De Finetti's development during the 1930s of his mind-boggling 'justification' of (finitely additive) subjective probability by his highly prescriptive concept of coherence, Other mathematical probabilists found it necessary to add further technical details much later to ensure the mathematical accuracy of his 'proof'. See Eugenio Regazzini's Interview for all the key references to De Finetti's and Regazzini's work on this topic,

       De Finetti proposed a thought experiment along the following lines:

      You are required to fix the price of a promise to pay a dollar if an event A is true, and nothing if it is untrue, on the understanding  that the answer will shortly be revealed by a third party.

      An opponent will be given the option of either buying the promise from you at the the price you have set, or require you to buy such a promise for your opponent, still at the same price.

      By a piece of possibly twisted logic, De Finetti claims that the price P(A) you set can then be referred to as your 'operational' subjective probability that you assign to the possibility that A is true. You can similarly determine a supposed subjective probability for all events that are (measurable) subsets of some sample space S. De Finetti claims that, further to some further technical assumptions, the prices thus obtained do not expose you to a long run certain loss through a 'Dutch book', The so-called  'probabilities' (which don't look anything like subjective probabilities to me) are therefore called 'coherent'.


FOR PREVIOUS DISCUSSIONS OF THE AXIOMS OF COHERENCE (From my Personal History of Bayesian Statistics, 2014) please click on

                                      AXIOMS OF COHERENCE

A serious conceptual problem with the De Finetti axiomatization of subjective probability lies in the way it confounds with the concept of the utility of money and with the consequent interconnections with the Expected Utility Hypothesis (EUH) and Sure Thing Principle  as developed (from the 18th century ideas of Daniel Bernoulli) by the rather myopic L.J. Savage at the highly patriarchal and colonialist University of Chicago. But EUH has long been known to be paradoxical as far as the thinking of individuals, rather than the long-term profit-making financial institutions, is concerned. It can be used by financial institutions to make a long-term profit from investigators who are risk averse or need to protect themselves from short-term catastrophic loss, See for example the Allais and other paradoxes, as described in Chapter 4 of BAYESIAN METHODS (Leonard and Hsu, 1999), together with the further conclusions described in that chapter, Indeed, De Finetti published jointly with Savage in 1962. Their highly complex ideas are interwoven, as were the politics of the institutions in which they worked.

      In Chapter 5 of OPTIMAL STATISTICAL DECISIONS (1970) Morris De Groot describes a simpler and much more appealing axiom system, which does not refer at all to monetary decision making but rather to an objective auxiliary experiment involving a spinning pointer. Nevertheless , De Groot's fifth axiom (which stipulates the existence of a random variable X on the unit interval) involves complex measure theoretic assumptions which are at best tautologous with the countable additivity of the resultant subjective distribution on the parameter space,

FOR FURTHER DISCUSSIONS OF THE EXPECTED UTILITY HYPOTHESIS AND ITS RAMIFICATIONS (also from my Personal History of Bayesian Statistics, 2014) please click on

                                    AXIOMS OF UTILITY