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A Panorama of Statistics by Peter Petocz, Eric Sowey

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18 Francis Galton and the birth of regression

It has not been very long since the centenary of the death of one of the founders of our discipline – Francis Galton (1822–1911), student of medicine and mathematics, tropical explorer and geographer, scientist and, above all, statistician. In this chapter, we shall bring to mind something of this truly remarkable man and his statistical contributions. A comprehensive account of Galton’s life and work can be had from his own Memories of My Life (1908) and from Karl Pearson’s three volume The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton (1914‐24‐30). These books, as well as a large collection of Galton’s scientific writings, can be read in facsimile at the website [18.1]. A further biography of Galton is cited in CHAPTER 22.

Galton was born into a well‐off manufacturing and banking family who were much involved with scientific and literary matters. Members of his immediate family were, in particular, interested in things statistical, his grandfather ‘loving to arrange all kinds of data in parallel lines of corresponding lengths, and frequently using colour for distinction’, and his father ‘eminently statistical by disposition’ (Memories of My Life, pages 3, 8). His half‐cousin was the naturalist Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species (1859). Galton showed his high intelligence early. On the day before he turned five years old, he wrote a letter to his sister (quoted in Terman, 1917):

‘My dear Adèle, I am 4 years ...

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