Friday, July 29, 2011

Galton Centenary

The words "regression" and "correlation" trip off our tongues on a daily basis - if not more frequently. Both of them can be attributed to the British polymath, Sir Francis Galton (1822 - 1911). I've blogged a little bit about Galton rpreviously, in The Origin of Our Species.

To commemorate the centenary of his death on 17 January 1911, statisticians are honouring Galton's impressive contributions this year. Putting aside Galton's promotion of eugenics, there is still much to celebrate. Perhaps the most comprehensive source of information about his work and influence is at This site includes, among other things, copies of all of his published work - much of which is difficult to obtain elsewhere these days.

Not surprisingly, the Royal Statistical Society has been paying special to Galton this year. Among other things there have been some interesting items in their Significance magazine. I'd especially recommend the pieces by Graham Wheeler, Tom Fanshawe and Julian Champkin. In the last of these, look for the link to a BBC radio talk on Galton, by Steve Jones of the Galton Laboratory at University College London!

Finally, if you're looking for inspiration - and who isn't(!) - Galton's own account of his discovery of correlation and regression (originally termed "reversion") makes interesting reading. Titled "Kinship and Regression", you can find it here.

© 2011, David E. Giles


  1. One of Galton’s interesting contributions to statistics was inventing the Galton Box (also known as a bean machine or quincunx). Its purpose is to demonstrate the central limit theorem and the binomial and normal distributions.

    It works by dropping balls into a box lined with pegs, and with bins at the bottom. As the balls fall, they will bounce either left or right as they hit a peg. If enough balls are dropped, the way they pile up in the bins would appear as a bell shaped curve.

    A diagram (and more detailed explanation) can be found here:

  2. Dion: Thanks for the comment and the link.