Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2009
R. A. Fisher is perhaps best known for his influential theoretical contributions to the ‘Evolutionary Synthesis’ of the 1930s and 1940s in which biometry was reconciled with Mendelism. It is no accident, I believe, that when historians discuss the ‘Synthesis’, the names R. A. Fisher, Sewall Wright and J. B. S. Haldane are nearly always given in that order. Fisher's 1918 paper ‘The correlation between relatives on the supposition of Mendelian inheritance’ suggested that biometry, which emphasized the distribution of characters based on continuous variation, and Mendelism, which emphasized discontinuous characters, were compatible and could be united to study evolutionary change. If one considered large numbers of discontinuous, Mendelian characters, then statistical biometrical analysis could be conducted. Thus, Fisher argued, biometry and Mendelism need not oppose each other.
3 Fisher and his desire to improve the British professional middle class has been discussed by several authors, most notably MacKenzie, Donald in Statistics in Britain, 1865–1930, Edinburgh, 1981, 183–213Google Scholar and Kevles, Daniel, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, California, 1985, 176–92.Google Scholar
4 Darwin, Charles, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, London, 1871, 256.Google Scholar
5 See Richards, Evelleen, ‘Darwin and the descent of woman’, in The Wider Domain of Evolutionary Thought (ed. Oldroyd, D. and Langham, I.), Dordrecht, 1983, 57–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Russett, Cynthia Eagle, Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood, Cambridge, Mass., 1989, 16–103Google Scholar and Mosedale, Susan Sleeth, ‘Science corrupted: Victorian biologists consider “the woman question”’, Journal of the History of Biology (1978), 11, 1–55Google Scholar, for discussions of the social construction of the female by Victorian biologists and psychologists.
12 Morgan, Thomas Hunt, Evolution and Adaptation, New York, 1903, 213–20Google Scholar. Garland Allen discusses Morgan's difficulties with natural selection and Darwinism, in general, from 1900 to 1915, in his paper ‘Thomas Hunt Morgan and the problem of natural selection’, Journal of the History of Biology (1968), 1, 113–39Google Scholar. Allen argues that between 1912 and 1915, Morgan began to question his belief in the mutation theory and that by 1916 he had accepted that natural selection could produce lasting, gradual change in a group of organisms. However, Allen writes that Morgan never fully believed that natural selection was the creative force that could produce exquisite adaptations. Natural selection could only remove the unfit, it could not create.
14 Fisher, R. A., ‘The renaissance of Darwinism’, Listener (1947), 37, 1001Google Scholar, reprinted in Collected Papers of R. A. Fisher (ed. Bennett, J. H.), Adelaide, 1971, 620Google Scholar. Henceforth references to Fisher's papers will be given the designation CP# followed by a page number to indicate that the paper is included in the Collected Papers and that the page number corresponds to the pages listed in the Collected Papers.
15 Bennett, J. H., Natural Selection, Heredity, and Eugenics: Including Selected Correspondence of R. A. Fisher with Leonard Darwin and others, Oxford, 1983, 7.Google Scholar
16 Weismann, A., ‘The selection theory’, in Darwin and Modern Science (ed. Seward, A. C.), Cambridge, 1910, 18–65, on 47.Google Scholar
17 Hodge, M. J. S., ‘Biology and Philosophy (including Ideology): a Study of Fisher and Wright’, unpublished typescript, 1–82, on 12.Google Scholar
21 Fisher, R. A., ‘The social selection of human fertility’, in The Herbert Spencer Lecture, Oxford, 1932, CP99, on 66Google Scholar; Fisher, R. A., ‘Family allowances in the contemporary economic situation’, The Eugenics Review (1932), 24, 87–95, CP100, on 91Google ScholarPubMed; Fisher, R. A., ‘Eugenics: can it solve the problem of decay of civilizations?’, The Eugenics Review (1926), 18, 128–36, CP53, on 116–17Google ScholarPubMed; Fisher, R. A., ‘Modern eugenics’, Science Progress (1926), 21, 130–6, CP54, on 123Google Scholar; Fisher, R. A., ‘Periodical health surveys’, Journal of State Medicine (1926), 34, 446–9, CP55, on 128Google Scholar; Fisher, , op. cit. (20), pp. vii–x.Google Scholar
22 See Box, , op. cit. (18), 19Google Scholar. Gudruna was the sister of Fisher's future wife, Eileen Guinness.
24 Farrall, Lyndsay, The Origins and Growth of the English Eugenics Movement 1865–1925, New York, 1985, 209Google Scholar. Farall lists ten local chapters of the Eugenics Education Society in various locations in Great Britain established between 1910 and 1914. By 1912, the movement had become an international one – at the International Eugenics Congress organized by the Eugenics Education Society, representatives from seven countries including the USA, France and Germany attended. See also Searle, G. R., Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900–1914, Leyden, 1976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
29 Darwin, , op. cit. (4), 335Google Scholar: ‘men judge of the beauty of their women by widely different standards’ and 338: ‘In civilised life man is largely, but by no means exclusively, influenced in the choice of his wife by external appearance’.
33 Mazumdar, Pauline, Eugenics, Human Genetics and Human Failings: The Eugenics Society, its Sources and its Critics in Britain, New York, 1992, 104.Google Scholar
40 Jordan, David Starr, ‘The eugenics of war’, The Eugenics Review (1913), 5, 197–213, on 198.Google Scholar
48 Fisher, R. A., ‘Book review of Military Selection and Race Deterioration’, The Eugenics Review (1916), 8, 264–5, on 264.Google Scholar
54 Fisher, R. A., ‘Disabled soldiers and marriage’, The Eugenics Review (1917), 9, 55.Google Scholar
56 Fisher, R. A., ‘The eugenic aspect of the employment of married women: a reply’, The Eugenics Review (1914), 6, 313–14, on 314.Google Scholar
61 Fisher generally believed that men and women mated according to the belief ‘like mates with like’. In addition, he believed that classes were, with few exceptions for men of exceptional ability, determined from birth.
63 Fisher, R. A., ‘Book review of Conception Control’, The Eugenics Review (1922), 14, 281–2.Google Scholar
70 Box, , op. cit. (18), 194–5Google Scholar; see also Larson, Edward J., ‘The rhetoric of eugenics: expert authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill’, (1991), 24, 45–60Google Scholar, for an account of the inability of the British Eugenics movement to convert advocacy into parliamentary legislation.
74 Hodge, , op. cit. (17), 1–82Google Scholar; Turner, John R. G., ‘Fisher's evolutionary faith’, 159–96Google Scholar, and Provine, W. B., ‘The R. A. Fisher-Sewall Wright controversy’, 197–219Google Scholar, both in Oxford Surveys in Evolutionary Biology (ed. Dawkins, R. and Ridley, M.), Oxford, (1985), iiGoogle Scholar; Provine, , op. cit. (1), 140–54.Google Scholar
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