Darwin and Eugenics: Happy Birthday, Karl Pearson

Michael Egnor

On Friday, March 23, 2007, the Royal Statistical Society, the British Society for the History of Mathematics, and the British Society for the History of Science will sponsor the Karl Pearson Sesquicentenary Conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the founders of mathematical statistics.
The papers to be presented are a cornucopia of praise. The abstracts describe Pearson as a “Renaissance man” who created “the modern world view.” Yet several of Pearson’s most important contributions to the modern world view get no notice at the conference.

Pearson, a “freethinker” and ardent atheist, was a passionate Darwinist and eugenicist. He wrote:

No degenerate and feeble stock will ever be converted into healthy and sound stock by the accumulated effects of education, good laws, and sanitary surroundings. Such means may render the individual members of a stock passable if not strong members of society, but the same process will have to be gone through again and again with their offspring, and this in ever-widening circles, if the stock, owing to the conditions in which society has placed it, is able to increase its numbers.

To cleanse the human race of “feeble stock,” he advocated “war with inferior races.” Pearson was appointed as the first Galton Professor of Eugenics at University College, London in 1911 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1933. He was nominated for the position by Francis Galton himself, who was Charles Darwin’s cousin and a passionate Darwinist and eugenicist.
Pearson’s eugenic ideology was a natural consequence of his Darwinian ideology. In 1898, in the midst of his eugenic advocacy, Pearson was awarded the Darwin Medal by the Royal Society of London. He was the 5th recipient of the biannual award. Other Darwin Medal laureates included Francis Galton and fellow eugenicist Ernst Haeckel.
Pearson’s work goes on today, carried out more tactfully and more efficiently by his philosophical descendents. Most Darwinists no longer talk openly, as they once did, of “eliminating the unfit” or “culling human waste.” But the influence of their eugenic ideas on our society is profound. Since 1973, one million children in the United States have been aborted because they were handicapped. Down’s syndrome is disappearing, not because we’ve cured it, but because we’ve become skilled at picking out unborn children with it. Children born today in Holland with spina bifida are euthanized in the nursery with an injection of barbiturates. We are living in a society soaked with eugenics.
Pearson is rightly remembered, on his 150th birthday, for his work. He did help create the ‘modern world view’. He was an atheist, a eugenicist and a Darwinist, as well as a statistician. We would do well to remember all of his work.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.