a conversation about eugenism at JSM

Following the recent debate on Fisher’s involvement in eugenics (and the renaming of the R.A. Fisher Award and Lectureship into the COPSS Distinguished Achievement Award and Lectureship), the ASA is running a JSM round table on Eugenics and its connections with statistics, to which I had been invited, along with Scarlett BellamyDavid Bellhouse, and David Cutler. The discussion is planned on 06 August at 3pm (ET, i.e., 7GMT) and here is the abstract:

The development of eugenics and modern statistical theory are inextricably entwined in history.  Their evolution was guided by the culture and societal values of scholars (and the ruling class) of their time through and including today.  Motivated by current-day societal reckonings of systemic injustice and inequity, this roundtable panel explores the role of prominent statisticians and of statistics more broadly in the development of eugenics at its inception and over the past century.  Leveraging a diverse panel, the discussions seek to shed light on how eugenics and statistics – despite their entangled past — have now severed, continue to have presence in ways that affect our lives and aspirations.

It is actually rather unclear to me why I was invited at the table, apart from my amateur interest in the history of statistics. On a highly personal level, I remember being introduced to Galton’s racial theories during my first course on probability, in 1982, by Prof Ogier, who always used historical anecdotes to enliven his lectures, like Galton trying to measure women mensurations during his South Africa expedition. Lectures that took place in the INSEE building, boulevard Adolphe Pinard in Paris, with said Adolphe Pinard being a founding member of the French Eugenics Society in 1913.

6 Responses to “a conversation about eugenism at JSM”

  1. Julio Michael Stern Says:

    Igor: See my second reply (above), the paper is also available at
    — arxiv.org/abs/1908.06346

  2. Julio Michael Stern Says:

    Stern, Julio Michael (2018). Karl Pearson on Causes and Inverse Probabilities: Renouncing the Bride, Inverted Spinozism and Goodness-of-Fit. South American Journal of Logic, 4, 1, 219-252.

  3. My parse is that it isn’t just about deep sixing the eugenicists. Rejecting them is the first step of reformation of technical and professional societies which chose to do nothing in response to these proposals at the time, and may have even agreed with them.

    Rejecting these historical figures as luminaries is the first basic step in making reparations.

  4. Name of the paper was suppressed (by someone, not me); It is:
    – Stern, Julio Michael (2018). Karl Pearson on Causes and Inverse Probabilities: Renouncing the Bride, Inverted Spinozism and Goodness-of-Fit. South American Journal of Logic, 4, 1, 219-252.

  5. I recently published the following paper:

    If you read it, you will understand that K.Pearson and Fisher’s ideas on Philosophy (inverted-Spinozism); Philosophy of science (a radical form of Positivism); Foundations of physics (anti-atomism and aether theory); Heredity (anti-geneticism and non-causal heredity); Eugeny (utilitarian racial selection based on simplistic statistical analyses); Foundations of statistics (elimination of inverse-probabilities = probability of causes) and, finally; the new Language K.Pearson and Fisher forged for frequentist statistics; are all tightly linked in a complex and coherent system.
    I profoundly dislike the idea of “forgetting” or sending to oblivion Mr. K.Pearson, Mr. Fisher, and other figures of the eugenic movement.
    On the contrary, I would like to see in depth historical studies of their ideas and their consequences.
    “Demonizing-and-forgetting” is an easy, shallow, and mediocre attitude; Trying to understand how complex chains of ideas led intelligent men to follow a path that (in my personal view, with the benefit of hindsight) we should regret, is far from easy but, nevertheless, necessary.

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