Under the influence of Malthus's law of population growth: Darwin eschews the statistical techniques of Aldolphe Quetelet
Graduate studies at Western
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 38 (1):1-19 (2007)
|Abstract||In the epigraph, Fisher is blaming two generations of theoretical biologists, from Darwin on, for ignoring Quetelet's statistical techniques and hence harboring confusions about evolution and natural selection. He is right to imply that Darwin and his contemporaries were aware of the core of Quetelet's work. Quetelet's seminal monograph, Sur L'homme, was widely discussed in Darwin's academic circles. We know that Darwin owned a copy (Schweber 1977). More importantly, we have in Darwin's notebooks two entries referring to Quetelet's work on the cause of a large-scale global phenomenon where each year more boys were born than girls. The first entry is written sometime between April and July 1838. Darwin writes "Find out from the Statistical Society—where M. Quetelet has published his laws about sexes relative to age of Marriages" (C 268, Barrett et al., 1987, p. 324). The second is written sometime after October 16, 1838: "In the Atheneum Numbers 406, 407, 409, Quetelet papers are given, & I think facts there mentioned about proportion of sexes, at birth & causes" (Ibid, p. 379). So, even if Darwin did not read Sur L'homme directly it is likely (though not certain) that he read its review in the Atheneum. There is no doubt that Darwin eventually became familiar with Quetelet's work in statistics. The smoking gun is an essay that Darwin writes in 1874, entitled, "On the Males and Complemental Males of Certain Cirripedes, and on Rudimentary Structures" where he discusses Quetelet's laws of variation.|
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