Remove the window in honour of R. A. Fisher at Gonville & Caius, University of Cambridge

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In Gonville and Caius college hall (University of Cambridge), there is currently a window (below John Venn's Diagram) in commemoration and honour of R. A. Fisher. R. A. Fisher was an English statistician and biologist. He was also a Caian. And he was also a Eugenicist. These three things cannot and do not exist in isolation.

The window is situated amongst other commemorative panels, pointed out to school tour groups, prospective applicants and visitors as markers and emblems of Caius' glorious academic history. The panel makes no mention of Fisher's significant contributions to the Eugenicist movement. Nor is it accompanied with a college programme to educate students about Fisher's racism. Caius students and Fellows eat, converse and celebrate in space that also acts as a commemoration of our racist history. 

'It is impossible to see the need to decolonize without knowing history; likewise, it is impossible to see how to decolonize without understanding history. This is not an easy history to bear but, as statisticians, it is an important one. In my own journey towards higher decolonial thinking it is important to remind myself that knowledge is power, and that the sciences have a lot to gain by keeping people ignorant. Only by systematically uncovering and problematizing what has been buried and normalized by generations of patriarchal white scientists can we begin to move towards decolonization.'

[Nathaniel Joselson]

Teach evolution and statistics. But don't teach them in a vacuum. Not publicly acknowledging the racism of Fisher is ahistorical. Honouring him is immoral. 

Remove the commemorating window to R. A. Fisher, Caius. You must do better. 


'Ronald A. Fisher came from a similar academic background, also studying mathematics at Cambridge. By the age of 20 had become involved in the Cambridge Eugenics Society. In 1933 he became professor of the Eugenics department at University College London.

His expansion and re-interpretation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, published by Oxford University in 1930 called “The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection,” devotes three chapters to his endorsements of colonialism, white supremacy and eugenics (what Wikipedia insensitively dubs “Fisher’s more idiosyncratic views”).

In it, he wrote that civilizations fail because people of “low genetic value” (read black and brown people) have more children than people with “high genetic value” (read white Europeans) and said that this was already happening in Great Britain. He recommended that if inferior races are continually allowed to immigrate to England, caps should be put on their fertility. He also stated that if through war (or colonialism) “tribes” with lower genetic worth are exterminated then the average genetic value of mankind increases. This is a chilling statement to read, especially coming from a statistician, because such a calculation of average “genetic worth” will always be subjective, since the concept doesn’t exist.

His and Pearson’s views were justified with twisted uses of statistics and whole techniques were developed to suit their goals of division (think Discriminant Analysis). For example, Fisher’s analysis of the 1911 census, he found a high correlation between intergenerational fertility rates and a strong negative correlation between income and number of children. From this he concluded that fertility rates are genetic, and that genes for low fertility are related to hard work and intelligence.'


'When, in the aftermath of World War II, UNESCO formed a coalition of scientists to wrestle with Nazi science and provide the scientific backbone for the universal condemnation of racism, Fisher was among those who officially objected to what he saw as the project’s “well-intentioned” but misguided mission, affirming his belief that groups differed “in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development.”' 


'In 1910 Fisher joined the Eugenics Society (UK) at University of Cambridge, whose members included John Maynard Keynes, R. C. Punnett, and Horace Darwin. He saw eugenics as addressing pressing social and scientific issues that encompassed and drove his interest in both genetics and statistics. During World War I Fisher started writing book reviews for the Eugenic Review and volunteered to undertake all such reviews for the journal, being hired for a part-time position. The last third of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection focussed on eugenics, attributing the fall of civilizations to the fertility of their upper classes being diminished, and used British 1911 census data to show an inverse relationship between fertility and social class, partly due, he claimed, to the lower financial costs and hence increasing social status of families with fewer children. He proposed the abolition of extra allowances to large families, with the allowances proportional to the earnings of the father. He served in several official committees to promote Eugenics. In 1934, he resigned from the Eugenics Society over a dispute about increasing the power of scientists within the movement.'


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