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The introduction of statistical reasoning into evolutionary theory – and the corresponding changes in our concepts of chance and evolution that made it possible – did not happen overnight. In particular, many of the relevant biologists between 1900 and 1930 (such as W. F. R. Weldon, Karl Pearson, and R. A. Fisher) pointed back to Francis Galton as a vitally important precursor for their work. When we read Galton, however, it is far from immediately obvious why he would be taken to be so crucial by so many important successors. In this talk, I’ll explore some of Galton’s ideas about the relationship between microlevel variation and population change, and try to reconstruct what within his thought might have been seen to be so groundbreaking by biologists in the first part of the twentieth century. I will close by drawing some morals for our contemporary conception of evolutionary theory.
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