A.W.F. Edwards

A.W.F. Edwards is an emeritus professor of biometry at Cambridge. He has written books on Venn diagrams, mathematical genetics and Pascal's triangle.

When Gould meets Galton

A.W.F. Edwards, 30 December 1982

Modern evolutionary biology seems prone to idle argument and useless controversy, as if it had an urge to experience once again the exciting atmosphere of the Darwinists v. the Creationists, or the Mendelians v. the Biometricians; or perhaps a longing to experience the ecstasy of the physicist, the Maxwell or the Einstein, whose new theory so splendidly and triumphantly succeeds. The trouble probably stems from the fact that the really successful theories of biology in recent decades have been biochemical and molecular, leaving the natural historian who tries to move from a specific area of study to the construction of general hypotheses with little to argue about. So the population geneticists set to with fierce debate about whether the majority of mutations are neutral in their selective effect, the taxonomists classify themselves as cladists or evolutionary systematists and hurl insults at each other, and the evolutionary biologists split into sociobiologists and the rest – separate species, we may suppose, since intercourse between the two has not so far proved fruitful.

Silent Pleasures

A.W.F. Edwards, 15 July 1982

Few sports now generate good literature: television has seen to that. Their heroes are too ephemeral, their settings too commonplace, their attractions perhaps too spectacular – the written word cannot compete with the zoom lens. Sporting events are, for the most part, simply too short, so that much of the writing is concerned with what happens ‘off the field’. Even cricket, which used to attract good writing, seems now to evoke so different an atmosphere that I doubt if it is worth reading about: but I may be wrong. There are, of course, the exploration sports, mountaineering, fell-walking, diving, even flying light aeroplanes, where one may yet spin a good yarn based on adventures and achievements in interesting and beautiful places, but it is still difficult for the word-processor to trump the video-recorder.

Hereditary Genius

A.W.F. Edwards, 6 August 1981

We are all prisoners of our backgrounds as well as slaves to our genes, and no field of science is riper for sociological investigation based on this premise than the development of biometry, and hence of much of modern statistics, from 1865 onwards. For did it not grow out of one of the Victorian reform movements, eugenics? Were not its successive leaders drawn from the same class of British society, with its capacity to disguise self-interest behind proposals for social reform, to salve its social conscience by promoting good causes at other people’s expense?

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