The outstanding scientist, R. A. Fisher: his views on eugenics and race

Walter Bodmer, R. A. Bailey, Brian Charlesworth*, Adam Eyre-Walker, Vernon Farewell, Andrew Mead, Stephen Senn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


R.A. Fisher was one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century (Fig. 1). He was a man of extraordinary ability and originality whose scientific contributions ranged over a very wide area of science, from biology through statistics to ideas on continental drift, and whose work has had a huge positive impact on human welfare. Not surprisingly, some of his large volume of work is not widely used or accepted at the current time, but his scientific brilliance has never been challenged. He was from an early age a supporter of certain eugenic ideas, and it is for this reason that he has been accused of being a racist and an advocate of forced sterilisation (Evans 2020). His promotion of eugenics has recently caused various organisations to remove his name from awards and dedications of buildings (Tarran 2020; Rothamsted Research 2020; Society for the Study of Evolution 2020; Gonville and Caius College 2020). A primary aim of this paper is to conduct a careful analysis of his own writings in these areas. Our purpose is neither to defend nor attack Fisher’s work in eugenics and views on race, but to present a careful account of their substance and nature.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2021


  • R. A. Fisher
  • Statistics
  • Population genetics
  • Eugenics
  • Racial differences


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