Francis Galton’s Men of Science: their nature and nuture (1874) was the first attempt to undertake a systematic study of the scientific mind. As well as bequeathing us the phrase ‘nature or nurture’, it also established the innovative technique of the survey questionnaire.
The Scientific Mind project invites modern-day biologists to take Galton’s survey. The results will be compared to Galton’s findings and analysed by an interdisciplinary group of historians, psychologists, biologists and social scientists.
In recreating the first systematic attempt to study the psychology of scientists, the project aims to investigate the historical and contemporary relevance of the notion of a ‘scientific mind’.
Galton sent his seven-page questionnaire to 190 leading ‘men of science’ (mainly elected fellows of the Royal Society) seeking information on four main areas: ‘their earliest antecedents, including hereditary influences’; the inborn quality of their mind and body’; the ‘causes that first induced them to pursue science’ and ‘the education they received’. Over one hundred scientists completed the survey, including Charles Darwin.
Image credit: Wellcome Library, London. Some Fellows of the Royal Society: a key to the identities of the sitters. Wood engraving, 1885.