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  2. Durham Seminar: The Controversy over R. A. Fisher’s Eugenics

Durham Seminar: The Controversy over R. A. Fisher’s Eugenics

Friday, November 13, 2020 - 15:00 to 16:00

Title: From SSK to “Fisher Must Fall”: A Long View of the Controversy over R. A. Fisher’s Eugenics

Speaker: Alex Aylward, University of Leeds


Friday, November 13, 3:00 pm., via zoom. (Email for the link.)


Presented by the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Research Cluster,

Durham University Department of History



In June 2020, students at Gonville & Caius College Cambridge launched a petition calling for the removal of a stained-glass window commemorating a former student and Fellow, the statistician and geneticist Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890–1962). The petition, which cited Fisher’s troubling views on race and his lifelong support for eugenics, was a success. The College’s Council voted in favour and within a few weeks, the window had been removed. Though catalysed by the BLM movement and the recent inquiry into eugenics at University

College London, the removal of the Fisher window can be seen as part of a much longer

controversy over the relation between Fisher’s eugenical views and his undeniably important scientific contributions. In this talk I revisit the young historians and sociologists whose work in the 1970s and 1980s first drew scholarly attention to Fisher’s eugenics by arguing that it shaped and distorted his scientific work. I contextualise their projects and their findings within the political and historiographical context of their time, exploring also how their work was resisted and criticised by Fisher’s scientific disciples. Reconsidering these 70s/80s debates in light of the recent “Fisher must fall” campaign allows reconsideration of the historical relations between eugenics scholarship and activism.