Galton, Watson and the extinction problem (1873–1875)


In 1873 the British statistician Galton and his compatriot mathematician Watson considered the problem of the extinction of family names without knowing the work of Bienaymé. Watson noticed that the generating function associated with the probability distribution of the number of men in each generation could be computed recursively. But he analyzed incorrectly the probability of extinction.


Male Child Trinity College Human Species Extinction Probability Male Family Member 


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Further reading

  1. 1.
    De Candolle, A.: Histoire des sciences et des savants depuis deux siècles suivie d’autres études sur des sujets scientifiques en particulier sur la sélection dans l’espèce humaine. Georg, Genève (1873). Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Galton, F.: Natural Inheritance. Macmillan, London (1889). Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Galton, F.: Memories of my Life. Methuen & Co., London (1908). Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kendall, D.G.: Branching processes since 1873. J. Lond. Math. Soc. 41, 385–406 (1966) MATHCrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Pearson, K.: The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, vol. 1. Cambridge University Press (1914).
  6. 6.
    Pearson, K.: The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, vol. 2. Cambridge University Press (1924).
  7. 7.
    S.H.B.: Henry William Watson, 1827-1903. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 75, 266–269 (1905).
  8. 8.
    Watson, H.W., Galton, F.: On the probability of the extinction of families. J. Anthropol. Inst. 4, 138–144 (1875). Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)BondyFrance

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