For all his other talents, Charles Darwin wasn’t much of a mathematician. In his autobiography, he writes that he studied math as a young man but also remembers that “it was repugnant to me.” He dismissed complex mathematical arguments and wrote to a friend, “I have no faith in anything short of actual measurement and the Rule of Three, ” where the “Rule of Three” was an extremely simple mathematical calculation.

But history played a joke on the great biologist: It made him a contributor to the development of statistics.

It was the wildflower common toadflax that got the whole thing started. Darwin grew the plant for experiments, and he carefully cross-fertilized some flowers and self-fertilized others. When he grew the seeds, he found that the hybrids were bigger and stronger than the purebreds.

He was astonished. Although he had always suspected that inbreeding was bad for plants, he had never suspected it could have a significant effect within a single generation.

So he repeated the experiment with seven other kinds of plants, including corn. He had a clever, and at that time novel, idea. Since slight differences in soil or light or amount of water could affect the growth rates, he planted the seeds in pairs — one cross-pollinated seed and one self-pollinated seed in each pot. Then he let them grow and measured their heights.

Sure enough, on average, the hybrids were taller. Among his 30 corn plants, for example, the purebreds were only 84 percent as tall as the hybrids. But Darwin was savvy enough not to simply trust the average heights of so few plants. “I may premise, ” Darwin wrote, “that if we took by chance a dozen or score of men belonging to two nations and measured them, it would I presume be very rash to form any judgments from such small numbers on their average heights.” Could it be, he wondered, that the height differences in the plants were just random variation?

Darwin noted, though, that men’s heights vary a lot within a single country, whereas the heights of his plants didn’t. His result might be more meaningful, but he wanted to be able to quantify how meaningful.

Doing that, however, required Darwin’s hated mathematics.

So he turned to his cousin, Francis Galton, who just happened to be a leader in the emerging field of statistics. Galton had recently invented the standard deviation, a way of quantifying the amount of random variability in a set of numbers.

##### See also:

### Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate

by iblisgaurdianangelguise for sneaky self-interest? a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another? The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. is there logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness ... or even, self-sacrifice?

turns out altruism is an illusion that is so predictable that it can be summed up in a mathematical equation:

and the guy that discovered the equation, he went mad and killed himself trying to prove his own discovery wrong

### PS: didyaknow

by phucktheradconsThe word 'evolution' does not once appear in *Origin of Species.*

And speaking of 'maths', Darwin was a fair mathematician, but more importantly he relied on the mathematical work of Charles Lyell who was the first to begin to grasp the true age of the earth by calculating erosion and deposition rates of rocks and soil. Lots of maths there, particularly statistical mechanics.

### Holidays Worthy of Our Respect

by ThatDaveGuy1. Darwin Day (Feb. 12)

The birthday of Charles Darwin is also a celebration of his life, works, scientific method and for eating primordial soup. Reenactments of the Scopes Trial are strictly optional.

2. Pi Day (Mar. 14)

The 14th day of the third month is unofficially dedicated the irrational mathematical constant used to calculate many key geometric values. And, so long as were punning on 3.14159
, the (over)consumption of pie is often encouraged.

3. Tolkien Reading Day (Mar. 25)

Commemorating the (fictional) anniversary of the Fall of Sauron, Tolkien Reading Day is one of two major geek holidays dedicated to partaking of the Middle Earth imaginings of one J