Fisher in the 21st Century

An academic conference to discuss the life, work and context of the statistician and geneticist Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher was held at Gonville & Caius College on Thursday 21 April and Friday 22 April 2022.

The conference was held in a hybrid format, with Fellows, students and invited guests attending in person (due to limited capacity in the venue) and virtual attendance for other participants. Recordings of talks are available by clicking on the titles below.

Fisher (1890-1962) was sometime an undergraduate student, Fellow, and then President of Caius. He graduated in 1912 and worked at Rothamsted Experimental Station for 14 years from 1919-1933. He then held a chair in the UCL Department of Eugenics and was Galton Professor of Eugenics and head of the Galton Laboratory, UCL from 1933-43. Fisher returned to Caius and Cambridge as Balfour Professor of Genetics in 1943. In 1957 he retired to Adelaide in Australia.

This academic meeting was held to examine the breadth and depth of Fisher’s work and how it is reflected in genetics and statistics today. It looked frankly at his controversial views on eugenics and his involvement in that movement. The relationship of Fisher’s interest in eugenics and his scientific research remains a matter of scholarly debate. The meeting was not to put Fisher on trial nor to discuss the future of a window which highlighted his academic work. The Fisher Window was removed from the College dining Hall in 2020. The window remains in the College archives.

Leading experts in genetics, statistics, the eugenics movement, and their histories were invited to present contributions on their own work with reference to Fisher or to speak purely on Fisher and his influence.



21 April

Nancy Reid: “Fisher’s Contributions to Mathematical Statistics”

Alex Aylward: “On reading a book of two halves: A long history of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection”

Alan Grafen: “Fisher’s legacy in Darwinian biology”

John Aston: “Fisher in the age of Data Science”

Jenny Bangham: “Blood, race and transfusion: Fisher’s work with the wartime Galton Serum Unit”

Anne Ferguson-Smith: “Epigenetic variation within and across generations”

Aylwyn Scally: “Chance and ancestry in human genetics“


22 April

Qingyuan Zhao: "Fisher, statistics, and randomisation"

Richard Durbin: “Population genetic variation, inferred and observed”*

Robert Proctor: "Why did Big Tobacco love (and fund) eugenicists like R.A. Fisher?"

R.Sanchez-Rivera: "The histories and legacies of eugenics and its intersections with 'race', class, disability, and gender"

Adam Rutherford: “Control: the dark history and troubling present of eugenics”


*recording not available