Modern Ideas About Genes Were Conceived in 18th Century Asylums
Long Before Mendel Bred His Peas, Doctors Claimed Heredity Explained Madness
Sitting at my desk, reading the archived pages of an old British anthropological journal, an entry from 1899 caught my eye. The police at New Scotland Yard had a “Central Metric Office?” The text seemed to imply as much. As a historian of information, calculation, data, and statistics, I understood that faith in data predated the creation of Google, Facebook, and Amazon by hundreds of years. Still, it was hard to imagine a 19th-century police force creating an office devoted to numbers and measures.
My doubts, as it happened, had some …