A. W. F. Edwards

Anthony William Fairbank Edwards, FRS[2] (born 1935) is a British statistician, geneticist and evolutionary biologist. He is the son of the surgeon Harold C. Edwards, and brother of medical geneticist John H. Edwards. He has sometimes been called "Fisher's Edwards" to distinguish him from his brother, because he was mentored by Ronald Fisher.[3]

A. W. F. Edwards

Edwards at the Royal Society admissions day in 2015
Anthony William Fairbank Edwards

(1935-10-04) 4 October 1935[1]
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society (2015)[2]
Scientific career
Doctoral studentsElizabeth A. Thompson

Career and research

Edwards is a Life Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge[4] and retired Professor of Biometry at the University of Cambridge, and holds both the ScD and LittD degrees. He has written several books and numerous scientific papers.[5] With Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, he carried out pioneering work on quantitative methods of phylogenetic analysis, and he has strongly advocated Fisher's concept of likelihood as the proper basis for statistical and scientific inference. He has also written extensively on the history of genetics and statistics, including an analysis of whether Gregor Mendel's results were "too good" to be unmanipulated[6], and also on purely mathematical subjects, such as Venn diagrams.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

After one postdoctoral research year he was invited by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza to the University of Pavia, where, in 1961–1964, they initiated the statistical approach to the construction of evolutionary trees from genetical data, using the first modern computers. A year at Stanford University was followed by three years as a senior lecturer in Statistics at the University of Aberdeen supervised by D. J. Finney and then two years as a Bye-Fellow in Science at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, during which he wrote his book Likelihood.[2]

The remainder of Edwards's career has been spent at Cambridge, ultimately as Professor of Biometry, during which he has published widely, including books on Venn diagrams, mathematical genetics, and Pascal's triangle.[2] In a 2003 paper, Edwards criticised Richard Lewontin's argument in a 1972 paper that race is an invalid taxonomic construct, terming it Lewontin's fallacy.[13][14]


  • Edwards, A. W. F. 1972. Likelihood. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (expanded edition, 1992, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore). ISBN 0-8018-4443-6
  • Edwards, A. W. F. 1977. Foundations of Mathematical Genetics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2nd ed., 2000). ISBN 0-521-77544-2
  • Edwards, A. W. F. 1987. Pascal's Arithmetical Triangle: The Story of a Mathematical Idea. Charles Griffin, London (paperback edition, 2002, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore). ISBN 0-8018-6946-3
  • David, H. A.; Edwards, A. W. F. 2001. Annotated Readings in the History of Statistics. Springer, New York. ISBN 0-387-98844-0
  • Edwards, Anthony William Fairbank (2004). Cogwheels of the Mind: The Story of Venn Diagrams. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-8018-7434-3.
  • Keynes, M.; Edwards, A. W. F.; Peel, R. eds. 2004. A Century of Mendelism in Human Genetics. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida. ISBN 0-415-32960-4
  • Franklin, A.; Edwards, A. W. F.; Fairbanks, D. J.; Hartl, D. L.; Seidenfeld, T. 2008. Ending the Mendel-Fisher Controversy. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. ISBN 0-8229-4319-0


(Contains: selected papers, including all the papers below; short commentaries by expert biologists, historians, and philosophers; interview with Edwards; appendices; a full list of publications up to 2016.)


  • Cavalli-Sforza, L.  L.; Edwards, A.  W.  F. 1964. Analysis of human evolution. Genetics Today 3:923–933.
  • Edwards, A.  W. F.; Cavalli-Sforza, L.  L. 1964. Reconstruction of evolutionary trees. pp. 67–76 in Phenetic and Phylogenetic Classification, ed. Heywood, V.  H. and McNeill, J. Systematics Association pub. no. 6, London.
  • Cavalli-Sforza, L.  L.; Edwards, A.  W.  F. 1967. Phylogenetic analysis: models and estimation procedures. American Journal of Human Genetics 19:233–257.
  • Edwards, A.  W.  F. 1969. Statistical methods in scientific inference. Nature 222:1233–1237.
  • Edwards, A.  W.  F. 1974. The history of likelihood. International Statistical Review 42:9–15.
  • Edwards, A.  W.  F. 1986. Are Mendel's results really too close? Biological Reviews 61:295–312.
  • Edwards, A.  W.  F. 1996. The origin and early development of the method of minimum evolution for the reconstruction of phylogenetic trees. Systematic Biology 45:79–91.
  • Edwards, A.  W.  F. 2000. The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. Genetics 154:1419–1426.
  • Edwards, A.  W.  F. 2003. Human genetic diversity: Lewontin's fallacy. BioEssays 25:798–801.

Awards and honours

Edwards was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2015.[2]

Personal life

His elder brother John H. Edwards (1928–2007) was also a geneticist and also an FRS; their father, Harold C. Edwards, was a surgeon. He was awarded the Telesio-Galilei Academy Award in 2011 for Biology.

Edwards is involved in gliding, particularly within the Cambridge University Gliding Club and has written on the subject in Sailplane and Gliding magazine as "The Armchair Pilot".


  1. "Edwards, Prof. Anthony William Fairbank". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. 2016. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. "Professor Anthony (A.W.F.) Edwards FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the royalsociety.org website where:
    "All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License." --"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  3. Winther, Rasmus Grønfeldt (2018). Phylogenetic Inference, Selection Theory, and History of Science: Selected Papers of A. W. F. Edwards with Commentaries. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. p. 519. ISBN 9781107111721.
  4. "Professor Anthony Edwards". Gonville & Caius College. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  5. A list of publications up to 2009
  6. Edwards, A. W. F. (1986). "Are Mendel's Results Really Too Close?". Biological Reviews. 61 (4): 295–312. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.1986.tb00656.x.
  7. A Realised Path: The Cambridge Statistical Laboratory upto (sic) 1993 (revised 2002)
  8. "Cambridge University Library photograph of Edwards as Chairman of the Library Syndicate making a presentation to the President of Israel". Archived from the original on 20 September 2006. Retrieved 17 April 2006.
  9. Edwards inspired the window in the Hall of Caius College, celebrating Venn and Fisher, former fellows and heroes of Edwards
  10. A collection of R. A. Fisher quotations compiled by A.W.F. Edwards
  11. Kiernan, Jim. "Review of Cogwheels of the Mind". Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  12. Felsenstein, J. (2004). Inferring Phylogenies. Sinauer, Sunderland, Mass. ISBN 0-87893-177-5
  13. Edwards, A. W. F. (2003). "Human genetic diversity: Lewontin's fallacy". BioEssays. 25 (8): 798–801. doi:10.1002/bies.10315. PMID 12879450.
  14. Winther, Rasmus Grønfeldt (2018). Phylogenetic Inference, Selection Theory, and History of Science: Selected Papers of A. W. F. Edwards with Commentaries. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107111721.
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