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Tag: phrenology

It’s a bird, it’s a beard, it’s Audubon!

John James Audubon, ca. 1860-1865. ARC 528730

If you are planning to attend our event next week on crowdsourcing, you will hear a presentation by Jessica Zelt from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Bird Phenology Program.

My colleague here in the office was editing the text for this event. She thought her husband, an avid bird watcher, might be interested in the “Bird Phrenology Program,” so she e-mailed him the description she was editing.

He e-mailed her back, saying “I think it’s phenology, not phrenology.”

Yes, phenology is the study of recurring life and plant cycles. Phrenology is the highly questionable Victorian practice of using the shape of skulls to intepret personality traits.

Editing for a living has many such dangerous pitfalls.

I like to look at this picture of John James Audubon, whose paintings made American birds into works of art, and imagine him feeling the skull of a woodpecker and then making pronouncements like “This bird suffers from melancholia, quickness of temper, and an overabundance of mirth.”

Perhaps there is a phrenology for beards that we could apply to Audubon?

Do the sideburns indicate standoffishness? Does the lack of mustache indicate a deficiency in calculation and therefore “an inability to understand the most simple numerical relations.” Perhaps his lack of chin covering betrays a lack of tunefulness?

In honor of crowdsourcing, I must pass on … [ Read all ]