Sunday, April 17, 2016

It could happen to anyone

In researching for HistoryStats, I discovered...

1) If you make a major contribution to your field, someone may want to preserve your brain.

2) One brain can look a lot like another brain.

3) Unless you look closely.

Here is the fascinating story of how the brain of mathematician and statistician Carl Friedrich Gauss was confused with the brain of a university physician. Careful examination by a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute in 2013 revealed the error, which likely took place shortly after the brains were acquired in 1855. That's a long time to be have the wrong brain.

"The brains of Carl Friedrich Gauss and Conrad Heinrich Fuchs side by side. Wagner's lithograph of Fuchs's brain dating from 1862 (left) and his copperplate of Gauss's brain dating from 1860 (right) exhibit clear differences. The middle image is a recent MRI surface reconstruction of Gauss's brain. The divided central fissure of the left hemisphere is highlighted in yellow."

There's not really a lesson relating to statistics here... unless maybe you want to conclude that careful examination of data is always a good idea. You just might resolve a 150 year old brain swap.

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