Posture Photos

Imagine you’re a “scientist”, deserving of the skeptical quotes surrounding the word, who thinks that body proportions are accurate predictors of someone’s personality, intelligence, and destiny.

Is there a better way to test it than by convincing the Ivy League to allow you to take thousands of nude photos of their incoming freshmen?

What a bizarre story.

10 Responses to “Posture Photos”

  1. Pitt says:

    The final paragraph is the best:

    “…it is hard to deny the possibility, the likelihood, that well-meaning people and institutions will get taken in — are being taken in — by those who peddle scientific conjecture as certainty. Sheldon’s dream of reducing the complexity of human personality and the contingency of human fate to a single number is a recurrent one, as the continuing I.Q. controversy demonstrates. And a reminder that skepticism is still valuable in the face of scientific claims of certainty, particularly in the slippery realms of human behavior.

    The rise and fall of “sciences” like Marxist history, Freudian psychology and Keynesian economics suggests that at least some of the beliefs and axioms treated as science today (Rorschach analysis, “rational choice” economics, perhaps) will turn out to have little more validity than nude stick-pin somatotyping.

    In the Sheldon rituals, the student test subjects were naked — but it was the emperors of scientific certainty who had no clothes.”

  2. matt says:

    I took a History of Science class as an undergrad, and one of the points that the professor made was that science has begun filling the cultural void left by the retreat of religion. Once upon a time, a man in a Roman collar could stand in front of a group and be guaranteed that anything he said would be accepted at face value as infallibly true. Now, a guy in a lab coat can do the same thing.

    (Naturally, there are exceptions – but for most people, “It’s scientifically proven” is equivalent to “Stop thinking critically, it’s true.”)

  3. Pitt says:

    It has been often said that people for whom the environment is an important cause are often using nature to fill the void left by religion. Makes sense- people were treating nature in a spiritual sense for thousands of years before Christ came along.

  4. BrianN says:

    The idea that external traits are linked to likelihood of (evolutionary) success is called the “good gene hypothesis” and is a current, but poorly proven theory. Besides, even if it’s a wacky idea, if there is a testable hypothesis and rigorous experimentation, it can still be science.

    Taking naked pictures of college freshmen without explaining the purpose and having them sign a consent form is still wrong, even if were great science. In the 50’s and early 60’s you could get away with it. Now any proposal to work with almost anything from a human being (even tissue samples and information) requires approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB), so it’s at least less likely to happen.

    In all the “the left loves science, and the right hates it” or today, it’s easy to forget that racial theories were widely accepted in academic circles through the mid-20th century.

  5. BrianN says:


    “The rise and fall of “sciences” like Marxist history, Freudian psychology and Keynesian economics”

    Those things were never science, they were (are) philosophy. Science requires a testable hypothesis and experimentation. Although economics likes to call itself “the dismal science,” and it is a way to rationally explore the world, very little of it is science. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, though.

  6. matt says:


    They call it that because modern economics was invented by Jim Dismal, who was a bit of a prick.

  7. BrianN says:

    Was he a friend of John Crapper, by any chance?

  8. Pitt says:

    What a coincidence, today is John Crapper’s birthday.

    Contrary to legend, he did not invent the flush toilet, but he was a famous plumber and did invent the ball cock.

  9. BrianN says:

    Hhhhh, hhhh, you said plumber.

  10. Todd says:

    Vassar was also involved in the posture photo craze of the day. I assumed it was because Sheldon wanted to see some naked college girls, but it seems that he was an equal opportunity quack.

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