Neurosurgical nonsense and the historical method

The brain of God, or just another Rorschach effect?

Some will have noticed the recent revival of speculation about the anatomical knowledge of Michelangelo. The blog at Scientific American reported on “findings” published in Neurosurgery this May. The authors, Tamago and Suk, claimed to reveal detailed anatomical sketches of a human brain and nervous system hidden in the “Separation of Light and Darkness” fresco in the Sixtine Chapel.

Rather exceptional, since these anatomical details were officially not known until 360 years later. The cutting-age anatomy of the day was that of Vesalius – very impressive, but hardly taught to modern-day neurosurgeons.

This unfortunate piece of Scientific American-backed high-publicity nonsense has been thoroughly debunked by Darin over at PACH (here, here, and here). In addition to clarifying some of the serious historical errors of fact in the SA piece, he has some very readable reflections on the utter disregard for the historical method, and the typical fallacies encountered (a little too often) when scientists try their hands at history of science. Go read it. (The PACH blog will now duly be added to the blog roll).