Omni Brain

Today starts a new series that I perhaps blatantly stole from Shelley over at Retrospectacle, but it’s such a darn great idea! From the mouth of Shelley:

Pretty much I’m just going to dig back into the forgotten and moldering annuls of scientific publications to find weird and interesting studies that very likely would never be published or done today (and perhaps never should have.)

Clearly I’m not doing the same thing, but her idea gave me one of my own. We here at Omni Brain will be digging into classic media coverage of all things science (usually brain related – clearly). I have a feeling most things will be from the NY Times since they are archived very very well all the way back into the 19th century. But if I can find it online or you can point me in the right direction any media source will be fair game. So without further ado, here’s our first entry into the world of….Pseudoscience in the Press of the Past


When Psychology, Anthropology, Physiognomy and Phrenology were uttered as equals in the same sentence.
From the NY Times Classifieds March 5, 1864:


P.S. I think we’ll do this series on Mondays (I have another one already scheduled) and they will always be in the History category if you’d like to find the whole series in the archives.


  1. #1 Shelley
    June 30, 2007

    Ooooohhhh oohhhh, thiefs thief thiefs! 🙂

  2. #2 Thomas Leahey
    June 30, 2007

    This is an ad for an issue of the American Phrenological Journal, which started publishing around 1845 and did not end until 1911.
    Its editors were Orson Squire Fowler and Lorenzo Niles Fowler, known to historians of the human sciences as the “Phrenological Fowlers.” They were astute businessmen who ran into phrenology in college and turned it into a successful enterprise, including their shop on Broadway in NYC , Fowlers and Wells, where one could go and get one’s head examined and worked up into a phrenological chart. They (and phrenology) influenced authors such as Poe and Whitman and educators such as Horace Mann. They were active in the progressive politics in their day (e.g., women’s suffrage) and in addition to the Journal, published numerous books and pamphlets on any topic on which phrenology might bear. The course of phrenology in the US anticipated how psychology developed in 20th century America.
    The Fowlers have been studied by a number of historians. I now plug my own PSYCHOLOGY’S OCCULT DOUBLES: PSYCHOLOGY AND THE PROBLEM OF PSEUDOSCIENCE, which has 2 chapters on phrenology, one on the founder of cognitive neuroscience, F. J. Gall (who was a real scientist and never called what he did phrenology) and one on the pseudoscience of phrenology (launched by Gall’s erstwhile student, J. C. Spurzheim).

  3. #3 Jim
    July 4, 2007

    Anthropology was a term used for what the French were able to substitute for phrenology, when it was baned by Napoleon, due to probably his getting a “true phrenology reading”.

    I believe it is difficult to say one person, Gall, was a scientist and the others were pseudo-scientists. Gall had some good ideas based that lead to the understanding of the brain and also had ideas that were based on pretty loose assumptions too. You did make a good statement about phrenology being the foundation of psychology, and I believe more accurately psychiatry. If one calls much of phrenology pseudoscience quite a bit of psychology fits into the same category.
    The ad you show seems counter to much of what the Fowlers seemed to stand for in my mind, however it does give their firm’s address. I would at guess it was written by Wells rather than Fowler. Fowler in my mind did not equate the other subjects with phrenology. The equating of the other subjects with phrenology in America came near the end of Phrenology.
    Sorry I have not done more detailed research before sending this reply.
    Thanks for displaying the ads.

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