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Kaufman, Jay S. & Cooper, Richard S. (2008). Race in Epidemiology: New Tools, Old Problems. Annals of Epidemiology, 18(2), 119-123.


The late 18th-century German physician Franz Joseph Gall founded the discipline of phrenology, based on the propositions that innate characteristics of the brain determined intelligence and personality and that these characteristics could be gauged by examining the shape of a person's head. After languishing for more than a hundred years with crude and inconsistent methods, however, the field exhibited a great burst of activity in the late 19th century from innovators such as Bernard Hollander. This period witnessed the introduction of refined statistical procedures to phrenological data and even the advent of finely tuned measurement devices (“phrenometers”) for the precise assessment of minute irregularities in head shape. Nonetheless, cutting-edge technological innovations that permitted precise measurements for distinguishing individuals did not save phrenology as a scientific subdiscipline. The basic premise that brain structures could be inferred from external examination of the skull was simply wrong. It would be another 75 years or so before brain imaging studies would rehabilitate the notions inherent in phrenology about localization of function and the role of physiologic structure on personality and temperament.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Annals of Epidemiology


Kaufman, Jay S.
Cooper, Richard S.