Pointless Photos (Gruesome Geology)
A textbook full of curious photographs
PROJECT POINTLESS TEXTBOOK PHOTOS was first announced the January 2002 issue of mini-AIR. The concept was suggested by investigator Neil Martin, who wrote:
I was browsing through a leading textbook on Abnormal Psychology. In all my many years as a reader and investigator of the truth I have never seen such a collection of gratuitously pointless photos. So, I suggest that AIR starts a new competition: to detect the more gratuitously pointless photographic illustration in a student textbook. There are about 200 in my eighth edition of Davison & Neale so, admittedly, I have a head-start.
I teach Environmental Geology, an introductory course at Colgate University.
We use the textbook "Our Geologic Environment" (Prentice Hall) by Harvey Blatt. Dr. Blatt has a bit of a gruesome streak, as is shown by many of the figures he chooses to include (radiation victims, etc.). Here are three nice examples of pointless figures from the text.
Figure 6.1 Water Content of the Human Body (1/2 page figure)
My description of the photograph: This figure shows two side-by-side cartoons of a bald, grimacing human male (genitalia removed), one showing the brain, bones, kidney, muscles, and blood and their respective water contents. The other shows the man filled like a glass 60% full (to demonstrate overall water content in the body).
The caption printed in the book: Note that the bones are relatively dry (only 22% water); 'dry bones' are mentioned in the Bible (Ezekiel 37:1-14) and in a popular song of the 1940s
Figure 8.3 Fluoride Controversy (1/3 page)
My description of the photograph: This figure shows a patient's clean teeth and healthy gums next to another's inflamed gums and yellow-coated teeth, to demonstrate the damage of excess fluorine in groundwater.
Figure 17.35 A bad habit to avoid (2/3 page)
My description of the photograph: I can't describe this better than the caption does it. The caption refers to a bar graph labeled A and photographs labeled B & C:
The caption printed in the book: (A) Cigarette smoking is strongly correlated with the development of emphysema, and heart disease. (B) Normal, healthy human lung (left) and lung from a emphysema cadaver (right). The cadaver's lung looks like it has been cooked on a grill, which is close to what happens when hot cigarette smoke is repeatedly forced into lung tissue.The textbook is great fun for the students and instructor alike: toddlers gaze at the pealing lead-based paint on tenement walls, sinks are decorated by rust, car crashes are shown to demonstrate why we put salt on our roads, and a soldier wearing a gas mask guards the gate to Chernobyl. If only there weren't so many of those pesky graphs and diagrams!
William H. Peck
Department of Geology
Hamilton, New York, USA
© Copyright 2002 Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)
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