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Soon after the invention of photography, a few criminologists began to notice patterns in mugshots they took of criminals. Offenders, they said, had particular facial features that allowed them to be identified as law breakers.

One of the most influential voices in this debate was Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist, who believed that criminals were “throwbacks” more closely related to apes than law-abiding citizens. He was convinced he could identify them by ape-like features such as a sloping forehead, unusually sized ears and various asymmetries of the face and long arms. Indeed, he measured many subjects in an effort to prove his view although he did not analyze his data statistically.

This shortcoming eventually led to his downfall. Lombroso’s views were discredited by the English criminologist Charles Goring, who statistically analyzed the data relating to physical abnormalities in criminals versus noncriminals. He concluded that there was no statistical difference.

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by crackdog

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MIT Technology Review

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