Tag Archives: Teeth

Observations on Beaumont children disappearance suspect – a diagnosis for Harry Phipps?

I’ve been watching coverage of the latest investigation of the disappearance of the Beaumont children in South Australia in 1966. Three physical characteristics of the suspect, the late wealthy and well-connected businessman Harry Phipps can be seen in photograps shown in recent reports: hypertelorism, gynecomastia and a narrow palate. These traits or disorders can be found in normal people but they are also associated with genetic disorders. It seems too much of a coincidence for a group of inborn disorder traits to be found in a murder suspect who is known to have been a violent paedophile, a long-term perpetrator of incest, a wife-beater, and a cross-dresser who displayed a “psychotic” temper. This certainly reads like a description of a person who was put together incorrectly, which is not an excuse for the vile criminal behaviour, but perhaps is a big step towards an explanation for Australia’s most tragic and terrible mystery.

I’m not sure how many children Phipps fathered, but I’ve only found mention of one, an estranged son who is no longer alive. If this is the only offspring of Phipps, possibly this is evidence of low fertility, which considered in combination with his tall, slim build, gynecomastia, cross-dressing and hypertelorism could be a symptom of the inborn but not inherited chromosomal disorder Klinefelter syndrome, which can be associated with an increased risk of psychosis, executive dysfunction and learning difficulties.

Wouldn’t say it’s a positive or a negative experience

The experience of being a super-recognizer is often interesting. I wouldn’t say it is necessarily a positive experience or a negative experience. Like most human abilities it adds a layer of complexity to my life. There are occasionally some strange moments, like the time when I was chatting about our favourite hobby with a kind and humble foreign lady who I’d never met before and probably wont ever meet again, who had almost but not quite the same dentition as my late mother, who has been gone for something like four decades. And just the other day I was striding out of Kmart with an armful of unnecessary items and in the corner of my eye spotted a doppelganger of my late father. When I turned my head for a second glance the old buzzard wriggled uncomfortably in just the same way that Dad used to. We are all nothing more than twigs of the great tree of humanity. Please be kind and please be good in 2017.

Making children’s television even more annoying

The Annoying Orange is now a TV show, “The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange”, which is currently being broadcast on ABC3. It’s another example of a personified object and personified foodstuff in a comedy show. Why do at least some of us love to see food with human characteristics in sculpture or funny TV shows? What’s the surreal appeal of things that behave like people? Are these quirks of popular culture in any way related to personification synaesthesia or the mental modelling of faces, genders and personalities that gives rise to facial recognition?

Some interesting aspects of the Annoying Orange’s TV show are that it highlights two facts about the visual recognition of people – that dentition can be used to visually identify individuals just like faces can, and that there is one aspect of dentition that can in many cases indicate the gender of the person who owns the teeth. In other words, dentition displays sexual dimorphism, and I suspect that while the Annoying Orange has a male voice that matches his male teeth, one of the other fruity characters in his TV show might not have the correct gender of dentition for their voice and character. Do you know which aspect of human dentition sometimes displays sexual dimorphism?

Annoying Orange  http://annoyingorange.com/

Oh wow! My idea is being developed by the scientists, and they are scientists in my home town.

I’ve just noticed a story that has been run on the ABC programs 7.30 WA and State to State about researchers in Perth (scientists, doctors and an orthodontist), including some at PMH, who are creating a database of normal children’s faces to create the Perth face-space project, which appears to be a tool in development for the identification of the countless rare (genetic?) diseases which have characteristic facial appearance or facies. This knowledge can be shared globally, so this is Western Australia’s gift to the world. Wow!  We can’t make really good coffee in Perth, but we can do some interesting things here. There is already a research paper by Perth researchers and a Belgian researcher published in which this type of 3D face database method has been researched as a possible tool for monitoring and discriminating a group of rare metabolic diseases in which disease progression alters the facial appearance. I’m very excited to learn about this project because the idea of using face recognition to diagnose or identify rare diseases and rare genetic syndromes is an idea that has been obvious to me for many years, as a super-recognizer who is not only able to memorize faces very well, but is also able to compare and analyse faces with a degree of unconscious skill that is probably above average. I’m sure that most people have an awareness of the significance of facial appearance.

One important consideration needs to be factored into this kind of project – the definite possibility that the characteristic facial features that are being studied can be artificially altered before the patient ever goes near a face scanner or a medical face photographer. Many good parents spend a small fortune with othodontists getting their offspring’s teeth straightened and in doing this they are often erasing one of the signs of a genetic or developmental anomaly. Children can also be the subject of plastic surgery on the face, especially if they were born with a disfiguring facial defect.

One thing that I don’t think is mentioned in this news story is the fact that the studying of faces as an element of medical diagnosis is nothing new at all and does not require any fancy new technology or photographing of patients at all. This new project looks like it will be a great refinement of an idea, but I don’t think it will achieve anything that hasn’t already been done before using human abilities alone. Descriptions of rare diseases and genetic syndromes in medical textbooks or online info sources often feature photographs of patient’s faces that display characteristic features linked with the diseases and conditions. These features can also be described in detailed technical/medical language, much like detailed technical botanical descriptions of the parts of plant species using specialized terms (jargon). Doctors who specialize in genetics or related specialties know what this all means, and they should also have a high to super-recognizer ability to recognize facial phenotypes or at least have the ability to do visual image matching/comparison from the photographs. A specialist doctor with access to photographic resources and good eyes and sound and well-connected intra-cranial face processing hardware should be able to consider the patient’s face properly in a diagnostic process, no online database needed. But this process is labour-intensive, so I can see a use for an online face database.

3D Camera used to detect disease. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-26/3d-camera-used-to-detect-disease/4654822

Stefanie Kung, Mark Walters, Peter Claes, Jack Goldblatt, Peter Le Souef, and Gareth Baynam A Dysmorphometric Analysis to Investigate Facial Phenotypic Signatures as a Foundation for Non-invasive Monitoring of Lysosomal Storage Disorders. JIMD Reports. 2013; 8: 31–39. Published online 2012 June 10. doi: 10.1007/8904_2012_152  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3565667/

Saw, Samantha Defining normal. InkWire. April 17, 2014. http://inkwirenews.com.au/2014/04/17/defining-normal/