Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Good Idea Ahead of Its Time . . .

. . . was Alphonse Bertillon's system of anthropometry. It's too bad Alphonse (1853-1914) didn't have the one thing that would make his system a true success—the modern electronic computer:
IT is not generally known by the honest public how large a number of malefactors have recourse to concealment of identity. We may assert without exaggeration that there is not a single habitual criminal who does not seek to hide his individuality when the circumstances of his arrest permit.
The immensity of modern cities and the increasing facility of communication make this course more and more easy. International criminals, such as bank-robbers and pick-pockets, traverse two continents, changing their names from country to country. The greater, therefore, becomes the necessity of some methodical system of identification.  . . . — Alphonse Bertillon, "The Bertillon System of Identification," THE FORUM, May 1891 (12 pages; online HERE)
- Our position here at ONTOS is that you can't attach morals to technology, and that people who set out to use (for examples) biometrics, steak knives, or guns to harm others are abusing things which can actually preserve and improve life.
- Wikipedia articles about Bertillon (an odd character alleged to be a forger) HERE, biometrics HERE, and anthropometry HERE, plus Bertillon's book HERE (456 pages) and related pieces HERE (4 pages), HERE (2 pages, about the triumph of dactyloscopy over anthropometry), and HERE (a 2013 article casting doubt on the reliability of dactyloscopy because of Bertillon's alleged forgeries).

B & E

How much muscle would your average burglar need to pull off his nefarious deed? Leave it to Bertillon (who else?) to seek to answer that very question. Excerpts:
ALPHONSE BERTILLON, chief of the anthropometric service of the Paris police, and inventor of the system of measuring criminals that bears his name, believes that, in the elucidation of crime, the more exact facts we collect, and the more methodically we seek, verify, and give a logical grouping to the evidence, the greater is our chance of discovering the true cause and the perpetrator of the crime.
He has recently invented a special dynamometer to facilitate judicial investiga-tion by furnishing measurements of the muscular efforts made by a burglar in entering a house, room, or desk, and making it possible to reproduce the traces left by the burglar on doors and furniture. The device consists of a steel frame to which may be attached two dynamometers of unequal power.  . . .
. . . The idea of employing a dynamometer in the study of burglary appears so simple, that it is surprizing that it was not done long ago. Henceforth judicial inquiries will be guided by the results of a series of experiments which will furnish points of reference. From measurements made with the Bertillon dynamometer, it is possible to discover whether the burglarious entrance was effected by a man, a woman, a child, or several persons.  . . . — "A Measure of Burglarious Effort," THE LITERARY DIGEST, July 23, 1910 (2 pages; online HERE)
Après vous, Alphonse

Category: True crime

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