New Claim: Einstein's Brain Not So Special

Psychologist says no secret in Einstein's brain

By Derek Andersen,  Newser Staff

Posted May 30, 2014 9:10 AM CDT

(Newser) – Maybe he just knew how to use it right. A new paper by Pace University psychologist Terence Hines picks apart previous studies that claim to have identified that special something in the makeup of Einstein's brain. Hines reviewed—and chipped away at—several prominent studies that looked at Einstein's brain on a cellular level or in terms of its size and shape. In the case of the former, Hines throws water on a 1985 study that found Einstein’s brain had a noticeably higher proportion of glial cells than those of control brains. The issue, per Hines:

  • The researchers reported on "four different t-tests," only one of which "was significant at the .05 level." In actuality, six other dependent measures were examined in four different brain areas during the study. That's a total of 28 comparisons, making that one "significant" result unsurprising.
Discover reports that Hines suggests a blind test be conducted, where unlabeled slides of Einstein's brain are compared to slides from other brains to see if differences are clearly apparent. The posthumous saga of Einstein’s brain is rich in oddball details: The brain was saved from cremation during the scientist’s 1955 autopsy by Thomas Harvey, who ended up losing his medical license (due to a failed exam, not the brain theft) and becoming drinking buddies with beat poet William Burroughs, per National Geographic; more odd facts here.

Digitized image of brain tissue from renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.
Digitized image of brain tissue from renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.   (AP Photo/Courtesy the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago)
This undated file photo shows famed physicist Albert Einstein.
This undated file photo shows famed physicist Albert Einstein.   (AP Photo)
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