One of our “missions” here at Cosmic Variance is to provide a glimpse into the lives of working scientists and to demonstrate (hopefully, to some extent) that academics are normal people.
A while ago, I wrote a post titled Debate a Dead Scientist – A Cunning Strategy, about a creationist class, dressed up as a philosophy course, in which part of the proposed curriculum was that Francis Crick (who was already dead) would speak to the class as an evolution expert. I made a bit of fun of this while commenting on how fraudulent it was.
That post prompted my good friend Chris Kyle to point out to me that academics – those normal people, we’d have you believe – can be even freakier when it comes to trotting out the dead.
Chris sent me links to the University College London Bentham Project, in which, as it says on the main site
At the end of the South Cloisters of the main building of UCL stands a wooden cabinet, which has been a source of curiosity and perplexity to visitors.
The cabinet contains Bentham’s preserved skeleton, dressed in his own clothes, and surmounted by a wax head.
The full story is here if you’re interested. But the part that I find hilarious, and totally demolishes my hope of convincing you that academics are normal is
Not surprisingly, this peculiar relic has given rise to numerous legends and anecdotes. One of the most commonly recounted is that the Auto-Icon regularly attends meetings of the College Council, and that it is solemnly wheeled into the Council Room to take its place among the present-day members. Its presence, it is claimed, is always recorded in the minutes with the words Jeremy Bentham – present but not voting. Another version of the story asserts that the Auto-Icon does vote, but only on occasions when the votes of the other Council members are equally split. In these cases the Auto-Icon invariably votes for the motion.