Talk:Phineas Gage

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Former good article nomineePhineas Gage was a Natural sciences good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
Article milestones
DateProcessResult
December 20, 2005Good article nomineeListed
June 14, 2007Good article reassessmentDelisted
June 19, 2013Good article nomineeNot listed
Current status: Former good article nominee

World's longest sentence[edit]

Regarding the opening sentence of the lead (which is also the opening paragraph), which is:

Phineas P. Gage (1823–1860) was an American railroad construction foreman remembered for his improbable survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and for that injury's reported effects on his personality and behavior over the remaining 12 years of his life‍—‌effects sufficiently profound (for a time at least) that friends saw him as "no longer Gage."

This is an uncomfortably long sentence. I've now attempted two ways of splitting it into two shorter sentences, both reverted. My most recent proposal was:

Phineas P. Gage (1823–1860) was an American railroad construction foreman who improbably survived an accident in which a large iron rod was driven through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe. The injury had reported effects on his personality and behavior over the remaining 12 years of his life‍—‌effects sufficiently profound (for a time at least) that friends saw him as "no longer Gage".

This contains all of the same information but in a more readable state. There's no downside!

Note that I removed the "remembered for..." detail because it's superfluous. Wikipedia subjects have to be notable (ie "remembered") by definition. If a detail is not notable, we don't include it. If a subject is not notable, they don't get an article at all.

This was reverted, with this edit summary:

What are you talking about? The fact that each article subject must be notable does not negate that the reader will want to know what the source of that notability is

Come on! That's not a problem that exists. Readers don't scour articles thinking "OK, I see here that Thriller is the bestselling album of all time, but there isn't a sentence literally saying it's notable so I'm confused". I think it's pretty clear from the paragraph what Gage is remembered for.

As for this:

per MOS:FIRST, "For topics notable for only one reason, this reason should usually be given in the first sentence"

This isn't license to create uncomfortably long sentences - there's nothing inherently noble about cramming as much information as possible into a single sentence for its own sake, especially when we can cover it in fewer words by splitting it. And besides, my first sentence does say he suffered a crazy brain injury, which is part of why he's notable. Popcornfud (talk) 19:07, 30 March 2020 (UTC)

Measuring things to ensure they fit a universal law of acceptability is not always useful. The point about this sentence is that it reads well and is not confusing. It doesn't need fixing. Johnuniq (talk) 22:21, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
Johnuniq, I've always considered you a gentleman and a scholar. EEng 22:51, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
Johnuniq, I don't think it reads well. Popcornfud (talk) 22:25, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
You're skipping my earlier edit summary:
It's long because the source of his fame is complex. It's not just his survival that he's remembered for, but rather his survival AND the mental changes (in fact, primarily the mental changes). And in fact, it's not the mental changes per se, but rather the exaggerated reports of the mental changes. Your change loses that.
(And I've always considered you a gentleman and a scholar too, Pfud.) EEng 22:51, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
But my second edit - the one I quoted again above- should fix that concern, because it skips the need to say what he's "remembered for" entirely.
Unless you're sticking to "It's long because the source of his fame is complex." Really? It's our job, in writing an encyclopaedia, to explain complex things simply and concisely. I'm proposing that, if this idea is complicated to explain, we do it in two sentences instead of one, which is hardly radical. Popcornfud (talk) 23:01, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. EEng 23:34, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
And naturally my response is: this can be simpler.
I feel like you're not actually addressing any of my points here, EEng. Popcornfud (talk) 23:44, 30 March 2020 (UTC)
My edit summary above does address it. The first sentence is supposed to give the reason for notability, so we cannot (as you propose) skip the need to say what he's "remembered for" entirely ("remembered for" being a less stuffy way of saying "notable"). Unlike Thriller, Gage's notability doesn't stem from a whole pile of things (best seller, Grammys, Album of the Year, etc etc etc) but something very narrow: not from (a) his accident, not from (b) the facts of the sequelae of his accident, but from (c) the stories told about the sequelae of his accident (which are different from the facts). But there's no way to talk about (c) without talking about (b), which in turn requires describing (a) first. He is remembered for the reports, and there's no way out of saying that because if you simply state, flatly, that there were reports, the reader won't understand that that is the reason he's notable.
I realize you find this one sentence overlong, but that's a stylistic judgment – it's not somehow wrong (and in particular it is not, as you've said, a run-on). It's just unusually long, but then there's a lot that's unusual about this article -- I refer you to Talk:Phineas_Gage/Archive_2#Great_article!. EEng 03:11, 31 March 2020 (UTC)
Can't agree. As I said before, no one, with my version, will wonder "But I don't understand what he's notable for." No one. It is absolutely clear. I see no upside in making such a monstrously long sentence, and no downside in my version. Popcornfud (talk) 10:01, 31 March 2020 (UTC)
Oh but you were right, btw, that I didn't know what a run-on sentence is. That's something a copyeditor should know. Whoops. Popcornfud (talk) 11:28, 31 March 2020 (UTC)
Of course I'm right. (Click here.) In your version, how will the reader know that the "reported effects" are part of the source (indeed the primary source) of his notability, instead of just a summary fact about him? EEng 13:33, 31 March 2020 (UTC) P.S. If you don't like Phineas' lead, you will most certainly not enjoy those in Lionel_de_Jersey_Harvard, Widener_Library, Memorial_Hall_(Harvard_University), Sacred_Cod, and Eleanor_Elkins_Widener.
how will the reader know that the "reported effects" are part of the source (indeed the primary source) of his notability? You're optimising for a need that doesn't exist. The reader doesn't need to be literally told what is notable/memorable about a subject. They don't sort through facts thinking, but I must be told which one of these individual facts is the reason they are notable, I am lost without this.
If you must explain this, I urge you to find some other way to split the sentence, because it's a chore to read. You said "it's a complex sentence because this is a complex idea" - God knows how long the sentences at Nasa are, then. No - if it's a complex idea, maybe it should be covered in more than one sentence. There's no bonus multiplier triggered by cramming as much information into a single sentence as possible, and it's our job as encyclopaedia writers is to explain complex ideas plainly.
Anyway, it's clear this conversation is a dead end, so I'll leave it there to return to some other work I'm supposed to be finishing.
None of those other leads you linked to are pretty - the first one in particular is bizarre. Someone really loves dashes. Popcornfud (talk) 14:57, 31 March 2020 (UTC)
Me. Still friends? EEng 15:59, 31 March 2020 (UTC)
I'm taking that as a yes. EEng 02:37, 14 February 2021 (UTC)

Prose difficulty[edit]

First off, this article is great and I wish more articles were like it in tone. But I see that people have raised concerns over prose difficulty before, and it doesn't seem to have changed much. The long sentences and frequent parenthetical sentences confuse me at times. This is especially concerning in the lead, since we're supposed to write a level down. Is there a good reason to keep it this way? Cheers, Ovinus (talk) 11:38, 1 December 2020 (UTC)

Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.

— Logan Pearsall Smith (1931). Afterthoughts]

Hi, Ovinus, and sorry I overlooked your post until now. If you don't mind my saying, I'm very glad for your perspective because (from your user page) you're in high school, and I know Gage is a popular topic in certain high school courses. I just ran the article through one of those automated scorers and got a Flesch grade level of 10; on the other hand, I ran just the lead through, and got (no kidding) grade 22 (whatever that means). But let's put the lead aside for now (though see prior thread). I'd be interested if you could pick three sentences/passages from the article proper which you found difficult and we can talk about them. Like all writers I'm married to my own prose; but I'm not completely opposed to divorce. EEng 03:27, 30 December 2020 (UTC)
Haha yes, I actually learned about it a few months ago in my AP Psychology class! In general, I think the prose of the article itself is fine and relatively straightforward to parse, which agrees with your automated assessment. The parenthetical sentences are unusual, and I think could be used more sparingly, but the lead is of more concern given the "level down" guideline.
The following sentence induces fear:
Long known as the "American Crowbar Case"‍—‌once termed "the case which more than all others is cal­cu­lated to excite our wonder, impair the value of prognosis, and even to subvert our phys­i­o­log­i­cal doctrines"—‌Phineas Gage influenced 19th-century discussion about the mind and brain, par­tic­u­larly debate on cerebral local­i­za­tion,​​ and was perhaps the first case to suggest the brain's role in deter­min­ing per­son­al­ity, and that damage to specific parts of the brain might induce specific mental changes.
I suggest it be split up into two sentences, and the given quote shortened:
Long known as the "American Crowbar Case"‍—‌once termed "the case which more than all others is cal­cu­lated to excite our wonder"—‌Phineas Gage influenced 19th-century discussion about the mind and brain, par­tic­u­larly debate on cerebral local­i­za­tion.​​ He was perhaps the first case to suggest the brain's role in deter­min­ing per­son­al­ity, and that damage to specific parts of the brain might induce specific mental changes.
My rationale for shortening the quote is that "impair the value of prognosis, and even to subvert our phys­i­o­log­i­cal doctrines" is pretty difficult mid-19th century language, which a lot of readers wouldn't understand. It's a pretty quote—including it in the article body is certainly justified—but its inclusion in this sentence leads to a very long phrase set off by dashes.
Another scary sentence:
Despite this celebrity, the body of established fact about Gage and what he was like (whether before or after his injury) is small, which has allowed "the fitting of almost any theory [desired] to the small number of facts we have"—‌Gage acting as a "Rorschach inkblot" in which proponents of various conflicting theories of the brain all saw support for their views.
I'd suggest:
Despite his prominence, there is little established fact about Gage and his behavior before or after the injury, which has allowed "the fitting of almost any theory [desired] to the small number of facts we have". Gage acted as a sort of "Rorschach inkblot" in which proponents of various conflicting theories of the brain all saw support for their views.
I find this a bit easier to read. I was neutral on the "Rorschach inkblot" metaphor, but given that this is probably often read by psychology students, I think it's worthwhile. It made me smile, anyway. Pinging EEng. Ovinus (talk) 21:28, 1 January 2021 (UTC)
I've been distracted but don't want to lose this thread. Sort of pinging myself. EEng 01:09, 25 January 2021 (UTC)
Ditto. BTW, I'm wondering if we should change this article to use tamping iron pronouns. Tryptofish, Levivich -- what think you? EEng 03:16, 2 April 2021 (UTC)
Well, since you asked, tamp on. --Tryptofish (talk) 00:10, 3 April 2021 (UTC)

Some thoughts about layout[edit]

I know EEng likes tweaking the details of page appearance, so I thought I'd pass this along, with the caveat that I don't know what I'm talking about, and may very well be getting it all wrong. Anyway, from discussions elsewhere (principally at Talk:Sissinghurst Castle Garden#Suggestions), I been starting to learn some things I didn't know before, about formatting page layout in order to improve accessibility on narrow-screen devices and for persons with visual disabilities. It might perhaps be of interest to apply some of that here (if it hasn't been done already, in which case please disregard this message!). --Tryptofish (talk) 19:42, 24 January 2021 (UTC)

Skimming that thread the two topics seem to be WP:LQ and WP:SANDWICH. LQ I have never understood and leave to others to adjust as needed. SANDWICH is interesting. Some people interpret the verboten SANDWICH as being two images opposite each other, with text in between them, at all ever. My interpretation is that SANDWICHing means two images opposite each other, with text in between them, where the column width available for text is overly narrow and so unsightly. So what constitutes overly narrow? Well, a little above SANDWICH is the recommendation that upright=1.8 should usually be the largest value for images floated beside text. Obviously that's to leave sufficient width for text. Now, it seems to me that if one image of width 1.8 leaves enough width, then two images of widths (say) 0.9 and 0.9 would also leave enough width. That's the general principle I've used, though in actual execution there are some additional details and at two or three points I think the article ends up with a sum of 2.0. I'd be interested to know if there's any particular point that looks unsightly to you. EEng 02:41, 25 January 2021 (UTC)
To answer your question, no, nothing looks unsightly to me. And I really don't have any strong feelings about any of it. My impression is that if one were to look at a page on a phone, rather than on a computer monitor, using the mobile view, one might encounter sandwiching issues that were never apparent on a wider screen. I figured I'd pass that along just in case you might be interested, but I'm certainly not looking to have you do anything in particular. (As for LQ, my posting here was motivated more by the image layout issues and not so much by that. In the event that you ever do get interested in LQ, I explain it brilliantly in the discussion that I linked. And you can logically quote me on that.) --Tryptofish (talk) 19:08, 25 January 2021 (UTC)
I actually do now and then check the mobile view, on a phone, and see no squeezes. I'm sorry, but LQ I will never understand. It seems to be congenital. EEng 16:15, 13 February 2021 (UTC)

(Mostly wretched) podcasts[edit]

I just can't let this get forgotten about:

"Poor Historians Podcast" and "Words R Hard" are kinda giveaways? Martinevans123 (talk) 15:45, 20 July 2021 (UTC)