When Nature Deals
A Sleight of Hands
Not to point any fingers, but when it comes to physically identifying someone, it’s no longer safe to rely on memory or anatomy alone. The issue is naturally crucial for law enforcement, and police departments all over have alreadyrevised old guidelines for fingerprinting and lining up suspects, so to adapt to more scientific methods of identification.
Memory does play tricks and someone’s recollection of an event is conditioned by subjective factors and plagued by all sorts of potential distortions. So is the analysis of someone’s marks and crevices at the tip of their fingers, long considered gospel in police work.
At the end of the day, suspects should be positively identified based on a comprehensive set of parameters, rather than how they look to someone, or whether they’re born with more digits or have no fingerprints at all.
Speaking of which, meet Yoandri Garrido, a Cuban who has two extra fingers and two extra toes. In itself, the condition, polydactyly, is not extremely rare neither in humans nor animals. But it is in the case of Garrido, because his extensions are perfect and functional.
EXTRA FINGERS OR NO PRINTS AT ALL
You may go out of your mind, thinking about what you would do with them, and why you should be so lucky. But for him, the freak of nature is a bliss, making him a superior coconut picker and a favorite of tourists, who’d pay up to $10 for his picture. So, stop whining, will ya?
Of course, unlike you, there’re some who may think they’re lucky exactly for not having any distinguished anatomical feature, easy to be picked up by the accusatory finger of a witnesses.
Now, you may go ahead and congratulate yourself for not being someone who needs to be concerned about other people’s testimony against them.
Adermatoglyphia is an even more unusual condition: lack of fingertips. It’s thought that it can have several different causes, but the main one is a genetic mutation. It’s been recently found in nine members of a Swiss family of 16 (don’t ask), who could easily slip through a crime scene undetected, but who’d also have a hard time crossing country borders.
As it turns out, immigration officials of all nationalities have little patience with those who lack fingertips, but we won’t get into that just yet. Suffice to say that scientists are learning a thing or two about genetic mutation of the kind that caused this family of Robinsons (so to speak) to have the majority but not all of its members sharing the condition.
Again, you may envy their predicament for a second (more)
* A Farewell to Furs
or two, enough for a mastermind like you to come up with the perfect heist. A few more seconds, though, and we can envision you in handcuffs owning a lot of explaining to some airport security guards.
As we said, border agents are notoriously picky with it comes to “immigration-delay disease,” as it’s called, and your argument that it originates while one’s still in the womb won’t help your case much.
Even considering those cases as few and far in between, and the combination of other methods enough to compensate for their exceptionality, one should never bet the bank on that.
STICKY FINGERS & THE FLASH DRIVES
What if two suspects share the same anatomical characteristic? Or they have a combination of both conditions? What about someone who’s just a passerby and get thrown into a life-altering event, often under traumatic circumstances?
The evening TV programming is full of cop shows, showing the widespread use of surgical gloves to mask fingerprints, for example. Or how trained professionals can make mistakes about facial features of individuals they’ve seen for just a few seconds.
Also, it’s the nature of police work to cross-examine and double-check the evidence several times over. That may increase its accuracy, but also open it up to possible mishaps by the many hands that touch it.
So, you may be good at recognizing faces, or have something very unique about your anatomy. Of all talents you may happen to display, there’s a place you hope you’d never find yourself: the wrong side of a police lineup.
That’s why we can’t quite put our finger on the motivation behind creating USB flash drives or soap bars in the shape of severed digits, whether one thinks they’re cute or downright creepy.
Perhaps that’s the reason bath products maker Etsy lists moisturizer among the ingredients of its Hot Chicken Wing soap set. It makes a bunch of lifelike fingers in a bowl look surprisingly appealing.
(*) Originally published on Aug. 15, 2011.