Dun put a bag ober mah hed, pls kthx.

(Video of Frank and Louie doing cat stuff while his owner talks about him.)

Meet Frank and Louie, the two-faced cat. Kitties like this are often called Janus cats, after the Roman two-faced god. These kitties often don’t live very long after birth or are euthanized. This guy has lived to the ripe old age of twelve, and in September 2011 entered the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest surviving Janus cat. (I’m referring to him in the singular because his owner does; she gave him two names, but after twelve years she seems confident that he is one cat with two faces rather than two cats on one body, and he does have only one brain so it’s likely that he has one consciousness.)

Frank and Louie’s condition is called diprosopus, or craniofacial duplication. He is not a pair of conjoined twins. In conjoined twinning, a developing embryo splits partially and becomes a pair of twins who remain connected to each other. (If they split completely in two, they would develop independently as identical twins.) In diprosopus, a single embryo simply grows duplicated body parts, due to an excess of a particular morphogen protein (whimsically named sonic hedgehog homolog or SHH for short) that controls cell division and organ formation.

Fortunately Frank and Louie doesn’t have any life-threatening physiological differences. Only one of his mouths connects to his esophagus. He has no trouble eating or breathing. Sometimes this condition can be dangerous, as in the case of a human baby with craniofacial duplication; Lali had a cleft palate which made it difficult for her to suck milk, and due to a lack of proper care she died at the age of two months.

I Can Has Cheezburger, among many other pop culture sites, posted about Frank and Louie because of his Guinness Book induction. Unlike other sites, they chose to hide his pictures behind a link, so that readers had to click to see him. You could read about him before clicking, but in order to see him you had to click through, because the editors thought the images might be disturbing. I know the site is dedicated to the pursuit of cute, but isn’t that going a little too far? I’ll decide for myself who I think is cute, thank you very much. (And I’ve never seen a cat that I thought was ugly.)

I’ve been reading Frankenstein and I was bothered by the idea that humans are flat-out unable to overcome their disgust for a person who looks different. Then I watched The Fantastic Four, in which Ben Grimm’s mutation makes everybody (including his wife) treat him like garbage. Then Cheezburger decided that I needed to be protected from the sight of this cat.

Of course, the human sense of disgust at people who are radically different from the norm is an evolved trait; it prevented severe disabilities from being propagated in the gene pool. But the result is that a person who deserves to be treated like a person will be treated like a freak by most people. It’s time for humans to buck up and consciously overcome this evolved trait, and learn to deal with people who have physical differences in a polite and humane way. They don’t need to have bags over their heads until someone else decides they’re ready for the sight.

Since this is a science blog, it’s likely that I’m going to post pictures of people and animals whose physical differences have made the news. I’m not going to warn about them. I might warn if I’m posting pictures of dead or injured people and animals (if you search the web for diprosopus and related conditions you will see lots of pictures of dead babies) but that’s it.

If you can’t handle it, don’t click the links I post, or don’t read this blog at all because if I can post pictures I probably will. But I would strongly recommend learning to handle it, simply for the sake of common decency. Kthx bai!

LINKS: more cats with facial differences.
Charlie, the cat who looks like Lord Voldemort. Yay, he’s been adopted!
Chase No-Face, who survived a nasty accident but has some bits missing. And she is also very happy.


My cousin is not a Ouija board.

Facilitated communication is supposed to be a process by which a facilitator helps a non-speaking person speak. It’s often used with autistic children. The facilitator holds the person’s hand and helps them move their finger to the keys on the keyboard so that they can type.

Sound familiar? Facilitated communication is essentially using a human being as a Ouija board. The most disturbing thing is not that facilitators give false hope to parents of nonverbal children, or that they make money by writing books that they claim are written by their patients; it’s that they are taking advantage of people with disabilities and putting words in their mouths that are not theirs. What a way to obscure the fact that these people can’t communicate (or at least can’t be understood). If it’s this easy, it can be done with any nonverbal person! Autistic people, coma patients, people who are, uh, asleep…

The longer this is taken seriously, the less people will pay attention to the real concerns, needs, and rights of people whose disabilities prevent them from communicating.