03 December 2020

Salmon slammin’

Felix Bernoully responded to my request for scientific graphics with a cartoon that was used in a press release. The first author of the paper drafted a single-panel cartoon using material from OpenClipArt and sent it to Felix:


This was accompanied by this caption:

Angular gyrus as part of the semantic processing area in human parietal cortex supports the comprehension of incomplete acoustic speech input in conditions in which the context allows for strong predictions regarding the incomplete word. An angling person on a Canadian river is thus much more likely to angle salmon than anything else (e.g. a shoe).

Felix had one afternoon to turn this into a more refined graphic. In two languages, no less! He wrote:

I've always been particular to the silliness of old woodcuts and wood engravings taken out of context (cf. Lucas & Morrow: What a Life! (1911)), so I decided that was the way to go.

Finding appropriate source material, preferably in the public domain, is a mix of Google-Fu (filter an image search by colour and usage rights) and rummaging through a number of sites bookmarked (e.g., The British Library at Flickr, The New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and of course Wikimedia Commons). 
The text is set in Caslon Antique, my go-to “olde-tymey” typeface (actually a late-19th-century re-invention of well worn 15th-century movable type).

The composition was done in Photoshop, at 2,048 px width. This is a bit bigger than what is needed for the screen, but will print well at up to 20 cm (8 in) width, should the need arise.

The end result in the English version.

And this is the German version:

The German version is a little different than the English version in more than just the words.

The translation of the English cue – salmon – is “Lachs” in German, so all the other predictions the brain would be discarding because of context (angling in Canada) had to start with “La...”. Thus: Lastwagen (lorry), Lampion (paper lantern), Lasso (lasso), and Laterne (street lantern). In English "salmon" led to: saw, samovar, saxophone, and safe.

Felix notes using crosshatched illustrations has some technical considerations about resolution.

It’s always good to include a little buffer when working on pixel based images. I normally recommend about 1.5 to double the intended size as a buffer, and, of course, to use vector elements wherever possible.

The cross hatching of woodcuts and wood engravings makes them very difficult to vectorise. You’ll likely end up with insanely huge and complex files that may choke many a vector editing or PDF rendering app. So in this particular case, high-resolution grayscale (or 1-bit) bitmap images are much easier to handle.

While this particular graphic might be a little too condensed to serve as a stand alone conference poster, I could certainly see this as being a main element in a poster.


Scharinger M, Bendixen A, Herrmann B, Henry MJ, Mildner T, Obleser J. 2015. Predictions interact with missing sensory evidence in semantic processing areas. Human Brain Mapping 37(2): 704-716. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23060

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