From the Department of Convoluted University Bureaucracies and the Havoc They Wreak, I bring you an example of why Certified Medical Illustrators are worth every penny you spend on them:
If you opened up The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, or The Boston Globe this week you might have seen a full-page ad announcing a $50-million dollar gift to endow and name the University of Southern California's Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute. According to their press release, "The visionary gift promises to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide by speeding the translation of basic research into new therapies, preventions and cures for brain injury and disease, including Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and traumatic brain injury." This is exciting stuff. Congratulations!
Only, it's not all champagne-popping jubilation at USC. I daresay there is a bit of agonizing over a major gaffe that was instantly pointed out in the advertisement: they got the brain backwards. Really. I know, it makes me cringe, too.
It's especially bad when you realize that they have medical illustrators on staff at the Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute who could have potentially saved them from major embarrassment had they only been consulted.
Which brings me to my soapbox. Having worked at a large university, I am well aware of their sprawling, bureaucratic, labyrinthine ways. So the Mark & Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute can hardly be blamed in this mess, as they were largely kept out of the loop. But for all of the university administrators out there who make decisions regarding advertising campaigns such as this, please use this as an opportunity to hone your craft: There are people called Certified Medical Illustrators (CMI) who are highly trained professionals well versed in science as well as art. They come from a handful of medical illustration training programs in North America which are extremely competitive. One only needs to attend a meeting of the Association of Medical Illustrators to understand the quality of professionals these programs turn out. In addition, in order to display the initials CMI after your name you are required to keep your certification current through a series of continuing education courses so your knowledge does not stagnate. This is what you get when you pay for a CMI to create compelling visuals for you.
I don't know how much this unfortunate national ad campaign cost the university, so I'll resist the urge to use a potentially appropriate, but tired cliche about what you pay for; instead, I'll let you know that if you find yourself in the position to commission work pertaining to medicine or anatomy in some way, you can pay for quality and accuracy, and here's what it will cost.
Insta-addendum: A few minutes ago, I incorrectly stated that the Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute's staff illustrators had their CMI certifications. They are not CMIs but they did graduate from medical illustration programs and are highly trained technical illustrators. For the record, there is no CMI equivalent for general science illustrators, but there are a number of extremely talented and highly trained general science illustrators working today as well that you should know about. They can be found through organizations like the Association of Medical Illustrators, which I mentioned above, the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (full disclosure: I am a member and volunteer with some of their social media accounts as well as their Education Committee), and through the website Science-Art.com. Seek out these professionals and use them!
Slightly less-instant addendum: My editors inform me that we made the same mistake in 2012 by publishing a stock image with a backwards brain in the print version of Scientific American MIND, no less! Naturally, this raised some eyebrows among people with the training to notice the goof, and it shows that these types of errors are insidious and difficult to avoid completely. Certainly, involving specialists like medical and scientific illustrators in the process is one defense, but we would all be well advised to run stock images past experts for accuracy before committing to them. Live and learn!