Most know Sherlock Holmes as a famous fictional sleuth of the 19th Century. Specifically, a doctor from the University of Edinburgh who had the analytical gift of solving crimes.
Since bursting onto the scene in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has been quite the celebrity. His hundreds of thousands of fans are often called Baker Street Irregulars. During the 10th Century, readers were so convinced that Sherlock had to be real that they wrote him letters to his faux address of 221B Baker Street in London. Sherlock then acquired his own Facebook page in the 21st Century.
Of course, the beloved Sherlock is a fictional character, but most don't know that he was modeled after a famous detective named Dr. Joseph Bell (1837-1911). Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was Dr. Bell's assistant from 1877 to 1881 as a medical student.
Like everyone else, Doyle was in awe of Bell's ability to discern the details of his patients' geographical origins, life histories, and professions, all by using his acute powers of analytical observation. It was said that Dr. Bell (the real Sherlock Holmes) had the "loo of eagles" because rarely did he miss. He could tell a man's trade by looking at the pattern of the calluses on his hands. He could tell what countries a sailor had visited just by looking at the man's tattoos.
In 1892, Doyle wrote a letter of appreciation to Dr. Bell, saying, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes."
The resemblance between Bell and Holmes was nearly identical and even impressed Bell's fellow Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson. After reading several Sherlock Holmes stories, Stevenson sent a note to Doyle asking, "Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"
When queried by journalists about this fictitious doppelganger, Bell modestly replied, "Dr. Conan Doyle has, by his imaginative genius, made a great deal out of very little, and his warm remembrance of one of his old teachers has colored the picture."
Nevertheless, Bell was pleased to write an introduction to the 1892 edition of A Study in Scarlet, the tale that had launched Holmes's career as a sleuth - and Doyle's as a writer. By the mid-1890s, Doyle had largely abandoned medicine for the life of a full-time writer.
However, Bell's association with Holmes wasn't his only claim to fame. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the author of several medical textbooks, and one of the founders of modern forensic pathology. The University of Edinburgh honored his legacy by establishing the Joseph Bell Centre for Forensic Statistics and Legal Reasoning in March 2001.
One of the center's first initiatives was to develop a software program that could aid investigations into suspicious deaths. "It takes an overview of all the available evidence," said Jeroen Keppens, one of the program's developers, "and then speculates on what might have happened."
Police detectives have praised the software named "Sherlock Holmes."
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