Monday, May 25, 2015

Women in Medicine & Biology: 158 Entries Registered

About two weeks after my initial post on this issue I notice that there are presently 158 database entries by women. This, I think, should be close to the final number in the database as it is currently constituted. Ironically, the some of the last entries I indexed to this subject were the two by Florence Nightingale. As Nightingale is definitely one of the most famous of women authors in medicine and biology, this shows that I was not clearly focussed on indexing to women when I made my first foray through the nearly 9000 entries to create the new subject index. The 158 entries in which women are authors or co-authors of primary rather than secondary works seems like a decent representation of key works; however, I am sure that more works by women need to be added.

Improving the Reference to Anichkov & Chalatov on Atheroschlerosis

There are many, many ways that the bibliography can be improved.  For example, today Fritz-Dieter Söhn pointed out the misspelling of Anichkov's name, provided the dates for his co-author Chalatov, and improved the annotation for the famous paper of 1913 in which the authors first made the connection between cholesterol and atheroschlerosis. Here is the improved version:

  • 2915

Ueber experimentelle Cholesterinsteatose und ihre Bedeutung für die Entstehung einiger pathologischer Prozesse.

 Zbl. allg. Path. path. Anat., 24, 1-9 1913.
Anichkov and Chalatov discovered in St. Petersburg, Russia, that atherosclerosis of large arteries is critically dependent on cholesterol. (Translated in Arteriosclerosis, 1983, 3,178-182). The inflammatory nature of atherosclerosis was first observed and suggested by Rudolf Virchow in 1856.

When the authors published this paper it was ignored by the medical establishment. Only since drugs such as Lipitor became available to reduce plaque formation in arteries was Anichkov's and Chalatov's discovery widely accepted. My thanks to Fritz-Dieter for improving this significant entry.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Malfeasance from a "Garrison-Morton" Author!

  • In checking the dates for Cecil Bryan Jacobson, junior author of the paper describing the first use of amniocentesis to diagnose genetic disorders, I was surprised to find that Dr. Jacobson was recently involved in a notorious scandal, and had his license to practice medicine revoked. I included the relevant paragraph from the Wikipedia article on Jacobson in the note to entry 6235.2. For more information see the full Wikipedia article and the many news articles on this scandal.

  • 6235.2. 
  • BARTER, Robert Henry. 1913 – 1999
  • JACOBSON, Cecil Bryan. 1936 –

Intrauterine diagnosis and management of genetic defects.

 Amer. J. Obstet. Gynec., 99, 796-807. 1967.
Amniocentesis used to diagnose genetic disorders in utero. First detailed report. See also Fuchs, F., Genetic information from amniotic fluid contents. Lancet, 1960, 2, 180.

"During the course of the criminal investigation, another type of fraud came to light. For a variety of reasons, some patients had arranged to be artificially inseminated with sperm provided by screened, anonymous donors arranged by [Cecil Bryan] Jacobson. In order to preserve the anonymity of the donors, Jacobson explained, he identified them in records using code numbers; only Jacobson was to know their true identities. Investigators found no evidence that any donor program actually existed. Some of Jacobson's patients who had conceived through donor insemination agreed to genetic testing. At least seven instances were identified in which Jacobson was the biological father of the patients' children, including one patient who was supposed to have been inseminated with sperm provided by her husband. DNA tests linked Jacobson to at least 15 such children, and it has been suspected that he fathered as many as 75 children by impregnating patients with his own sperm" (Wikipedia article on Cecil Jacobson, accessed 05-22-2015).

The Value of "Circa" in Birth or Death Dates

In attempting to include birth and death dates for as many authors in the bibliography as possible I realized that for most ancient authors the birth or death dates may be uncertain. This was an issue that I had not thought about in detail when planning the programming of the site. However, as I painstakingly reviewed every author of the many thousands in the database during the month of May 2015 I realized that without an indication of uncertainty I could not accurately enter birth or death dates for authors where this information is primarily an educated guess. 

To remedy this situation I asked Jessica Gore to put in switches next to the birth and death dates on my control panel so that I could indicate when one or both of these dates is uncertain. You will see that reflected in the use of the word "circa" for a birth or death date when that is the situation.  It is particularly true for ancient authors when both birth and death dates are estimates. For medieval authors sometimes the death date is known but the birth date is uncertain, and the situation can also apply to sixteenth or seventeenth century authors. For later authors when there is no information available, rather than putting in guesses, I have typically just left out this information.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Including the First Draft of the Human Genome (2001)

Initially I thought it would be enough to put the text of the 1991 edition online with corrections, and an update, when time permits, of significant secondary sources that have appeared since then; however, I found myself updating the molecular biology section, where so many monumental discoveries have occurred during the past 25 years. In the process of updating that section I decided to include the first drafts of the human genome in 2001.

I like the symmetry of starting the chronology at roughly 2000 BCE and ending the documentation at around 2000: specifically 2001.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Updating Birth and Death Dates: A Much Easier Process 25 Years Later

When I worked on the 5th book-form edition of the bibliography 25 years ago finding birth and death dates was a time-consuming look-up process in libraries--so much so that I rarely attempted to fill in the information. This was probably also the case for my predecessor in the project, Leslie Morton. Years ago one of the only convenient ways to know a death date was from reading an obituary when it appeared in the newspaper, etc. Today, with so much indexed on the Internet, including newspaper obituaries and Wikipedia articles, and digital versions of biographical tools like Munk's Roll, finding biographical details tends to be so much easier. In the month since the bibliography went online I have been able to fill in around 1000 birth or death dates, and in some cases I have also corrected misspellings in author names. However, as one would expect, there are still several hundred of these that have eluded me, so far.

Another aspect to this part of the project is that so many of the authors have passed in the 25 years that elapsed since the 5th printed edition and the new online edition. As I filled in hundreds of death dates I felt peculiarly like an undertaker, at least from the record-keeping standpoint.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Correcting an Old Error in Entry 918 on Respiratory Muscle Function

Today I was very pleased to receive from my colleague and friend Fritz Dieter Söhn of Marburg, Germany, a correction for the Georg Erhard Hamburger entry (No. 918). Book form editions of this bibliography incorrectly cited the third edition of 1748 instead of the first edition of 1727, in which the observation was first published. As a result of Fritz's very helpful information and references, the entry and its annotation are now very much improved.

One of the many great advantages of having the bibliography functioning as a dynamic database online rather than a printed book is the ability to make corrections and additions. Revisions, additions, corrections are always welcome.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Women in Medicine & Biology: Hidden in Plain Sight

At the ALHHS meeting Rachel Ingold of Duke University reminded me of her special interest in the history of women in medicine.  It then occurred to me that as I had prepared the new subject index, working my way through the nearly 9000 entries in the bibliography, I had been only half cognizant of this subject, and had probably missed numerous entries written by women. "Women in Medicine & Biology" in the subject index then showed only about 28 entries, I believe. After the meeting, as I began to standardize author names, I tried to pay special care to make sure that all the women authors were indexed under that subject topic, and on May 7 I emailed Rachel to tell her that I had 70 entries indexed to the subject--frankly more than I had expected to find.  However, I spoke prematurely since, as of this morning, there are now 109, and I suspect that some papers and books by women authors are still missing from that index.

It would be naive to ignore the obvious male bias since 1912 in the selection and composition of the bibliography; however, considering that I am surprised at how many entries by women the bibliography actually contains.  Obviously, this is an area in which major expansion is necessary.

Additions to Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy

When I prepared the fifth edition roughly 25 years ago I was struck by the extreme lack of coverage of "alternative medicine. " At that time I had studied the western references on acupuncture, and added a new section covering significant Western works on that subject.  These still appear to be well chosen selections, though I will continue to add in this subject.

In revisiting the manuscript for the new online version I noticed that there only 3 entries on homeopathy, one of the most popular "alternative medicine" practices, even though the published literature on homeopathy is enormous, especially during the 19th century. To begin to fill in this very significant historical gap I enlisted the help of my friend Bill Kirtsos, who provided 22 new entries on the topic, which I adapted to the style of the bibliography. The homeopathy section is now much improved. Thanks very much Bill.

Launching the New Website; Standardizing Author Names

We launched, the online interactive version of my 1991 printed edition of "Garrison-Morton", at the meeting of Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences ( held in New Haven, Connecticut on April 29-30, 2015. Having a deadline for a functioning version of the site was a helpful, and perhaps a necessary incentive for making a presentable version available by a specific date.

Since then, as is my habit, I continue to read, correct, revised, and expand the entries. In the process I am continually reminded of differences between the mechanics of editing the site online compared to editing the manuscript for the printed book roughly 25 years ago. These differences are among the topics I intend to explore in this blog.

One of the issues that I did not have time to work on before we launched the site was standardizing author names. Users of the book or the new database may know that some authors have multiple entries in the database, reflecting the significance of different books or papers in different subject areas. When I edited the manuscript for the fifth edition I was working with a series of about ten Microsoft Word files, as the program could not then handle a manuscript that long in one file. I recall carrying these files around on the clunky slow laptop I used at the time, and carefully backing up the files on a series of floppy diskettes after making changes or additions to the manuscript. Under those circumstances it was possible to enter in different versions of the same author name, without being readily able to check to see if the entered version conformed to the way the name had been previously recorded for other entries. Because of the way the new database is organized all the author names appear alphabetically, making duplicated entries, or misspelled names relatively easy to spot. Then it is a matter of deleting the duplicated name entries, and assigning the correct author name to all relevant entries in the database.