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Barry Blackwell’s response to Gordon Johnson’s reply re Cade

Barry Blackwell: Lithium Controversy


My comments concerning Cade’s behavior towards Gershon and Trautner was more about the sociology of scientific behavior in the discovery process than about the discovery of lithium itself, which we have all gratefully and respectfully acknowledged. Nothing of what is now published on INHN differs from what I said to Cade’s face, in 1970 (Blackwell, 1971), although I never suspected he was indicted, and perhaps neither did he. But, as Robert Merton so eloquently described in his writings, further events continue to confirm what the history of science reveals (which is what this website is about). There is a sad, well-documented tendency for some scientists, in positions of power, to stifle or ignore the contributions of junior colleagues, involved in major discoveries, in order to inflate their own contributions and reputations (see my Essay on Adumbration in “Controversies”). Sometimes the victim of this sad tendency is determined and gifted enough to survive and prosper, but others may find their career in jeopardy, particularly if they complain.

Careful re-reading of Sam Gershon’s comments places him in the former category and he is generous enough to suggest we can “move on”. So, the only purpose of this further and final comment is to make a clear distinction between unjustifiable “ad hominem” attacks on a dead scientist and an historical reminder that distinguished scientists, who make important discoveries and whom we admire, sometimes fail in their educational responsibility as mentors of those who seek to learn from and emulate them.

It is as easy to criticize the first tendency as it is to forget the latter, burying the truth beneath political correctness.

Blackwell B. The Process of Discovery. In Ayd F, Blackwell B, editors. Discoveries in Biological Psychiatry. Philadelphia: Lippincott; 1970, pp. 9-29.


Barry Blackwell

October 15, 2015