You are here: Controversies / Barry Blackwell: The lithium controversy: A historical autopsy / Hector Warnes' reply to Samuel Gershon's question
Tuesday, 28.03.2017

Hector Warnes’ reply to Samuel Gershon’s question

Barry Blackwell: Lithium controversy - Hector Warnes’ answer to Samuel Gershon’s question

In my humble opinion, the editorial board of the journal should carefully analyse papers which are submitted to the Journal of Bipolar Disorders looking for priorities, plagiarism, cryptomnesia and serendipity. According to Webster’s American Dictionary, the latter word was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 and it means: “an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally”. The case in point was the fortuitous  and serendipitous observation by Alexander
Fleming at St. Mary’s Hospital in London in 1928 that a Penicillium mold inhibited the Staphylococcus left in a Petri dish and prevented the bacterial growth around the mold (Haven, Kendall F, 1944, Marvels of Science: 50 Fascinating 5 Minute Reads, Littleton. CO: Libraries Unlimited, p. 182).

 Plagiarism means: “to take ideas, writings, etc. from and pass them off as one’s own”. This l believe constitutes ethical misconduct. Cryptomnesia is the act of writing a ’supposed’ discovery or idea as one’s own when in fact the real discoverer or source of the idea or discovery is another person whom was forgotten by the person who claims it was his own (from crypt: to hide). It refers to an unconscious lapsus. A scientist or famous writer with an impeccable background may occasionally lapse into cryptomnesia and when this is pointed out by his colleagues, he would readily admit his mistake or oblivion and after further research, he would be prepared to attribute his work to the original author.

 In question of priority, there was a wonderful example regarding the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV is a retrovirus which was identified in a lymph node and was thought to be associated with AIDS (Barré-Sinouesi F, Cherman JC. Montagnier L et al. Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency, published in Science 1983 220 (4599) 868-871).  The priority of the discovery of this retrovirus (between two top virologists Luc Montagnier from France and Robert Gallo from the USA) led to an enquiry and both contenders clarified their position in an  amiable manner (Gallo, RC, Montagnier L, 2002. Historical Essay. Prospects for the future.  Science 298 (5599) 1730-1.


Hector Warnes
December 17, 2015