Shells and pebbles


How do you write?

Door Timo Bolt

In mijn vorige bijdrage aan Shells & Pebbles, getiteld ‘why do you write?’, schreef ik over een ingezonden brief die onder diezelfde kop in 1976 werd gepubliceerd in The Lancet. De auteur, de Ierse arts J.B. Healy, vroeg zich daarin af waarom er zo ‘monsterlijk’ veel artikelen in medische tijdschriften werden gepubliceerd. Was het hoofddoel nieuwe kennis te verspreiden en de geneeskunde te verbeteren? Of ging het primair om het publiceren van zoveel mogelijk papers, in het belang van de auteur(s) zelf? Om deze vragen te kunnen beantwoorden deed Healy het voorstel om voor de periode van een jaar een moratorium in te stellen ‘on the appending of authors’ names and of the names of hospitals to articles in medical journals.’ Mocht vervolgens blijken dat er veel minder artikelen zouden worden aangeboden aan tijdschriftredacties, dan zou de medisch-wetenschappelijke gemeenschap ‘zichzelf ontmaskerd hebben’, aldus Healy.



On little boys and furry animals – or what happened to Little Albert?

By Ivan Flis

Every scientific discipline has its famous experiments. The case is no different for psychology. In the company of famous psychological experiments, one study is often mentioned as the fulcrum of the behaviorist revolution of American psychology – the story of a little boy named Albert and the attempt to teach him fear. (more…)

The Riddle of the Phantom Island

By Daniel Stinsky

Maps contain lots of information in a condensed and abstract visual format. We trust maps to depict reality, and we trust that they are produced with scientific rigor. But as the fairly recent case of a “phantom island” in the Coral Sea shows, maps can contain false information, even in the age of satellite imagery. A historical perspective on the way geographical data was communicated in the past helps to understand how such false information got reproduced and eventually found its way from the late 18th century into Google Maps.


Purity or performance

By Bert Theunissen

Of all sports horses competing at the most recent Olympic Games, 30 % were Dutch-bred. And of the ten gold medals available, five were awarded to horses from the Netherlands.

This is a remarkable achievement, considering that the Dutch do not have a long tradition in horse breeding like the Germans, the English and the French. Especially France and Germany, which had state-sponsored studs for centuries, have long been in the lead in sports such as show jumping and dressage, while England has been famous for its Thoroughbred racing horses since the late eighteenth century.


Embedded in History. An interview with Professor Norton M. Wise.

By Jorrit Smit

On the Sunday before Christmas, I bike to the UCLA campus in Westwood for the last time. Out of breath and full of sweat after climbing the hill in a boringly radiant sun, I find professor Norton Wise waiting for me outside Bunche Hall. With a special key he activates the elevator, which takes us to the sixth floor and his office. The quarter has already ended, the campus is deserted, but the climate control still runs full power. Under these circumstances, Wise and I speak about sources, philosophy and himself in the history of science. Norton Wise was previously director of the history of science program at Princeton University, and returned to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2000 to become Distinguished Professor in History and soon Co-Director of the Institute for Society and Genetics (until 2011).

Norton Wise

Norton Wise by the Wannsee, Berlin.


Grote dikke boeken

Door Floris Solleveld

“Goedemiddag, ik had zeven boeken aangevraagd, ik weet niet of ze er al zijn?”

“Jaaaa”, zei de bibliothecaris grinnikend, “die zijn er al”, en keek naar de kar waarop de Description de l’Egypte lag opgestapeld, zeven dozen van 100×70 cm, een stapel van zeker een halve meter hoog. En dit waren dan nog alleen de platen. Ik had eerder omvangrijke werken aangevraagd, maar dit was toch wel de overtreffende trap.


“Why do you write?”

Door Timo Bolt

Tijdens mijn onderzoek naar de (voor)geschiedenis van evidence-based medicine stuitte ik min of meer bij toeval op onderstaande brief in the Lancet van 24 januari 1976.

Why do you write?

Sir, – The number of medical papers published is monstruous large. How much has one really learned from last year’s erratic efforts to read journals? And think of all the work involved in producing the published and unpublished papers, the millions of blood-samples, and the laboratory tests, and of all the assistants, medical and paramedical, who had to be employed; and think of all the people who were measured and tested as controls. Was the primary object of all this to improve the treatment of disease or to publish papers? If the former, then publishing is only a secondary object – that of letting other doctors know something that may be of use to them. But if publication is the primary object, then one naturally suspects that the work is being done for advancement and benefit of the author(s); it is scarcely being done for the benefit of other practitioners.