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Inaccuracies And Useless Debates Associated With The Use Of Secondary References.

A. Mudry, R. Ruben, W. Pirsig
Published 2011 · Medicine

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We are really disappointed by the saga born after the publication of “Peripheral facial palsy in the past: contri­ butions from Avicenna, Nicolaus Friedrich and Charles Bell”, written by Resende and Weber. The controversy be­ gan with the statement that “Charles Bell [...] himself had right peripheral facial paralysis”. This hypothesis generat­ ed a letter to the editor by Korteweg et al. which clearly demonstrates that this affirmation was not based on origi­ nal documents, but on interpretation of secondary sourc­ es, and that it was erroneous. The authors’ reply intro­ duced new doubtful pictorial arguments not mentioned in the first publication. Once again, Korteweg et al. re­ plied in proving that these new arguments were based on invalid suppositions and that they can’t be used to support the fact that Bell had himself a facial paralysis. This time, the authors’ reply added some inadequate “per­ sonal” comments, which have nothing to do with a con­ structive and scholarly discussion. Such kind of saga is no more acceptable in a well educated exchange of knowl­ edge. The historian’s task is to assemble a sufficient num­ ber of facts, based on valid original documents; history takes shape from these and can then be discussed and in­ terpreted. Theoretical reflection is sometimes harmful, because it can introduce erroneous speculation. Original Bell’s publications demonstrate that Bell never describes that he was suffering himself of a facial palsy and no ex­ isting portraits confirm this hypothesis. Resende and Weber support the affirmation of Kor­ teweg et al. that “we should always check the primary sources concerned”, but they do not apply it in their writ­ ings. How can they discuss the contributions of Avicenna, Nicolaus Friedreich and Charles Bell without mentioning their original contributions? Their article contains inaccu­ racies such as the following sentence concerning Charles Bell: “His first case of peripheral facial palsy was pub­ lished in 1821, and his most important paper was pub­ lished in 1828”. Two debatable points are found here: the text published in 1821 effectively contains a case of a man which “had the trunk of the respiratory nerve of the face injured by suppuration”, but not a case of idiopathic pe­ ripheral facial palsy later named after Bell. Its major con­ cerns is the description of the anatomy of the “respirato­ ry nerve of the face”, i.e. the facial nerve, and the results obtained after sectioning the nerve in animals. It is not in 1828 but in 1827 that Bell published his main text deal­ ing with the description of a case of peripheral facial pal­ sy which bears his name. Thus the first case of a Bell’s pal­ sy was described by Bell in 1827 and not in 1821. These are typical examples of inaccuracies generated with the use of secondary references as often found in the med­ ical literature. Further, Resende and Weber used main­ ly Jongkees’s publication as indisputable reference. Once again this publication contains inaccuracies, the first dis­ puted one being the interpretation of the original text of Bell. The German translation made by Jongkees is incom­ plete, because Jongkees did not mention the first part of the original Bell’s text which clearly explains that it was a professor named Roux who was suffering from a right facial palsy and not Bell himself, thus leading Jongkees to wrongly think that Bell had himself a facial paralysis. If we closer look Jongkees’ text we can find other inaccura­ cies, for example when he wrote that Falloppio: “schrieb nur ein Buch” “Observationes anatomicae” (wrote only one book)”. This is wrong: Falloppio also wrote at least two other books: Lectiones de partibus similaribus corporis humani. His accessere diversorum animalium sceletorum explicationes iconibus illustratae. Norimberg: Ger­ lachius, 1575, and Opera, quae adhuc extant, omnia. Ve­ netiis: Valgrisius, 1584. Even more, Jongkees mentions in reference three Bell’s articles published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. The first one has wrong pages, the second one does not exist and the third one has also wrong pages! Jonckees also did not mention the exact reference of 1827 Bell’s text. How
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