On a medical misattribution [quotation research]

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 25 00:33:46 UTC 2013

Earlier this year, Brad Spellberg and I published an article refuting
the assertion that William H. Stewart, U.S. Surgeon General under
Presidents Johnson and Nixon, had pronounced during his tenure (before
the emergence in the U.S. of HIV and similar) that

"It is time to close the book on infectious diseases, and declare the
war against pestilence won."

Not only is the belief that Stewart had asserted this ingrained in the
infectious disease and public health communities, but it’s also been
embraced by members of the lay public who see the attribution as a
supreme example of scientific hubris and shortsightedness.  It's
unfortunate that this misattribution has become a part of the late
Surgeon General's legacy.

Several of you are interested in quotation research, so I thought I'd
mention this work, which appeared in *Infectious Diseases of Poverty*.

The (free) full text of the paper can be found at

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3707092/pdf/2049-9957-2-3.pdf (PDF)


http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3707092/ (HTML; I'm afraid
there are some formatting problems in this version)

I should note that although it took us just a few months to do the
research and write the manuscript, it took years and several
submissions to various peer-reviewed medical journals to see this
published.  More than once during the cycles of manuscript submission
and rejection we were presented with a particularly discouraging
question from a reviewer, "What difference does it make whether he
said it or not?"

-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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