ASPB News Bioethics Imperative Story

Stories from Others

by Tamara Turner
Librarian and editor, Seattle, September 2003

Once in the mid-1990s, when I was editing a medical journal, I was suspicious of a reference a doctor had used because it was from 1814. I doubted whether he had read it and wondered if it was a correct citation anyway. It was not. I used Science Citation Index to track it and found dozens of articles that cited the 1814 article, each with a slight variation on the article’s title and all with different pages listed for the beginning and end of the article. The journal was British and was not held by the National Library of Medicine. Eventually, with the help of Sarah N. Dippity, I discovered a set of the journal in question in the private office of a doctor on the East Coast. His widow answered the phone and told me she was 93 years old but just loved to go into her husband’s old office and help the researchers who were carrying on his work. She brought the volume in question to the phone and painstakingly read me the title of the article (different from every other instance of it that I had come across), the volume and issue numbers, and the inclusive page number. She also volunteered to read the article to me, since it was only one page long. Guess what? The article had absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the article that had been submitted to me for our journal. The author had seen the reference in a paper he’d read and cited it blindly.”