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A difficult case: Diagnosis made by hallucinatory voices

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Introduction A previously healthy woman began to hear hallucinatory voices telling her to have a brain scan for a tumour. The prediction was true; she was operated on and had an uneventful recovery. No previous illnesses Born in continental Europe in the mid-1940s the patient settled in Britain in the late 1960s. After a series of jobs, she got married, started a family, and settled down to a full time commitment as a housewife and mother. She rarely went to her general practitioner as she enjoyed good health and had never had any hospital treatment. Her children had also been in good health. In the winter of 1984, as she was at home reading, she heard a distinct voice inside her head. The voice told her, “Please don't be afraid. I know it must be shocking for you to hear me speaking to you like this, but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend and I used to work at the Children's Hospital, Great Ormond Street, and we would like to help you.” AB had heard of the Children's Hospital, but did not know where it was and had never visited it. Her children were well, so she had no reason to worry about them. This made it all the more frightening for her, and the voice intervened again: “To help you see that we are sincere, we would like you to check out the following”—and the voice gave her three separate pieces of information, which she did not possess at the time. She checked them out, and they were true, but this did not help because she had already come to the conclusion that she had “gone mad.” In a state of panic, AB went to see her doctor, who referred her urgently to me. I saw her at the psychiatric outpatients clinic, and diagnosed a functional hallucinatory psychosis. I offered general supportive counselling as well as medication with thioridazine. To her great relief, the voices inside her head disappeared after a couple of weeks of treatment, and she went off on holiday. While she was abroad, and still taking the thioridazine, the voices returned. They told her that they wanted her to return to England immediately as there was something wrong with her for which she should have immediate treatment. By this time, she was also having other beliefs of a delusional nature. She returned to London and I saw her again at my outpatients clinic. By this time, the voices had given her an address to go to. Reluctantly, and just to reassure her that it was all in her mind, her husband took her by car to the address in question; it was the computerised tomography department of a large London hospital. As she arrived there, the voices told her to go in and ask to have a brain scan for two reasons—she had a tumour in her brain and her brain stem was inflamed. Because the voices had told her things in the past that had turned out to be true, AB believed them when they said that she had a tumour and was in a state of great distress when I saw her the next day. Brain scan requested In order to reassure her, I requested a brain scan, explaining in my letter that hallucinatory voices had told her that she had a brain tumour, that I had not, personally, found any physical signs suggestive of an intracranial space occupying lesion, and that the purpose of the scan was essentially to reassure the patient. The request was initially declined, on the grounds that there was no clinical justification for such an expensive investigation. It was also implied that I had gone a little overboard, believing what my patient's hallucinatory voices were telling her. Eventually, after some negotiation, the scan was done in April. The initial findings led to a repeat scan, with enhancement, in May, revealing a left posterior frontal parafalcine mass, which extended through the falx to the right side. It had all the appearances of a meningioma. The consultant neurosurgeon to whom I referred AB noted the absence of headache or any other focal neurological deficits related to this mass, and discussed, with AB and her husband, the pros and cons of immediate operation as against waiting for symptoms to appear. In the end, it was agreed to proceed with an immediate operation. AB's voices told her that they were fully in agreement with that decision. These were the notes of the operation, carried out in May 1984: “A large left frontal bone flap extending across the midline was turned following a bifrontal skin flap incision. Meningioma about 2.5” by 1.5” in size arose from the falx and extended through to the right side. A small area of tumour appeared on the medial surface of the brain. The tumour was dissected out and removed completely along with its origins in the falx.” AB later told me that when she recovered consciousness after the operation the voices told her, “We are pleased to have helped you. Goodbye.” There were no postoperative complications. The dosage of dexamethasone was halved every four days, and then it was stopped. She was on prophylactic anticonvulsants for six months. Antipsychotic medication was discontinued immediately after the operation, and there was no return of the hallucinatory voices or the delusions which she had expressed. Discussion AB telephoned me last Christmas to wish me and family a merry festive season, and to tell me that she had been completely well in the 12 years since the operation. It was this telephone call that brought this case to mind again. It is well known that intracranial lesions can be associated with psychiatric symptomatology. But this is the first and only instance I have come across in which hallucinatory voices sought to reassure the patient of their genuine interest in her welfare, offered her a specific diagnosis (there were no clinical signs that would have alerted anyone to the tumour), directed her to the type of hospital best equipped to deal with her problem, expressed pleasure that she had at last received the treatment they desired for her, bid her farewell, and thereafter disappeared. I presented her case at a conference later that year. AB attended and was closely questioned by several people about the various aspects of her experience. The audience was split down the middle. People who would be called X-philes today rejoiced that what had happened to her was a clear instance of telepathic communication from two well meaning people who had, psychically, found that AB had a tumour and sought to help her. The X-phobes had a very different formulation. According to them, AB had been given the diagnosis of a brain tumour in her original country and wanted to be treated free under the NHS. Hence, they surmised, she had made up the convoluted tale about voices telling her this and that. But AB had lived in Britain for 15 years and was entitled to NHS treatment. Besides, she had been so relieved when the voices first disappeared on thioridazine that she had gone on holiday to celebrate the recovery of her sanity. There was a group at the case conference who offered a different opinion. Their view was that, the total lack of physical signs notwithstanding, it was unlikely that a tumour of that size had had absolutely no effect on the patient. “She must have felt something,” they argued. They suggested that a funny feeling in her head had led her to fear that she had a brain tumour. That fear had led to her experience of hallucinatory voices. She may have unconsciously taken in more information about various hospitals than she realised, and this information was reproduced by her mind as part of the auditory hallucinatory experience. The voices expressing satisfaction with the outcome of her treatment were her own mind expressing its relief that the emergency was over. And the total disappearance of psychiatric symptoms after the removal of the tumour showed that these symptoms were at least directly related to the presence of the lesion—and may, in fact, have been produced by the lesion itself. I have obtained the patient's signed consent to publication.
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Education and debate
Medicine as a profession
Hip, Hip, Hippocrates: extracts from The Hippocratic Doctor
John Fabre
What do doctors know of Hippocrates? Many have seen a
presumed likeness of “the father of medicine”—a sharp eyed,
balding Greek in a toga, often under a tree. Some may
remember taking the Hippocratic Oath, which contains the
laudable injunction to “first do no harm. (In fact, it doesn’t,
just as nobody says: “Play it again, Sam” in “Casablanca”.)
Those who have checked the oath recently will know that it
takes an unfashionable stance on abortion, euthanasia, and
women in medicine.
For a man who influenced 2500 years of medical practice
the historical record is very hazy. Historians have now
decided that the great body of writings that bears his name is
better known as the Hippocratic Corpus, having being
written over at least 70 years by many different hands, none
of them definitely Hippocrates’. Unsurprisingly, these
multiauthor volumes have their internal inconsistencies,
abrupt changes of style and tone, and incompatible world
views.
But much sounds very modern, and this forms the
basis of John Fabre’s new book, “The Hippocratic
Doctor: Ancient Lessons for the Modern World”. In writing it,
Fabre found it necessary to scour virtually the entire corpus
to put together Hippocratic thinking on a particular
issue. He has grouped extracts from 50 treatises under eight
main themes. What follows are selections from Fabre’s book
used to illustrate four of these themes.—Tony Delamothe,
BMJ
The Hippocratic doctor
On Fractures (chapter I)—“In fact the treatment of a
fractured arm is not difficult, and is almost any
practitioner’s job, but I have to write a good deal about
it because I know practitioners who have got credit for
wisdom by putting arms in positions which ought
rather to have given them a name for ignorance. And
many other parts of this art are judged thus: for they
praise what seems outlandish before they know
whether it is good, rather than the customary which
they already know to be good; the bizarre rather than
the obvious.1
On Joints (chapter LXXVII)
“What you should put
first in all the practice of our art is how to make the
patient well; and if he can be made well in many ways,
one should choose the least troublesome. This is more
honourable and more in accord with the art for anyone
who is not covetous of the false coin of popular adver-
tisement.”1
Physician (chapter I)—“The dignity of a physician
requires that he should look healthy, and as plump as
nature intended him to be; for the common crowd
consider those who are not of this excellent bodily
condition to be unable to take care of others. Then
he must be clean in person, well dressed, and anointed
with sweet-smelling unguents that are beyond
suspicion. For all these things are pleasing to people
who are ill, and he must pay attention to this. In
matters of the mind, let him be prudent, not only with
regard to silence, but also in having a great regularity of
life, since this is very important in respect of
reputation; he must be a gentleman in character, and
being this he must be grave and kind to all. For an
over-forward obtrusiveness is despised, even though it
may be very useful ... In appearance, let him be of a
serious but not harsh countenance; for harshness is
taken to mean arrogance and unkindness, while a man
of controlled laughter and excessive gaiety is
considered vulgar, and vulgarity especially must be
avoided.2
Precepts (chapter IV)—“Should you begin by discuss-
ing fees, you will suggest to the patient either that you
will go away and leave him if no agreement be reached,
or that you will neglect him and not prescribe any
immediate treatment. So one must not be anxious
about fixing a fee. For I consider such a worry to be
harmful to a troubled patient, particularly if the disease
be acute. For the quickness of the disease, offering no
opportunity for turning back, spurs on the good
AKG PHOTO
The Hippocratic
Doctor: Ancient
Lessons for the
Modern World by
John Fabre is
published this
month by the Royal
Society of Medicine
Press, price £9.95
(ISBN
1-85315-339-7),
and may be ordered
through the BMJ
Bookshop.
BMJ 1997;315:1669–74
1669BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
physician not to seek his profit but rather to lay hold on
reputation. Therefore it is better to reproach a patient
you have saved than to extort money from those who
are at death’s door.”3
Precepts (chapter VI)—“I urge you not to be too
unkind, but to consider carefully your patient’s supera-
bundance or means. Sometimes give your services for
nothing, calling to mind a previous benefaction or
present satisfaction. And if there be an opportunity of
serving one who is a stranger in financial straits, give
full assistance to all such. For where there is love of
man, there is also love of the art.3
Precepts (chapter VIII)—“A physician does not violate
etiquette even if, being in difficulties on occasion over a
patient and in the dark through inexperience, he
should urge the calling in of others, in order to learn by
consultation the truth about the case, and in order
that there may be fellow-workers to afford abundant
help.4
Laws (chapter I)—“Medicine is the most
distinguished of all the arts, but through the ignorance
of those who practise it, and of those who casually
judge such practitioners, it is now of all the arts by far
the least esteemed. The chief reason for this error
seems to me to be this: medicine is the only art which
our states have made subject to no penalty save that of
dishonour, and dishonour does not wound those who
are compacted of it. Such men in fact are very like the
supernumeraries in tragedies. Just as these have the
appearance, dress and mask of an actor without being
actors, so too with physicians; many are physicians by
repute, very few are such in reality.4
Ancient Medicine (chapter IX)—“For most physicians
seem to me to be in the same case as bad pilots; the
mistakes of the latter are unnoticed so long as they are
steering in a calm, but when a great storm overtakes
them with a violent gale, all men realise clearly then
that it is their ignorance and blundering which have
lost the ship. So also when bad physicians, who
comprise the great majority, treat men who are suffer-
ing from no serious complaint, so that the greatest of
blunders would not affect them seriously
such
illnesses occur very often, being far more common
than serious disease
they are not shown up in their
true colours to laymen if their errors are confined to
such cases; but when they meet with a severe, violent
and dangerous illness, then it is that their errors and
want of skill are manifest to all. The punishment of the
impostor, whether sailor or doctor, is not postponed,
but follows speedily.3
The Hippocratic tradition of rational
medicine
Precepts (chapter I)—“Healing is a matter of time, but
it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. However,
knowing this, one must attend in medical practice not
primarily to plausible theories, but to experience com-
bined with reason.”3
Precepts (chapter II)—“ . . . conclusions which are
merely verbal cannot bear fruit, only those do which
are based on demonstrated fact. For affirmation and
talk are deceptive and treacherous. Wherefore one
must hold fast to facts in generalisations also, and
occupy oneself with facts persistently, if one is to
acquire that ready and infallible habit which we call ‘the
art of medicine.’ ”3
Hippocratic approaches to therapy
Epidemics VI (section 5,chapter I)—“The body’s nature
is the physician in disease. Nature finds the way for
herself, not from thought ...Welltrained, readily and
without instruction, nature does what is needed.5
Regimen in Acute Diseases (chapter VII)—“And it
seems to me worthwhile to write on such matters as are
not yet ascertained by physicians, though knowledge
thereof is important, and on them depend great
benefit or great harm. For instance, it has not been
ascertained why in acute diseases some physicians
think that the correct treatment is to give unstrained
barley-gruel throughout the illness; while others
consider it to be of first-rate importance for the patient
to swallow no particle of barley,holding that to do so is
very harmful, but strain the juice through a cloth
before they give it.”4
Dreams, haemorrhoids, and other
miscellaneous points
Regimen IV (chapter LXXXVI)—“He who has learnt
aright about the signs that come in sleep will find
that they have an important influence upon all things.
For when the body is awake the soul is its servant,
and is never her own mistress, but divides her attention
among many things, assigning a part of it to each
faculty of the body
to hearing, to sight, to touch, to
walking, and to acts of the whole body; but the mind
never enjoys independence. But when the body is at
rest, the soul, being set in motion and awake, adminis-
ters her own household, and of herself performs all
the acts of the body. For the body when asleep has no
perception; but the soul when awake has cognizance of
all things
sees what is visible, hears what is audible,
walks, touches, feels pain, ponders. In a word, all the
functions of body and of soul are performed by the
soul during sleep. Whoever, therefore, knows how to
interpret these acts aright knows a great part of
wisdom.”6
The Sacred Disease (chapter XVII)—“Men ought to
know that from the brain, and from the brain only,
arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as
our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in par-
ticular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly
from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant
from the unpleasant.”4
1 Withington ET. Hippocrates, Volume III. London: Loeb Classical Library,
Harvard University Press, 1928.
2 Potter P. Hippocrates,VolumeVIII .London: Loeb Classical Librar y,Har vard
University Press, 1995.
3 Jones WHS. Hippocrates, Volume I. London: Loeb Classical Library,
Harvard University Press, 1923.
4 Jones WHS. Hippocrates, Volume II. London: Loeb Classical Library,
Harvard University Press, 1923.
5 Smith WD. Hippocrates, Volume VII . London: Loeb Classical Library, Har-
vard University Press, 1994.
6 Jones WHS. Hippocrates, Volume IV . London: Loeb Classical Library, Har-
vard University Press, 1931.
MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY
Education and debate
1670 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
Swearing to care: the resurgence in medical oaths
Brian Hurwitz, Ruth Richardson
We are witnessing a resurgence of professional interest
in medical oaths and codes of conduct. In the United
Kingdom the General Medical Council has reissued its
professional code and, together with the BMA, the
royal colleges, and other organisations,has published a
document on the “core values” of medical practice.12
There has been discussion of the role of oath taking at
the end of medical training, and the BMA has drafted a
new Hippocratic Oath on behalf of the World Medical
Association (see third box).3–11 The American Medical
Association has this year commemorated the 150th
anniversary of its 1847 Code of Ethics with an
extensive debate on the relevance of oaths and codes to
modern practice.12–14
In many Western countries the process of
refashioning health care to contain costs is precipitat-
ing rapid flux in the social relationships of medical
practice. Doctors are no longer in a simple clinical
relationship with patients: the structure of health serv-
ices now involves them in many other tasks, some of
which may entail conflicting responsibilities. Funding
organisations and managers increasingly influence the
nature and extent of the care which can be provided. At
the same time, health care has become multidiscipli-
nary in nature and multiagency in delivery. Scientific
advances and new technological capabilities throw up
difficult and sometimes bizarre moral predicaments.
All these changes make for greater moral complexity
in everyday practice.
The medical profession is being forced to face hard
choices in patient care and to re-examine its own role
in health care, causing it to look again at the nature of
its own values. The Hippocratic Oath is being
re-examined afresh for moral guidance. Traditionally a
solemn promise invoking supernatural authority as
witness, the oath entails making a covenant with other
members of the profession to share knowledge freely,
to respect one’s teachers, and to behave towards
patients according to the Hippocratic Code (box).
There follows the conditional curse invoked upon
transgressors, which includes censure by and exclusion
from the profession and from human happiness.
The changing oath
Problems and controversies surround the textual
authenticity and meaning of the original oath. It is not
clear if or how much Hippocrates himself contributed
to it, or how much it influenced health care in ancient
Greece. It is probable that only a minority of doctors
swore the oath. Some of its prohibitions seem to fly in
the face of what is known about clinical practice in
ancient Greece, which included surgery, abortion, and
tolerance of infanticide.31617
Those who have administered the oath during suc-
ceeding centuries have taken it on themselves to omit,
add to, and change its clauses. For example,
Elizabethan renditions required doctors to provide
gratuitous care to the poor and not to flee from but to
treat victims of plague.3Present day versions tend to be
agnostic on these matters.
A recent exegesis describes the oath as “a solemn
promise: (a) of solidarity with teachers and other phy-
sicians; (b) of beneficence and non-maleficence towards
patients; (c) not to assist suicide or abortion; (d)toleave
surgery to surgeons; (e) not to harm, especially not to
seduce patients; (f) to maintain confidentiality and
never to gossip.18 Tensions between the impetus of the
original oath and the modern endeavour to ensure
good practice according to bioethical principles are
apparent in this text. Values aand d, which seek to fos-
ter an archaic professional exclusivity, sit uncomfort-
ably with b,e, and f, which modern doctors would
regard as fundamental principles: beneficence, non-
maleficence, and confidentiality. Such incongruities
point up the difficulties of applying the original oath to
present day medical care. Many institutions bypass the
Summary points
Oath taking commits doctors to observe an
ethical code
New obligations thrust on doctors may conflict
with their first responsibility to care for patients
Complex and sometimes bizarre moral
predicaments emerge from scientific advances
and new technological capabilities
Modern health care is provided by
multidisciplinary teams in multiagency
environments
A pan-professional oath could allow all health
carers to share a commitment to core values
Hippocratic Code
“I will follow that system of regimen which, according
to my ability and judgement, I consider for the benefit
of my patients, and abstain from whatever is
deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly
medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such
counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman
a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with
holiness I will pass my life and practise my Art. I will
not cut persons labouring under the stone, but will
leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of
this work. Into whatever houses I enter,I will go into
them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from
every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and
further, from the seduction of females or males, of
freemen and slaves. Whatever, in connection with my
professional practice or not in connection with it, I see
or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be
spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that
all such should be kept secret.”15
Education and debate
See editorial by
Berwick et al
Department of
Primary Care,
Imperial College
School of Medicine,
St Mary’s Campus,
London W2 1PG
Brian Hurwitz,
senior lecturer
Wellcome Research
Fellow in the
History of
Medicine,
Department of
Anatomy, University
College London,
London WC1E
6BT
Ruth Richardson,
historian
Correspondence to:
Dr Hurwitz
b.hurwitz@ic.ac.uk
BMJ 1997;315:1671–4
1671BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
problem altogether by administering oaths which are
entirely modern in content, but which are titled
Hippocratic.19
Who takes the oath?
Surveys show that about half of the medical schools in
the United Kingdom and almost all of those in the
United States administer an oath of some kind, mostly
at graduation but occasionally earlier, a few at the out-
set of medical studies. Some use a modernised version
of the Hippocratic Oath or of the Prayer of
Maimonides, others use the Declaration of Geneva
(box), and others still, their own institutional oath. The
process of oath taking differs: some schools ask for
graduands’ affirmation by signature, in others the oath
is read out or students recite it together during the
graduation ceremony.6919The question of how volun-
tary such oath taking is has not been well documented.
We have heard of no students who have opted out, or
what would happen if they so chose.
Oaths and ethics
To the extent that oaths indicate a commitment to firm
moral parameters, their affirmation may strengthen
doctors’ resolve to behave with integrity in extreme cir-
cumstances. This was the finding of a BMA working
party investigating medical involvement in and
resistance to human rights abuses. This group
recommended that “medical schools incorporate
medical ethics into the core curriculum, and that all
medical graduates make a commitment, by means of
affirmation,to observe an ethical code.”21
In the United Kingdom the GMC’s code Duties of a
Doctor has evolved over time in response to alleged
breaches of its guidance, changes in the organisation of
health care, new law, and changing mores in society.22
Since it has a statutory basis and carries great
professional authority, what could swearing an oath
add to it?
We have not located any studies which examine
whether oath taking affects doctors’ competence to
deliberate effectively on ethical matters. The main
intention of a medical oath seems to be to declare the
core values of the profession and to engender and
strengthen the necessary resolve in doctors to
exemplify professional integrity, including traditional
moral virtues such as compassion and honesty. Oaths
also provide moral orientation through rule-like
precepts and prohibitions, from which generalities the
practitioner is left to infer or extrapolate to the specif-
ics of everyday practice. Medical codes on the other
hand seek to clarify the means by which such moral
ends can be achieved, by offering guidance for
everyday practice, outlining applicability in exemplary
cases together with grounds for identifying exceptions.
Affirmation of an ethical code by means of an oath
therefore permits the oath to contain within its remit a
supplementary field of guidance.
Others at the bedside
All the medical oaths and codes we have considered
are traditionally viewed as relating only to doctors,
although there is a suggestion that the Hippocratic
Oath was originally designed to be taken by doctors’
assistants and associates.23 But many of the moral diffi-
culties in present day health care arise in the context of
complex organisations in which other members of the
healthcare team are bound by different codes of
conduct (or by none at all), perhaps with conflicting
responsibilities and obligations. Some of these people
have the power to influence clinical decisions since
they represent and are answerable to powerful third
parties (government, insurance companies, NHS
trusts, health maintenance organisations) which have
Declaration of Geneva
“At the time of being admitted as a Member of my
Profession:
I solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the
service of humanity;
I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude
which is their due;
I will practice my profession with conscience and
dignity;
The health of those in my care will be my first
consideration;
I will respect the secrets that are confided in me, even
after the patient has died;
I will maintain by all the means in my power, the
honour and the noble traditions of my profession;
My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;
I will not permit considerations of age, disease or
disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality,
political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or social
standing to intervene between my duty and my
patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from
its beginning, even under threat, and I will not use my
specialist knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity;
I make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon my
honour.20
LEE STANNARD
Education and debate
1672 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
determinative influence on the care doctors can
provide.
More than one medical commentator has used
parody to predict the impotence of any new
Hippocratic oath in these circumstances:
“Whatsoever I shall see or hear of the lives of men
that is not fitting to be spoken,I shall document fully in
their charts so that complete, problem-oriented
records may be available for any insurers, legal
counsellors, or government agencies that may become
involved ... I will exercise my art not solely for the cure
of my patients but will take into account the return-on-
investment, the cost-benefit ratio . . . since, in the overall
picture society will benefit, even though an individual
patient may suffer some hardship or relapse.24
A pan-professional oath?
Such problems are clearly not for doctors alone to
resolve. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences
has recently instigated a transatlantic initiative to create
a shared ethical code for health carers (see editorial in
this issue by Berwick et al). It outlines a number of seri-
ous dilemmas which require the concerted attention of
all healthcare professions and which would benefit
from open public debate. Is it ethical to exclude specific
treatments from healthcare coverage or service
packages? Is it ethical to keep information secret which
might benefit all patients everywhere but which
provides an organisation with a competitive advan-
tage? Can it be ethical to care selectively for less sick
patients instead of more sick ones because of political
or financial imperatives?
If a pan-professional oath were to be established it
could engender a positive degree of moral cohesion
between all caring professions, across institutional
boundaries, influencing perhaps even the organisation
of health care. This is the lesson to be drawn from the
American Medical Association’s recent attack on the
ethical impropriety of so called gag clauses, which seek
to place contractual constraints on doctors’ freedom of
speech. After the association’s intervention, several
health plans in the United States immediately removed
such clauses, and more than 100 submitted their
contracts to the association for ethical review.25
The hope is that a single oath for all health care
professions could heal split loyalties and ameliorate
existing moral tensions in health care. The intention is
honourable, and no one should underestimate the dif-
ficulty of the task. A comparison of existing codes for
non-doctors and the recent BMA draft revision of the
Hippocratic Oath (box) might serve as a good starting
point for exploring common ground. It bodes well, we
think, that, like the doctors’ oath, the conduct codes of
nurses and managers place patients’ welfare para-
mount.26 27 The challenge, then, may not be one of
agreeing ends, but means. Agreeing on such an oath
would provide an inclusive opportunity for healthcare
workers from different walks of life to speak with one
voice for the benefit of patients.
We thank the BMA’s ethics department for help in locating
information for this paper.
1 General Medical Council. Duties of a doctor:guidance from the General Medi-
cal Council. London: GMC, 1995.
2 British Medical Association, General Medical Council, Joint Consultants’
Committee, Committee of Postgraduate Medical Deans, Council of
Deans of UK Medical Schools and Faculties, Conference of Medical
Royal Colleges and their Faculties in the UK. Core values for the medical
profession in the 21st century.Report of a conference held on 3-4 November
1994. London: BMA, 1994.
3 Nutton V. What’s in an oath? J R Coll Physicians Lond 1995;29:518-24.
4 Robin ES. The Hippocratic Oath updated. BMJ 1994;309:96.
5 Loudon I. The Hippocratic Oath. BMJ 1994;309:414.
6 Crawshaw R. The Hippocratic Oath.BMJ 1994;309:952.
7 Pennington TH, Pennington CI. The Hippocratic Oath. BMJ
1994;309:952.
8 Loudon I. The Hippocratic Oath. BMJ 1994;309:952.
9 Delamothe T. The Hippocratic Oath. BMJ 1994;309:953.
10 Ward Platt MP. The Hippocratic Oath updated. BMJ 1994;309:953.
11 BMA. Draft revision of the Hippocratic Oath. In: Annual report of council
1996-7. London: BMA, 1997:26.
12 Goldsmith MF. “Doing what is best for patients”: a sesquicentennial re-
dedication. JAMA 1997;277:1265-8.
Draft revision of the Hippocratic Oath
“The practice of medicine is a privilege which carries
important responsibilities. All doctors should observe
the core values of the profession which centre on the
duty to help sick people and to avoid harm. I promise
that my medical knowledge will be used to benefit
people’s health. They are my first concern. I will listen
to them and provide the best care I can. I will be
honest, respectful and compassionate towards patients.
In emergencies, I will do my best to help anyone in
medical need.
“I will make every effort to ensure that the rights of all
patients are respected, including vulnerable groups
who lack means of making their needs known, be it
through immaturity, mental incapacity, imprisonment
or detention or other circumstance.
“My professional judgment will be exercised as
independently as possible and not be influenced by
political pressures nor by factors such as the social
standing of the patient. I will not put personal profit or
advancement above my duty to patients.
“I recognise the special value of human life but I also
know that the prolongation of human life is not the
only aim of health care. Where abortion is permitted, I
agree that it should take place only within an ethical
and legal framework. I will not provide treatments
which are pointless or harmful or which an informed
and competent patient refuses.
“I will ensure patients receive the information and
support they want to make decisions about disease
prevention and improvement of their health. I will
answer as truthfully as I can and respect patients’
decisions unless that puts others at risk of harm. If I
cannot agree with their requests, I will explain why.
“If my patients have limited mental awareness, I will
still encourage them to participate in decisions as
much as they feel able and willing to do so.
“I will do my best to maintain confidentiality about all
patients. If there are overriding reasons which prevent
my keeping a patient’s confidentiality I will explain
them.
“I will recognise the limits of my knowledge and seek
advice from colleagues when necessary. I will
acknowledge my mistakes. I will do my best to keep
myself and colleagues informed of new developments
and ensure that poor standards or bad practices are
exposed to those who can improve them.
“I will show respect for all those with whom I work and
be ready to share my knowledge by teaching others
what I know.
“I will use my training and professional standing to
improve the community in which I work. I will treat
patients equitably and support a fair and humane
distribution of health resources. I will try to influence
positively authorities whose policies harm public
health. I will oppose policies which breach
internationally accepted standards of human rights. I
will strive to change laws which are contrary to
patients’ interests or to my professional ethics.11
Education and debate
1673BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
13 Baker R, Caplan A, Emanuel LL, Latham SR. Crisis, ethics, and the
American Medical Association. JAMA 1997;278:163-4.
14 Weierman RJ. Chair’s address. In: American Medical Association confer-
ence “Ethics and American medicine: history, change and challenge.
Philadelphia: American Medical Association, 1997 (http://www.ama
assn.org.usa).
15 The genuine works of Hippocrates. Translated by F Adams. London: Syden-
ham Society, 1849. (Republished: Birmingham, AL: Classics of Medicine
Library, 1985:778-80.)
16 Loewy EH. Textbook of health care ethics. New York: Plenum Press,
1996:208.
17 Baker R. The history of medical ethics. In: Bynum WF, Porter R, eds. Com-
panion encyclopaedia of the history of medicine. Vol 2. London: Routledge,
1993:852-87.
18 Boyd K, Higgs R, Pinching AJ, eds. The new dictionary of medical ethics.
London: BMJ Publishing Group, 1997.
19 Crawshaw R. The contemporary use of Medical Oaths. J Chron Dis
1970;23:145-50.
20 World Medical Association. Declaration of Geneva. London: WMA, 1995.
21 BMA. Medicine betrayed. London: Zed Books in association with the BMA,
1992.
22 Gillon R. Medical oaths, declarations, and codes. BMJ 1985;290:1194-5.
23 Reiss H. The Hippocratic Oath. BMJ 1994;309:952.
24 Franzblau SA, King LS. Hippocrates revisited. JAMA 1997;237:2293.
25 Anonymous. Keeping the lead in ethics [editorial]. AM News 1996 Aug 5
(http://www.ama-assn.org.usa).
26 United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health
Visiting. Code of professional conduct of the nurse, midwife and health
visitor. In: Downie RS, Calman KC. Healthy respect. London: Faber and
Faber, 1987:247-9.
27 Institute of Health Services Management. Code of professional practice.
London: IHSM, 1997.
Professionalism must be taught
Sylvia R Cruess, Richard L Cruess
The subject of professionalism is often referred to in
the medical literature, but the word itself is rarely
defined
and it is assumed that physicians understand
what it means to be a professional and use this under-
standing as they make decisions in their private and
professional lives. Though this may have been true in
the past, the lack of literature dealing with profession-
alism available to the average doctor is striking. When
this is coupled with the absence of relevant material in
the curriculum of most medical schools, it is
understandable why, in a rapidly changing world, doc-
tors may not have a clear understanding of what the
public expects from its professionals.
The General Medical Council’s approach to profes-
sionalism and self regulation is a response to the rapidly
changing relation of all professions to society and is
designed to allow medicine to meet new societal
demands and expectations. Dealing with problems hav-
ing to do with doctors’ performance and attitudes, Irvine
presented the subject in the overall context of
professionalism in the modern world.12He emphasised
the importance of independence (which some call
“autonomy”) and stated that it depended on the three
pillars of expertise, ethics, and service. He then linked
the concept of an independent profession, as granted by
the state, to self regulation. As have almost all observers
of the present scene,3Irvine emphasised the importance
of trust to the relationship between patient and doctor
and the profession and society. In outlining the
structures within which self regulation takes place, he
emphasised the “leadership role of leaders in influenc-
ing the behaviour of future physicians.” In doing so, he
noted that an admirable role model was important.
We would like to extend this concept. Elsewhere we
have said that leaders are required to do more than
simply provide excellent role models.4Most doctors do
not fully understand the obligations they must fulfil to
satisfy public expectations and maintain professional
status. We believe that doctors will meet their
obligations if they understand their origins and their
nature. Thus, professionalism must be taught.
The healer and the professional
Doctors simultaneously fill two overlapping but none
the less distinct roles: the healer and the professional.
From early times there have been healers in society. In
Western culture the traditions go back to Hippocrates,
and for centuries the Hippocratic oath served as the
foundation of the morality of medicine.5The
professions, on the other hand, arose in guilds and uni-
versities during the middle ages,6but they remained ill
defined and touched only a small percentage of the
population until the industrial revolution made it pos-
sible for the public to pay for services
and science
made medicine effective enough to be worth purchas-
ing. These two important roles are recognised in the
literature, but they are rarely separated for analysis.
This is unfortunate, as many doctors feel that fulfilling
the role of healer is sufficient and do not willingly
accept professional obligations. For example, the
healer is under no obligation to sit on audit
committees or to engage in other administrative activi-
ties, but the professional must.
The relationship of the professional and the healer
is not complicated. Society requires the healer, but
there must be an organisational framework within
which the services of the healer are dispensed. In the
Anglo-American world, professional status is used as a
method of organising the delivery of complex
services.6This status is granted by the state and defined
by laws outlining licensing and in the charters and
regulations of the various certifying bodies. It can be
modified or withdrawn if society is not satisfied with the
Summary points
Professional status is not an inherent right, but is
granted by society
Its maintenance depends on the public’s belief
that professionals are trustworthy
To remain trustworthy, professionals must meet
the obligations expected by society
The substance of professionalism should be
taught at all levels of medical education as part of
the profession’s response to changing societal
expectations
Education and debate
Centre for Medical
Education, McGill
University, 1110
Pine Avenue West,
Montreal, Quebec,
Canada H3A 1A3
Sylvia R Cruess,
associate professor of
medicine
Richard L Cruess,
professor of surgery
Correspondence to:
Dr Sylvia R Cruess
BMJ 1997;315:1674–7
1674 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
performance of its professionals, and there is ample
evidence that the status of all professions has changed
over the past three decades.7
The definition and characteristics of a
profession
If doctors are to understand the source of their obliga-
tions they must understand professionalism. The
Oxford English Dictionary states that a profession is “the
occupation which one professes to be skilled in and to
follow. (a) a vocation in which a professed knowledge of
some department of learning or science is used in its
application to the affairs of others, or in the practice of
an art founded upon it. (b) in a wider sense: any calling
or occupation by which a person habitually earns his
living.” 8
The word “professes” is important, because in this
way a professional becomes dedicated to service. It
requires the command of a body of knowledge or skills,
and it also specifically refers to “art,” something that is
clearly important in medicine. The definition, however,
does not adequately describe the complexity of
modern professions. These characteristics of profes-
sions (box), which have changed with time, are drawn
from the literature; most observers will agree that they
are correct. These characteristics are not listed in order
of importance. At the heart of every profession is a
legally sanctioned control over a specialised body of
knowledge, and a commitment to service.9As the aver-
age citizen cannot fully comprehend the body of
knowledge, the Anglo-American world has granted the
professions the right to self regulation. Autonomy is
given on the understanding that professionals will put
the welfare of both the patient and society above their
own, and that they will be governed by a code of ethics.
Those who write about professionalism are united in
believing that professions must be “moral” or devoted
to the public good. In addition, professionalism as a
concept is believed to be an ideal to be pursued.10 It is
understood that physicians are human, and that they
will not always achieve the ideal, but in striving for it
they should reach ever higher levels of performance.
The evolution of professionalism
Changes in the medical profession and in public
expectations have been documented extensively in
books and journals not generally read by doctors
those in the fields of the social sciences and bioethics.
This literature offers perceptive, often critical, but gen-
erally telling, insights into the interface between
professions and society. Early work was largely favour-
able to the concept of professionalism, and it was felt
that the service orientation of the professional would
benefit society.11–13 In the mid 1960s and 1970s the tone
changed, and professionalism as a concept was viewed
as being flawed, partly because of the inherent conflict
between altruism and self interest. The medical profes-
sion was criticised for its emphasis on remuneration, its
failure to self regulate adequately, its apparent inability
to address problems felt to be important by society, and
the fact that the profession often puts its own welfare
above that of both society and individual patients.14–19
Without question, this literature reflected public
opinion and had an influence on the public perception
of the medical profession.
During the past 15 or so years the literature has
been more supportive of professions,10 20–22 but the
medical profession should not become complacent, as
public trust in doctors and their associations has not
improved greatly. Throughout the Anglo-American
world, however, the medical profession is no longer
viewed as being principally responsible for the
direction of health care. This responsibility is shared
with the state and the corporate sector, and they are
now sharing blame for defects in the system. Thus
there is an opportunity for the profession to address
the issues facing it in an atmosphere that is less hostile.
Individual doctors evidently retain the trust and
respect of their patients, and patients continue to wish
that major decisions concerning their health are made
by doctors rather than corporations or the state. The
public is the ally of the medical profession in this area.23
The educational challenge
Doctors are judged both as healers and as profession-
als, and when they do not fulfil their obligations in
either role both they and the profession suffer. When
the medical profession was smaller, more homogene-
Characteristics of professions
A profession possesses a discrete body of knowledge
and skills over which its members have exclusive
control
The work based on this knowledge is controlled and
organised by associations that are independent of both
the state and capital
The mandate of these associations is formalised by a
variety of written documents, which include laws
covering licensure and regulations granting authority
Professional associations serve as the ultimate
authorities on the personal, social, economic, cultural,
and political affairs relating to their domains. They are
expected to influence public policy and inform the
public within their areas of expertise
Admission to professions requires a long period of
education and training, and the professions are
responsible for determining the qualifications and
(usually) the numbers of those to be educated for
practice, the substance of their training, and the
requirements for its completion
Within the constraints of the law,the professions
control admission to practice and the terms,
conditions, and goals of the practice itself
The professions are responsible for the ethical and
technical criteria by which their members are
evaluated, and they have the exclusive right and duty
to discipline unprofessional conduct
Individual members remain autonomous in their
workplaces within the limits of rules and standards laid
down by their associations and the legal structures
within which they work
It is expected that professionals will gain their
livelihood by providing service to the public in the
area of their expertise
Members are expected to value performance above
reward, and are held to higher standards of behaviour
than are non-professionals.
Education and debate
1675BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
ous, and had more truly shared values
and when the
issues were simpler
professional values could be
imparted during the process of “socialisation” of
doctors in training. The profession is now diverse, as in
almost every country doctors come from various
cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. Though
this represents an advance in terms of equity and fair-
ness, it makes the transmission of common values
more difficult and, in our opinion, requires explicit
teaching of the role of both the healer and of the
professional. As Irvine noted, the leader in medicine
retains a critical role,1but this leader must teach
professionalism in a structured way in addition to
demonstrating professional values in everyday life.
Medical schools, teaching hospitals, and those
responsible for continuing medical education should
teach professionalism as a subject formally identified in
the curriculum. The material to be taught will change
in different cultures and certainly with time. The teach-
ing of professionalism should include several compo-
nents.
(1) Identifiable educational content in the under-
graduate medical school curriculum devoted to
professionalism, which should be reinforced in
postgraduate programmes and in continuing medical
education. The subject should be part of the evaluation
of all students.
(2) The concept that to be a professional is not a right
but a privilege with a long history and tradition of
healing and service.
(3) The separate but linked concepts of the physician
as healer, and the physician as professional, and the
fact that society uses professional status as a means of
organising the delivery of services.
(4) A clear definition of professionalism and its
characteristics.
(5) Professionalism as an ideal to be pursued, empha-
sising its inherent moral value. The concept of altruism
and “calling” must be highlighted as essential to
professionalism.
(6) An understanding that proper professional behav-
iour is essential for the healer to function fully and to
maintain the trust of patients and society.
(7) Knowledge of codes of ethics governing the conduct
of both the healer and the professional, as well as the
philosophical and historical derivations of these codes.
(8) The essential nature of the autonomy of the
individual doctor, along with the legitimate limitations
that have always existed. The degree of autonomy will
vary in different societies, but a minimum is required
for a doctor to exercise the necessary independent
judgment to best serve the patient.
(9) The nature of the collective autonomy of the profes-
sion, along with its legitimate and inherent limitations.
(10) Relevant material drawn from sociology, philoso-
phy, economics, political science, and medical ethics as
related to professionalism, including interpretations of
both the historical course of events and of doctors’
behaviour that are critical of the medical profession.
The profession must not be allowed to build and main-
tain its own myths while avoiding ideas challenging
them.
(11) The link between professional status and the obli-
gations to society that must be fulfilled to maintain
public trust. These obligations should be explicitly out-
lined and included in the teaching. They include
obligations to know and be guided by the applicable
codes of ethics and national and regional laws; to par-
ticipate in more effective and transparent self
regulation; to address health issues of concern to soci-
ety; to maintain competence throughout one’s medical
career, to be prepared to be fully accountable for all
decisions taken; to expand and ensure the integrity of
medicine’s knowledge base by supporting science in its
broadest sense; to insist on the maintenance of
sufficient individual and professional autonomy to
enable the doctor to act in the best interests of the
patient; and to be governed by professional standards
of conduct no matter what role is being filled
private
practitioner, employee of the state or corporation,
manager, administrator, or a mixture of roles. Finally,
of course, the obligation to put the welfare of the
patient and of society above one’s own is paramount.
Conclusion
A recent editorial entitled “Do professions have a
future?” outlined the challenges facing the medical
profession and suggested some responses.24 However,
the question was not answered directly. For two
reasons, professions not only have a future
and it is in
the best interests of society that professional status be
maintained. In the first place,self regulation in the pro-
fession should lead doctors to be better motivated than
they would be if they considered themselves to be
employees of the state or of a corporation. Secondly, if
professionalism is an ideal to be pursued it should lead
to ever higher standards which, by being constantly
aimed at, lead to higher levels of performance.
Most doctors wish to meet their obligations
properly. To quote Kultgen, “Entry into the profession
is a voluntary act, and most people who perform it are
Education and debate
1676 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
disposed to learn its ways and take its ideology seriously.
They need only to be told how.” 10 Properly informing
them is one of the tasks of Irvine’s medical leaders.
1 Irvine D. The performance of doctors. I. Professionalism and self regula-
tion in a changing world. BMJ 1997;314:1540-2.
2 Irvine D. The performance of doctors. II. Maintaining good practice,pro-
tecting patients from poor performance. BMJ 1997;314:1613-5.
3 Mechanic D. Changing medical organisation and the erosion of trust.
Milbank Quarterly 1996;74:171-89.
4 Cruess RL, Cruess SR. Teaching medicine as a profession in the service
of healing. Acad Med 1997;72:941-52.
5 Sohl P, Bassford R. Codes of medical ethics: traditional foundations and
contemporary practice. Soc Sci Med 1980;22:1175-9.
6 Elliot P. The sociology of the professions. London: MacMillan, 1972.
7 [Editorial series on the professions]. The Times 1992 February 3, 10, 17,
24; March 2, 8, 16, 23.
8Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
9 Goode WJ. Community within a community: the professions. Am Sociol
Rev 1957;25:902-14.
10 Kultgen J. Ethics and professionalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsyl-
vania Press, 1988.
11 Carr Saunders AM. Professions: their organisation and place in society.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928.
12 Parsons T. The professions and social structure. Social Forces
1939;17:457-67.
13 Hughes EC. The professions in society.Can J Econ Polit Sci 1960;26:54-61.
14 Freidson E. Profession of medicine: a study of the sociology of applied knowledge.
New York: Dodd and Mead, 1970.
15 Freidson E. Professional dominance: the social structure of medical care.
Chicago: Aldine, 1970.
16 Johnson T. Professions and power.London: MacMillan, 1972.
17 Haug MR. Deprofessionalisation: an alternate hypothesis for the future.
Soc Rev Monograph 1973;20:195-211.
18 Larsen MS. The rise of professionalism: a sociological analysis. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1977.
19 McKinlay JB, Arches J. Toward the proletarianisation of physicians. Int J
Health Services 1985;15:161-95.
20 Starr P. The social transformation of American medicine. New York: Basic
Books, 1984.
21 Klein, R. National variations in international trends. In Hafferty FW,
McKinlay JB, eds. The changing medical profession: an international
perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993:202-9.
22 Freidson E. Professionalism reborn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1994.
23 Mechanic D. Public perceptions of medicine. N Engl J Med 1985;
312:181-3.
24 Abelson J, Maxwell PH, Maxwell RJ. Do professions have a future? BMJ
315;1997:382.
Medicine needs its MI5
Duncan Campbell
The time is long overdue to add another arm to the
policing of medicine. In this article I suggest changes to
lever out of the profession the small minority of
doctors who would be guilty of serious misconduct, to
the benefit of patients and practitioners alike. On the
evidence, most of them might currently reasonably
expect to escape either exposure or sanction, for
various reasons. We need an organisation that would
employ informants and agents, run anonymous
telephone “tipoff lines,” hire undercover investigators,
and use for example, secret recording devices and
cameras. Readers who feel that this sort of life should
be limited to west Belfast in the 1980s have an under-
standable case. Such an investigatory recipe might have
been even more indigestible six months ago, before
Professor David Southall revealed that he had secretly
installed hidden cameras in the paediatric wards of the
Royal Brompton and North Staffordshire Hospitals.
His results
38/39 cases of suspected infant child
abuse resulting in care orders and 33/39 in criminal
prosecution
both speak for themselves and explain
why there was no press backlash to suggest that
Southall and his team had breached sacrosanct clinical
principles. Read what follows with that in mind.
Why complaints currently fail
My proposals are based on personal experience of
bringing unethical practitioners before the General
Medical Council (GMC) and of acting against unquali-
fied “quacks” at the disreputable end of alternative
medicine. All of the four complaints that I have taken
to the council have resulted in the practitioner
concerned leaving the medical register for life
three
practitioners by order of the council’s professional
conduct committee, one voluntarily. The record of
Dr Frank Wells and Peter Jay, who run Medicolegal
Investigations (a private medical investigations com-
pany), is far more impressive. By last July 17/17
complaints brought to the council by Wells and Jay had
resulted in the practitioners being struck off. More are
in the pipeline.
This 100% success rate with the GMC stands in
stark contrast to the average picture at the council,
where less than 10% of complaints of serious
professional misconduct are taken beyond the prelimi-
nary screeners, and at best half of those go on for adju-
dication. Why is this so?
Many complaints to the GMC should fail because
they are vicarious, malicious, or outside the GMC’s
remit. But many worrying complaints are rejected
because complainants have a poor understanding of
the evaluative processes inside the GMC. These
processes are much more legal than medical, and
medically qualified complainants do not necessarily
fare better than the lay public, since good medical evi-
dence is not necessarily good legal evidence. The
professional conduct committee quite properly acts
like a court of law, according to broadly the same rules
Summary points
Too few complaints about doctors’ unethical
behaviour get past the General Medical Council’s
preliminary procedures
Most doctors who behave unethically are
escaping exposure or sanction
Special methods and powers are needed to
support valid complaints about doctors
A new agency is needed to police the medical
profession, so that medical misconduct can be
properly investigated and punished
Education and debate
IPTV,
45 Frederick St,
Edinburgh
EH2 1EP
Duncan Campbell,
investigative
journalist
duncan@gn.apc.org
BMJ 1997;315:1677–80
1677BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
and requiring facts and documents to be proved in an
adversarial setting. The GMC’s committees and
employees have to approach their tasks with this
outcome in mind.
To succeed with the GMC, complainants ideally
should have professional or acquired medicolegal
skills. They should set out the facts to be relied on in a
way that shows the screeners that legal proof is
available or that there is an easy and probably success-
ful route to proof. The facts alleged should amount, if
proved, to serious professional misconduct. Knowl-
edge of typical, recent, and relevant adjudications by
the professional conduct committee is a major asset.
This is a lot to expect of a recently damaged patient or
a worried doctor concerned about the ethics of
colleagues’ behaviour.
Medicine needs a better complaints
investigation system
It is unreasonable and damaging to the interests of
medicine to allow this lottery to continue. Very few
cases where clinical or research misconduct is
suspected command experienced support and investi-
gation at the precomplaint stage. Thus many
important cases fall by the wayside because they do not
get the resources to make them convincing at first
sight.
The media serve the public interest but are not in
being for this reason. Medicolegal Investigations is a
commercial organisation, working mostly for pharma-
ceutical companies who suspect research fraud in their
trials. They operate in the marketplace. Most media
investigations, including my own, have focused on
clinical misconduct. But the media are also in the mar-
ketplace. The media are primarily an entertainment
industry, which by accident rather than design
produces quality journalism that is in the public inter-
est. The industry is rightly seen as a court of last resort
for whistleblowers and the distressed, but what it can
deliver is increasingly limited by whim, fashion,
“dumbing down,” and the budget managers who today
populate our industry as much as yours.
I and my media colleagues have done many investi-
gations of unethical practitioners inside and outside
the profession, which, when published, have prompted
patients and doctors alike to point us to other cases
that unquestionably need attention. But when an
editor decides that two medical misconduct stories in a
given year fulfils the public’s interest, our hands are
tied. So do not expect to rely on us.The public interest,
and the best interests of patients, therefore needs insti-
tutions rather than one investigative firm and a few
journalists.
Investigative techniques for proof of
misconduct
Investigative methods,including special techniques,are
necessary if proof of misconduct is to be reliably estab-
lished. The ways to do this come easily enough to
policemen and journalists, but not to doctors and law-
yers. Secret cameras are probably the most extreme
example of such methods. I have taken (or arranged
for others to take) hidden recorders into consultations
where we posed as terminally or chronically ill patients,
or their friends, to obtain incontrovertible evidence of
misconduct.
Without this, we would have nothing of value to
show the screener. Complaints would have to rely on
patients whose personal recollection of what was said
and done in a consultation is limited by the absence of
notes and the lack of a record. In contrast, the
misbehaving doctor may take notes throughout. Ill and
worried patients are likely give poorer evidence than
doctors, who may have already acquired court
experience. Above all, patients will often not complain
until long after the events at the heart of their concerns
and will always be vulnerable to destructive cross
examination. In cases of terminal or chronic illness,
patients may be too debilitated to give evidence or
dead by the time the complaint reaches the
professional conduct committee. Patients who are
badly treated may therefore need the services of sham
patients to prove the type of misconduct that they
experience.
Worried doctors who witness or suspect profes-
sional misconduct are not in a much better position
than their patients. Medical whistleblowers still have no
safe home, even though the position is gradually
improving. Juniors and seniors alike fear reprisals and
career curtailment if they speak out, and are right to do
so. Consider the case of Dr Stephen Bolsin, the anaes-
thetist who was the first to highlight the unacceptable
mortality in heart surgery operations on babies in
Bristol. He was told by hospital managers that his com-
plaint put him, not the surgeons, in jeopardy. He too
represents the tip of a large iceberg.
MARK OLDROYD
Education and debate
1678 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
To this may be added the cultural factors,especially
for older doctors and those in more close knit institu-
tions, where self interest and laziness easily go hand in
hand. Rare too is the whistleblower who does not
arrive at the GMC without some personal pathology
on show. Complainants are often “difficult” people. It
goes with the turf, because otherwise they would long
since have given in and gone under. They often have a
long history of taking their well founded complaints to
bodies that shoo them away. They may already have
been ostracised, marginalised, excluded, and become
obsessive. The rejection of earlier complaints can com-
plicate and obfuscate evaluation of their primary com-
plaints, as it will be enlarged by legitimate but irrelevant
objections to the outcome of other, prior investiga-
tions.
Complainants also face the special risk that they
cannot expect their role to stay private. The GMC
maintains a high standard of confidentiality in the early
stages of its work; but if a formal inquiry is launched
and a professional conduct committee hearing is held,
the successful complainant will inevitably be exposed
in the later, wholly public processes. Vulnerable medi-
cal complainants may therefore need the services of an
investigative agency, which will seek to obtain
independent and valid evidence to support their com-
plaint, thus limiting or excluding the possibility of ret-
ribution at the hands of powerful members of the
profession.
When competently recorded evidence is available,
the miscreant practitioner cannot challenge what he or
she did in the clinical setting. The results are effective
(box). But some may think these investigative methods
repugnant. I have lectured about such investigations to
medical students and have worried that this may
frighten them into switching to safer worlds, such as
accountancy. But they need not fear. The broadcast
media do not and are not permitted to use techniques
such as covert recording unless the following legal
“minimisation” criteria are met: firstly, there must be a
strong prima facie case that there is misconduct;
secondly, other investigative methods must have failed
or would by their nature be likely to fail if tried; and
thirdly,that the methods proposed are likely to succeed
in producing legally valid evidence of misconduct.
Decisions on these matters must, by statute, be taken by
controllers of broadcasting stations, not by individual
journalists. With the incorporation into British law of
the European Convention on Human Rights, these
boundaries will be even more clearly defined.
Tip of more than one iceberg
Cases of misconduct in research fraud that are taken to
the GMC represent only the tip of the iceberg,1a view
that Wells endorses. This was a major reason for the
recent founding of the committee on publication
ethics.2In dealing with discredited research work and
despite the plethora of serious recent cases like Pearce
and Anderton, the profession is delivering far less than
the public is entitled to demand. When some of a prac-
titioner’s research is shown to have been dishonest, it
should be elementary to conclude that every part of his
or her work is dishonest until the contrary is proved.
But the editors of biomedical journals who believe this
and act accordingly are still distinguished only by their
scarcity.
In my experience, cases of serious clinical
misconduct that the media have investigated also
represent only the tip of an iceberg. This is especially
true in private medical practice: those whom I have
investigated had taken their “research” directly into
clinical practice, often with tragic consequences.
Shortcomings of General Medical
Council
The view of self regulation (by the GMC) as
“institutionalised conspiracy,” which MP Jim Cousins
described to parliament in 1995 during the first
reading of the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill,
may be unattractive to the profession. But he knew
what he was talking about; his research was based on
constituents’ experiences. Whether just or not,the real-
ity is that the GMC’s review panels are perceived in
responsible quarters as lacking independence. Many
members of the council might agree that its remit and
resources are too restricted, even though these have
been expanded over the past decade.
Everywhere in medical regulation there is incon-
sistency and muddle. The United Kingdom Central
Committee for Nursing and Health Visiting can inves-
tigate any sort of misconduct; the GMC cannot. For
doctors, the GMC disavows setting professional stand-
ards, while the royal colleges will set standards but
disavows policing them. The NHS has a range of rem-
edies on offer
notably, for example, the ombudsman.
But there is a vast hinterland of fast moving junior
Four doctors who left the medical register
John Anderton, a consultant physician and former
secretary of the Royal College of Physicians
(Edinburgh), was struck off in July 1997 for conducting
a sham drug trial. His misconduct was exposed after
an investigation by Medicolegal Investigations, which
had been commissioned by Pfizer after a company
clinical trials monitor suspected misconduct.
Geoffrey Fairhurst, a Merseyside general practitioner
and former member of a local research ethics
committee, was struck off in 1996 after an investigation
by Medicolegal Investigations confirmed that he had
falsified data and consent for patients supposedly
taking part in research trials. His case led to calls from
the GMC for colleagues to blow the whistle when they
came across fraud and misconduct.
Peter Nixon, a consultant cardiologist, consistently
diagnosed the hyperventilation syndrome in
thousands of patients with a wide range of conditions.
I and others presented to him, using recorders and
secret cameras, to show how he rigged clinical findings.
After he lost a libel case he was ordered to cease
practising medicine. He left the register voluntarily in
October 1997.
James Sharp, a former NHS consultant haematologist
who set up a clinic in Harley Street, London, to sell
unproved immunological treatments for AIDS, cancer,
and leukaemia. He was exposed after BBC’s Watchdog
programme recorded an interview with a sham AIDS
patient, to whom he prescribed a £10 000 course of
treatment without consulting records or conducting an
examination. He was struck off in December 1989.
Education and debate
1679BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
doctors, wandering locums of indeterminate skill, and
circuses of private practitioners, who can evade all of
the regulators.
Notoriously, the GMC is not proactive. It waits for
cases to come to it. This means that complaints are
limited not only by the problems created by its
procedures, but by the willingness of prospective com-
plainants to expend time and effort in, and face the
risks of, becoming involved. We are all the losers from
that.
New investigative agency needed
What is needed is a proper investigative agency to
receive and research complaints, and take them up
when action may be appropriate. It is more than two
years since Professor Ian Kennedy called for an
inspectorate to conduct random, routine audits of
medical conduct. Let it begin there but extend the idea
to cover the problems outlined above.
I suggest an “office for medical standards,” which
would conduct routine and random medical auditing;
provide a safe place where worried staff (or students)
could go with their concerns; be an investigative
agency that can take plausible complaints of patients
(and others) and check, in ways that the complainant
cannot, whether a problem may or does exist; review
records and publications when fraud or misconduct is
suspected. It should also:
xRun a confidential helpline or information service,
or both, to receive warnings and tipoffs about fraud or
unethical conduct;
xHave the legal power (to be sanctioned at a senior
level) to call in or inspect documents and papers held
by health service providers (both NHS and private)
and by registered medical practitioners;
xUse appropriate investigative methods when these
can be justified; and
xHave a remit to conduct reviews of research or clini-
cal practice to report generally on standards.
Such an agency could protect complainants who
were vulnerable to reprisals provided that its investiga-
tive methods (and results) produced adequate evi-
dence, which either duplicated or could replace the
original complaint. After investigation, reports need
not necessarily go to the GMC; they could go to the
ombudsman or to other NHS bodies.
These proposals do not amount to replacing the
GMC or the ombudsman. They would supplement and
probably replace the work of the GMC’s screeners and
incorporate the limited investigative work already
undertaken in the NHS by the ombudsman. The deci-
sion whether to strike a doctor off would remain with
the professional conduct committee. But an office for
medical standards would prosecute
in place of the
current arrangements.
The GMC might ask that the proposed office
should come under its auspices. Such a request should
be rejected. The office should be an independent
watchdog, carrying out a policing function, whereas
the GMC would retain its court and registration func-
tion. Thus the new agency could not be accused of
being judge and jury in the cases it handles. Self regu-
lation would survive, albeit in a modified form.
The peril of these proposals, some may think, is
that Britain might become a more litigious nation
as
some states of America notoriously are. I reply that
most of the serious professional misconduct is still
uninvestigated and unpunished. If changes result in
more cases being heard by the professional conduct
committee and more doctors being struck off, that is
what has always been needed.
Some may also be concerned about the effects of
such an agency on the young and the innocent in
medicine. I have never believed that the innocent have
nothing to fear from surveillance
it has a chilling
effect and will in some cases deter proper risk taking
and experimentation.
Regulation would be part of the answer. Investiga-
tors, like doctors (and broadcast journalists and police
officers), would be bound by codes of conduct too.
Inevitably, some disreputable doctors would be insuffi-
ciently deterred, while reputable practitioners might be
made unduly cautious. Balance is the other part of the
answer.
Medical regulation currently has a few constables
and detectives with limited remits, supplemented by a
motley array of amateur assistants. It needs a police
force, perhaps even a medical MI5.
1 Smith R. Time to face up to research misconduct. BMJ 1996;312:789.
2 Goldbeck-Wood S. Scientists call for whistleblowers’ charter. BMJ
1997;315:1252.
The BMJ and the 77 specialties of medicine
Richard Smith
The editor explains how the BMJ and different medical specialties can help each other
“The BMJ never publishes anything useful to leecholo-
gists. You haven’t got a single leechologist on your edito-
rial board. Once in a blue moon you publish a
leechology paper, and it’s always bloody awful. I don’t
know who you get to review them. What you don’t seem
to understand is that leechology is one of the most
important specialties in medicine. There aren’t enough
of us, we’re overworked, and general practitioners don’t
seem to know even the basics. Everyday we’re dealing
with dreadful cock ups. It’s time your journal taught
ordinary doctors the rudiments of leechology.”
Sadly, I hear this message regularly from repre-
sentatives of the 77 different medical specialties. Some
of the failures are inevitable. The BMJ is not intended
Education and debate
BMJ, London
WC1H 9JR
Richard Smith,
editor
BMJ 1997;315:1680–2
1680 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
to teach plastic surgery to plastic surgeons: if it did, we
would lose contact with the 99.5% of our readers who
are not plastic surgeons while we did so. Rather the
BMJ attempts to concentrate on what matters to all
doctors. Interestingly, medical educators are discover-
ing that the knowledge and skills needed by doctors in
different specialties are more similar than dissimilar.
When I meet with disgruntled specialists
asIdo
often
we usually have an enjoyable meeting and
discover that there are many ways in which we can help
each other. As it might take me a long time to work
through 77 specialties in 122 countries, I thought I
should write down answers to some of the questions
that come up commonly.
How can we get our messages across?
This is usually the main question that specialists ask
me, and I might tell them to employ a public relations
specialist. Increasingly, medical specialties do, but they
are expensive and I can give you the basics for free.
(1) Be clear about what your messages are
If your primary interest is to promote your specialty
rather than put across a message that has health
importance, then life will be difficult. The BMJ is very
interested in clinical messages that are important to a
broad audience. We are much less interested in the
trials and tribulations of the specialty because every
specialty has them and feels misunderstood. We could
fill the journal with pieces like the following:
“Every year 250 000 people in Britain die of leech
related diseases. Yet these patients must be cared for by
only 127 fully qualified leechologists. General practi-
tioners do not understand leechology, and it is hardly
mentioned in undergraduate education. Recruitment
to the specialty is a problem. The Medical Research
Council has no leechologist on its committees and
spends less than 1% of its budget on leech related dis-
eases. The NHS Executive has failed to recognise the
workload of the specialty. And the World Health
Organisation has closed down its leechology unit in
Turkestan.
(2) Decide on the main audience for your messages
If the messages are intended for all doctors, medical stu-
dents, politicians, and senior health managers then the
BMJ is the right place. If the message is intended prima-
rily for a particular group of specialists there may be
other places where publication is easier to achieve.
(3) Prepare a long term strategy for your messages
Specialists sometimes imagine that their problems will
be solved by a Lesson of the Week (or “cock up of the
week,” as we call it) describing three examples of the
mistake they see most commonly. They won’t.
Education is a never ending process that needs
messages to be delivered in different forms, in different
media, time and time again.
If, for example, general practitioners are your main
target then, as well as trying to get something into the
BMJ, you should try medical magazines such as Pulse,
General Practitioner, and Doctor.BMJ space is under
enormous pressure, whereas some of the medical
newspapers have trouble at times keeping the
advertisements apart. They can also publish large
colour pictures, and if your message is dramatic
enough they will probably send a journalist to write it
for you. And some of these newspapers reach more
general practitioners than the BMJ because they are
sent free to all of them, whereas the BMJ in the United
Kingdom is sent only to members of the BMA. You
might also consider approaching the doctors who
organise vocational training and postgraduate courses
for general practitioners.
The key thing is to plan long term and get your
message repeated through many different media.
Why don’t you accept our papers?
It’s tough to get a paper published in the BMJ. We reject
85% of papers, and so if you are an average researcher
you will get only one out of seven published. Simple
statistics mean that you have a high chance of having
10 in a row rejected. There is thus lots of room for
becoming paranoid and imagining that we have it in
for you or your specialty. We don’t.
We want papers that are scientifically sound and
relevant to a broad audience. We don’t want papers
that describe a great idea but include no proper evalu-
ation. Good ideas are easy. Evaluation is hard.
Where can we get published in the BMJ?
Anywhere, but think hard about the best form. If your
message is educational, then a paper is probably not
the best form. Many more people read editorials and
Important and not so important politicians read the BMJ. Readers are warned that two of these pictures are fakes.
PA/REX
Education and debate
1681BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
educational articles than read original papers. If it is
about improving the whole management of oral
cancer then it will need to be at least a Fortnightly
review, perhaps even an ABC. If it is a concentrated
message on the need for tibial fractures to be managed
by a multidisciplinary team then an editorial might be
best. But you’ll need evidence, not just assertion, and
the editorial should not read as though it has been
written by a committee of people so important that
none of them ever sees a patient. If it is just a feeling, try
a Personal View. Something very short and sweet
might be a Minerva paragraph
a great way to get
through to a lot of doctors.
You need to fit your message to the forms available
in the BMJ. We are reluctant to invent new forms,
although we might. Readers need to know what to
expect. You could send us something that’s completed,
or you could write suggesting a topic for an editorial,
telling us why it is important and suggesting who might
write it. We are particularly interested in authors from
outside Britain.
Will you consider uncommissioned editorials?
Yes. We peer review them. Keep them short and
snappy and make them evidence based.
How can we get a letter published?
By writing a clear, unpompous, evidence based letter of
not more than 400 words that says something interest-
ing. Don’t just whinge. Be positive.
How can we teach ordinary doctors the basics?
By concentrating on what ordinary doctors really need
to know about your specialty and not getting carried
away. An ABC can be a good route
but they are easy
to read and so tough to write. Of every 10 people who
offer us an ABC, only one delivers.
Why don’t you cover our meetings?
We can’t possibly get to all meetings, and meeting
reports can be desperately dull: “The chairman,
Professor Sir Windbag, reminded everybody of the
importance of the subject. Professor West said that.
Professor East said this. The lunch was excellent.
Everybody agreed it had been an excellent meeting
and looked forward to next year.
If the meeting is really exciting we will send some-
body. Alternatively, you could send us the list of those
attending and we might identify somebody to write for
us. Or we might be interested to take a version of one
of the keynote speeches.
How can we get into News?
Do or say something newsworthy.
If we have an important report, will you cover it?
Probably, but we would like a copy before publication
so that we can write about it as it appears. And we don’t
want you writing about your report. That’s too much
like people reviewing their own books. We will find
somebody, but we welcome suggestions.
How can we get through to politicians?
With difficulty, but the BMJ is one good route.
Politicians read the BMJ.
How can we help you?
I thought you’d never ask. This is the way to peoples’
hearts. We need you. Without input by doctors of all
shapes and sizes the BMJ is nothing. Keep sending us
material and forgive us our occasional incivilities and
inefficiencies.
Will it all end in tears?
Sometimes but not usually. The more general and the
more hard pressed the publication
whether it’s the
New York Times or Nature
the more likely you are to
have something rejected and feel misunderstood. But
please come back.
Howtodoit
How to acquire a coat of arms
John Thurston
The Faculty of Accident and Emergency Medicine was
inaugurated on 2 November 1993. The new council
decided that it would like a logo or badge to signify its
identity and to adorn such items as headed notepaper
and the president’s badge of office. As registrar I was
instructed to approach the College of Arms for letters-
patent granting the faculty its own coat of arms.
Because of the multidisciplinary nature of accident
and emergency medicine, the faculty is an intercollegiate
one based on six royal colleges. The faculty has
flourished, it has a steadily increasing membership, and
the faculty board’s examination committee holds regular
examinations for fellowship of the faculty twice a year.
Achievement of arms
The first step was to approach the College of Arms in
London and the duty herald, who in our case was
William Hunt, Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms. He led
me through the detailed process of acquiring our
armorial bearings.
We submitted the articles of constitution of the fac-
ulty to Portcullis, who submitted them to the Kings of
Arms. The faculty was then given permission to
petition the Earl Marshal for armorial bearings.
Portcullis had made it clear that the smaller the
committee designing the coat of arms the better. He
Education and debate
Faculty of Accident
and Emergency
Medicine, London
WC2A 3PN
John Thurston,
registrar
BMJ 1997;315:1682–4
1682 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
favoured a committee of one. In the event we formed a
small subcommittee of three.
Figure 1 shows the principal elements of an
achievement of arms, in this case those of the Worship-
ful Company of Drapers.
Eight items form the main elements of a full coat of
arms.
Shield
The shield is the essential element of the
coat of arms and with the banner is the principal
means of heraldic display. Shields are of many different
shapes, largely reflecting the century in which they
were created.
Helm and crest
The helm is the heraldic term for a
helmet and the crest sits on top of the helm. For
centuries it has been considered a privilege to bear a
crest, an honour over and above the right to bear
arms.
Wreath—The wreath is a band of twisted material
that was draped around the mediaeval helmet as deco-
ration and to cover the base of the crest where it was
fixed to the helm.
Supporters
The supporters are figures, either
beasts or humans, placed on either side of the shield to
support it. These supporters are referred to as they are
in medical terms
that is, the one on the left as you
look at the coat of arms is described as being on the
right
and the heraldic term dexter is used while sinis-
ter is used for the left hand supporter.
Compartment
In a coat of arms the supporters
stand on a base called a compartment. This is usually a
grassy mound.
Motto
The motto is a short pithy summary, which
may be written in any language, summarising the aspi-
rations of the holder of the armorial bearings.
Heraldic badge
When arms and crests are granted it is possible for a
badge to be included as well. Badges were used by
retainers in the Middle Ages to show their allegiance. A
good example of this is the Wars of the Roses, in which
the Yorkist followers wore white roses and the Lancas-
trians wore red. Many organisations have badges in
addition to the arms and crest. They use the full coat of
arms on their seal and stationery while the badge is
used for more general purposes such as adorning the
ties of members.
Shield
Helm
Crest
Wreath
Mantling
Supporters
Compartment
Motto scroll
Fig 1 Principal elements of coat of arms of Worshipful Company of
Drapers
Fig 2 Coat of arms of Faculty of Accident and Emergency Medicine
Education and debate
1683BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
Design
This is the hardest part of preparing the application for
letters-patent. It was easy to see why Portcullis favoured
a committee of one. In the event we were able to pro-
duce a satisfactory design, but only after several false
starts.
Figure 2 shows the final design of our coat of arms.
The crest consists of a waxing and waning moon on
either side of a symbolic sun. This depicts the fact that
accident and emergency work goes on by night and
day. The shield is a conventional shape and is divided
into two by a symbolic lightning strike indicating the
use of electricity in accident and emergency, both for
instrumentation and defibrillation. The two halves of
the shield are symbolically coloured as night (purpure
or purple) and day (argent or silver).
On the sinister half, in the argent part of the shield
is a poppy proper (proper indicates that it is painted in
its natural form), representing the use of opiate analge-
sia. The dexter supporter is the wound man. This
rather dramatic drawing shows the numerous types of
wound to which man may be subjected. We thought
that it was striking and unusual and made our coat of
arms just that bit different from others. The supporter
on the sinister side represents a healthy man. The
compartment has on the dexter side nettles and on the
sinister side dock leaves, indicating harm and the folk-
lore cure for the harm caused by nettles.
Finally, we created a motto, which means “We
always help the sick.” We chose Latin because we
thought that it would have the gravitas that an English
motto would not.
Badge
Figure 3 shows the final design for the badge. Six pop-
pies interspersed with seedheads depicted proper, rep-
resent the six parent colleges from which the
intercollegiate faculty was formed, and continue the
theme of pain relief as depicted on the sinister half of
the shield.
The bee, again depicted proper and volant (flying),
requires explanation. The bee was chosen for three
reasons. Firstly, the bee is a busy energetic insect and
represents industry. Secondly, the bee works best in a
team and this is how a good accident and emergency
department functions. Thirdly,the bee is the symbol of
the City of Manchester, where the first chair of accident
and emergency medicine was created.
Letters-patent
The whole process cost about £6000. This is a reduced
price because the faculty is a registered charity.
Commercial bodies pay nearly £9000, whereas
individuals pay a fee of £2575 for arms and a crest.
At the banquet after the faculty’s annual general
meeting on 24 January 1997 Portcullis presented
the letters-patent (fig 4) to our first president, Dr
David Williams. The final product has the three seals
of the Kings of Arms (Garter, Clarenceux, and
Norroy and Ulster). The letters-patent are beautifully
written in heraldic terms and the coat of arms and
badge are painted by the artist (Stephen Sandon) in
full colour.
These letters-patent are presented for all time and
if the faculty eventually becomes the Royal College of
Accident and Emergency Medicine it will fly its coat of
arms on a flag above the building. The letters-patent
remain the property of the organisation even if it
changes from faculty to college.
I am indebted to William Hunt, Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms,
for his guidance; to Stephen Friar and John Ferguson, whose
book Basic Heraldry inspired this paper; and my colleagues on
the design committee, Mr Jonathan Marrow and Dr Evan
Bayton.
Fig 3 Badge of the faculty
Fig 4 Letters-patent of the faculty
Education and debate
1684 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
A difficult case
Diagnosis made by hallucinatory voices
Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye
A previously healthy woman began to hear hallucina-
tory voices telling her to have a brain scan for a
tumour. The prediction was true; she was operated on
and had an uneventful recovery.
No previous illnesses
Born in continental Europe in the mid-1940s the
patient settled in Britain in the late 1960s. After a series
of jobs, she got married, started a family, and settled
down to a full time commitment as a housewife and
mother. She rarely went to her general practitioner as
she enjoyed good health and had never had any hospi-
tal treatment. Her children had also been in good
health.
In the winter of 1984, as she was at home reading,
she heard a distinct voice inside her head. The voice
told her, “Please don’t be afraid. I know it must be
shocking for you to hear me speaking to you like this,
but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend
and I used to work at the Children’s Hospital, Great
Ormond Street, and we would like to help you.
AB had heard of the Children’s Hospital, but did
not know where it was and had never visited it. Her
children were well, so she had no reason to worry
about them. This made it all the more frightening for
her, and the voice intervened again: “To help you see
that we are sincere, we would like you to check out the
following”
and the voice gave her three separate
pieces of information, which she did not possess at the
time. She checked them out, and they were true, but
this did not help because she had already come to the
conclusion that she had “gone mad.” In a state of panic,
AB went to see her doctor, who referred her urgently
to me.
I saw her at the psychiatric outpatients clinic, and
diagnosed a functional hallucinatory psychosis. I
offered general supportive counselling as well as
medication with thioridazine. To her great relief, the
voices inside her head disappeared after a couple of
weeks of treatment, and she went off on holiday. While
she was abroad, and still taking the thioridazine, the
voices returned. They told her that they wanted her to
return to England immediately as there was something
wrong with her for which she should have immediate
treatment. By this time, she was also having other
beliefs of a delusional nature.
She returned to London and I saw her again at my
outpatients clinic. By this time,the voices had given her
an address to go to.Reluctantly, and just to reassure her
that it was all in her mind, her husband took her by car
to the address in question; it was the computerised
tomography department of a large London hospital.
As she arrived there, the voices told her to go in and
ask to have a brain scan for two reasons–she had a
tumour in her brain and her brain stem was inflamed.
Because the voices had told her things in the past that
had turned out to be true, AB believed them when they
said that she had a tumour and was in a state of great
distress when I saw her the next day.
Brain scan requested
In order to reassure her, I requested a brain scan,
explaining in my letter that hallucinatory voices had
told her that she had a brain tumour, that I had not,
personally, found any physical signs suggestive of an
intracranial space occupying lesion, and that the
purpose of the scan was essentially to reassure the
patient. The request was initially declined, on the
grounds that there was no clinical justification for such
an expensive investigation. It was also implied that I
had gone a little overboard, believing what my patient’s
hallucinatory voices were telling her.
Eventually, after some negotiation, the scan was
done in April. The initial findings led to a repeat scan,
with enhancement, in May, revealing a left posterior
frontal parafalcine mass, which extended through the
falx to the right side. It had all the appearances of a
meningioma.
The consultant neurosurgeon to whom I referred
AB noted the absence of headache or any other focal
neurological deficits related to this mass, and discussed,
with AB and her husband, the pros and cons of imme-
diate operation as against waiting for symptoms to
appear. In the end, it was agreed to proceed with an
immediate operation. AB’s voices told her that they
were fully in agreement with that decision.
These were the notes of the operation, carried out
in May 1984: “A large left frontal bone flap extending
across the midline was turned following a bifrontal skin
flap incision. Meningioma about 2.5” by 1.5” in size
arose from the falx and extended through to the right
side. A small area of tumour appeared on the medial
surface of the brain. The tumour was dissected out and
removed completely along with its origins in the falx.”
AB later told me that when she recovered
consciousness after the operation the voices told her,
“We are pleased to have helped you. Goodbye.” There
were no postoperative complications. The dosage of
dexamethasone was halved every four days, and then it
was stopped. She was on prophylactic anticonvulsants
for six months. Antipsychotic medication was discon-
tinued immediately after the operation, and there was
no return of the hallucinatory voices or the delusions
which she had expressed.
Discussion
AB telephoned me last Christmas to wish me and fam-
ily a merry festive season, and to tell me that she had
been completely well in the 12 years since the
operation. It was this telephone call that brought this
case to mind again.
It is well known that intracranial lesions can be
associated with psychiatric symptomatology. But this is
Education and debate
Adult Mental
Health Unit,
Lambeth
Healthcare NHS
Trust, London,
SW9 9NT
Ikechukwu Obialo
Azuonye,
consultant psychiatrist
BMJ 1997;315:1685–6
1685BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
the first and only instance I have come across in which
hallucinatory voices sought to reassure the patient of
their genuine interest in her welfare, offered her a spe-
cific diagnosis (there were no clinical signs that would
have alerted anyone to the tumour), directed her to the
type of hospital best equipped to deal with her
problem, expressed pleasure that she had at last
received the treatment they desired for her, bid her
farewell, and thereafter disappeared.
I presented her case at a conference later that year.
AB attended and was closely questioned by several
people about the various aspects of her experience.
The audience was split down the middle. People who
would be called X-philes today rejoiced that what had
happened to her was a clear instance of telepathic
communication from two well meaning people who
had, psychically, found that AB had a tumour and
sought to help her.
The X-phobes had a very different formulation.
According to them, AB had been given the diagnosis of
a brain tumour in her original country and wanted to
be treated free under the NHS. Hence, they surmised,
she had made up the convoluted tale about voices tell-
ing her this and that. But AB had lived in Britain for 15
years and was entitled to NHS treatment. Besides, she
had been so relieved when the voices first disappeared
on thioridazine that she had gone on holiday to
celebrate the recovery of her sanity.
There was a group at the case conference who
offered a different opinion. Their view was that, the
total lack of physical signs notwithstanding, it was
unlikely that a tumour of that size had had absolutely
no effect on the patient. “She must have felt
something,” they argued. They suggested that a funny
feeling in her head had led her to fear that she had a
brain tumour. That fear had led to her experience of
hallucinatory voices. She may have unconsciously
taken in more information about various hospitals
than she realised, and this information was reproduced
by her mind as part of the auditory hallucinatory
experience. The voices expressing satisfaction with the
outcome of her treatment were her own mind express-
ing its relief that the emergency was over.And the total
disappearance of psychiatric symptoms after the
removal of the tumour showed that these symptoms
were at least directly related to the presence of the
lesion–and may, in fact, have been produced by the
lesion itself. I have obtained the patient’s signed
consent to publication.
History
Two hundred years since Malthus
John A Black
Malthus was by training a mathematician and by
profession a teacher of political economy, but his work
was greatly influenced by his Christian convictions. In
the first edition of his Essay, published in 1798, he put
forward the hypothesis that population, if unchecked,
would increase by geometrical ratio, doubling itself
every 25 years, while food supply could increase by
only arithmetical ratio. He suggested that population
was controlled by “positive checks” such as war,famine,
and disease.
He campaigned unsuccessfully for the gradual
abolition of the old poor laws which, he thought,
encouraged the working class to marry young and to
have large families. In his second edition he introduced
the concept of the “preventive checks” by moral
restraint
late marriage and restraint within marriage.
The reduction in fertility which Malthus advocated was
achieved by the acceptance of birth control, to which
he was violently opposed. He was attacked during his
lifetime and has been misinterpreted and misunder-
stood ever since.
Academic career
Thomas Robert Malthus (known as Robert) (fig 1) was
born on 14 February 1766 near Dorking, Surrey. He
was born with a cleft lip and palate, but this does not
seem to have hindered his academic career. In 1785
he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, where he read
mathematics, obtaining a first class degree. He was
elected fellow of the college in 1797, and four years
later took Holy Orders. In 1805 he was appointed
professor of history and political economy at the
newly founded College of the East India Company, at
Haileybury, in Hertfordshire (now Haileybury and
Imperial Service College). He held this post until his
death in 1834 from “disease of the heart” in Bath
(fig 2). He married at the age of 38 and had three
children.
Positive checks to population
Reacting against his father’s enthusiasm for the
Utopian ideas of the Marquis de Condorcet and
William Godwin, Malthus published the first edition of
his “essay” as a long pamphlet in 1798 (fig 3). Its full
title was “An essay on the principle of population
as it affects the future improvement of society.
With remarks on the speculations of Mr. Goodwin,
M. Condorcet, and other writers.1
He set out his views clearly: “The power of popula-
tion is infinitely greater than the power in the earth to
produce subsistence for man. Population when
unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsist-
ence increases only in arithmetical ratio ... By that law
of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of
man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be
kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly oper-
ating check on population from the difficulty of
subsistence.”
Education and debate
Victoria Mill House,
Framlingham,
Woodbridge,
Suffolk IP13 9EG
John A Black,
retired consultant
paediatrician
BMJ 1997;315:1686–9
1686 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
He defined the checks as follows: “The positive
checks to population are extremely various . . . Under
this head, therefore, may be enumerated all unwhole-
some occupations, severe labour and exposure to the
seasons, extreme poverty, bad nursing of children,
great towns, excesses of all kinds, the whole train of
common diseases and epidemics, wars, plague and
famines.”
Summarising his views, he wrote: “The truth is, that
the pressure of distress on this part of a community
[the poor] is an evil so deeply seated that no human
ingenuity can reach it.” North America provided the
evidence that population could increase in geometrical
ratio. Malthus noted that, “In the northern states of
America . . . the population has been found to double
itself, for above a century and a half successively in less
than twenty-five years ....Itmay safely be pronounced
therefore, that population, when unchecked, goes on
doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a
geometrical ratio.
On the question of food supply, he wrote: “the
means of subsistence, under circumstances the most
favourable to human industry, could not possibly be
made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio.
Preventive checks
Malthus visited Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia in
1799 and France and Switzerland in 1802, accumulat-
ing material, which was incorporated into the second
edition, published in 1803, under his own name.2
Significantly, the subtitle was altered to “Or a view of its
past and present effects on human happiness, with an
inquiry into our prospects respecting the future
removal or mitigation of the evils which it occasions.
Appreciating now that population was not control-
led solely by positive checks, Malthus introduced the
concept of “preventive checks.” He divided them into
those arising from “vice” and “moral restraint,” by
which he meant chaste restraint from marriage
that
is, late marriage without previous sexual liaisons, and
restraint within marriage, with voluntary restriction of
the number of children. Preventive checks arising from
vice were: “Promiscuous intercourse, unnatural pas-
sions, violations of the marriage bed, and improper
acts to conceal the consequences of irregular
connexions.” According to Malthus, the “lower orders”
had lost their self respect and were marrying young
and producing more children than they could
support.
Malthus’s solution
Malthus advocated the gradual abolition of the poor
laws with safeguards against undue distress, but retain-
ing the threat of economic hardship. He thought that
“the fear of want, rather than want itself, that is the best
stimulus to industry.
In spite of this approach he was able to write a
shockingly repressive passage (not in the sixth edition):
“A man is born into a world already possessed if he
cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he
has a just demand, and if society do not want his
labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of
food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At
Nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him.
She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her
orders.”2
Malthus proposed that the working classes should
copy the habits of the middle classes, who married late
and had small families. He had a poor opinion of the
upper classes: “Those among the higher classes, who
live principally in towns, often want the inclination to
Fig 1 John Linnell’s portrait of Malthus in 1833, aged 67.
(Reproduced with permission of the governors of Haileybury and
Imperial Service College)
Fig 2 Memorial to Malthus in Bath Abbey. (From The Malthusian
population theory by G F McCleary. London: Faber and Faber, 1953.)
Education and debate
1687BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
marry, from the facility with which they can indulge
themselves in an illicit intercourse with the sex.”
To promote his views, Malthus advocated universal
primary education: “[We] have been miserably
deficient. It is surely a national disgrace, that the educa-
tion of the lower classes of people in England should
be left merely to a few Sunday Schools, supported by a
subscription from individuals, who can give to the
course of instruction in them any kind of bias which
they please.”
The other side of Malthus
Malthus had a humane side to his character. He
condemned the social evils resulting from the
industrial revolution and was concerned about the ill
treatment of illegitimate children and the high
mortality of children in the towns. “In London, accord-
ing to former calculations, one half of the born died
under three years of age.”
He attributed this to poor housing and atmos-
pheric pollution: “There certainly seems to be
something in great towns, and even in moderate towns,
peculiarly unfavourable to the very early stages of life ...
it arises from the closeness and foulness of the air,
which may be supposed to be unfavourable to the ten-
der lungs of children.”
Changes in England
To understand Malthus’s ideas and the reasons his
policies failed, it is necessary to review the social,
economic, and demographic changes which were
occurring at the time. The economic situation of the
agricultural labourers was deplorable. The enclosure
movement meant that they had lost their security of
employment, their cottages, and the common rights
which had given them some independence.3Many
families became destitute and were forced to live in the
workhouses.
Between 1731 and 1811 the population almost
doubled and the price of food increased two and a half
times.4Concurrently, fertility was rising, reaching a
peak in 1790, and real wages were falling, with a nadir
in 1811 (fig 4). On 6 May 1795 the magistrates at
Speenhamland in Berkshire, in an effort to alleviate
distress, introduced supplementary “wages,” tied to the
price of bread, for “all poor and industrious
[employed] men.” This reduced the agricultural
workers to dependent paupers, placed an intolerable
burden on the parish, and encouraged landowners to
keep wages low.
Malthus attributed the rising population to this
dependency culture, which, he thought, encouraged
early marriage and large families. He feared social
unrest, even revolution, due to food shortages. There
were serious food riots in 1816.
For 250 years before Malthus, population had
been linked to the price of food, with the prices
increasing faster than population. Between 1811 and
1871 the population again doubled, but this time food
prices fell, then stabilised; this was due to improve-
ments in agriculture and to the economies of scale
resulting from the enclosures. Wages began to rise,
due to the demand for labour by the industrial revolu-
tion, and continued to rise for the rest of the century
(fig 4).
There were also demographic changes. In pre-
industrial England the working classes practised virtu-
ally no birth control
coitus interruptus was thought to
be injurious to health. Fertility was determined by the
ability of a couple to afford to marry and have children.
This meant late marriage and small families. Though
Malthus did not discuss infanticide or abortion, Darwin
regarded infanticide, particularly of female infants, and
abortion, as important positive checks.5
According to the preindustrial pattern, the
coincidence of stable food prices and rising wages
should have caused fertility to rise. Instead, from 1840
Fig 3 Title page of the first edition. Godwin’s name is misspelt
900 3.6
3.2
2.8
2.4
2.0
1.6
1.2
800
700
600
500
400
300 1551 1601 1651 1701 1751 1801 1851 1901
Real wage index
Gross reproduction rates
Real wage
Gross reproduction rate
Fig 4 Gross reproduction rates in five year cohorts compared with
25 year moving average of real wage index. Gross reproduction
rates, which were used by Wrigley and Schofield as an index of
fertility,4are age specific birth rates of women. (Reproduced from
The Population History of England 1541-1871 with the permission of
the authors and publishers)
Education and debate
1688 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
onwards, fertility began to fall and continued to fall
until the end of the century (fig 4). This was because
contraception (the vaginal sponge had been intro-
duced from France, coitus interruptus was now accept-
able, and condoms had been used mainly to avoid
venereal disease from prostitutes) had become respect-
able and couples were choosing to limit their families
and to enjoy increased material comfort.
Malthus was violently opposed to contraception
and only referred to it obliquely: “A promiscuous
intercourse to such a degree as to prevent the birth of
children seems to lower in the most marked degree the
dignity of human nature.
Conclusion
Malthus advocated several socially progressive ideas
but these were never implemented in his lifetime. His
social policies were defeated by a combination of
socioeconomic progress and by the acceptance of an
effective preventive measure, which he had refused to
recognise. His lasting contributions, however, were the
concepts of the tension between population and food
supply and the positive and preventive checks to
population.
For almost a century Malthus’s ideas were regarded
as obsolete but the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth
revived the Malthusian analysis by pointing out the
limitations of food supplies and non-renewable
sources of material and energy to cope with the popu-
lation explosion.6
1An essay on the principle of population. 1st ed. London: J Johnson, 1798.
2 Malthus TR. An essay on the principle of population. 2nd ed. London: J John-
son, 1803:531.
3 Hammond JL, Hammond B. The village labourer 1760 -1832.Abingdon:
Fraser Stewart, 1995:100.
4 Wrigley EA, Schofield RS. The population history of England 1541-1871.
London: Arnold, 1981:403.
5 Darwin C. The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. London: Mur-
ray, 1871:134.
6 Meadows DH, Meadows DL, Randers J,Behrens WH.The limits to g rowth.
New York:Universe Books, 1972.
Sailors and star-bursts, and the arrival of HIV
Edward Hooper
Tracking the origins and early history of a newly
recognised disease is more than just an academic
exercise. To appreciate how a disease began can help
medical science to combat it. The classic example is
John Snow’s investigation of the cholera epidemic in
Golden Square, London, in 1854: his removal of the
handle of the Broad Street pump contained the
outbreak.1An appreciation of causation may also help
to prevent similar events occurring in the future. The
recent evidence, for example, about the origins of new
variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease23will, hopefully, sen-
sitise those research scientists who are transplanting
baboon livers in humans to the potentially catastrophic
impact of zoonoses
human diseases acquired from
animals.4
Three outbreaks of AIDS ...
In the case of AIDS, three related but distinct causes
have been recognised in the past 16 years
namely the
three human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV-2 and
HIV-1 groups M and O). It is now widely accepted that
HIV-2 is the result of a zoonotic transfer of a simian
immunodeficiency virus from the sooty mangabey (a
species of African monkey). HIV-1 groups M (for
“main”) and O (“outlier”) seem to result from two sepa-
rate zoonotic transfers of different variants of simian
immunodeficiency virus in chimpanzees.
HIV-1 group M has probably caused over 99% of
the world’s 12.9 million cumulative AIDS cases to date5;
by contrast, group O has probably caused less than
0.1%, perhaps because the virus (like HIV-2) is less
transmissible. None the less, the rarer HIV-1 may also
have lessons to teach us.
Two mariners . . .
Earlier this year, characterisation by polymerase chain
reaction sequencing of an archival HIV-1 isolate from a
29 year old Norwegian former merchant seaman
showed that he had been infected with a group O
Summary points
Learning about the origins of a disease may help
us to control it and also to prevent similar
diseases arising in the future
The earliest confirmed case of AIDS in the world
was in a young Norwegian sailor who was infected
with HIV-1 group O
probably in Cameroon in
1961-2
The earliest evidence of HIV-1 group M is from
1959 and of HIV-2 from 1965.It seems, therefore,
that all three HIVs may have emerged around the
same time
Phylogenetic evidence shows that HIV-1 groups
M and O show a “star-burst” phylogeny, with
different subtypes suddenly emerging around
1959
Opinion is divided about whether this star-burst
arose from the natural transfer of simian
immunodeficiency virus to humans or from
iatrogenic introduction
for example, through a
vaccine
Education and debate
PO Box 4087,
Worthing
BN14 7LQ
Edward Hooper,
writer and medical
researcher
BMJ 1997;315:1689–91
1689BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
virus.6With this announcement, another piece of the
jigsaw of the early history of the HIVs has slotted into
place.
The Norwegian sailor died of AIDS in 1976, at
the age of 29, as did his wife and youngest daughter,
born in 1967. Since the debunking of the case of the
sailor from Manchester who died in 1959 with
symptoms of immunosuppression (but not, it would
appear, HIV infection),78 the members of this
Norwegian family now represent the earliest con-
firmed cases of AIDS. The first symptoms appeared in
1966 in the sailor, in 1967 in his wife, and in 1969 in
their daughter.
The great majority of group O isolates come from
people originating from west central Africa, and in
particular Cameroon and Gabon.9The central and
coastal provinces of Cameroon (containing, respec-
tively, the capital, Yaoundé, and the main port and
commercial centre, Douala), have the highest current
prevalence of group O, which causes just over 5% of all
HIV infections in these two regions.10
The Norwegian sailor’s maritime history is
interesting. Between 1961 and 1965 he travelled the
world’s oceans, calling at ports in all six inhabited con-
tinents. On his first voyage, which began in August
1961 just after his 15th birthday, he worked as a
kitchen hand on a Norwegian vessel that sailed down
the west African coastline, calling at ports in Senegal,
Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and
Cameroon (almost certainly Douala). A gonorrhoeal
infection during this trip shows that he was already
sexually active. He returned home in May 1962, and
apart from a two day stopover in Mombasa, Kenya, in
1964, he never returned to Africa (K F Wefring,
personal communications, 1993, 1994, 1997). The
sailor was, however, most unlikely to have been infected
in Kenya, for only one group O isolate has been iden-
tified from that country
and that in 1995-6.11 No
evidence exists to suggest that the sailor was bisexual,
which means that sexual contact with a woman in
Douala is the most straightforward explanation for his
infection. This would suggest that HIV-1 group O has
been circulating in that part of Africa for at least 35
years.
Between 1969 and 1973 or 1974, the Norwegian
sailor experienced a remission of symptoms and was
employed as a long distance lorry driver, ferrying
goods to various destinations in Europe, including
Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland,
Austria, and Italy. Seventy per cent of these journeys
were to Germany, and his major pickup point for
return cargoes was at Wesseling, 16 km south of
Cologne. Former work colleagues believe that dur-
ing the course of his travels he had sex with various
women, including prostitutes. In this context it
would be interesting to know whether the German
musician who died in Cologne of clinically defined
AIDS in 1979 (and whose first symptoms appeared
in December 1976)12 was infected with HIV-1 group O.
The musician was bisexual (not homosexual, as
previously reported), and apparently used to hire
female prostitutes to participate in orgies. Tissues
from the postmortem examination are still in
existence.
The next likely case of group O infection to feature
in the literature is the second child of a French barmaid
from Reims, who died in 1981 “following a clinical
history highly suggestive of neonatal AIDS”; in 1992 a
group O virus was isolated from the mother, who
by then had AIDS.13 14 It may be significant that a
major lorry route between Liège and Lyons
two of the
Norwegian sailor’s delivery stops
runs past Reims.
Alternatively, since Reims is a garrison town, the
woman’s sexual partners might have included mem-
bers of the French military who had served in
Cameroon.15
The first group O isolate to be partially
characterised and reported in the literature was the
Cameroonian ANT-70, in 1990.16 Given the Norwegian
sailor’s sexual history, this long gap between earliest
known infection and scientific recognition may seem
surprising. There are, however, various possible expla-
nations. One is that in 1961-2 the group O virus might
have been new to Homo sapiens and not yet well
adapted to transmission among humans. Another is
that group O may be intrinsically less transmissible
than group M, as suggested by the fact that the Norwe-
“To appreciate how a disease
began can help medical science to
combat it”
“Early,sporadic cases of any new
disease tend to be missed”
Senegal
Guinea
Liberia
Ivory
Coast
Ghana
Nigeria
Cameroon
M
e
d
i
t
e
r
r
a
n
e
a
n
S
e
a
N
o
r
w
a
y
0
0 500 1500 miles
500 1000 1500 km
Route of the Norwegian sailor’s first voyage, between Oslofjord
(Norway) and Douala (Cameroon), August 1961 to May 1962
Education and debate
1690 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
gian sailor’s first two daughters, born in 1964 and
1966, are both HIV negative. What this also shows,
however,is that early,sporadic cases of any new disease
tend to be missed.
Especially for a lentivirus like HIV, a considerable
lag time may occur between the earliest known
appearance in humans and its recognition as a cause of
illness, which generally occurs when sufficient cases
exist to establish a pattern. In the case of HIV-1 group
M, we have reliable evidence that the seed was present
in humans as early as 1959 in what is now Kinshasa,
Congo,17 and yet the dreadful first flowering in Ameri-
can homosexual men only came to the notice of the
medical profession in 1981.18 We now know that other
cases of AIDS occurred in the Congo during the
1970s19 20 and possibly as early as 1962 (J Sonnet, per-
sonal communication, 1992),21 but the significance of
such cases was recognised only retrospectively, once
the syndrome and its viral cause had been identified.
This highlights the worrying possibility that other HIV
variants may already be spreading, unrecognised, in
humans.
In 1994 Gerry Myers of the HIV sequence database
reported that HIV-1 groups M and O both exhibit star-
like phylogenetic trees, and proposed that the
divergence of different subtypes within both these
groups might have occurred around the year 1959.22 23
This is consistent with the molecular clocks proposed
by many geneticists24–26 and with the fact that no HIV
isolate has yet been discovered from before 1959.
Others have referred to this divergence as a “big
bang,”27 though perhaps the best image is that of a
silent star-burst,28 viewed years later across space and
time, perhaps by a sailor on night watch in the midst of
a dark ocean.
. . . and a monkey puzzle tree
Speculation abounds about why the two explosive
HIV-1 divergences should have suddenly occurred
around the end of the 1950s. In fact, there might
even have been three roughly contemporaneous
star-bursts, as the earliest epidemiological evidence
of all three HIVs pertains to the same time
period
1959 for HIV-1 group M, 1961-2 for group O,
and 1965-6 (in different parts of west Africa) for
HIV-2.29 30
Proponents of the “natural transfer” school believe
that simian viruses may have been transferred to
humans during the skinning and butchery of
chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys or the keeping of
these primates as pets. They seek to explain the
synchronicity of divergence and spread of the HIVs by
proposing that urbanisation and new sexual freedoms
around the time of decolonisation brought these rare
human viruses in from the bush.
Others, members of the iatrogenic school, believe
that the hand of medical science may have played an
unintended role. They propose that the capture of
monkeys and apes for scientific purposes, or the
administration in Africa of vaccines made in substrates
of primate kidney, may have been the initial means
whereby the precursor simian viruses were transferred
to humans.31 Many of them believe that the star-burst
phenomenon is suggestive of several simultaneous
iatrogenic transfers.
Perhaps when further isolates of simian immuno-
deficiency viruses from chimpanzees and sooty maga-
beys and archival HIV isolates have been sequenced,
we shall have greater insight into the question of
where, when, and how the HIVs came into being, and
how best to minimise the risk of further zoonotic disas-
ters in the new millennium.
Much of the information in this article is based on tape record-
ings and notes of interviews between EH and various scientists
or on personal letters from those scientists. The map is based on
an original drawing by Sally Griffin.
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unusual human immunodeficiency retrovirus from two persons of west-
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17 Nahmias AJ, Weiss J, Yao X, Lee F, Kodsi R, Schanfield M, et al. Evidence
for human infection with an HTLV-III/LAV-like virus in central Africa,
1959 [letter]. Lancet 1986;i:1279-80.
18 Gottlieb MS, Schanker HM, Fan PT, Saxon A, Weisman JD, Pozalski I.
Pneumocystis pneumonia
Los Angeles. MMWR 1981;30:250-2.
19 Nzilambi N, de Cock KM, Forthal D,Francis H, Ryder RW,Malebe I, et al.
The prevalence of infection with human immunodeficiency virus over a
10-year period in rural Zaire. N Engl J Med 1988;318:276-9.
20 Bygbjerg IC. AIDS in a Danish surgeon (Zaire, 1976) [letter]. Lancet
1983;i:925.
21 Sonnet J, Michaux J-L, Zech LF, Brucher J-M, de Brufere M, Burtonboy G.
Early AIDS cases originating from Zaire and Burundi (1962-1976). Scand
J Infect Dis 1987;19:511-7.
22 Myers G. HIV: between past and future. AIDS Res Hum Retro 1994;
10:1317-24.
23 Saragosti S. Variability of HIV type 1 group O strains isolated from Cam-
eroonian patients living in France. Colloque des Cent Gards 1994;9:109-12.
24 Li W-H, Tanimura S, Sharp PM. Rates and dates of divergence between
AIDS virus nucleotide sequences. Mol Biol Evol 1988;5:313-30.
25 Querat G, Audoly G, Sonigo P, Vigne R. Nucleotide sequence analysis of
SA-OMVV,a visna-related ovine lentivirus; phylogenetic history of lenti-
viruses. Virology 1990;175:434-47.
26 Barré-Sinoussi F. HIV as the cause of AIDS.Lancet 1996;348:31-5.
27 Garrett L. The coming plague: newly emerging diseases in a world out of
balance. New York: Farrar,Straus and Giroux, 1994:378-9.
28 Sharp PM, Robertson DL, Gao F, Hahn BH. Origins and diversity of
human immunodeficiency viruses. AIDS 1994;8 (suppl 1):S27-42
29 Le Guenno B. HIV-1 and HIV-2: two ancient viruses for a new disease
[letter]? Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 1989;83:847.
30 Bryceson A, Tomkins A, Ridley D, Warhurst D, Goldstone A, Bayliss G, et
al. HIV-2-associated AIDS in the 1970s [letter]. Lancet 1988;ii:221.
31 Cribb J. The white death. Sydney: Angus and Rober tson, 1996.
© Edward Hooper
Education and debate
1691BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
The electronic future
What might an online scientific paper look like in five
years’ time?
Scientific journals are centuries old, but the electronic publishing revolution is finally making an
impact on them. We asked six people involved in electronic publishing to describe how an online
“paper” might look in five years’ time.
Length—and other strengths
Lisa Bero
The main advantages of online publication are less
concern about page limits, the possibility of hypertext
links to other sources of information, the ability for
interaction, and imagery.
So, in five years’ time, scientific papers may be very
long. With a click of the mouse button, the real data
behind the tables could appear and readers will be able
to critically appraise a paper on the basis of more
complete information. Overall, reporting should
improve because all methodological details of the
published research will be available. An unanticipated
side effect of better reporting may be that fewer papers
are accepted by journals, as peer referees will know
when an author is trying to pull the wool over their
eyes.
Hypertext links will make each individual scientific
paper a gold mine of supporting information. Readers
will be able to click on references as they are cited and
learn whether the references actually support the point
made by the author. Authors will also be able to link to
their own, and others’, relevant previous work
and
readers will be helped to put new research in the con-
text of what has come before. Data that were previously
available only by request from the authors or from data
storage services, such as the National Auxiliary
Publication Service, will be accessible through hyper-
text links.
Online publication offers the opportunity for
interaction. In five years’ time, letters to the editor will
be replaced by letters to the author. Authors will
respond to comments that are submitted electronically
by readers
and if they don’t, their lack of response will
be noted. Each scientific paper will become a living
document that evolves in response to readers’
feedback, as is currently seen in the Cochrane Library.1
Readers will have to learn to revisit papers in order to
keep up to date with new interpretations of the
research.
The imagery and interaction available through
online publication will allow readers to manipulate
data to test the assumptions made by authors. For
example, readers could test the robustness of a finding
by using an option to recalculate data using different
statistical tests. Or, readers could select graphical
display of data as percentage change versus absolute
change to determine whether the authors’ conclusions
depend on the type of presentation. Such transparency
in data analysis could well lead to more letters to the
author.
Lastly, let’s not forget about the authors and
imagery. In five years’ time, the credit system of author-
ship will be widely used. In addition to reading a
description of what each author contributed to the
paper, the reader will also be able to link to pictures of
the authors in action. For example, one author may
have contributed thinking (image: feet up on desk,gaz-
ing into space), while another may have contributed
statistical expertise (image: statistician arguing with
principal investigator). Thus, the potentially cold and
impersonal world of online communication will take
on a more human face.
Material that is supplementary to a published paper may be
stored electronically and obtained by the reader of the paper for
a small fee through the service provided by the National
Auxiliary Publication Service c/o Microfiche Publications, PO
Box 3513, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163-3513,
USA.
1 www.cochrane.co.uk (Up to date information on access to internet
versions of the Cochrane Library.)
PATRICELOIEZ, CERN/SPL
Education and debate
Institute for Health
Policy Studies,
University of
California, San
Francisco, 1388
Sutter Street, San
Francisco, CA
94109, USA
Lisa Bero,
associate professor
bero@cardio.ucsf.edu
BMJ 1997;315:1692–6
1692 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
From snapshot to movie
Tony Delamothe
Within five years most readers and researchers will
have understood that the scientific paper, despite its
illustrious history, was merely a passing phase. Before
the internet, papers were undoubtedly the best way to
communicate the results of research to peers who
weren’t physically present A fixture in the academic
landscape, the many limitations of papers were hardly
noticed.
But the scientific paper never approximated even
vaguely to real life; Medawar went as far as to call it a
fraud. The world wide web will make honest men and
women out of researchers: at last they will be able to tell
it like it is. Freed by the web of constraints on space,
they will be able to share the entire trajectory of their
research project as it unfolds, to everyone in the world
with web access.
The “virtual article” could start with the primeval
soup of discussion, debate, and previous research from
which their research question arose. Following this
would be the protocol, raw data and analysis, and
conclusions
and how these have been refined in
response to comments from peer reviewers and others
(which would all be available for perusal). Despite the
abundance of material clear signposting and site
design would keep the computer screen uncluttered
and might even allow the main message of the research
to emerge with greater clarity than at present. All con-
tent could be downloaded from the site and printed
out on paper if required.
Comments from the authors or readers could be
appended to the work long after it has been completed;
links could be followed to articles that subsequently cite
it (forward referencing). Closure need never occur; the
scientific paper that we know and love will come to be
recognised for what it is
one moment in the history of
an idea, frozen in time, like a black and white snapshot.
True, still photographs have their power and fascination,
but most of us opt for moving images.
The research project can be available as it unfolds,
to everyone in the world with web access, at a cost
many times lower than paper journals. Science could
eventually become the more open, collaborative
endeavour that its propagandists claim it to be.
Of course, this Utopian vision leaves many issues
unaddressed. For example, who guarantees the quality
of material, and who is responsible for providing access
to it after institutions have folded and individuals
moved on (functions currently fulfilled, with varying
success, by journals)? How will interested parties find
their way to relevant material, given the bluntness of
current search tools on the web? Will some higher
authority be needed to ensure that researchers will
post negative as well as positive comments on their
work and to adjudicate in disputes over plagiarism and
theft? So much has become possible in such a short
time that it seems unlikely that these issues will present
enduring obstacles.
Variation adds value to the author’s logic
Anne Dixon
A primary research article purports to be an objective
record of a discrete piece of work that addresses, in
sequence, the introduction of the problem at issue, the
approach and methods adopted, the results, and the
conclusions to be drawn. One of the key questions for
publishers of scientific papers is whether and how one
can retain the author’s logic but also provide the variety,
segmentation, and ancillary information that electronic
publishing can allow,and which end users may want.
But firstly let’s look at the work of scientists
themselves. In five years’ time it will be almost inconceiv-
able that some part of their work, or more likely all of it,
will not have been created using computing power. The
output could be data, tables, pictures, texts, sound,
images, animations, computable formulas, three-
dimensional movable structures, simulations, URL
addresses, or other unique identifiers. Furthermore, dur-
ing the preparation of their articles the authors may well
have already segmented the content by using headings
and other textual devices or by electronic methods.
Once the paper is submitted to a publisher or other
content provider, the refereeing process (if indeed
there is one) may build on these elements, altering the
context of the content to aid comprehension and clar-
ity and suggesting further information trails for
readers to follow. Open or semimoderated peer review
may be favoured by the publisher or author, or both,
and this creates its own issues in terms of fixing the
state and status of the work in time, and establishing
priority and ownership of the work. In this context
there may never be a “final version” of the work; rather,
it will be a “living document,”with its own ecosystem.
Once a publisher or content provider has
completed the refereeing process (if such exists) the
article manipulation process begins. This is where the
bulk of the “new” work occurs for publishers: format
conversion; storage; cataloguing; adding identifiers;
adding metadata; determining and implementing seg-
mentation; imposing security, validation, or terms of
trade layers; adding or identifying further crosslinks or
keywords; data processing; database insertion; and
improving or standardising multimedia elements. This
is the new added value publishers can and will bring to
the article. Once these considerable tasks have been
undertaken the article will reside in at least one of the
publisher’s databases, quite possibly in several formats
and versions. Further manipulation is required to pre-
BMJ, London
WC1H 9JR
Tony Delamothe,
deputy editor
tdelamothe@
bmj.com
Education and debate
Institute of Physics
Publishing, Bristol
BS1 6BE (http://
www.iop.org)
Anne Dixon,
electronic publisher
anne.dixon@
ioppublishing.co.uk
1693BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
pare the content for different delivery methods, be they
print, online, or portable digital medium.
Now we get to the appearance of the article. It could
look exactly as the author intended it to appear; or, as is
the case with many existing electronic journals, it could
emulate the print product; or its segmentation and
appearance could be determined by the user, author,
publisher, customer, or other authority. We already have
examples of this: an article does not have the same
appearance on a preprint server as when it is later pub-
lished; articles offered by different aggregators have dif-
ferent levels of functionality; personalised services allow
for a range of different interfaces; and intuitive filtering,
where content is sent to users on the basis of their previ-
ous behaviour, will shortly be a reality. It is unlikely that
there will be a lessening of this differentiation; indeed, it
is bound to increase as content providers become
increasingly competitive. The big question is, “When is
great variation in presentation not of value to the
reader? And in which circumstances should certain arti-
cles warrant great variation, and others not?” The review
article is a more obvious candidate for segmentation, for
example, than a rapid communication.
Finally, we need to ask, “What becomes of the
authoritative archive?”Is it the author’s accepted text,
the relevant parts of the publisher’s database, the first
version published in the first medium available, the
version sent to a national deposit library, or the latest
version available, with all the added functionality which
has been created since the article was first published?
These questions will continue to haunt us. I look
forward to learning the answers.
Looking to the future: amazon.com and four trends
Ronald E LaPorte, Akira Sekikawa, Deborah Aaron, Rimei Nishimura, Benjamin Acosta
Amazon.com is the world’s largest bookstore and
currently the most successful enterprise on the
internet. In amazon.com one can:
xEasily find books by browsing;
xFind books that are the most read;
xIdentify books recommended and reviewed by
experts;
xFind award winning books;
xExamine ratings and reviews by peers;
xRate and review books for other readers;
xSelect and pay for books directly on the internet;
xHave new books selected on the basis of previous
choices and pushed onto your computer.
Substitute the word “journal” for “book": this is the
future of scientific publication.Amazon.com is a model
of a successful, efficient, constantly evolving internet
information broker. Scientific journals will emulate it.
In addition to amazon.com there are four trends.12
Competition
Now, publishers have a monopoly on
scientific communication; this will soon fall. Scientists
will bypass journals and put research directly on the
web.3A second competitor will be Silicon Valley
companies like Microsoft or amazon.com. These
aggressive information brokers will “eat their children”
by evolving cutting edge information technology for
dissemination of scientific information.4The competi-
tors will improve service and drive down costs; as a
result, many journals will go belly up.
Cognitive based presentations
Powerful new cogni-
tive formats will evolve; as this happens,the traditional
format of Abstract, Introduction, Methods will become
extinct. One new format is called “Hypertext Comic
Book"; here learning is enhanced by iconic “cognitive”
paradigms.5The user points and clicks to icons for
medical knowledge. In 2002 the medical literature will
have no rigid style. Instead, cognitively based formats
which maximise interactivity, hyperlinks, and memory
will evolve.
Comprehension translation
This 1997 article
appears in only one format; one size fits all. In 2002,
people will indicate their backgrounds, and software
called Intelligent Agents will individually tailor a
semantic translation to maximise comprehension.
Thus an epidemiologist will see a very different article
than a surgeon or bus driver.
Convergence
Researchers currently do not commu-
nicate well with clinicians, public health workers, or the
lay public. People in different disciplines will converge to
global internet chat rooms to discuss new research. Hav-
ing researchers transfer information directly to the con-
sumer rather than through paper journals or the media
will allow much faster and more accurate diffusion of
scientific information. Convergence will also bring
scientists to the schools. Scientists will “push” new infor-
mation into schools via internet lectures.6Convergence
will also take place as the distinctions between the latest
scientific findings, lectures, journals, and books become
blurred. Schools, books, and lessons will have infor-
mation days old rather than years or decades old.
The future is bright: there will be better quality, im-
provedaccess,andlowercosts withthe emergenceofscien-
tific information based, amazon.com-type companies.
1 http://www.bmj.com/bmj/archive/6991ed2.htm
2 http://www.bmj.com/archive/7072fd2.htm
3 www.pitt.edu/HOME/GHNet/publications/assassin/index.html
4 www.pitt.edu/rlaporte/prague.html
5 www.pitt.edu/debaaron/htcb.html
6 www.pitt.edu/super1
PATRICELOIEZ, CERN/SPL
Education and debate
Global Health
Network, WHO
Collaborating
Center, Department
of Epidemiology,
Graduate School of
Public Health,
University of
Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, PA
15261, USA
(www.pitt.edu/HOME/
GHNet/GHNet.html)
Ronald E LaPorte,
professor
Akira Sekikawa,
fellow
Deborah Aaron,
research assistant
Rimei Nishimura,
fellow
Benjamin Acosta,
fellow
Correspondence to:
Professor LaPorte
rlaporte@vms.
cis.pitt.edu
1694 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
It could fulfil our dreams
Faith McLellan
This holiday season I’m dreaming . . . of an online scien-
tific paper that is flexible, accessible, and exceptionally
friendly for its diverse users. Like most dreams, this one
takes no account of cost, technical feasibility, or any of
the other headaches of publishers and proprietors. It
does acknowledge that authors may already feel
overburdened with publication tasks and that readers
may be overwhelmed by enormous amounts of
information. So despite the virtually limitless terrain of
cyberspace, my online paper of the future is still marked
by a core IMRAD [introduction, methods, results, and
discussion] or other conventional structure, economy of
expression, judicious presentation of data, and editorial
expertise. Here are a few scenes from this dream:
. . . a link from the authors’ names to their email
addresses or other accurate, regularly updated means
of contact
. .. a short summary of the paper’s key points, written in
plain language. Editors of online journals report heavy
traffic from lay readers, so why not make the message
accessible to the public?
. . . links to detailed descriptions of experimental
methods
. . . links to often cited but infrequently available
documents, such as the Declaration of Helsinki
. . . drug, chemical, and equipment names that are
linked to a contact for the manufacturer
not to be
construed as advertising, but for the convenience of
readers in need of the same materials
. . . links to a schema of the experimental setup, or to a
graphic representation of the experimental design
. .. results that are available on demand in both graphic
and tabular form
. .. statistical methods that are linked to a short descrip-
tion of the tests’ mechanics and appropriate uses
. . . discussion links to speculative ideas
schematics of
possible mechanisms, tentative next steps
. .. references with links to the full text of the cited works
. . . case reports that might include a short account by
patients of their experience of the particular illness,
thus providing a perspective that is often missing and
another piece of “evidence”
. . . a didactic “overlay” on selected papers that would
examine their content and structure from one of
several perspectives, including how to write or review
this kind of paper, how to statistically analyse this type
of data, or how to use this article in clinical practice
an
electronic writing, peer review, or statistical workshop,
or journal club
. .. links, with the consent of all concerned,to reviewers’
comments on the published version of the paper
. . . a mechanism for readers to transmit concise
comments that can be edited and linked to the paper.
Specific features of the online scientific paper can be
fluid, a synthetic product of the creative expertise of
authors, readers, editors, information management
specialists, and web site designers. Appropriate to the
electronic medium, the paper’s form should be lively
and open and attentive to the needs of an expanding
audience. Appropriate to the scientific method, its
design should be tested for usefulness and applicability
and then modified as necessary, according to data
driven processes. The dream will then culminate in an
electronic paper that mirrors some of the highest
qualities of science and medicine
rigour, serendipity,
compassion.
“Papers” will still exist
Peter Newmark, Vitek Tracz
The very term “paper” is inescapably bound up with
the printed word and has no real place in the context
of “online.” It carries with it clear notions of space lim-
its, formats, and information packaging that have
become an integral part of the way science is currently
communicated.
Printed papers are the manifestation of the
quantum theory of publishing. Scientists accumulate
data, publish them, and repeat the process over and
over again.
The size of papers varies somewhat, with authors
intent on increasing their publication list slicing their
work much more thinly than others, but quanta are
inherent to print publishing.
Online publishing could hardly be more different.
Gone is the need to print discrete quanta of
information that are forever fossilised in their moment
of time. Instead the wave theory of publishing can
manifest itself. Online publications can change with
time, recording the development of ideas as research
progresses. Publications could be regularly archived as
a historical record, but the live publication would
evolve continuously. Moreover, all collected data would
be attached to the publication so that, although the
authors would still select what they need to make their
point, readers would be able to access all the data and
apply their own interpretation
in all probability with a
set of customised artificial intelligence tools.
Department of
Anesthesiology,
University of Texas
Medical Branch,
Galveston, TX
77555-0830, USA
Faith McLellan,
director, manuscript
and grant
preparation service
mclellan@
marlin.utmb.edu
Current Biology
Ltd, London
W1P 6LB
Peter Newmark,
editor,Current
Biology
Vitek Tracz,
chairman, Current
Science Group
Correspondence to:
Dr Newmark
peter@cursci.co.uk
LAWRENCE BERKLEY LABORATORY/SPL
Education and debate
1695BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
But we have to admit that there is not a chance that
this is what an online publication will be like in five
years’ time. To make such radical changes, a whole set
of ingrained ways will need to be changed. For
example, the refereeing system for papers, which is
built on the premise that small discrete quanta will be
reviewed, will need to evolve to cope with the wave
theory of publishing, as will the idea that promotion
can be based on measuring discrete quanta of publica-
tions. This may take not five but 50 years.
In five years’ time, online publications will still
closely resemble papers, albeit with added bells and
whistles. Some will contain many more data than can
be squeezed into a printed paper: perhaps the raw data
as well as the distilled version, and the graphical results
of all experiments instead of a “typical example.” Mov-
ies or animations will replace or complement the static
illustrations of printed papers. References will be
linked to the full text of the referenced paper and to
lists of related papers and reviews automatically
selected on criteria of relevance. And the text of many
papers will be rich with links to databases and other
websites. Some readers will find these fascinating, oth-
ers will find them distracting, and most will probably
still print out on paper what they really want to read.
And we’ll probably still be busy thinking up a new
name for the online scientific “paper” of the future.
Something for everyone
Richard Smith
Electronic publishing will turn scientific “papers” from
dead documents into live ones. Vitek Tracz, founder of
Biomednet and one of the contributors above, has
called scientific papers “quasilegal documents.” They
are written not to be read but for scientists to defend,
justify, and support what they have done. They may
even deceive in that they suggest an order that almost
certainly wasn’t there in the research itself. And once
published they are frozen. Many criticisms and sugges-
tions may be offered,but these appear months after the
paper is published, and the paper itself cannot be
modified as a result. The best we can manage in paper
publishing is a correction and linked correspondence,
perhaps with a response from the authors of the paper.
Nobody can know with confidence what a “scientific
paper” will look like in five or 10 years’ time, when elec-
tronic publishing is the primary means of communica-
tion in all of science (not just physics), but we can begin
to guess. Electronic papers (an oxymoron) will have
many layers.They might comprise: a structured abstract;
a simple paragraph on what they are about; a “news
story” written in several styles and in several languages;
something close to our current papers, although
probably at much greater length; underlying instru-
ments (like questionnaires) and data, together with the
software used by the authors to manipulate those data;
links to papers mentioned in the references, preferably
in full text; full information on what searches were done
to find previous work;links to descriptions at several lev-
els of complexity of all standards methods used; full
access to all relevant work that has gone before; and
much more that we can only begin to imagine. The
“much more” might include a video of the scientists
describing what they did, perhaps in interviews; detailed
information on the researchers and their institutions;
conversations with practitioners on what the results
might mean for clinical practice; debates on any ethical
points; and comprehensive information on any conflicts
of interests.
Probably nobody will access all of this information,
and one of the great benefits for editors will be that we
will finally have a means to meet the competing
demands of authors and readers. Authors often want
to give very full information, whereas many readers,
particularly those who are practitioners rather than
researchers, want “the bottom line, the message.
Already we see paper and electronic publishing as
complementary: we will move increasingly to shorter,
sweeter, more readable papers in the paper journal
and fuller papers on our website.
And the electronic papers will be alive. They will be
accompanied eventually by all the debate that went on
as part of the peer review process (often, in my
experience, more interesting than the papers them-
selves); correspondence in response to the papers will
be posted immediately on our website; and the papers
will be modified in response to the criticisms and sug-
gestions and updated in the light of new and important
information from other work. Perhaps a world where
nothing is fixed will be hard to follow, but I think that
the world represented by symbols on paper or screens
may then come much closer to the ever changing
world we all inhabit. I’m excited and optimistic.
Competition
We would like to know your predictions for what an outline
scientific paper will look like in 5 years’ time. Submissions,
which will be posted on our website, should be no more than
400 words long and should be received by 31 January 1998.
The winning entry will be announced in our Christmas
2002 edition and will be decided by comparing predictions
against contemporary scientific articles appearing in online
versions of the Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, JAMA, Lancet,
and New England Journal of Medicine (should they still exist).
The prize will be a one year personal subscription to the
winner’s choice of one of these five online journals.
PATRICELOIEZ, CERN/SPL
Education and debate
BMJ, London
WC1H 9JR
Richard Smith,
editor
1696 BMJ VOLUME 315 20-27 DECEMBER 1997
... For instance, while the content of AVH may very often be overt in its meaning, voices can also be sarcastic or evasive (Leff et al., 2014). AVH are also described in some cases as imparting knowledge unknown to the voice-hearer (e.g., Azuonye, 1997). In both situations, AVH are perceived as conveying meaning from an underlying agentive source, rather than simply being anomalous, auditory events (see Deamer & Wilkinson, 2015, for a discussion of this idea). ...
Article
Full-text available
Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) are experiences of hearing voices in the absence of an external speaker. Standard explanatory models propose that AVH arise from misattributed verbal cognitions (i.e. inner speech), but provide little account of how heard voices often have a distinct persona and agency. Here we review the argument that AVH have important social and agent-like properties and consider how different neurocognitive approaches to AVH can account for these elements, focusing on inner speech, memory, and predictive processing. We then evaluate the possible role of separate social-cognitive processes in the development of AVH, before outlining three ways in which speech and language processes already involve socially important information, such as cues to interact with others. We propose that when these are taken into account, the social characteristics of AVH can be explained without an appeal to separate social-cognitive systems.
... If so, what are the cognitive mechanisms that allow voices to offer insightful, novel information to those experiencing HwMD? This issue is highlighted by contemporary cases, such as that of an otherwise healthy woman who heard voices telling her to get a brain scan for a tumour, which was subsequently found and removed, at which point the voices stopped (Azuonye, 1997). We may also ask what the relation is between such experiences and the creative process, where novel ideas enter into consciousness and are experienced as generated by the self. ...
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The voices and visions experienced by Emanuel Swedenborg remain a topic of much debate. The present article offers a reconsideration of these experiences in relation to changes in psychiatric practice. First, the phenomenology of Swedenborg's experiences is reviewed through an examination of his writings. The varying conceptualizations of these experiences by Swedenborg and his contemporaries, and by psychiatrists of later generations, are examined. We show how attempts by 19th- and 20th-century psychiatrists to explain Swedenborg's condition as the result of either schizophrenia or epilepsy are unable to account for his experiences. We then demonstrate that the re-emergence of the 19th-century concept of `hallucinations in the sane' offers an alternative way to understand Swedenborg's experiences outside typical discourses of mental illness. Finally we argue that Swedenborg's experiences should be understood as exemplifying phenomena which we term `hallucinations without mental disorder', and investigate how conceiving of Swedenborg in this way can inform future research into the experience and clinical significance of hallucinations.
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EDITOR, - If, as Irvine Loudon speculates,1 oath taking by medical graduates in the United Kingdom is a myth it stands in stark contrast with the use of medical oaths in Canada and the United States. I have followed the growth of the use of medical oaths in the United States for 30 years.2 Currently, about 98% of the medical schools in the United States use some form of medical oath. A remarkable development can be seen in how the classic Hippocratic oath is being displaced by other medical oaths and covenants, presumably because the classic oath ignores relevant ethical issues. Another custom of note is found in the Province of Quebec. Here, swearing a medical oath takes on political shadings as it is a prerequisite for obtaining a licence to practise. In 1989 I surveyed the use of medical oaths at 126 medical schools in the United States; 119 replied. They reported the use of the oath of Geneva (33), the classic Hippocratic oath (three), a modified Hippocratic oath (67), the prayer of Maimonides (four), a convenant (one), other oaths (eight), an unknown oath (one), and no oath (two). Some used a combination of oaths and prayer. Loudon or some other concerned physician should perhaps write to the medical schools to ascertain the present status of medical oaths in the United Kingdom. The answers may be surprising in view of the shared belief that medical practice is at heart a moral undertaking. References1.↵Loudon I. The Hippocratic oath. BMJ 1994;309:414. (6 August.)