[PW] Importance of good research - cautionary tales?

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Wed Jul 18 08:58:32 PDT 2018

To my mind, the obvious place to start is with the case of the
botanists Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, and Erich von Tschermak, as well as
the agronomist William Jasper Spillman, all of whom indepedently published
articles explaining and providing evidence for the fundamental laws of
genetic inheritence in 1900-01.  That in itself is not unusual in science,
of course, but a proper literature search would have turned up the fact
that the same laws had been set out in detail by an obscure monk in an
obscure journal, the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brunn
(now Brno, Czechia) in 1866!  The obscure monk was Gregor Mendel, and his
laws are called Mendelian inheritance to this day.  All four, with varying
degrees of reluctance, eventually acknowleged Mendel's priority, with the
result that (except for de Vries, known for his later work on large-scale
mutations) all are forgotten today except as the actors in this cautionary

John Cowan          http://vrici.lojban.org/~cowan        cowan at ccil.org
Dream projects long deferred usually bite the wax tadpole.
        --James Lileks

On Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 7:54 AM, Caroline Barratt <caroline.cason at gmail.com>

> Hello everyone,
> I am trying to compile some real-life “cautionary tales” about why doing a
> thorough literature review is so important to good research. The main point
> I'm trying to make is that if your literature review is rushed and
> incomplete, you could face some serious consequences in terms of research
> design, conclusions, knowing if you are making a new discovery, etc. I am
> hoping you might have some good real-life examples you use in your classes
> or remember from library lore that you could share with me.
> One I remember (but cannot find again) was about a study that only used
> online indexes for their literature review and didn't use the print at all.
> Because this gave them an incomplete date range, they missed a study that
> would have led them to avoid a drug interaction that ended up killing or
> injuring someone. Maybe this was apocryphal? I know it sounds a bit
> extreme! Does anyone remember this one?
> If you have some examples you could share I would really appreciate your
> ideas and expertise.
> Thank you!
> Caroline
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