Historical misrepresentation in science: The case of fetal alcohol syndrome

Ivan A. Shibley, Sam N. Pennington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The history of the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) provides a microcosm in which to explore the larger ramifications of historical citations in biomedical publications. Though some historical references such as Biblical writings may hint at a rudimentary understanding of the relationship between maternal drinking and fetal development, no definitive case can be made for an understanding of FAS dating back hundreds of years. Authors who claim an impressive history for FAS misrepresent that history. The modern history of FAS raises a question concerning citations of original discoveries. The first paper describing ethanol-induced damage to the fetus appeared in 1968 yet most researchers cite one of two papers from 1973. Both ancient citations and modern references to original discoveries pose difficult questions for the scientist. Both dilemmas may be solved by a better reading of the literature and a more judicious wording when writing about history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-435
Number of pages9
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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