Sometimes, credit falls on the person who least understood the significance of his own work. In 1771, Charles Messier (1730 - 1817) , selected 103 heavenly objects that have captured the rapt attention of astronomers for nearly two and a half centuries. Messier selected regions of space that were nebulous, and obscured his view of comets (his sole interest). He made a point of categorizing the Messier objects as areas of space that should be avoided by serious astronomers. In 1771, his chosen spots might have been accurately called the Messier non-objects.
Source: Wikipedia, public domain.
Today, the Messier objects are credited with holding some of the most fascinating galaxies and cosmologic curiosities in the known universe. Though Messier was completely wrong, he has achieved scientific immortality, just the same.
Source: Wikipedia, public domain NASA image.
The first observation of a particular type of anemia associated with sickled red blood cells, was made by Ernest E. Irons (1). Dr. Irons was a young intern when he encountered a patient, Walter Clement Noel, and made his historic observation. He alerted his attending physician, James B. Herrick. Irons sketched the shaped of the cells directly into the patient's hospital record. Herrick wrote the 1910 case report as a single author submission, excluding Irons (2). To this day, the disease sickle cell anemia carries the eponym, Herrick's disease (not Irons disease).
Sometimes first credit goes to the wrong species. Salicylic acid has been used as a medicinal by several different ancient cultures. In the western tradition, Hippocrates (5th century BC) claimed that a bitter powder extracted from willow bark could ease aches and pains. How did the ancients know that willow bark would relieve pain? Bears were observed rubbing against the bark of willow trees when wounded. The humans stole credit for an ursine discovery.
 Savitt TL, Goldberg MF. Herrick's 1910 case report of sickle cell anemia: the rest of the story. JAMA 261: 266-271, 1989.
 Herrick JB. Peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red blood corpuscles in a case of severe anemia. Arch Intern Med 6:517-521, 1910.
This is the last entry on the topic of FIRST CREDIT in the sciences. If you have read the five-part series, I'd appreciate reading your comments.
© 2010 Jules Berman
key words: history of science , specified life blog , Jules J Berman PhD, MD