Post by Don Phillipson Post by Bernard Lynch
As I'm writing an article for a medical journal on the effects that a
woman named Betty Smith reported after she had taken a new drug, I was
debating whether to say that "a woman named Betty Smith reported . .
." or to simply say that "Betty Smith reported . . ."
In fact, that question even arose when I was writing the first clause
in the foregoing paragraph, because using a "woman named Betty Smith
reported" seemed much better than just using "Betty Smith reported."
I was therefore wondering whether the writers and editors here agreed
or disagreed with me on this.
Most medical journals publish style rules for contributors which may
arbitrate points like this.
For example, a model rule for names might be (1) to cite scientific
authors or researchers by name, e.g. Betty Smith, (2) to identify
patients by initials, e.g. B.S. (This might be a prudent rule in the
light of privacy laws which vary between jurisdictions.)
That seems to be a common practice. However, even if most readers don't
need to know who B.S. is, the information does need to be retained
somewhere where commissions investigating whether the treatment was
done properly can get at it.
In the only case that I have personal knowledge of I knew both the
biochemist who was listed as an author of the paper and the parents of
the patient. The paper just referred to her as "a young Chilean woman
living in London." She had a metabolic disease that caused her to
become exhausted after mild activity (like walking up a single flight
of stairs). She didn't have much luck with her health: she subsequently
died from a melanoma while still, I think, in her twenties. She
probably could have survived if she been in a country with modern
medical facilities when the melanoma was recgnized, but she was in
Nicaragua, and didn't get to the UK or Chile quickly enough.