When we realize, in hindsight, the dazzling uncontested tremendous consequences for knowledge that have flowed from an original observation in a book or peer-reviewed journal article, we might be forgiven for failing to see weakness in that publication.
Writing on this very topic, in terms of scientific papers only, the highly esteemed hematologists Gwyn Macfralane (CBE, FRS) (1984, p 133) tells us:
'As to what is expected of scientific papers, they should be written in such a way that the reader, if he wished, would be able to answer the three questions posed by all supposed contributions to scientific knowledge: 'Is it true? Is it new? Is it important? Thus the observations and experiments must be described with sufficient detail and precision to allow other workers to repeat the work and confirm - or refute - the findings. And these findings must be related to what others have found in the past, so that the matter of originality may be judged.'
There are some excellent points made here by Macfarlane and I am using them in a peer reviewed journal paper I am currently writing on the topic of due citation and priority for prior-discoveries in science.
What Macfarlane writes about what we should expect of discoveries in scientific papers can also be said for books. I think it helps to list his key points on this topic:
- Is it true?
- Is it new?
- Is it important?
- Is it described with sufficient detail?
- Is it described with precision - so as not to lead to misconceptions?
- Is it sufficiently related to what others have found in the past, so that the matter of originality may be adequately judged?
But what of contested discoveries in papers and books? In such cases, might these six criteria help us to understand why an original observation, idea or discovery is replicated without citation of its originator'? I think they might - even in cases where there is persuasive evidence for knowledge contamination.
Alexander Fleming; The Man and the Myth . by Gwyn Macfarlane (1984). Harvard University Press.