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Concussion Deconstructed: Hollywood Explicates Scientific Authorship

Henry Etzkowitz

You may read the seemingly endless issues of Scientometrics without getting as good an understanding of the inner workings of scientific authorship as you will get from watching this expose of the U.S.professional football industry. The National Football League (NFL) and its medical advisors, like the tobacco industry and theirs, suppressed medical findings of the ill effects of the game on its players. Dr Bennet Omalu, graduate of the University of Enugu who came to America, seeking medical education and a series of advanced degrees, uncovers a "corporate induced disease", chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in his autopsies of prematurely deceased football heroes, who were instructed and incentivized to batter each other unmercifully in the cause of public entertainment, personal and corporate enrichment. 

A scientific journal article, corporate harassment utilizing government authority, a class action lawsuit and a partial admission of guilt, with limited if any effect on the the culture and practice of a sport deeply embedded in American society and culture. As one key participant/observer, a team doctor who has "gone rogue" after coming to understand the pernicious effects on the brain of the players he had taken a Hippocratic oath own protect notes that the NFL now "owns the day," formerly controlled by religion. Astute STS film buffs will recognize themes from Jane Fonda's China Syndrome, Julia Robert's Erin Brockovich and Paul Muni's Story of Louis Pasteur in Will Smith's portray of a conscience-driven, consummate professional.

Dr. Omalu is working below his training level as mortuary pathologist in Pittaburgh, a declining industrial city that is building a new economic base, in part, on its distinguished medical training and hospital system that provides a key character in this authorship drama, a leading medical scientist who validates and calls attention to the path breaking findings of a neophyte researcher by allowing his name to be included in an authorship list. Another key member of the author  list is the director of the coroner'a office who allowed his protege to continue investigating the causes of unexpected deaths of relatively young ex-professional football players, even if at Omalu's own expense, against obstreperous collegial opposition. He is awarded last place in the authorship list, the traditional position for lab head as resource provider who may or may not directly participate in the research. In the case of the early 20th century insulin research that led to a Nobel prize, allowing junior researchers use of a lab during the summer secured co-authorship from his grateful proteges (Bliss, 1982) 

Authorship recognizes a variety of contributors: intellectual, legitimator and gatekeeper. What is in a name, indeed?


Bliss, M. The Discovery of Insulin Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Landesman, P. (2015) Concussion. Columbia Pictures

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