Clarence J. Gibbs Effect and the "Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease" Eponym

In 2014, American neurologist and Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner reported that microbiologist Clarence Joseph Gibbs at the US NIH had intentionally, systematically, and mischievously used the eponym Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, rather than Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease, because of the correspondence with Gibbs’ own initials, to imply “Clarence Joseph disease.” The present study examines temporal trends in the use of “Creutzfeldt-Jakob” and “Jakob-Creutzfeldt” in scientific articles and monographs from 1946 to 2019 to assess whether there was a “Clarence J. Gibbs effect” that influenced the general use of a specific eponym by the scientific community. During Gibbs’ period of publication on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), there was an abrupt, dramatic, and steady increase in use of the CJD eponym while use of the Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease (JCD) eponym remained at a low level. In the period after Gibbs ceased to publish, there was a corresponding marked fall-off in use of the CJD eponym. Surviving collaborators thought Gibbs may have been joking, but in 1991 Gibbs had admitted what Prusiner reported. Regardless of motive, Gibbs strongly influenced the preferred eponym for this human prion disease by (1) publishing a seminal and highly referenced initial article in a high-profile journal; (2) sustained output of further important studies published in high-quality journals over more than 30 years; (3) professional affiliation with an esteemed national laboratory where he worked with a large number of high-profile colleagues; and (4) extensive collaborations with a large number of colleagues, who published multiple further articles using the eponym Gibbs preferred.

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