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The world's best known neurologist?
  1. Gerald Stern
  1. Correspondence to Dr G Stern, Emeritus Consultant Neurologist, University College Hospitals, London WC1, UK; geraldsternii{at}

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“Sic transit gloria mundi”

The glories of this world are brief (Thomas à Kempis, 1379–1471)

To give a talk at a world congress is a great privilege, but when the speaker is well past his prime and has nothing new to say, attendance is likely to be frugal. A strategy that might gain a modicum of attention is to add the above title to your intended talk. Experience indicates that you may thus gain unwarranted attention of many, including senior physicians, from many countries who may listen in unspoken hope that you might mention their names in your differential diagnosis. Failure to do so could lose many old friends. To avoid this hazard, your talk should also contain two safety clauses. ‘Best known’ should be construed as a name familiar not only to neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuroscientists and general physicians but also to the general public and the world at large, including the media; a second precaution is to emphasise that fame should be enduring. The audience could be reminded that at the inaugural ceremony of each newly elected pope, ashes are thrice scattered across his path accompanied by recitation of above quotation.

Distinguished clinicians are no exception to this salutary reminder. Recall the fate of once eminent physicians. Influential lectures, authoritative books and publications soon fade from library shelves and contemporary reference lists; portraits which once graced the walls of medical schools and universities are gradually replaced, and within a generation or so memories of great neurologists are all but forgotten. How many present readers can recall the names of eight of my outstanding teachers (figure 1)?

Figure 1

Eight outstanding teachers.

At this point, members of your audience may show signs of disappointment as the odds against nomination increase; others may then reflect on possible candidates from their own countries …

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  • This article is based on a talk given at the 19th World Congress of Neurology, Bangkok Thailand, October 2009.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

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