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Who is really the world's best known neurologist?
  1. Alan J Carson1,2,
  2. Matthew C Kiernan3,4
  1. 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Associate Editor, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  3. 3Institute of Neurological Sciences, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Editor, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, University of New South Wales Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alan J Carson, Robert Fergusson Unit, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Tipperlin Road, Edinburgh EH10 5HF, UK; a.carson{at}

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We wish to congratulate the new editors on the first issue under their stewardship and offer our best wishes for their future success.

We, like many, read the article on the world's best known neurologist with interest.1 As the author predicted, we have our own views, although unlike senior figures, not our own private hopes.

Parkinson's clinical merit is clearly described by Gerald Stern and the case for the most laudable emeritus figure may reasonably be considered. But we would argue that it is difficult to make the case for the world's best known neurologist for a man when we do not even know what he looked like!2

How one measures fame is perhaps subjective but the digital age provides a ready solution and simple answer—examination of the size and scope of a potential candidate's Wikipedia entry: Freud must surely be the world's best known neurologist (see figure 1).

Figure 1

We offer the old Austrian 50 schilling note as proof of Freud's fame. This form of fame may well have appealed to Freud's id as is said that it was the desire for schillings that was one of the reasons that he moved from mainstream neurology to develop a lucrative practice with his psychoanalysis [4].

Paradoxically, it is said to be the desire for international renown on the part of another candidate for the title—Charcot—that aided Freud's rise. Sure, Charcot traversed the upper and lower motor neuronal systems with ease and his clinical descriptions remain seminal and relevant to the modern neurologist. Further, his erudite words traversed the entire realm of clinical neuroscience, earning him the moniker ‘the Napoleon of the neuroses’. However, at the end of the Franco-Prussian war, translators to German were not easily found in Paris and the offer of assistance from a relatively unknown Viennese student was particularly welcome. Charcot, in return, showed his gratitude by highlighting Freud's work. Whether he would have strived so hard for his pupil had he been able to predict the size, in comparison, of his own Wikipedia entry remains open to debate.

Whether neurology wants to remember Freud with the title emeritus is perhaps even more problematic; some remain admiring of his neurological insights, for example, his early suggestions on dynamic neural nets.3 4 Others are less sure, at best sceptical of psychoanalytic ideas, at worst critical of a failure of child protection through revision of his original seduction theory, in which he rejected his neurotic patients' descriptions of childhood sexual molestation as infantile fantasies.

If, however, the title is really for the most deserving neurologist, and it is in this domain that Parkinson admittedly excels, how about Antoine Laurent Bayle whose MD thesis described general paresis of the insane?5 While this did little for Bayle, his thesis was rejected and he was sacked from his post, it did have a major impact on future public health, setting in train a series of discoveries that led to the virtual eradication of the disorder in the industrialised world. Although like Freud and Alzheimer, Gerald Stern's runner up, psychiatry may wish to claim him for their own hall of fame.


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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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