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Hand (N Y). 2009 December; 4(4): 342–343.
Published online 2009 November 6. doi:  10.1007/s11552-009-9241-4
PMCID: PMC2787227

Beautiful Experiments

George Johnston, a science writer, wrote a book last year entitled “The 10 most beautiful experiments” [2]. In this book, Johnston discusses his rational for choosing what he thought were the ten most elegant experiments in history that changed science and affected mankind forever. Their lives and experiments are articled, emphasising the series of events that lead each researcher to their discovery. Johnston’s writings on Aristotle and William Harvey were most intriguing, making one to think beyond their set of experiments and into today’s scientific world.

Aristotle, as brilliant an insightful as he was, had stated that “an object falls in proportion to its weight”, meaning that the heavier the object, the faster it falls. Galileo, however, with independent thought and great ambition, not convinced by his masters dogma, worked diligently to eventually prove that objects of different weights dropped simultaneously from the same height will fall at the same rate to hit the ground at the same instant (with all other confounding factors being equal).

William Harvey was perplexed by Galen’s teaching of the two separate and distinct circulatory systems and two separate types of blood within these systems. With intense drive and determination, Harvey dissected all types of vertebrates, with a focus on the blood’s precise course through veins, arteries, the heart and lungs. Harvey proved Galen wrong. It must have been like finally concluding that Bunnell was erroneous in his treatment of zone 2 flexor tendon lacerations. However, to be fair, Harvey did not make all of his conclusions without the help of others. His teachers at Padua, Versalius and Fabricus, with their immaculate cadaver dissections, paved the way for Harvey to consolidate the compilation of previous experiments and data to ultimately change and improve upon the understanding of the circulatory system.

Indeed, it is rare even today that we completely discount previous reports in the literature with one “earth shattering” discovery. Rather, experiments are built upon the works of others, each contributing pieces of data that lead us to the pathway of truth…or at least today’s truth. The purpose of a scientific journal is to bring forth new ideas and new techniques, to illuminate colleagues about the unknown and to foster discussion and controversy, ultimately seeking a better grasp of the vast science of medicine. As hand surgeons, we should all seek a better understanding of science. Likewise, as scientists, we should seek a better understanding of hand surgery.

In the days of Harvey, physicians spoke of the body’s good and bad(evil) “humours”: terms used to denote the flow of nourishment for good humours and festering for evil humours. Harvey did not completely buy in to these ideas of separate humours (he believed in them to some extent) but wanted to bring out the truth about our circulatory system…to improve the standard of teaching to his students. We strive to practice hand surgery at the highest of standards as well void of misconceptions and half-truths. In doing so, we offer patients the most contemporary, sound treatments based on higher levels of teaching and training, evidence-based medicine and the continuous exchange of data and information. We read, with great intrigue and eagerness, the latest of the journals pertaining to our specialty. We are critical of each manuscript (as we should be) and try to ration out its “evil humours” from the nourishing truth behind complex array of tables and graphs. Indeed, each article deserves critique and skepticism. However, each article also deserves fair judgment without prejudice. This dissection of publishable work is not only the responsibility of the journal’s Editor but also all of those who read scientific material to distinguish god from bad science, to discern the useful from the non-useful and to identify good from evil humour.

I encourage everyone who reads Hand, or any other journal, to also read an enlightening and playful book by Ben Goldacre entitled “Bad science” [1]. Goldacre is a British physician who also is a writer and broadcaster working for the NHS in England. The book is an entertaining dialogue of examples of bad science, questionable research and quacks that become a part of patients regular lives and treatment strategies. It behooves all of us to rule out the “nonsense de Jour” and bring out the best in science…the best in hand surgery. To this end, I would like to enlist the entire readership to submit manuscripts often, review articles with critical purpose and to offer good science to our discipline. Hand continues to provide greater opportunities and a needed venue for hand surgeons to publish and advance knowledge. I look forward to this year’s “most beautiful experiments”!

New additions to the Hand journal will include video articles online education, invited editorials and invited reviews; Dr Elvin Zook and the entire editorial board have taken an idea and created a wonderful journal. Dr Zook’s dedication and efforts are to be congratulated on a very difficult path to success culminating in Hand becoming a household name for all hand surgeons,

And as he departs from his role of Editor, we should all say “Thank you Dr Elvin Zook”.


1. Goldacre B. Bad science. London: Fourth Estate; 2009.
2. Johnston G. The 10 most beautiful experiments. New York: First Vintage Books, Random House; 2008.

Articles from Hand (New York, N.Y.) are provided here courtesy of American Association for Hand Surgery