UMaine researchers defend scientific contributions of two misrepresented pioneers in hypertension

Misquotations and quotations made without historical context unfairly paint two pioneers in hypertension investigators as flawed in their thinking, according to two University of Maine researchers.

Merrill Elias, emeritus professor of psychology and emeritus cooperating professor in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, and Amanda Goodell, research associate in psychology, have published a long-overdue rebuttal of criticisms of John J. Hay and Paul W. White.

Recently published in the “Journal of Clinical Hypertension,” the authors point out that Hay and White, investigators who were in the forefront during the early days of hypertension research (1930–50), were unfairly used as examples of misguided thinking about the seriousness of high blood pressure for cardiovascular health and early death. These unfounded criticisms were echoed in many slides, books and other instructional materials used in courses on cardiovascular epidemiology.  

In the case of Hay, incomplete quotations resulted in interpretations of his words that directly contradicted his point of view. The work of his contemporary, White, was taken out of its historical context and, thus, also misrepresented his recommendations for diagnosis and treatment of hypertension.

Hay and White made enormous contributions to understanding the adverse consequences of hypertension and struggled to find treatments for hypertension at a time when there were no adequate drugs, according to Elias and Goodell. In fact, White set the stage for the widely acclaimed Framingham Heart Study of hypertension and stroke that began in 1950.

In their article, Elias and Goodall expose the misquotation and out-of-context quotations that were used to paint these prescient pioneers as behind the times and examples of primitive medical thinking. In addition, the authors briefly discuss the many problems of misquotation — especially quotation out of context in terms of the scientific literature. 

The peer-reviewed paper by Elias and Goodall is on open access status online. It is an opinion piece and does not reflect any official views of the journal.

Elias is director of the 40-year Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) of cardiovascular disease and cognitive function. Goodall is publication archivist for the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. 

Contact: Merrill Elias, 207.244.1127;