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Evol Anthropol. 2012 Mar;21(2):50-7. doi: 10.1002/evan.20340.

The science behind pre-Columbian evidence of syphilis in Europe: research by documentary.

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  • 1Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


This article discusses the presentation of scientific findings by documentary, without the process of peer review. We use, as an example, PBS's "The Syphilis Enigma," in which researchers presented novel evidence concerning the origin of syphilis that had never been reviewed by other scientists. These "findings" then entered the world of peer-reviewed literature through citations of the documentary itself or material associated with it. Here, we demonstrate that the case for pre-Columbian syphilis in Europe that was made in the documentary does not withstand scientific scrutiny. We also situate this example from paleopathology within a larger trend of "science by documentary" or "science by press conference," in which researchers seek to bypass the peer review process by presenting unvetted findings directly to the public.

Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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