Priority Disputes in the History of Psychology with Special Attention to the Franz-Kalischer Dispute about Who First Combined Animal Training with Brain Extirpation to Investigate Brain Functions

By Thomas, Roger K. | The Psychological Record, March 2016 | Go to article overview

Priority Disputes in the History of Psychology with Special Attention to the Franz-Kalischer Dispute about Who First Combined Animal Training with Brain Extirpation to Investigate Brain Functions


Thomas, Roger K., The Psychological Record


People in general and scholars in particular bestow considerable esteem upon those whose discoveries, inventions, theories, or methods fundamentally change scholarship, research, or the world in which we live. Thus, it is very important that priority be rightfully attributed to those who deserve it. Most priority claims do not involve a direct confrontation in the literature between or among opposing rivals, as was the case for Franz and Kalischer. Usually, priority disputes originate with other scholars, as shown in examples below.

In the case of Franz and Kalischer, the claim in question was an important methodological one. Based on research published in 1902, Franz (1902) asserted that he was the first to combine animal training and brain extirpation to study brain functions; in his effort to be clearer, sometimes Franz would say "special animal training." Kalischer (1907a), who might not have known about Franz's work, made a highly similar claim in February 1907 that was soon made known to Franz. Later in 1907, each presented and defended his claim in back-to-back commentaries in the journal, Zentralblatt fur Physiologie. (1) Franz's (1907a) commentary preceded Kalischer's (1907b).

Before describing and assessing the Franz-Kalischer dispute, it will be useful first to consider some general issues associated with priority claims as well as to revisit two previously considered priority disputes as examples of this type of research, namely who discovered the "conditional reflex" and who was first to use brain extirpation to study brain functions.

Priority Claims in General

In the context of a decades-long, highly contentious dispute over priority for the first use of ether for surgical anesthesia, Wolfe (2001, p. 504) wrote the following:

   Proving priorities is tantamount to playing Russian roulette,
   even when the game is entered into by experienced
   and knowledgeable players, who have a good idea in
   which chambers the bullets are loaded, for there is
   always the danger that some fact or prior deed, lurking
   in the literature, unseen, or unrecognized, or forgotten,
   will be discovered to ultimately shoot one dead.

In an interesting article about priority in science, Windholz and Lamal (1993, p. 339) observed:

There is a strong motivation for the establishment of priority; it is considered as rewarding to the scientist(s) credited with it because discovery is crucial to science. Indeed, priority has been called the "central focus of science." (Brannigan, 1981) [For the reader's convenience, Brannigan's book is listed among the References here.]

Windholz and Jamal also questioned a priority claim by Kalischer that was only indirectly related to the Franz-Kalischer dispute. They did not mention Franz, and the Kalischer claim that Windholz and Lamal refuted will not be discussed here.

Revisiting Two Disputed Priority Claims

Discovery of the "Conditioned Reflex"

Rosenzweig (1959) quoted reports as early as 1555 and including several prominent physiologists of the 18th and 19th centuries to show that they had observed the salivary conditioning phenomenon, but they did not pursue it as a subject for scientific investigation. Dallenbach (1959), whose article immediately followed Rosensweig's in the same issue of the American Journal of Psychology, noted that Edwin B. Twitmyer's discovery of the conditioned reflex was first reported in his doctoral dissertation approved in 1902.

In an article well-known among historians of psychology, Coon (1982, p. 255) wrote:

   Edwin B. Twitmyer independently discovered the conditioned
   reflex at approximately the same time [as Pavlov]
   and reported his finding in 1904 at the meeting of
   the American Psychological Association.

Dallenbach's emphasis was on factors contributing to Twitmyer's obscurity as was Coon's. However, Coon delved deeper into that subject than did Dallenbach. …

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