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Sakel Versus Meduna: Different Strokes, Different Styles of Scientific Discovery

Shorter, Edward PhD, FRSC

doi: 10.1097/YCT.0b013e31818f5766
Original Studies

It is ironic that Laszlo Meduna and Manfred Sakel made epochal discoveries in psychiatry only two years apart because in most other ways, the two men could hardly be more different. The story of their differences and similarities invites us to consider the personal preconditions for scientific discovery. What common denominators led them to develop treatments, which represent the introduction of convulsive therapy, which remains today the most powerful treatment in psychiatry? Despite the marked differences in their personalities, Sakel and Meduna shared intellectual quickness, drive, and a willingness to take risks, three qualities that, in the case of these individuals at least, came together to revolutionize the treatment of serious psychiatric illness.

From the History of Medicine Program, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Received for publication September 22, 2008; accepted September 24, 2008.

Reprints: Edward Shorter, PhD, FRSC, History of Medicine Program, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Room 207, 88 College St, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G1L4 (e-mail:

Financial support for this work was provided by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and the Scion Natural Science Research Association, Inc. St. James, NY.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.