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Jellinek's Phantom Doctorate

by Ron Roizen

Note and Mea Culpa (added July 5, 2008):  My continuing interest in E.M.J. recently led me to read (or perhaps reread after a long time interval, I cannot recall) Mark Keller's tribute to Jellinek in Robert E. Popham's (ed) volume titled Alcohol & Alcoholism, published in 1970.  Therein, on page XV, in a section devoted to tributes to E.M.J., Keller wrote:  "E. M. Jellinek was essentially a universal scholar.  He never really earned a doctorate, although along the way he acquired a couple of honorary degrees, and he allowed himself to be refrrred to as Dr. Jellinek because it was too inconvenient to correct everybody all the time.  Of course he was a doctor of doctors in the truest sense."  It is a peccadillo, incidentally, that the present author is  not entirely innocent of.  I remember when an attractive young woman invited me to have her picture taken with me at the Alcohol Research Group office on Scenic Ave. in Berkeley.  She was apparently excited about my "Great Controlled-Drinking Controversy" essay, which was published in 1987, and referred to me as "Dr. Roizen" more than once as the photograph was being set up.  I confess that I didn't have the integrity and presence of mind immediately at hand to correct her.  (I didn't complete my doctorate until 1991.)  All this, moreover, took place in the large vestibule of the Scenic Ave. building and was surely observed by a number of ARG staff members.  including Robin Room.  I still blush over the recollection. 
-- R.R.

    E.M. Jellinek (1890-1963) may one day be remembered as the most famous American alcohol scientist of the 20th century.

    His various roles in the emergent new alcohol science of the 1940s and 1950s--including his research and literature-reviewing enterprises at Yale's Center of Alcohol Studies, his organizational and teaching duties at Yale's Summer School of Alcohol Studies, and his editorial work at the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (QJSA)--in due course combined to create a considerable hero-myth around the diminutive Dr. Jellinek.

    E.M. Jellinek with Mrs. Marty Mann

    Jellinek's 1952 description of the "phases of alcohol addiction"1 lent scientific credence to an already flourishing disease-concept-of-alcoholism movement.

    His "Jellinek formula"2 provided for a time a convenient and much in demand method for calculating the prevalence of alcoholism from annual liver cirrhosis deaths.

    From his alcohol-related work's commencement in 1939 (at offices in the New York Academy of Medicine) to his death in 1963 (at Stanford University), Jellinek played a crucial role in the ascendancy of modern science's claim to cultural "ownership"3 of the American alcohol problems social arena.

    Alcohol science's most prestigious annual prize, the "Jellinek Memorial Award," bears his name and comes with a bronze bust of E.M.J.-- affectionately known within the field as "the Bunky," for his own nickname.

    Ironically, E.M. Jellinek was also a figure of not inconsiderable ambivalence and misgiving within the core of the alcohol-science community.

    Inside the Yale center, for example, his handcrafted analysis of the unsystematically collected questionnaires that lay behind his 1952, alcoholism-phases paper was sometimes semi-disparagingly called "Bunky's doodle."

    Similarly, his famous alcoholism prevalence estimation formula failed to withstand the test of scientific scrutiny--so that Jellinek himself was moved to ask for its withdrawal from service by 1960.

    There is also the curious little matter of Jellinek's uncertain academic background and certification.

    I remember hearing shoptalk years ago at the Alcohol Research Group in Berkeley to the effect that Jellinek had received his doctorate degree from either [a] a European university whose records had been "conveniently" destroyed by fire or [b] from an obscure Central American university that had "conviently" gone out of business.

    Somewhere along the way I also happened to notice that one or two of the great man's very early QJSA papers were signed "E.M. Jellinek, Sc.D. (Hon.)"--that parenthetical "Hon." of course indicating that his doctorate was honorary rather than earned.

    The "(Hon.)" specification however magically disappeared from later papers.

    Rutgers alcohol center's librarian and alcohol historian, Penny Booth Page, wrote that E.M.J. "studied in Germany and France, receiving a master's degree in education and later an honorary Sc.D. (Doctor of Science) from the University of Leipzig."4 No earned doctorate is mentioned.

    On the other hand, The Historical Register of Yale University, 1937-1951, published in 1952, lists Jellinek with a M.Ed. from Leipzig (1914) and a Sc.D. from the University of Tegucigalpa (1935)5--and no "Hon." attached to the latter.

    The education section of a later-in-life, Jellinek curriculum vitae--a c.v. submitted as part of an effort to gain a temporary, visiting professorship at Stanford6--reports that he attended the University of Berlin (1908-1910), the University of Grenoble (1910-1911), and, finally, the University of Leipzig (1911-1914).

    The Leipzig University entry is accompanied by the notations "M.Ed., 1913" and "Sc.D., 1936."

    The "Sc.D., 1936" entry is notable both [a] for the 23-year gap between receiving the masters and doctorate degrees and [b] because the year 1936 fell within an inhospitable era for Jews in pre-war Germany.

    Jellinek, Jewish by heritage if not by religious practice, might have found himself fighting a steeply uphill battle in completing a doctorate at a German university in 1936, perhaps especially as a foreigner.7

    The past employment section of Jellinek's c.v. lists him as "Director" of the "Biometric Laboratory and Associate Director of Research, Memorial Foundation for Neuro-endocrine Research" at Worcester, Massachusetts from 1931-1939. Hence, his Leipzig degree must have been taken by means of correspondence and/or with one or more sojourns to Germany for the completion of degree requirements and the defense of his thesis, if any.

    No "Hon." is indicated for the Leipzig doctorate, but the "Honors" section of Jellinek's c.v. indicates an "(Hon.)" M.D. granted by the University of Chile in 1956.

    Odd that Jellinek would complete a doctorate in Tegucigalpa in 1935 only to complete another in Leipzig in 1936, a year later.

    A visit to Leipzig University's webpage provided the opportunity to leave a note to the University Registrar, asking for any information on Elvin Morton Jellinek.

    I was delighted when an s-mail envelope arrived two or three weeks later containing a note from a University archivist, signed K. Gaukel, and a copy of Jellinek's student transcript .

    Gaukel's note confirmed that an Elvin Morton Jellinek had studied philosophy at Leipzig from 25 November 1911 to 29 July 1913 and from 22 November 1913 to 2 December 1914.

    Between these two periods, Jellinek had apparently spent time in both Berlin and Grenoble.

    Gaukel's note also indicated, however, that Jellinek had not taken a degree as a result of these studies at Leipzig.

    According to the transcripts themselves, Jellinek appears to have been dropped from the University's rolls in both 1913 and 1914, for failure to attend lectures or take classes.

    His subject preferences indicate a taste for linguistics8 and cultural history.

    Obviously, we must give Jellinek either low marks for consistency across his self-reported educational background statements or high marks for obscuring the fact that he probably possessed no earned doctorate--and perhaps no earned university degree at all.

    There is the odd chance, too, of course that Jellinek's certifications are intact. It's always possible that K. Gaukel checked only undergrad and not grad records or that the compilers of the Yale Register mistakenly listed Tegucigalpa University in Jellinek's entry when that institution belonged in Iredell Jenkins' entry, the next name down in the Register'slist.

    Moreover, a doctor-less Jellinek should by no means vitiate either his career or his accomplishments in the alcohol science movement.

    Indeed, some of us may even be inclined to grant Jellinek a few extra-credit points--i.e., for accomplishing as much as he did with a c.v. as problematic as his appears to have been!

    Aside from the coffeetable trivia aspect of this little journey into E.M.J.'s background, however, there is at least one broader message and implication it suggests.

    The great Jellinek, hero of an emergent alcohol science field--with or without a doctorate--appears to have been a rather marginal figure with respect to his academic & scientific background & certification.

    His own marginality, in turn, hints at the marginality of the alcohol science field more generally in Jellinek's day. A less marginal field, one suspects, would have been more likely to balk at Jellinek's troubled c.v.

    Hence, this adventure may remind us that the alcohol science movement that Jellinek shepherded--despite its prestigious Yale venue and various other trappings of scientific respectability--was in some respects as marginal to mainstream scientific pursuits as E.M.J. himself may have been to mainstream scientists & academics.


    1 Jellinek, E.M., "Phases of Alcohol Addiction," Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 13:673-684, 1952.

    2 [Jellinek, E.M.,] "Expert Committee on Mental Health, World Health Organization. Report of the first session of the Alcoholism Subcommittee. Annex 2: Jellinek estimation formula." (WHO Tech. Rep. Ser., No. 42) Geneva, 1951.

    3 See Gusfield, Joseph R., Contested Meanings: The Construction of Alcohol Problems, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996, pp. 249-250.

    4 Page, Penny Booth, "The Origins of Alcohol Studies: E.M. Jellinek and the documentation of the alcohol research literature," Addiction 83:1095-1103, 1988--see p. 1099 for quote.

    5 There's that Central American university!

    6 Jellinek had come out to Stanford from Alberta, Canada to aid the then-faltering Cooperative Commission study--see Plaut, Thomas F.A., Alcohol Problems: A Report to the Nation by the Cooperative Commission on the Study of Alcoholism, New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. Jellinek's c.v. and related materials were kindly provided by Lane Medical Library, Stanford University Medical School.

    7 Jellinek was born in New York City (on 15 Aug 1890). It may be noted that though Jews were not formally banned from German Universities until December, 1938, their circumstances within the Third Reich had worsened considerably by 1936. For example, the famous Nuremberg Laws degrading Jewish citizenship and proscribing intermarriage were promulgated in September, 1935.

    8 He signed-up for classes in Greek Syntax, Phoenetics, & Indo-Germanic Linguistics.

© 1998 Ron Roizen


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