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From the Archives: Ron Roizen Redux

Today's round-up of evergreen content from the Points archive comes to us courtesy of Ron Roizen, PhD, a sociologist who has written extensively about the social construction of alcoholism research in the 20th century. Enjoy!

The launch of Points in 2011 offered me something of a lifeboat.  I’d been diagnosed with a serious illness toward the end of 2010 and, by February, 2011, was recovering from a lifesaving surgery.  Unsure of my longevity prospects, however, I soon decided to scribble out a number of short pieces on topics I’d dillydallied over in the past.  Points offered the perfect outlet.  For one thing, I wouldn’t have to worry too much about my sometimes too-casual writing style.  In all, I’d end up posting 30 pieces at Points—19 in 2011, seven in 2012, three in 2013, and one in 2016.  Points editor Trysh Travis warmly encouraged me along the way.

These posts spanned a diverse array of topics, although broad themes also emerged.  A dozen addressed E.M. Jellinek or some other aspect of the development of the so-called “new scientific approach to alcohol” in the U.S. in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Seven dealt with Mrs. Marty Mann’s place in the history of the modern alcoholism movement.  Another seven examined topics drawn from alcohol’s particular history in the American Northwest (Idaho, Washington, and Montana).  A handful dealt with more or less philosophical questions—including the story of my brief encounter with noted Anglo-European disease-concept-of-alcoholism advocate Max Glatt in Helsinki in 1975 (#4).  Some posts fit no category—e.g., my two-part, 2012 discussion of the (then-) proposed NIAAA-NIDA merger (#22 and #23).  I was pleased when two of my Points posts were subsequently republished online at The Atlantic (#15 and #19).

More recently, new Points editor Claire Clark has invited me to select some of my old posts for a retrospective.  I’ve selected #1, #8, #11, and #17--all four published over the course of 2011.  #1, “Cherry-picking…,” addressed an interesting historical puzzle, namely:  How the disease concept of alcoholism managed to become a major tenet of A.A. thought and praxis even despite the fact--as Kurtz (2002) convincingly showed--it was not actually part of A.A.’s bedrock philosophy.  My argument was that prominent A.A. member Marty Mann and her grand campaign promoting the disease concept—launched in October, 1944 and funded, until 1949, by the Yale alcohol science group—played a significant role in conflating the disease concept with A.A.’s message.  A little light could be shed on my historical contention by looking back at how Mann and A.A. presented themselves to the public before Mann teamed up with Jellinek at Yale and launched her aggressive disease-concept campaign.  Just such an opportunity occurred in Jack Alexander’s famous 1940 feature article on A.A. published in The Saturday Evening Post, wherein Mann’s alcohol-related bio was sketched under the false name, “Sarah Martin.”  Notably, the disease concept was nowhere to be seen in Alexander’s article.

The second post I’ve selected (#8) dealt with what I called “the perils of insider historiography.”  Mark Keller provided generous assistance to me as I struggled to complete my dissertation in 1990-1991.  Yet Keller also confided in passing that he was withholding from me something about post-Repeal alcohol science’s early history.  He didn’t say what.  Keller died in 1995.  It wasn’t until 2007—16 years after filing my dissertation—that I stumbled upon what that something was.  Keller’s account of this history had argued that the Rockefeller Foundation invoked John Wyckoff’s untimely death, on June 1, 1937, as “an excuse” for withdrawing their support from Norman Jolliffe’s proposed seven-year study of alcoholic admissions at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.  Keller had withheld from me that Wyckoff’s death was a suicide—partly occasioned by an insurance scandal involving faked EKGs.  As the Rockefeller people were notably gun-shy about scandal and adverse publicity, Wyckoff’s suicide might tend to elevate what Keller had regarded as a mere excuse into a tangible factor in their decision to abandon Jolliffe’s study.  Wyckoff’s suicide also tended to stain Keller’s advocacy-prone account of “the new scientific approach’s” early history.  I offered a fuller picture of the circumstances of Wyckoff’s death in August, 2007.  My subsequent Points post (#8), in June, 2011, further elaborated on the Wyckoff story, now suggesting that it represented a cautionary tale about relying too heavily on “insider” recollections as historical sources.

My third post, #11, concerned E.M. Jellinek’s hasty departure from Budapest in 1920.  I’d received an email from an American scholar posted in Budapest in 2009.  Michael Laurence Miller asked if I was aware that one Morton Jellinek was the subject of one chapter in an Hungarian book about con men and vagabonds.  I wasn’t.  In our subsequent correspondence Miller kindly translated this chapter’s essential elements for me.  It told the story of an extralegal currency trading caper Jellinek had pulled off soon after the end of World War I.  I sketched the first half of Miller’s translation in December, 2009 and then published the second half at Points (#11) in August, 2011.  So far as I’m aware, these two reports represented the first time “Morton Jellinek,” the Hungarian rogue, had become firmly linked with “E.M. Jellinek,” the celebrated U.S. alcohol studies scientist. [1]  (Scholars in both Hungary and the U.S. would soon explore Jellinek’s Hungarian period more fully—see esp. Ward [2014].)

The fourth and last post, #17, examined the tensions between the post-Repeal disease-concept campaign’s ostensible manifest and latent functions (à la sociologist Robert King Merton).  This was a heady post, I admit.  What began as an attempt to make use of Merton’s well known functionalist distinction ultimately resulted in a consideration of some of the fuzziness and incompleteness lodged in the manifest and latent function concepts. [2] 

More than a dozen years have passed since the appearance of my first Points post.  I guess I’d have to say that I’ve been haunted a little over this period by the notion that, by now, I should have organized some of these posts into, say, one or two short monographs--thus integrating their messages into broader treatments and giving them more permanence.  But interests change.  In recent years I’ve spent more of my time on local history here in North Idaho, where I’ve lived since leaving Berkeley in 1997.  Still, I look back on the experience of preparing these posts with satisfaction and with more than a little gratitude for the Points blog, which generously provided them with a ready outlet and an enduring home.


Campbell, Colin, “A Dubious Distinction? An Inquiry into the Value and Use of Merton's Concepts of Manifest and Latent Function,” American Sociological Review 47(1):29-44, 1982.

Helm, Paul, “Manifest and Latent Functions,” The Philosophical Quarterly 21(82):51-60, 1971.

Kurtz, Ernest, “Alcoholics Anonymous and the Disease Concept of Alcoholism,” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 20(3&4):5-39, 2002.

Page, Penny Booth, “E.M. Jellinek and the evolution of alcohol studies: a critical essay,” Addiction 92(12):1619-1637, 1997.



7.     Glimpses of Blythewood, posted 6/21/11

12.  Thoreau's Lament on Cider's Fall, posted 8/16/11

28.  On E.M. Jellinek's Trail, posted 4/25/13

[1] Page (1997), however, had earlier made a fleeting and indirect reference to this same connection.  She wrote:  “Jellinek's early career is also somewhat cloudy. His daughter says that his first job was in a government school for nervous children in Hungary, which he lost after a Communist rebellion. According to her notes, Jellinek next became involved in currency transactions and then suddenly and inexplicably left the country” (p. 1620).

[2] For examples of more thorough critical evaluations of Merton’s manifest/latent dichotomy, see, e.g., Helm (1971) and Campbell (1982).



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