Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Hard to swallow


In 1920, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University offered the following advice for treating pneumonia: “To bleed at the very onset in robust, healthy individuals in whom the disease sets in with great intensity and high fever is good practice.”

Blood-letting as a “cure” goes back 2,000 years, to the early history of medicine. By the 19th century, the practice was so common it fuelled a mini industry exporting leeches from France to England. Such false phlebotomy has been cited as contributing to the death of many unfortunate people, including figures as prominent as George Washington.

The author of these guidelines was Sir William Osler, a Canadian-born physician, researcher and lecturer often dubbed the father of modern medicine. His advice was included in his influential Principles and Practice of Modern Medicine, still in print in the current millennium.

This misplaced wisdom was one error among many great contributions to the advancement of healing.

read more at Andrew Jacks' book review at the FT covering amongt others: Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science"; and Singh and Ernst's "Trick or Treatment".