Medical Apartheid

Harriet Washington’s book tells the dark history of medical experimentation on black Americans. It also reveals broader problems of inequality, poor science, and human failures. Harriet Washington In a recent post, Clay Jones reminded us that “the unconscious need to avoid cognitive dissonance serves as a powerful motivation to rationalize even the most horrific beliefs

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: A Fiasco with a Silver Lining

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment studied black men with advanced syphilis for 40 years. Patients were lied to and prevented from getting treatment. A black mark in the history of American medicine, it led to important reforms. The Tuskegee experiment was one of the most regrettable incidents in the history of medicine in the U.S. Conducted

Molecular Phylogenetics: A New Way to Tell the Story of Evolution

The new science of molecular phylogenetics tells the story of evolution with no need to consult the fossil record. It has produced some surprises, including a whole new domain of life, the archaea. Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species was a well-written, well-argued introduction to evolution, to the theory that populations evolve and species differentiate

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Vaccination

I recently came across Round the Red Lamp, a delightful volume of medical-themed short stories and other medical writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a medical doctor and the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Among its many treasures are two of his letters that were printed in newspapers in 1887 on the subject of compulsory vaccination.

A Feast of Science

Did you know that Samuel Hahnemann, the misguided father of homeopathy, was an accomplished chemist who developed the first chemical test for arsenic? His test was applied in a poisoning trial in England: it was positive, but the color of the sample had deteriorated by the time it got to the jury, and they were

Freud Was a Fraud: A Triumph of Pseudoscience

Psychiatry is arguably the least science-based of all the medical specialties, and Freudian psychoanalysis is arguably the least science-based psychotherapy. Freud’s theories have been widely criticized as unscientific, and treatment of mental disorders has increasingly turned to psychotropic medications and effective therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Freud’s impact on 20th century thought is undeniable, but

Fun with Spanish Flu Myths

There are many myths about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Some of them are pretty funny. In the SBM comments section, someone recently posted this gem: “That ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic was actually caused by a typhus vaccine. They called it Spanish flu so the vaccine didn’t get blamed.” Other commenters quickly pointed out that time travel

Natural Medicine, Starvation, and Murder

Natural Medicine, Starvation, and Murder: The Story of Linda Hazzard History is replete with doctors who practiced quackery. Here is the story of one such quack whose fasting therapy resulted in many deaths, a story that is so bizarre and horrific that it’s hard to believe it really happened, but it did. Editor’s note: Harriet is

The Gene: An Intimate History

Six years ago I reviewed Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. It was hands-down one of the best books I have ever read on a medical topic. Now he’s done it again. His new book is titled The Gene: An Intimate History. Mukherjee is a superb writer. Much of what I said

Frontal Lobotomy: Zombies Created by One of Medicine’s Greatest Mistakes

Frontal lobotomies have a dramatic, thankfully rather brief, history in the treatment of mental illness. Janet Sternburg has written an illuminating, and humanizing, book on the history of lobotomies, both personal and societal. It’s not clear who first quipped “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy,” but it’s not