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JAMA 100 Years Ago
April 18, 2012


JAMA. 2012;307(15):1562. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.465

Current Comment

Unfortunately advances in scientific medicine are frequently heralded as being of much more value and importance than they can possibly prove to be. Sometimes this is due to the desire of the newspaper reporter to make a good story, but it is occasionally suspected that medical men are not wholly innocent in the matter. W. M. Barton1 analyzes the cause of this tendency: Men who are deeply thoughtful, thorough students appreciate the relative importance of new discoveries, and in the majority of instances thc charge of exaggerating the importance and effect of their work cannot be sustained against them. “The very difficulty of carrying into execution the simplest principles of their science teaches them a demeanor of conservatism and humility. But to the dilettante or amateur in hygiene nothing is impossible in sanitary science.” No human plague exists which cannot be scientifically eradicated if only the rules proposed by these neophytes are followed. Barton further points out that the public loses confidence in medical science, after finding that some of these heralded improvements accomplish far less than was promised. The thoroughly cultivated, scientific man is conservative concerning the significance of a new discovery. His experience has taught him to hesitate to make emphatic statements. He may not interest the public so much at the moment, but his wisdom and reputation will last longer.

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