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JAMA 100 Years Ago
December 12, 2001


Author Affiliations

JenniferReiling, Assistant Editor

JAMA. 2001;286(22):2785. doi:10.1001/jama.286.22.2785-JJY10042-3-1

It was prophesied when the x-rays were first discovered that they would be exploited by quacks, as there is just that element of mystery and semi-miracle in them that takes in the credulous. We could not well anticipate their real therapeutic value, and we can not say that it has even yet been fully demonstrated. It does appear, however, that they have a certain decided influence on living tissues, and the suggestion is a natural one that this can be applied to a therapeutic end. The success of the Finsen light treatment is also suggestive in this connection. Following out this idea some physicians have experimented with the therapeutic application of these rays and have reported encouraging results in cases of superficial malignant growths, while not claiming any more than logical scientific deduction can allow. There is, however, a class of men, few of them it is satisfactory to say, in the regular medical profession, who are a sort of camp-followers of science, seeking opportunities to pick up something out of new discoveries, or old ones still prominent in the public eye, that they can utilize for personal profit or notoriety. Some of these are comparatively innocent in their methods; they are mere vulgarizers, incompetent ones often, of scientific facts. Others, however, are less unobjectionable, and some recent instances of this will occur to anyone. One or two of the latest have originated in Chicago and have lately taken up space in the daily papers throughout the country, and also, it is reported, in Europe, with alleged claims to cure deep-seated cancers and to destroy all germs by the x-ray. It is easy to report cures of anything the existence of which depends upon one's personal diagnosis and statement, if one is unscrupulous enough, and that sort of thing finds many believers. It is another thing, however, to demonstrate them to scientific observers; therefore this kind of discoverer utilizes the daily press which finds his alleged achievements well suited to its sensational needs. What the x-rays can do in therapeutics has yet to be shown; the little we know is promising, but no man can truly say that anything more than a limited utility has been proved for them. Simple faith is a beautiful thing in some ways, but in alleged science of the newspapers and especially in the announcement of this sort of medical progress, a healthy skepticism is a better thing. The credulity that formerly exercised itself on ghosts and immaterial things is in this age of discovery lending itself to the fables of pseudo-scientists and often with even worse results.

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