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JAMA 100 Years Ago
March 4, 1998


Author Affiliations

Edited by Brian P. Pace, MA, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(9):640AN. doi:10.1001/jama.279.9.640

Our knowledge of the causes of disease has unquestionably been greatly enlarged by the bacteriologic investigations of the past fifteen or twenty years, and we are constantly acquiring new information that is of the highest theoretical and practical importance. With the positive data, however, thus gained, there are others the signification of which is a puzzling problem, and that sometimes appear to contradict or overthrow the conclusions deduced from what have appeared to be well established pathologic acquisitions. . . . The natural history of these lowest forms of plant life [bacteria] has not been by any means thoroughly worked out, and as pathologists we are perhaps not exactly on the right road to this result. We do not study them as naturalists; our aim is to follow them in their pathologic relations to learn to use their microscopic characters and behavior in cultures for diagnostic purposes, and we do not apply to these investigations the critical observation of the systematic naturalist who studies the life history and development with a taxonomic skill derived from long experience and sharpened by competition and criticism. The specific characters of a simple rod or dot of matter visible only under a high-powered lens are not very marked or numerous, nor are they very adequately supplemented by their behavior to coloring reagents or in coloring cultures. These facts leave us in a certain condition of uncertainty in regard to many often mooted points and there are at least a few so-called pathogenic bacteria that tried by the ordinary laws of evidence might escape on the ground of a reasonable doubt from conviction for the homicides of which they are accused, and for which according to accepted pathologic usage they are considered entirely responsible.