Citations 0
JAMA 100 Years Ago
December 1, 2004


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(21):2668. doi:10.1001/jama.292.21.2668-b

It seems to be the rule, unfortunately, for writers of fiction, when dealing with medical subjects, to pay no attention to facts. This leads to the most ludicrous combinations of symptoms and to the descriptions of conditions that cannot exist. It is an old fault, and a repetition of this fault from an ordinary writer of fiction would hardly deserve attention here. We have to regret, however, its occurrence in the recent writings of a celebrated author who was educated as a medical man. Dr Conan Doyle, in “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez,” just published, makes Sherlock Holmes say, in commenting on a pair of glasses that had been found, “You will see, Watson, that the glasses are convex and of unusual strength.” In another place, speaking of the owner of these glasses, Holmes says: “Unfortunately for her, she had lost her glasses in the scuffle, and as she was extremely short-sighted she was really helpless without them.” To make a short-sighted person wear convex glasses, even in fiction, is not to be commended. In dealing with medical subjects, why do not writers of fiction properly inform themselves and so avoid making such ridiculous errors? Not to do this is slovenliness. In this particular instance, the result of the neglect of attention to facts is unusually unfortunate, for it involves our friend, the famous detective, and also his friend, Dr Watson; and this involvement shows them in a very unenviable light—they are shown to be weak where they should be strong—for Mr. Holmes appears as a poor observer and Dr Watson as a poorly informed medical man. Holmes calls attention to the physical characteristics of the myope, and speaks of the convex glasses which had been used to counteract short-sightedness. Had this detective been a good observer of people he would have known that concave glasses go with such physical characteristics, and had Dr Watson been a well-posted physician, he would have set his friend straight as regards the kind of glasses used for correcting myopia. We can agree with Mr. Sherlock Holmes that it would be difficult to name any article which affords a finer field for inference than a pair of glasses, but one is very apt to go wrong if he infers from a pair of convex glasses that the owner is short-sighted.