JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.
FRIAR's POINT, MISS., Dec. 23, 1905.
To the Editor: In THE JOURNAL, December 16, is an article by Dr. Bayard Holmes, in which the doctor takes the position (if I understand him) that all text-books of medicine should be burned after being in print ten years. He says: “If a man has done his work before he is 50 and ought then to step aside and give place to the young, the medical text-book has outlived its usefulness in one-tenth of that time.” In the first place, I feel sure there are very many men in the medical profession, as well as in other walks in life, who can and do a great deal of good work after they are 50. Dr. Osler would hardly admit his work complete, and doubtless would enter a very vigorous protest to being “laid on the shelf.” While I am as strong an advocate of progress as any man, and although I have reached the age when I should step aside, I try to keep up with the times and do not feel like stepping aside, as I am sure that there is much work for me to do yet. I have in my library works on practice extending from Dunglison, 1842, to Hare, 1905. I find it interesting and instructive to refer to these “antiquated” works occasionally and sometimes I refer to them to find “where we are at,” as it is an indisputable fact that “the pendulum swings,” hence authorities often find a reversal of opinion forced on them. I for one am not willing to admit that the experience and observations of those old “fathers in medicine” are absolutely worthless to us, for I find, by comparison, that in many instances authorities of the present era have not made any very perceptible progress over the theories as advanced several years ago. I feel sure that those old fellows stumbled on the truth occasionally (perhaps by accident), as can be proved by reference to some of those books and those of the present era. For instance, 50 years ago “blood letting” was routine practice, 25 years ago it was obsolete, to-day it is advised as being beneficial in some cases. In those older works calomel was advised in large doses in certain cases, later small doses only were advised. We find in Hare's “Practice,” page 248, “treatment of intermittent fever”: “It is, therefore, essential in almost every case (I find it essential in every case) of intermittent fever that the bowels shall be thoroughly unloaded, preferably by full doses of calomel, of which not less than 5 nor more than 20 grains are required, this in turn being followed by a saline purge.” Experience and observation during an active practice of over 30 years in the malarial sections of Tennessee and Mississippi lead me seriously to doubt the anopheles mosquito or any other mosquito as being the only means by which the human system can be infected with malarial poison. Verily the pendulum does swing; therefore, it is not impossible that those old books may be useful later; at all events in this “neck of the woods” we have plenty of fuel without “burning the books.”
Correspondence: The Burning of the Books.. JAMA. 2005;294(24):3084. doi:10.1001/jama.294.24.3084-b