May 13, 1983

XI. Medicine Seeks to Be 'Scientific'

Author Affiliations

From the Morris Fishbein Center, University of Chicago.

JAMA. 1983;249(18):2475-2479. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330420025028

In the previous essay, I suggested 1886 as a convenient vantage point from which we can readily examine the progress of medical science. That date serves as a meeting point of two diverse currents. One of them, which waxed greatly, I identify as "science"—in quotation marks because the meaning of the term is by no means agreed upon, at present. The other current, which waned in the last two decades of the century, has no simple or widely accepted name. I would identify it by the cumbersome title, the "old-fashioned medical practice" and for convenience refer to it as the "art of medicine," a term that is even less clear than "science."

Today the meanings of "art" and "science" may be fuzzy, but a century ago they seemed quite obvious. And a century ago the distinction between them had considerable significance, as well as clarity. A textbook of 1883, A