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April 4, 1966

Tuberculosis and the Creative Writer

JAMA. 1966;196(1):41-44. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100140095026

The association between tuberculosis and creative activity has for many years been a subject for debate among students of medical history. Impressive lists have been made of eminent men who suffered from this disease, and books have been written which try to assess the contribution made by Koch's bacillus to exceptional achievements of the intellect and imagination. However, such studies are beset by a variety of problems which make it dangerous to draw any firm conclusions. The further we go back in history, the more difficult it becomes to be absolutely certain of the diagnosis, and there is no doubt that many great men have been labelled tuberculous on rather slender grounds. Also, until recently, tuberculosis has been a very widespread disease in our civilization, and we must beware of confusion between coincidence and causation.

But in any case it is somewhat unreal to view the arts in such a

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