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JAMA 100 Years Ago
January 4, 2012


JAMA. 2012;307(1):14. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1895

The New York Times inquired of a number of famous personages what they considered the five most notable achievements of the year just passed; and forty-four groups of answers were received.1 It is of interest to consider to what extent the science and art of medicine received recognition in them. Progress in our profession was noted not at all in thirty-four of the groups of answers. Among the remaining ten opinions was that of President Taft, who gave as the second of his answers “the demonstration of the complete success of the prophylactic in typhoid fever, as shown by the fact that in the mobilization of 15,000 troops in Texas for three months there was only one case of typhoid.” Count Bernstorff, the German ambassador, noted among the five greatest achievements of 1911, Ehrlich's salvarsan and “Wassermann's progress in cancer research.” President Thwing, of Western Reserve University, emphasized the growth of medical education and research exhibited in the strengthening of medical schools and research institutes. President Wheeler, of the University of California, noted “Ehrlich's discovery in specific chemotherapy.” Booker T. Washington noted “the discovery of Dr. Simon Flexner, of the serum for the cure of spinal meningitis.” The Rev. Dr. Henry Van Dyke commented on “the advance made in restoration surgery.” James Bryce, the British ambassador, observed: “In modern times most of the events of the highest ultimate significance have been discoveries in the realm of nature, or inventions in the realm of industry; and their magnitude is seldom known at first. Little was said of the discovery that mosquitoes are the carriers of yellow fever and of the intermittent fevers; yet what immense consequences are already seen to flow from the determination of that fact. In science when a stone is started down a hill, no one can tell how far it will go.” Dr. Ehrlich modestly makes no comment on his own epochal work, but considers “the greatest achievement of the past decade the knowledge that has been gained incidental to the discovery of radium with regard to the transformation of matter.” Senator Williams, of Mississippi, applauds the practical application of vaccination methods to prevent typhoid fever. Professor Osgood, of Columbia University, finds among the world's five greatest achievements the year's advance in curative and preventive medicine. The forty-four answers were from as diverse viewpoints as those of Pope Pius X, the King of Italy, Carmen Sylva, Lieutenant Peary, governors of states, economists, writers in fiction as well as in science, playwrights, editors, noblemen and “Darwinites,” besides those of the notable men quoted; the recognition accorded medical achievements was therefore not so scanty as would on first thought appear. For every man will naturally give paramount position to the progress in his own field.