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Book and Media Reviews
December 9, 2009

Picturing Medical Progress From Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America

JAMA. 2009;302(22):2492-2493. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1820

In Picturing Medical Progress From Pasteur to Polio, Hansen is interested in “what everybody knew” about medical science and its progress. His medium is the popular image, the sort of drawings and cartoons reproduced by the millions in illustrated newspapers, magazines, and, by the 1940s, comic books. He identifies the publicity surrounding Pasteur's rabies vaccine in 1885 as a key starting point in the depiction of medical science as progressive and tied to images of the laboratory. He ends with Salk and the 1950s, the last years when medicine could be portrayed without caveats about the dangers that could accompany medical progress. This bookending is perhaps too neat; Salk's triumph was sullied within weeks by the Cutter vaccine incident, in which children inadvertently received live polio virus. But Hansen undeniably takes readers back to an era when the names of great physicians were known to every schoolchild and funding for medical research, not coincidentally, flowed abundantly from Congress.