9/20/2005

Modern Medicine started in the 1950's

Until the 1940s, the overwhelming task of medicine was to attempt the management of infection. It has tended to be forgotten until recently that chronic, untreatable infections were then a common source of ill-health and misery. The medical establishment worldwide focused on this. Andrew Scull pours scorn -- much of it unjustified -- on pre-1950 methods of dealing with the masses sunk in chronic mental illness: the malaria treatment of GPI, convulsive techniques including ECT, and psychosurgery. Yet the progress of medicine has depended significantly on unconventional enthusiasts: some were right and many others, including Cotton, turned out to be wrong. The performance of psychiatry has been no worse than that in other branches of medicine. Since the randomized controlled trial arrived in the 1950s and evidence-based medicine more recently, not to mention the endless obstacle course that faces new medicine, innovation in medical treatment has become no easy matter...

In the 1980s, a young Australian surgeon suggested something that aroused incredulity. Peptic ulcer, he said, that scourge of adults in Western countries, was promoted by infection with Heliobacter, which had been overlooked. By adding antibiotics to existing medication, he revolutionized the treatment of digestive ulceration and brought relief to millions. What he had found, in fact, was focal sepsis.

Powell's Books - Review-a-Day - Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull, reviewed by Times Literary Supplement

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