Intended for healthcare professionals


Millennial musings

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 04 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1092

Are almost certainly bound to be wrong

  1. Roy Porter, professor in the social history of medicine (
  1. Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London NW1 2BE

    Clinical review p 1117

    Education and debate pp 1124-54

    This week's BMJ is publishing several papers selected from next week's keynote conference of the Millennium Festival of Medicine. The conference will run from Monday 6 November to Friday 10 November at the QEII Conference Centre in London. Some tickets are still available. Those interested should contact the BMA conference unit on 020 7383 6605 or

    Historians, A J P Taylor once said, make rotten prophets, and I don't suppose that historians of medicine like myself are any exception. All I can see ahead are banana skins. But it's not clear that doctors are any better when it comes to crystal ball gazing. Little over 130 years ago, for example, the distinguished surgeon Sir John Erichsen, of University College Hospital, proclaimed that “the abdomen, the chest and the brain [will] be for ever shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”

    More hopefully, back in 1936, Sir Crisp English informed readers of the BMJ that within 20 years “it will be common practice for you to visit patients by aeroplane.” “Telephones with television will be in regular practical use,” he predicted: “The doctor will see on the television screen the tongues and tonsils of his patients … he will also see his guineas, …

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