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Letters

The Hippocratic oath

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6951.414a (Published 06 August 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:414

Not much of a medical historian's Bible

Sir,

Dr Loudon wrote:
"The usually reliable Garrison, author of the medical historian's "bible,"
wrote in 1929…" [1]

Is it a bible? It is neither comprehensive nor 'usually reliable'. It
is filled with distorted accounts bent on one purpose - to glorify the so-
called 'scientific achievements' and NOT to give an unbiased account of
medical history. A true history of medicine would not do this. If you are
going into the past with your head filled with modern concepts and
strongly biased against certain aspects of that history - as Garrison did
- then you will never create a true history, you will merely create a
mangled and very partisan version of it, utterly distorted by modern
ideas.

Here is another example of Fielding H Garrison:
"Garrison devoted a mere half-page to homeopathy in the first edition of
his comprehensive 'Introduction to the History of Medicine', published in
1913. He briefly stated the three salient principles and noted that
Hahnemann's doctrines found wide acceptance, especially in America. Their
extreme popularity...' he wrote, 'is probably due to the fact that they
lessened the scale of dosage of drugs in practice...otherwise this system
is but an offshoot of eighteenth century theorizing.'..." [2]

To amplify, the position here is much worse than Blake indicates.
Garrison's book is a monumental tome of 996 pages! Thus to give homeopathy
only half a page in such a book indicates a breathtaking amount of
allopathic vindictiveness on Garrison's part. It speaks volumes about the
appalling degree of hatred which homeopathy has been subjected to down the
years. Nor is "a mere half-page to homeopathy" a remotely fair
representation of the importance that homeopathy had in the medical
history of America, when you consider that in 1890 apparently 1 in 8
American medical practitioners were non-regular, mostly Homeopaths,
Eclectics and Thomsonians:

"Between 1835 and 1860…sectarian medicine represented roughly 10% of
the total number of physicians. By 1871 they represented 13% [6000
sectarians compared to 39,000 regulars]…" [3]

"In 1898, homeopaths…comprised roughly 8% of all medical
practitioners. These data are corroborated by an examination of the number
of medical school graduates in each sect in 1890, 1900 and 1903. Graduates
of homeopathic medical schools constituted about 8% of all graduates of
those years." [4]

Now, 8% of this 996 page 'bible' should be 80 pages and for Garrison
to have given a remotely balanced and "reliable" account of medicine in
the USA, his so-called 'Bible' should have given an account of homeopathy
occupying something like that number of pages. And then it might more
rightly be seen as "the medical historian's "bible"…" [1]. Of course, to
diminish such an 80-page account to a mere 1/2 page seeks to make a 160-
fold diminution of homeopathy's true position in American medical history.
Now, what could have inspired Garrison to even conceive such a monumental
distortion of true history?!

Sources

[1] BMJ 1994; 309: 414 (6 August), Letters, The Hippocratic oath,
Irvine Loudon,
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/309/6951/414/a

[2] John B Blake, Homeopathy in American History, Trans. Stud. Coll.
Phys., Philadelphia, Series 5, vol. 3, 1981, 83-92, pp.86-7

[3] Paul Starr, 1982, The Social Transformation of American Medicine,
Basic Books, New York, 99

[4] William G Rothstein, 1972, American Physicians in the 19th
Century - From Sects to Science, Johns Hopkins Univ Press, Baltimore, 345

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 July 2001
Peter Morrell
Hon Research Associate, History of Medicine
Staffordshire University, UK