chapter  17
7 Pages

Lessons from the History of Medicine

But reappraisal only happens because of the emergence of a culture, from the 17th century onwards, which rewards criticism and challenge.

A relative latecomer, the experimental method relies on a mindset that needs to be cultivated and encouraged. The German physicist Max Planck famously remarked that, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”4 Planck exaggerated, but he recognized that people are by nature very slow to abandon received ideas. And, as Planck asserted, scientists too can be stubborn. They are often prone to stick doggedly to favored theories in the face of counter-evidence. They are also susceptible to passing fashions. This is precisely why studying medicine s rich and convoluted history can be so worthwhile. There can be few better ways of warning students of the risks of dogmatism in science than delving into the history of surgery or medicine, for the vast majority of past medical ideas have turned out to be wholly or partly wrong.