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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Worshiping myths results from ignorance

I write on this blog often how ignorance impedes progress.  I came upon an excellent discussion of this by the greate historian Fielding Hudson Garrison. Sorry this passage is long, but it's worth the read:
Buckle* maintained that ignorance and low-grade minds are the cause of fanaticism and superstition, and, since his equation is reversible, we may consider this proposition true if we apply it to certain fanatical leaders of mankind, savage or civilized, who, as "moulders of public opinion," have retarded human progress. Chamfort said that there are centuries in which public opinion is the most imbecile of all opinions, but this reproach cannot be entirely saddled upon "the complaining millions of men." History teaches everywhere that permanent ignorance and superstition are the results of the oppression of mankind by fanatical overmen. In medicine, this is sometimes ludicrously true. "There is nothing men will not do," says Holmes, "there is nothing they have not done to recover their health and save their lives. They have submitted to be half-drowned in water, and half-choked with gases, to be buried up to their chins in earth, to be seared with hot irons like galley-slaves, to be crimped with knives like codfish, to have needles thrust into their flesh, and bonfires kindled on their skin, to swallow all sorts of abominations, and to pay for all this, as if to be singed and scalded were a costly privilege, as if blisters were a blessing, and leeches a luxury. What more can be asked to prove their honesty and sincerity?"1 Yet while the lack of public enlightenment in certain periods produced the stationary or discontinuous mind, there are signs that the modern organized advancement of science may bring forth rich fruit for the medicine of the future through the social cooperation of the mass of mankind with the medical profession. As the ancient Greeks hung upon the teachings of Empedocles and Hippocrates, as modern humanity responded beautifully to the ideas of Jenner, Pasteur, and Lister, so there has been at no time a greater interest in the advancement of medicine and public health, as manifested in periodicals and newspapers, than in our own. The awakening of the people to looking after their own interests in regard to the organization and administration of public hygiene is, no doubt, the hope of the preventive medicine of the distant future. Yet, even under the best conditions, it is still possible and probable that many highly intelligent and highly educated persons will continue to hug their whims and superstitions, consult quacks, and be otherwise amenable to psychotherapy, absent treatment and "action at a distance." "To folk-medicine," says Allbutt, "doubt is unknown; it brings the peace of security."
It's interesting that this observation was made in 1922 and it still holds true today, 91 years later.  We still have doctors who believe in myths, and as we know, a myth is something that is based on superstitions and feelings as opposed to fact.  A myth is something that has never been proven, such that ventolin treats pneumonia, CHF and pulmonary fibrosis, or that oxygen will knock out a COPD retainers hypoxic drive.  Surely you know such are myths, as they have never bee proven, although they are treated as facts by God knows how many people -- way too many people.

A few good examples can be found in my post: The 15 biggest myths of respiratory therapy

*I have no idea who this is.  In many older history books the author generally uses last names without any further knowledge on who the person was.  Although I imagine he was a smart man

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