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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quackery in 1858

An 1858 medical dictionary defined the quack, not on the basis of education or sex, as they had done 20 years earlier with Elizabeth Mott, but on the basis of their method:
Quack: A term applied, by way of derision, to a person who professes to cure all diseases by a single remedy (or in accordance with a single dogma); also to remedies which are sold under the protection of a patent.
Daniel King, M.D., had a lot more to say about quacks. In the same year, he wrote a whole book on the subject, Quackery Unmasked, in which he excoriated several types of doctoring that were being done at that time. As far as Doctor King was concerned, the common element between homeopaths, water cure doctors, Thomsonians, female physicians, Indian doctors, chrono-thermalists, and natural bone-setters was quackery. He tried hard to discredit the alternative forms of medicine and branded the healers as quacks and their patients as desperate dupes. He was a mid-nineteenth century muckraker, but a half-century ahead of his time:

All experience shows that mankind are ever more ready to believe pleasant falsehoods than disagreeable truths. Quackery takes advantage of this proclivity, and therefore caters for the universal appetite. A perfect quack is a most obsequious sycophant - his medicines are always exactly what the patient wants. They are never disagreeable, are perfectly safe in all cases, and always certain to cure. These are what every sick man wants, and therefore strives with all his might to believe ... whenever any positive benefit has resulted ... it has been accomplished through ... the mind (rather than through the body). ... All (quacks) pretend to (have) new and very important discoveries - all are bitterly hostile to the regular profession - all boast of their wonderful success and rapid increase, and all are only so many different views in the same great panorama passing rapidly along, never to return.

Obsequious sycophant? Good grief; no wonder people called them quacks instead.

1 comment:

  1. "Quack" may be much shorter to say, but obsequious sycophant is much more musical whilst rolling off your tongue!


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