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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quackery in 1965

And so now we come into the modern era, the age of real knowledge and enlightenment because, hey, isn't that what we believe about the time in which we personally live? All those people who lived before we were born believed and slogged through superstitions, antiquated notions, and the dark forest of ignorance, but we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder; we are what they were all trying to be. We've got electricity, they had fire; we've got cell phones, they had to write letters; we have computers, they had pencils and paper. We have medicines and doctors performing at such an advanced level that we patients can't even comprehend it, but they're the best ever because they just are. These are modern times and clearly the best of times. Errr ... sure, in the days before we were born our ancestors thought the same thing of their doctors and medicines, but they were wrong and we are right because we've got the whole package today. We're at the apex; the pinnacle; top of the heap. How ignorant they; how brilliant we. Yeah, baby.

Seriously, I am so grateful for living at this time of history. Even though I know that there is still a lot about illness, medicine, and the human body to be learned, I have more faith in my doctor and pharmacist than I could ever imagine having in their counterparts 50, 100, or 150 years ago. My study of the pursuit of health in the 19th century has given me the gift of gratitude for what I enjoy today, no question about it. We still have to do our part, avoiding the traps of quackery and taking responsibility for our own health, but as I look at newspapers, magazines, television, the internet and the mirror, I realize that we are still a pretty gullible, silly bunch of beings. Case in point: the announcement this week by Kentucky Fried Chicken for their new breadless sandwich: cheese and bacon "sandwiched" between two pieces of fried chicken - are you kidding?!?!?!?! And you and I know people are going to buy them.

But I am getting off track. Today's definition of quackery comes from 1965. Benjamin F. Miller, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The Modern Medical Encyclopedia, focused on pretending for pay as the core of quackery:
Quack: A person who pretends to have medical knowledge and skill which he does not possess. In general, when people speak of quacks they are referring not to the many medical laymen who enjoy giving medical advice (usually unsound) to their friends but rather to persons who may have some medical education, or even experience in medical practice, but who are misguided, incompetent, or dishonest. A few quacks actually have the M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) degree and are licensed to practice. Other quacks lack the standard medical education and are not licensed. ... Many quacks specialize in making and selling useless or harmful patent medicines.
Interestingly, that definition suggests that those who do not get paid for their medical advice are not quacks. That makes me feel a little better. You see, it has always amazed me how often I am asked for my "medical" opinion about someone's condition, apparently because I have a pretty good knowledge of the human body and its functions. But what I know I learned from studying the history of quack medicine! Good grief! Countless times they have followed my observations and advice because it sounds, I guess, like I know what I'm talking about! Even when I point out to them that I have no formal medical training, they still seem so interested and respectful of my medical opinions and advice. I think the reason for that is mainly because of the combination of good-sounding information with the fact that it's free. How ridiculous is that? What they should do is find out what I do when I'm sick and miserable. I go to somebody who really seems to know what they're talking about ... my wife. Now there's an expert. Oh yeah, and she doesn't charge me, either.

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