The Lancet: “A New Year’s message from 100 years ago”

As every other magazine is publishing New Year’s editorials this month, the British medical journal Lancet has instead revisited the editorial from its January 1911 issue.  Then-editor Squire Sprigge welcomed the new decade in an editorial titled, “The Promise of 1911”.

“Sprigge cited progress against rabies, diphtheria, and the plague, and praised advances in surgery that would have seemed miraculous to a previous generation. He lamented that the demon of tuberculosis had not been exorcised in 1910, although he hoped that better understanding would one day result in mastery of the disease.

“There had been two general elections in the UK in 1910, so concern was expressed about the effect of political uncertainty on social issues, such as the health of disadvantaged people, the maintenance of charitable hospitals in a depressed economy, occupational health, and workers’ compensation for industrial accidents.

“In addressing the profession, legislation was urged against the “grasping charlatan and dangerous quack” (echoing a letter about homeopathy in the correspondence section).

“He argued that the public would be best protected by better-educated doctors, referring to the issue’s lead article, which attacked the contemporary curriculum in medical schools and absence of leadership for progress in education.

“While the eloquent prose and emphasis on syphilis of the January 7, 1911 issue seems dated, there is more of relevance to practice in 2011 than one might comfortably admit. Case reports from regional medical associations in the U.K. would be familiar today, as would reports “from our own correspondent”, which describe cocaine addiction in Montreal, Canada, and identified tuberculosis, measles, diarrhea, and respiratory infection as leading causes of death in South Africa.

“The behaviour of expert medical witnesses and the reporting of medicine by the lay press also came under discussion, as did jurisprudence and anaesthesia, and even medical tourism. There was also complaint about philanthropists whose charity is excessive, poorly coordinated, and indiscriminate.

“A provincial U.K. hospital announced plans to acquire an x-ray machine, citing among other reasons that it could be used to treat ringworm; years later those treated would have higher risks of cancer.

“From Vienna came news about superior health among the city’s 180,000 Jewish people, whom a generation later would face lethal persecution.”

Read the entire (modern) editorial from The Lancet.

2 thoughts on “The Lancet: “A New Year’s message from 100 years ago”

  1. Fascinating – in some ways we have come so far, yet it’s amazing how some medical concerns seem as topical today as 100 years ago. Thanks for sharing this perspective.


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