Monday, June 1, 2009

Cuckoo & Medicine: Dissent & Heresy

The RSPB reported on May 28, 2009:
Cuckoo joins list of threatened birds

The official list of the UK's most threatened birds has recorded a 37% decline in the cuckoo since the mid-1990s.
Photograph: Mark Hamblin/RSPB/PA

“Amongst the species new to the red list is a suite of birds visiting the UK in summer, notably the cuckoo, wood warbler, and tree pipit. These birds, are widespread, but rapidly-declining, summer visitors to the UK.”
“Their addition to the red list is highlighting the concern that many long-distance migratory birds nesting in Europe and wintering in Africa are increasingly in trouble. Currently 21 of the birds on the red list are summer visitors to the UK, with the majority of these spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa.”
I mentioned in passing in my book “The Cockroach Catcher” Jenner’s observation and the stir it caused. When I visited his home in Glouscestershire, the curator of the small museum, who was extremely knowledgeable, took pride in telling us how Jenner’s great work on Cowpox vaccination upset the medical establishment on the one hand, and how his observation on the murderous ways of the Cuckoo newborns upset the gentlemanly world of the Ornithologists on the other. It was the Royal Society that awarded him a Fellowship for his keen observation.

His work on Cowpox vaccination in the prevention of Smallpox was met with hostile responses. The medical world that was dominated by London at the time could not accept that a country doctor had made such an important discovery. Jenner was publicly humiliated when he brought his findings to London. However, what he discovered could not be denied and eventually his discovery was accepted – a discovery that was to change the world.

It is worth having another look at Brian Martin’s view on:
Dissent and heresy in medicine.

Social Science and Medicine, vol. 58, 2004, pp. 713-725.
Brian Martin is Professor of Social Sciences in the School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Brian uses models on politics and religion to illustrate the model of orthodoxy versus dissent/heresy. You can read his views here.

He noted that challenges from the inside - heresy and dissent - are far more threatening to an establishment than outside challenges. This is true of all establishments, not least medicine.

But why should it be? In a more co-operative environment, these differences become opportunities for learning. Medicine in particular will not progress if all dissenting views are suppressed and smallpox may have indeed killed for another 20 or 30 years or more.

After the discussion on politics and religion he turned his focus medicine.
He then analysed some methods of domination in medical research:
• State power
• Training
• Restriction on entry
• Career opportunities
• Research resources
• Editorial control
• Incentives
• Belief system
• Peer pressure

“Training to become a doctor is a process of enculturation and indoctrination. The heavy work-load of memorisation and intensive practical work discourages independent thinking.”

“Examinations provide a screening process that encourages orthodoxy. For those who pursue a research path through the PhD, the process of writing a thesis or dissertation further weeds out those who might challenge orthodoxy. Some dissidents and even fewer heretics may slip through the training and credentialing system, but then there are few desirable career paths.”

“In order to have a chance, dissidents and heretics need to understand that science and medicine are systems of knowledge intertwined with power, and that if their alternative relies entirely on knowledge, without a power base, it is destined for oblivion.”

Related Posts:
Orthodoxy and Knowledge
Picasso and Tradition

1 comment:

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