Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/551

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ON ACCURACY IN OBSERVATION.

ON ACCURACY IN OBSERVATION.[1]
By H. LITTLEWOOD, F. R. C, S.

THERE are many theories afloat to solve the great question of medical education—what subjects should be taught in the early part of the curriculum, and what left out. I do not think it is quite such a great matter what is taught: how it is taught is of far more importance. For I take it that there is no training which can turn out a medical man who is up to date in every branch of his profession, and very thankful I am that there is no place in the world for such a prodigy. He would be very like a historical character described in one of George Eliot's novels: "The simplest account of him one sees reads like a laudatory epitaph, at the end of which the Greek and Ausonian Muses might be confidently requested to tear their hair, and Nature to desist from any second attempt to combine so many virtues with one set of viscera." To hear some men, and even medical men, talking, one might almost suspect that we had found the realization of such a description. The great aim and object of medical education, and, in fact, of all education, is that it should make you accurate observers; and any plan or scheme of education that has not succeeded in this has been a failure, even if, after years of study, you can write the whole of the letters of the alphabet after your name. You hear people talk of education, and of So-and-so going to this or that school or university, either at home or abroad, to finish his education. Never was there a more mistaken notion. The word "education" should almost be used like the word "eternity." It must go on as long as humanity exists. What you should be doing at your school and university is to train yourselves to observe things accurately, so that you may rightly interpret their meaning. Let me tell you it is a very difficult thing to be accurate. You will, I am sure, forgive me for again quoting from George Eliot, but she has so well expressed what I want to say: "Examine your words well, and you will find that, even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth even about your own feelings: much harder than saying something fine about them which is not the exact truth." If such is the case, we can not be too laborious and painstaking in order to eliminate error. If your early studies in chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, etc., have been rightly conducted, you should have learned to note facts and to make careful observations; and you will find this training invaluable when you begin your hospital work, as also during the remainder of your


  1. ↑ From an address delivered before the Yorkshire Medical Society, on October 18, 1893.