Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/247

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END OF THE FILTH THEORY OF DISEASE.

methods of scientific enquiry is lacking. Such evidence as we have shows that those persons who are constantly exposed to the gaseous products of decomposition do not suffer therefrom.

From whatever point of view this matter is discussed, it must not be forgotten that the advocates of the filth theory did much good, for there was a certain amount of truth in the theory. Certain kinds of filth are conveyors of specific disease, and the efforts to secure better water, to build good sewers and drains, and promptly remove excreta from dwellings were true sanitation. The providing of better houses doubtless conduces to greater personal cleanliness and tends to higher standards of living. Full credit should be given to early reformers who labored earnestly according to their knowledge, and accomplished much good and very little evil. It is only those who in the light of more accurate knowledge still hold to the crude ideas of an earlier age with whom the writer would differ.

In abandoning the filth theory we should profit by experience and not become wedded too closely to the germ theory. We do know much about bacteria and protozoa and their relation to disease, but vastly more remains to be learned, and it is much to be feared that too many seek to enter the sphere of the unknown by hasty speculation rather than by the slow path of laborious research.

Though abandoning the time honored theory which was taught him, the writer has not abandoned the fight against filth. Filth is a nuisance, and is usually an evidence of some one's carelessness of his neighbor's comfort. The state or city should certainly protect its citizens against such nuisances. Good sewerage, well swept streets, prompt scavenging, public baths, clean tenements, are all parts, desirable and essential parts, of our civilization. They would be worth what they cost even if they had no relation to health; but the proper disposal of excreta and cleanliness of person doubtless do have much to do with the prevention of the spread of many communicable diseases. Much is to be gained by promoting cleanliness, but nothing by fostering false notions of the dangers of filth.