Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/353

This page has been validated.
349
A SANITARY OUTLOOK

A SANITARY OUTLOOK[1]
By Sir JAMES CRICHTON-BROWNE, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S.

ONE of the hopeful signs of the times is the popular interest that is manifested in health questions. No doubt, as Carlyle said, all men are born hypochondriac, and in all ages—never more so than in the present one—swindlers like Caliogstro have driven a thriving trade in well-advertised potions and specifics, but never before has health in the aggregate been the object of public concernment as it now is; never before have the scientific principles that underline its preservation and the practical methods by which these may be applied become, to the same extent as now, part of the civil polity of the nation. The whole country is valetudinarian now, in the best sense of the word, conscious of its weakness, determined to recover its strength. Topics that not long ago would have been thought suitable only for a medical society are discussed in the streets and across the dinner table, while the newspapers teem with articles on physical deterioration, infantile mortality, tuberculosis and cancer research.

And this is, I think, as it should be. The intelligent cooperation of all classes is needed in carrying on the great work of sanitary reform. There should be no squeamish affectation in ignoring subjects that are of vital and universal significance. There is no mystery in physiology and hygiene, and the better these are understood the greater will be the deference paid to expert opinion in matters in which special knowledge is involved, the clearer will be the appreciation of the boundary where prophylaxis terminates and medical diagnosis and treatment begin.

But the inevitability with which all statements bearing on public health are in these days bruited abroad and the avidity with which they are received make it incumbent more than ever on those who speak with authority on such subjects to observe caution and discretion, for doubts or speculations that would be harmless or even stimulating when addressed to a critical and well-informed audience, may become confusing or misleading when, having passed through the alembic of the journalistic mind, they appeal to the general. I had that brought home to me somewhat forcibly on a recent occasion on reading the newspaper reports, just for one day, of the meeting of the British Medical Association at Leicester. I found there an eminent medical authority reported as giving some countenance to telepathy, which I


  1. A paper read before the second London conference of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association.