Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/March 1882/Quackery Within the Profession


THE profession is probably unaware of the progress steadily made by medical quackery in its diverse forms and disguises. Quackery which is not medical—in the sense of being practiced by duly qualified men—is undoubtedly an evil, but its consequences are not comparable with the effects of such quackery as is growing apace within our own ranks, and slowly it may be, but surely, undermining the respect and confidence which the profession has hitherto deserved and received from the public. We sometimes wonder that our calling does not command the warm recognition in certain quarters to which it seems entitled For a sufficient explanation of this default in the estimation of society, let us look to the prevailing and almost daily increasing popularity of "systems" and "cures" tacitly, if not avowedly, supported or countenanced by the profession. There is a sentimental and mock-heroic spirit abroad which burlesques the candor of "truth-seeking," and even mimics the impulses of chivalry. We hesitate to condemn any system, "lest there should be some good in it," and we are too tender-hearted and polite to deal honestly by its promoters, even though we recognize the fallacy of their pretensions, and more than suspect their motives. This is not a faithful line of conduct in reference to our profession, nor is it loyal to science, which is one of the many constituent parts and aspects of truth. We know, or ought to know, that a perfectly just and truthful conception of the science of medicine must bar the recognition of systems and cures of any class or description. The art of healing is not a system, and can never be made one. It is simply an intelligent application of the laws of health in the remedy of disease. We study the "symptoms" of a malady with a view to the acquisition of precise knowledge as to its nature, course, and rational treatment. We pursue the investigation of disease over the boundary-line of death, and explore the cadaver with a view to ascertain the effect of the morbid state on the organism and to elicit its organic causes, albeit we too commonly confound effects with causes. We test the powers and analyze the constitution of drugs, and we scrutinize and make careful trial of methods of treatment, to obtain a reasonable acquaintance with their natures and actions. In brief, we take any amount of trouble and resort to every means at our disposal to render the principles and practice of our art rational. This is our duty, and it is the only method consistent with self-respect and professional integrity; but, if side by side with this policy, we cherish a spirit of credulity which renders us ever ready to countenance systems of which we can know nothing—because there is nothing to know—and take a false pride in showing friendliness to quacks and charlatans, the good work we selves may do is changed to evil by reason of the actual or implied sanction we give to the bad work done by others. Nothing is so much needed just now as the rise in our midst of a stern and uncompromising apostle of sincerity in science—a man of unpitying animosity to humbug in all its forms, who will not hesitate, at any bidding, to denounce wrong-doing and untruthfulness, let who may be the offender. It is time that a spirit of manliness went out in our ranks to chase away the lying spirit of mock courtesy—the fainthearted and time-serving sentimentality—which makes us so ready to look kindly on any pretender, and so reluctant to expose any pretense.

There can not possibly be a "system" or "cure" in medicine. There are no rule-of-thumb methods and no mysteries in true science. If we do not know what a remedy is, and how it acts, we have no right, as honest men, to employ it. The time has passed for the working of cures by charms and the recourse to nostrums. We pander to the credulity of the unskilled community when we show ourselves credulous. We patronize and encourage quackery when we extend professional recognition to a quack. Every man is a quack—whether qualified or unqualified—who employs a remedy without knowing why, or who adopts a "system" in medicine. The profession must speak out clearly and strongly on this point, and without delay. From the highest places in society to the lowest ranks of the people, there is just now a grievous readiness to "believe in" quacks and quackery. We have ourselves to thank for this most adverse "feeling" and "influence." It is the stirring of the viper we have brought in from the cold, where physicians and surgeons of more robust intelligence than those of to-day left it—the viper we have warmed and fed and brought back to life; and now it is preparing to rise and sting the hand that caressed it. The way to encounter the charlatanry which is making head against science is to be at once more candid and more conspicuously honest in our dealings with the public. We must lay aside the last vestige of the robe of mystery, and show by our words and works, our conduct and policy, that medicine is not a science that admits of inspiration, and that the practice of healing is not an art which can be acquired by the unlearned. There is no system or cure, or charm or nostrum, known to the profession; our calling consists solely in the rational study and treatment of disease on common-sense principles. For those who pretend to a sort of inspiration we have no professional friendship; and toward the promoters of systems and 'pathies we can have no leaning, or any feeling other than that of suspicion, if not pity and contempt. They can have no place in our professional intercourse, and we can have nothing to say to them or their work. This is the only sentiment worthy of the medical profession in its dealings with medical quacks, and the time has come when the revival of its old spirit is most earnestly to be desired.—London Lancet.