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MEDICAL SCIENCE IN THE POPULAR AMERICAN PRESS: BEGINNINGS / Terra Ziporyn MEDICINE HAS A UNIQUELY IMPORTANT relationship with the public. More than a science, it has a practical side employing theory, yet distinct from it. This practical side always depends on the interaction of two parties: doctor and patient. Consequently, a patient's ideas about medicine comprise part of the practice of medicine itself. But even before becoming a patient, a person must have some conception of medical theory (science) as well. Doctors, after all, do not operate on unwiUing, inanimate objects: people go to doctors for help in certain types of problems because they believe that these problems and their solutions fall under the rubric of medicine. In this regard, the efficacy of medicine depends on the general pubUc's conception of it. Today this dependence is concrete: funding for medical research and medical services ultimately rests on public opinion. The medical system which has earned the public's trust will attract patients; the research the public deems worthy will receive funding. Even before expensive laboratory facilities, government grants, and publicly supported medical services institutionalized this dependence, however, no practicing physician could afford to ignore the view of potential customers. Throughout history, medical information has been available to the public. Often, however, popularized medicine does not involve medical science at all: it gives empirical advice on how to eat, sleep, bathe, and care for the sick. But medical science itself—the theory underlying the practice—has also been widely disseminated. Forms of popular education throughout the ages have included private talks, popular mythology, formal adult education, general lectures, sermons, health fairs and exhibits, articles, essays, and dramatics— offered by healers, elders, social workers, dieticians, and school teachers, or in television, radio, fUm, newspapers, magazines, and books. What people made of this information and how they supplemented or distorted it are valid questions but cannot be answered without first uncovering the information itself. According to historian Martin Green in Science and The SMbby Curate of Poetry: Essays about the Two Cultures, popularization is "the act of making a technical subject understandable to someone not trained in 230 · The Missouri Review that technology."1 Today, as in the past, popularization allows people without advanced scientific training the chance to participate in scientific research, provides professionally interested people with useful information, and helps society's decision-makers appreciate science's dangers and potentials. The term "popularization" has been used since about 1836, although science and medicine had been effectively popularized long before that: in fact, many intellectual historians consider Bernard le Bouvier de Fontenelle (1657-1757), who popularized the new science of the seventeenth century, as a model for aU subsequent popularizers. And probably one of the most popular health guides ever written was Luigi Cornaro's Discourses on a Sober and Temperate Life, 1558, which was translated and republished for centuries and stressed the importance of moderation in personal habits for health and longevity. Pinpointing the precise beginning of formal medical popularization is impossible, since before strict licensing and educational requirements were established there was no way to determine the professional status of either author or intended audience. Loosely, however, popularized health and medicine can be traced at least as far back as seventeenth-century newspapers. For example, Publick Occurences, regarded by some historians as the first newspaper printed in the United States, occasionally reported outbreaks of infectious diseases, and many colonial American newspapers contained advertisements for proprietary drugs. About the same time across the Atlantic anonymous "authorities" from the Athenian Society counselled on many subjects, including medicine, in the Athenian Mercury, and often quoted directly from medical works. According toJean Cormick, the advice was often laced with old wives' tales, inaccuracies, carelessness, superficiality, or blatant self-advertising. On the other hand, it provoked an interest in expanding medical knowledge among a growing middle class whose future support for science would prove important. In the eighteenth century both England and its colonies saw an unprecedented increase in popular education through both publications and lectures. Isolated physicians, influenced by Scottish philosophy, maintained that acquainting laymen with medicine would increase the growth of medical knowledge and help circumvent quackery. One result was the popular...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 130-144
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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