Landmarks in Medicine: Laity Lectures of the New York Academy of Medicine
By James Alexander Miller
2000/10 - Beard Books
1587980770 - Paperback - Reprint - 357 pp.
Gives a new perspective to the meaning of medical research and a glimpse of the spirit that inspires the search for new medical knowledge.
This illuminating book, originally published in 1939, is the outcome of an interesting series of lectures given at the New York Academy of Medicine by a distinguished group of doctors, all outstanding in their fields. It covers a wide variety of subjects, bringing to the layman many fascinating aspects of the progress of medical knowledge over the years.
From Henry Berry
As the subtitle points out, the seven lectures reproduced in this collection are meant especially for general readers with an interest in medicine, including its history and the cultural context it works within. James Miller, president of the New York Academy of Medicine which sponsored the lectures, states in his brief "Introduction" that this leading medical organization "has long recognized as an obligation the interpretation of the progress of medical knowledge to the public." The lectures collected here succeed admirably in fulfilling this obligation.
The authors are all doctors, most specialists in different areas of medicine. Lewis Gregory Cole, whose lecture is "X-ray Within the Memory of Man," is a consulting roentgenologist at New York's Fifth Avenue Hospital. Harrison Stanford Martland is a professor of forensic medicine at New York University College of Medicine. Many readers will undoubtedly find his lecture titled "Dr. Watson and Mr. Sherlock Holmes" the most engrossing one. Other doctor-authors are more involved in academic areas of medicine and teaching. Reginald Burbank is the chairman of the Section of Historical and Cultural Medicine at the New York Academy of Medicine. He lectured on "Medicine and the Progress of Civilization." Raymond Pearl, whose selection is "The Search for Longevity," is a professor of biology at Johns Hopkins University.
The authors' high professional standing and involvement in specialized areas do not get in the way of their aim to speak to a general audience. They are all skilled writers and effective communicators. As the titles of some of the lectures noted in the previous paragraph indicate, the seven selections of "Landmarks in Medicine" focus on the human-interest side of medicine rather than the scientific or technological. Even the two with titles which seem to suggest concern with technical aspects of medicine show when read to take up the human-interest nature of these topics. "The Meaning of Medical Research", by Dr. Alfred E. Cohn of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, is not so much about methods, techniques, and equipment of medical research, but is mostly about the interinvolvement of medical research, the perennial concern of individuals with keeping and recovering good health, and social concerns and pressures of the day. "The meaning of medical research must regard these various social and personal aspects," Cohn writes. In this essay, the doctor does answer the questions of what is studied in medical research and how it is studied. And he answers the related question of who does the research. But his discussion of these questions leads to the final and most significant question "for what reason does the study take place?" His answer is "to understand the mechanisms at play and to be concerned with their alleviation and cure." By "mechanisms," Cohn means the natural--i. e., biological--causes of disease and illness. The lay person may take it for granted that medical research is always principally concerned with finding cures for medical problems. But as Cohn goes into in part of his lecture, competition for government grants or professional or public notoriety, the lure of novel experimentation, or research mainly to justify a university or government agency can, and often do, distract medical researchers and their associates from what Cohn specifies should be the constant purpose of medical research. Such purpose gives medicine meaning to humankind.
The second lecture with a title sounding as if it might be about a technical feature of medicine, "X-ray Within the Memory of Man," is a historical perspective on the beginnings of the use of x-ray in medicine. Its author Lewis Cole was a pioneer in the development of x-rays in the late 1800s and early1900s. He mostly talks about the development of x-ray within his memory. In doing so, he also covers the work of other pioneers, notably William Konrad Roentgen and Thomas Edison. Roentgen was a "pure scientist" who discovered x-rays almost by accident and at first resented the application of his discovery to practical uses such as medical diagnosis. Edison, the prodigious inventor who was interested only in the practical application of scientific discoveries, and his co-worker Clarence Dally enthusiastically investigated the practical possibilities of the discoveries in the new field of radiation. Dally became so committed to his work in this field that he shortly developed an illness and died. At the time, no on knew about the dangers of prolonged exposure to x-rays. But sensing some connection between his co-worker's untimely death and his work with x-rays, Edison stopped his own investigations.
Cole himself became involved in work with x-rays during his internship at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City in 1898 and 1899. His contribution to this important field was in the area of interpretation of what were at the time primitive x-rays and diagnosis of ailments such as tuberculosis and kidney stones. Cole writes in such a way that the reader feels she or he is right with him in the steps he makes in improving the use of x-rays. He adds drama and human interest to the origins of this important medical technology. The lecture "Dr. Watson and Mr. Sherlock Holmes" uses the popular mystery stories of Arthur Conan Doyle to explore the role of medicine in solving crimes, particularly murder. In some cases, medical tests are required to figure out if a crime was even committed. This lecture in particular demonstrates the fundamental role played by medicine in nearly all major areas of society throughout history. The seven collected lectures have broad appeal. All of them are informative and educational in an engaging way. Each is on an always interesting topic taken up by a professional in the field of medicine obviously skilled in communicating to the general reader. The authors seem almost mind readers in picking out the most fascinating aspects of their subjects which will appeal to the lay readers who are their intended audience. While meant mainly for lay persons, the lectures will appeal as well to doctors, nurses, and other professionals in the field of medicine for putting their work in a broader social context and bringing more clearly to mind the interests, as well as the stake, of the public in medicine.
Dr. James Alexander Miller received his medical degree in 1899. He was a co-director of Tuberculosis (later Chest) Service of the Columbia Division at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He was assigned to Bellevue by the Department of Medicine of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and arrived at The Chest Service at Bellevue, first designated the Tuberculosis Service, in 1903.
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