Deflating the jazz cults

October 10, 2013

This essay appeared in the first issue of Medical Economics published in October 1923. He writes about "checking the growth of irregular schools and destroying charlatan factories."

This article appeared in the first issue of Medical Economics published in October 1923.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association of November, 14, 1908, the writer submitted a plan for checking the growth of irregular schools and destroying charlatan factories.

Nothing has occurred in the course of the fifteen years which have passed since that time to change the writer’s opinion that the plan was a perfectly good one, and a few things have happened which would seem to show that there have been good results wherever the spirit in which this plan was conceived has been emulated and applied, wittingly or otherwise.

The plan in question was presented in such brief terms that it will serve our present purpose best to quote it in its entirety:

“If the profession be really desirous of destroying the freak systems, if it ever intends to abandon its miserable laissez-faire policy in ‘dealing’ with great evils (in the soiled waters of which policy it would appear at times to be wholly steeped), and attain an actual solution of this problem, how, in all human probability, can it accomplish such a beneficent result? What shall the method be?

“The right remedy lies so near that only an occasional Morton Prince sees its clearly.

“Morton Prince, in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, October 17, 1908, says that ‘the present-day crude and unscientific system of psychotherapeutics known as Christian science, mind cure, osteopathy, and what not … should, properly speaking, be looked on as aprobria on medical education rather than denounced as public evils’

“We must teach systematically all the freak systems in the regular schools! The chairs of therapeutics must be amplified and must cover all the freak systems thoroughly. There must be no limit to their scope. There is really nothing absurd about such a proposition, for, scoff at the freak systems as we will, it is an undeniable fact that, individually, we know very little about them at first hand. All truth does not reside in us. We are not the divinely appointed, sole and sacred repositories and custodians of it, after all. We are entitled to possess, and it is our duty to acquire, the kernels of truth which lie buried in the potpourri of claptrap to separate the wheat from the chaff, to tear out of the stroma of flubdub the modicum of parenchymatous truth always contained therein.

“The irregulars cure a class that we do not cure-a bitter truth. ‘The man in the street’ cares nothing for your codes and creeds.

“The systems must be studied coordinately and in true perspective. No sectarian product could result from this. Instead of acquiring a hodge-podge of distorted knowledge concerning the irregular schools after graduation, the student would be fitted to outclass the whole tribe of licensed charlatans. Now we can only gnash our teeth at them. It would like teaching knowledge of sexual matters in the home circle, instead of allowing children to acquire it on the streets.

“Merely on historical grounds serious account could be taken of homeopathy. A man can study homeopathy at Rush or at the University of Michigan. That’s precedent enough. Only he should not be permitted to limit his studies to one system.

“The adoption and application of this plan would necessitate the appointment of associate or adjunct professors who would have to fit themselves for their posts by special study at the freak schools.

“Has not regular medicine itself emerged out of a fearful tangle of false postulates, impossible dogmas, Arabic inanities, Galenic heresies and Hippocratic platitudes? Have we not had our many editions of Brown and of Paracelsus? On what meat have our medical Caesars been themselves fed that they should balk at osteopathic diet?

“After the many tough centuries of tough feeding that we have endured, do we still suffer from intellectual dyspepsia? Can we even yet not eat thankfully the coarse diet with which the medical larder is stocked (as well as such delicacies and tidbits as the side-chain hypothesis of Ehrlich and the opsonin therapy of Wright), digest its valuable content, egest the cellulose of rot and buncombe, and grow yet fatter? Aye, and even say a grace to Asklepios before the feast! We are eating this very diet as it is, swallowing psychotherapy and all the other cults with many a grimace. Let’s put a better face on it. That’s all. Let’s swallow the pill gracefully.

“Teach the freak systems for what they are worth, and in so doing destroy the incentive of patients to consult sectarian practitioners, thus absorbing the sustenance of the latter at its very source. They would soon suffer inanition. Legislation has done no more than recognize and license the freak systems and give representation to them on our examining boards. This is not a cure, nor yet a palliative. Indeed, it safeguards, wet-nurses and perpetuates these systems. It lies with ourselves to deal with a subtle enemy in a subtle fashion. The fire must be fought with the water of a subtly adequate resourcefulness, not through a legislative fire department through whose hose runs the kerosene of expediency and compromise.

“Will the reactionaries rise up from their standpat quagmire, vainly strive to shake off the mud that tenaciously holds them in their miserable slough, and then declare this to be the greatest and most comprehensive scheme ever offered for a wholesale exploitation of quackery? Hark, hear ye not their hoarse croaks even now?

“Whom have we to thank for the present demoralizing relationships between the regular and irregular schools, if not the reactionaries? Why be guided longer by our clay-footed idols? Let medicine see the birth of a Young Turk party which shall ask for bread; long enough have we been served stones, garnished with sauce laissez-faire.

“Can we not learn a lesson from the phagocytes, whose methods we study with such assiduity? In the human body’s admirable scheme of things there is no license bureau for pathogenic bacteria. Let us invoke the opsonin of a broader type of medical school to the end that the professional blood stream buy cleared of its unwholesome elements.”

In this year of grace the writer would be inclined to amplify the foregoing suggestions by a proposal looking to clinics and lectures in the regular medical schools to be conducted by the leading exponents of the freak systems.

Is it not clear that if the people knew that the education of their medical advisers included a thorough knowledge of all the doctrines and practices of the jazz cults that the latter would cease to fascinate them? They now know that the average doctor is ignorant of these things. Of course the personality of the gentry possessing mysterious special knowledge is interesting.

It is we who are unintelligent, not they of the laity who seek the freak practitioners and are cured. Until we cease to be stupid we must expect to see things go on in the old way.

The time spent on a study of the freak systems would be more advantageous from every point of view than much of the time now given so lavishly to work which seems to be planned on the assumption that the student, after graduation, is going to spend the rest of his life in a laboratory.