Sunday, October 19, 2014

Post-Modernism and Ebola

The Wall Street Journal had a good piece this weekend on how our attitudes towards medicine and epidemiology are tripping us up in our response to Ebola.  In short, it argues that in generations past, heroic advances were made in the control of infectious diseases in part because we trusted the medical research and public health apparatus to do its job, and believed it could be done.  Most convincingly, it cites how 2 million live American children were used to study Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, and recounts how Dwight Eisenhower held back tears in personally thanking Salk.

Many things have happened in intervening years which have eroded the trust we have in medicine and science. The article notes that the heroic conquests of the past have slowed as the great threats of the time (smallpox, polio, chicken pox, mumps, etc.) were neutralized.  Certainly we still struggle mightily with cancer, but even AIDS has been largely wrestled to the mat if not quite pinned.

The at times unholy alliance of pharma and medicine with profit in what -- to echo Eisenhower himself -- we might term the "medico-pharmacological complex," has not helped, nor has the perceived drifting of medicine as career from a "calling" to a way of maxing out income and securing for onesself ever larger cars, houses, and more prestigious club memberships.

The continual flipping and flopping of thinking about this that or the other nutritional point ("Eat margarine... no eat butter") hasn't done much to raise trust in science and doctors.

And certainly, for those of us who like to think of ourselves as being at the top of the intellectual food chain, post-modernism hasn't added value either.  The skepticism towards science and enlightenment values found in Thomas Kuhn, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Paul Feyerabend, and a host of others raised up a whole host of cynics.... blah blah blah

Anyhow, when all's said and done, western medicine has saved my butt on a number of occasions, I'm inclined to cut it some slack.  At this very instant, for example, science is telling me that I have been blogging too long (I thought I had a succinct point to make earlier) and I need to go running on this beautiful autumn day before I get too hungry to do so before lunch.

More later!

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