Some thoughts on medicine

May 4, 2008


I know I may sometimes come across as a bit cynical. So I would like to begin this week’s opinion piece in a positive way with glowing feedback about a doctor, who is no longer practising. It came from the son of one of his patients:


“I remember the time Dr X gave to my dad. He would come round at the drop of a hat. He was a marvellous GP.”


He was certainly no Gregory House. There was only one small problem; he was a prolific serial killer. The doctor in question was a certain Harold Shipman. The official inquiry into his career concluded that there existed a “real suspicion” that he had murdered more than 215 people. You would have thought that such a high death rate would have aroused suspicions about his competence among the medical establishment and in the local community. Yet at the beginning the people of Hyde simply refused to believe their benign doctor could possibly be guilty of such crimes. People were confusing manner with results that is in some ways a metaphor for our own complaints about medicine. I know that a Doctor’s manner is also important. When I see a medium in action I am often impressed with their manner. It is a shame that their talents are dedicated to such a fraudulent cause.


            Modern healthcare has produced astounding results and yet we seem increasingly dissatisfied with the attention we receive. Scientific medicine is indeed a modern miracle. I know I shall be accused of ethno-centrism but I think it has proved to be a unique tool. It looks in the human body as something which is fundamentally animalistic and not divine. John Diamond, a British broadcaster and journalist, who died of throat cancer succinctly exposed the fallacy of alternative medicine.


“It is easy for a well-fed metropolitan with time and money on his hands to talk about dealing with his chronic symptoms with Ayurvedic medicine or Chinese herbal remedies, but if you go those countries where they are all they have, you’ll find them crying out for goof old Western antibiotics, painkillers and all the rest of the modern and expensive pharmacopoeia. A Ugandan dying of AIDS-related tuberculosis doesn’t wanted to be treated with the natural remedies of his forefathers: he wants an aseptic syringe full of antibiotics…”


            Of course modern medicine has plenty of problems. Economics is at the heart of this; modern healthcare is an expensive business. I know I’m going to destroy my libertarian credentials but I believe in a public health service even though I can see that it has systemic weaknesses. I am also aware that fighting illnesses is a never-ending battle; as soon as you conquer one new ones appear. The other day someone told me that if science were able to prolong a human male’s life span to 120, incidence of prostate cancer would be 100%. He seemed to doubt that this was progress. I have no such doubts. It is much better than what came before when children had to survive a macabre game of Russian roulette just to reach adulthood. Even if I become ill I have confidence in the power of scientific medicine to cure or at least alleviate the symptoms. Progress is never 100% good and there can often be unintended consequences but I feel it is important to recognise the debt we all owe to scientific medicine.





Recommended reading

Hippocratic Oaths Medicine and its Discontents  by Raymond Tallis











My Media Week 04/05/08

May 4, 2008

John Kay is a leading British business economist who writes a column in the Financial Times. At his website you can see his latest article and a very extensive archive. This week’s article is A ban on touts will not fix a rigged game.


EconTalk has an interview with William Bernstein on the History of Trade.


Doing without a ruler: in defence of anarchism. This ABC podcast features  Professor Robert Paul Wolff stating the case for anarchism


A challenge to global warming orthodoxies – part one. Professor Don Aitkin, former Vice Chancellor at the University of Canberra, delves into the question of global warming to see what’s at the heart of it. This podcast comes with a transcript


To the Best of Our Knowledge is a radio program which focusses on one topic each week; they interview people with an interest in the subject. This programme is about dumbing down, a phenomenon about which I am very sceptical. In the fist segment of the show Susan Jacoby, the author of The Age of American Unreason, talks with presenter Steve Paulson and gives several frightening examples of the way American culture is dumbing itself down, and how poorly educated many American college graduates are. In the third segment Andrew Keen a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, attacks the lack of editorial filtering on the web.


Is there a Josef Fritzl on your street?


New Federal Rules Target Deceptive Credit Card Practices. This podcast is from NewsHour on PBS and comes with a transcript.



My Favourite Links #4

May 4, 2008

The University of California, Berkeley  was founded in 1868 and its motto is Fiat lux or for those of us who didn’t have a classical education Let there be light. Now that light can reach anywhere in the world with access to the internet. They have now posted 100s of courses at their website. These include the following: The Making of Modern Europe: 1453 to the Present, Microeconomics, Shakespeare, The Ancient Mediterranean World, General Psychology, Heidegger…….. the list goes on and on. These courses have been available for a number of years now and you can find them all here. You don’t need to register and they are all free.


Famous put-downs

May 4, 2008

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.

William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)


If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.

Lady Astor (to Winston Churchill)

If you were my wife, I’d drink it.

Winston Churchill, in reply


Do you mind if I smoke?

Oscar Wilde (to Sarah Bernhardt)

I don’t care if you burn.

Sarah Bernhardt, in reply


He is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.

Lyndon Baines Johnson (about Gerald Ford)


He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.

James Reston (about Richard Nixon)


A triumph of the embalmer’s art.

Gore Vidal (about Ronald Reagan)


I believe that Ronald Reagan will someday make this country what it once was… an arctic wilderness.

Steve Martin


How can they tell?

Dorothy Parker (hearing of Calvin Coolidge’s death)


That’s not writing, that’s typing.

Truman Capote (about Jack Kerouac’s style)


The only genius with an IQ of 60.

Gore Vidal (about Andy Warhol)


She speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them.

John Gielgud (about Ingrid Bergman)


A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself. Benjamin Disraeli (about William Gladstone)


Blackadder – Baldrick, you’re fired.
Baldrick – (aghast) Oh, but I’ve been in your family since 1532!
Blackadder – So has syphilis. Now get out.