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Week 22: Medical Authority

Lecturer: Elise Smith

In the twentieth-first century, Western medicine has become synonymous with scientific medicine, as laboratory-based research and clinical testing have led to the development of successful modern interventions. Yet scientific medicine does not have a monopoly over treatment, as many alternative therapies continue to be used despite concerns about their efficacy. Proponents of alternative medicine, in turn, have raised questions about the safety and dominance of biomedical practices, leading to fierce debates about health matters in the public sphere. This session will trace the root of these disputes, showing how medical researchers have sought to delegitimise their competitors while seeking objective evidence to support their methods. In the process, it will look at how medical knowledge has been shaped over the last century, and how different systems of treatment are assessed.

Discussion/Essay Questions:

  • How has the evidence harnessed by proponents of ‘scientific’ medicine differed (or not) from that used by advocates of ‘alternative’ medicine?
  • What role have clinical trials played in the growth of biomedicine?
  • Account for the continued popularity of EITHER the anti-vaccination movement OR homeopathy in the twentieth century.
  • How responsible was the medical community for the thalidomide scandal?

Required Readings:

  • Arthur Daemmrich, 'A Tale of Two Experts: Thalidomide and Political Engagement in the United States and West Germany,' Social History of Medicine 15 (2002): 137-158 [e-journal]

Further Reading:

Marc Berg, ‘Turning a Practice into a Science: Reconceptualizing Postwar Medical Practice,’ Social Studies of Science 25 (1995), 437–76

Roberta Bivins, Alternative Medicine? A History (Oxford, 2007)

Roberta Bivins, ‘Histories of Heterodoxy’ in Mark Jackson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine (Oxford, 2011)

Rock Brynner and Trent Stephens, Dark Remedy: The Impact of Thalidomide and its Revival as a Vital Medicine (New York, 2001)

W.F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds.) Medical Fringe and Medical Orthodoxy, 1750-1850 (London, 1987)

Roger Cooter (ed.) Studies in the History of Alternative Medicine (Basingstoke, 1988)

Elena Conis, Vaccine Nation: America's Changing Relationship with Immunization (Chicago, 2015) [e-book]

Andrew Cunningham and Bridie Andrews (eds.) Western Medicine as Contested Knowledge (Manchester, 1997)

Jeanne Daly, Evidence-Based Medicine and the Search for a Science of Clinical Care (Berkeley, 2005)

Martin Edwards, Control and the Therapeutic Trial: Rhetoric and Experimentation in Britain, 1918-48 (Amsterdam, 2007)

John S. Haller, Jr. Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies (New York, 2014)

Ted J. Kaptchuk, ‘Intentional Ignorance: A History of Blind Assessment and Placebo Controls,’ Bulletin of the History of Medicine 72 (1998), 389-433.

Martin Kaufman, Homeopathy in America: The Rise and Fall of an American Heresy (Baltimore, 1971)

Robert D. Johnston (ed.), The Politics of Healing: Histories of Alternative Medicine in Twentieth-Century North America (New York: Routledge, 2004)

David S. Jones, ‘Visions of a Cure: Visualization, Clinical Trials, and Controversies in Cardiac Therapeutics, 1968–1998,’ Isis 91 (2000), 504-541.

Christopher Lawrence, ‘Clinical Research’ in John Krige and Dominique Pestre (eds), Science in the Twentieth Century (Amsterdam, 1997), 439-459.

A.M. Lilienfield, ‘Ceteris Paribus: The Evolution of the Clinical Trial,’ Bulletin of the History of Medicine 56 (1982), 1-18.

Michael Magazanik, Silent Shock: The Men Behind the Thalidomide Scandal and an Australian Family's Long Road to Justice (Melbourne, 2015)

Eileen Magnello and Anne Hardy (eds.), The Road to Medical Statistics (Amsterdam, 2002)

J. Rosser Matthews, Quantification and the Quest for Medical Certainty (Princeton, 1995)

Harry M. Marks, ‘Trust and Mistrust in the Marketplace: Statistics and Clinical Research, 1945–1960,’ History of Science 38 (2000), 343–55.

Harry M. Marks, ‘Chapter 5: Managing Chance: Statistics and therapeutic experiments, 1950-1960 The Progress of Experiment: Science and Therapeutic Reform in the United States, 1900-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), pp. 136-163

Steve Sturdy and Roger Cooter, ‘Science, Scientific Management, and the Transformation of Medicine in Britain c. 1870-1950’, History of Science 34 (1998), 421-466.

Steven Timmermans and Marc Berg, The Gold Standard: The Challenge of Evidence-Based Medicine and Standardization in Health Care (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003)

Ulrich Trohler, ‘“To Improve the Evidence of Medicine”: Arithmetic Observation in Clinical Medicine in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 10 (1988), 31-40.

George Weisz, Gerald Jorland and Annick Opinel (eds.) Body Counts: Medical Quantification in Historical and Sociological Perspectives (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2005), pp.377-393

James C. Whorton, Nature’s Cures: The History of Alternative Medicine in America (2002)