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The history of America, by and for doctors
The unfamiliar landscape of America's medical past is marked by bizarre incidents, forgotten breakthroughs and selfless sacrifice.
- We all know Columbus, but who remembers Diego Alvarez Chanca, his doctor?
- This map does – and it lists centuries of medical figures, events, and achievements.
- It provides an unusual perspective on North American history… with one exception.
A familiar canvas
The map illuminates the topography of America with simplified, symbolic representations of the persons, institutions and events that have shaped medical history.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
The map of America is a familiar canvas for a multitude of stories – soil types and weather fronts, road trips and election results. But sometimes geographical acquaintance intersects with narrative quaintness, especially when the topic is very specific. As in this beautifully detailed map of "Medical Events in North America," as bizarre as it is instructive.
In the manner of a medieval miniature, it illuminates the topography of America with simplified, symbolic representations of the persons, institutions and events that have shaped medical history. That makes for some interesting discoveries.
For example, whatever our feelings about Columbus, we are familiar with him via his signature achievement. However, few will have heard of Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca of Seville, physician to the king and queen of Spain, and here seen accompanying the intrepid and/or invidious Genovese on his second voyage to America (on the ship painted in the bottom right corner).
Dr. Philip Syng, holding up a jar with gallstones he removed from the bladder of Chief-Justice John Marshall, who contentedly observes from the operating table.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
While on Hispaniola in 1493, Chanca cured Columbus from an attack of malaria – quite probably the first application of western medicine in the western hemisphere.
For a good while, Spain remains the motor of medical progress in North America, with the publication in Mexico of "Opera Medicinalia," the first medical book printed in the Americas (1570), and just 10 years later, the establishment of the first university chair of medicine in the New World, also in Mexico.
Circa 1760, Junipero Serra prevented and controlled an outbreak of scurvy in California with the use of citrus juice – doing so 34 years before the British Navy struck upon the same idea. The Spanish padre is shown holding up oversized slices of oranges, dripping with healing sap.
Soon thereafter, the initiative–medical and otherwise–is seized by the Anglos on the East Coast.
Remembering the pioneers
Dr. Samuel Gross, carting in cadavers for anatomical study.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
Many of the achievements detailed on this map were truly revolutionary, helping to elevate the state of medical science to the heights it has reached today. But, as the legend of the map says, "(t)he names of the prime-movers of science disappear gradually in a general fusion, and the more a science advances, the more impersonal and detached it becomes."
So it's nice to see remembered here, among other pioneers:
- Dr. Howard Taylor Ricketts (1871-1910), from near Missoula, who demonstrated the tick-transmission of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and died of Mexican typhus during the investigation and demonstration of the disease.
- Dr. J.C. Otto (1774-1844), from Philadelphia, who established haemophilia as a clinical entity.
- Sir Frederick Banting, working at Toronto University Medical School, who assisted by Charles Best managed to isolate insulin and succeeded in manufacturing it in 1922. Together with J.R.R. MacLeod, he received the Nobel Prize in 1923.
Quarantine Enforcement Act
First called "Letheon"', ether was discovered by dentist W.T.G. Morton, and first surgically used at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
Several institutions are singled out as beacons of medical progress, notably
- hospitals like Massachusetts General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Mayo Clinic;
- educational centers of excellence such as Harvard Medical School, the Transylvania University Medical School and Jefferson Medical College; and
- associations such as the State Boards of Health (first one established in 1869 in Massachusetts) and the American Medical Association (founded in Chicago).
Among the achievements mentioned on the map with resonance for our own pandemic times are the Quarantine Enforcement Act, passed by Congress as early as 1799, and the stamping out, in 1905 in New Orleans of an "epidemic of yellow fever (…) by U.S. Public Health Service."Produced in 1950 and reflecting on earlier times, the map is dominated by white males.The exceptions proving the rule are
- Dr. Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928), who was associated with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and who in 1911 discovered the agent of syphilis as the cause of progressive paralytic disease;
- Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), the first woman in America to receive the degree of doctor in medicine, who together with Marie Zakrzewska established the first training school for nurses in America; and
- a procession of slaves owned by Washington and Jefferson, standing in line to get inoculated for smallpox.
Slaves of Washington and Jefferson, getting inoculated for smallpox.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
Few of the events and achievement mentioned on this map have made it into general public knowledge, with two possible exceptions.
One is "the American Crowbar Case", an 'extraordinary medical incident' mentioned in a note stuck to the East Coast: "In 1848, an explosion propelled a 3 ½ ft. crowbar through the head of Phineas T. Gage and up into the air. The patient recovered completely except for loss of sight in one eye…"
The other, the curious case contained within Dr. William Beaumont's book, "Experiments & Observations of Gastric Juices." On June 6, 1822, a man named Alexis St. Martin was accidentally wounded by gunshot at Fort Mackinac. The wound healed, leaving a gastric fistula, through which Dr. Beaumont was able to make observations. But Mr. St. Martin "is a difficult subject (and) runs away repeatedly."
Commissioned as sergeant
Dr. Beaumont's book on gastric juices, with pages illustrating the story of his unwilling subject, Alexis St. Martin.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
Really? Who doesn't want a doctor poking into their stomach through a hole in their belly? But eventually the situation is resolved to the satisfaction of both parties: "Beaumont gets (Mr. St. Martin) commissioned as sergeant to keep him during experiments."
One of the more familiar names on the map is that of Dr. Walter Reed, but mainly because he is now synonymous for the Army Medical Center named after him. The map reveals why he became famous enough for that honor:
In Cuba, Dr. Walter Reed (1851-1902) proved, together with Dr. Jesse W. Lazear, Dr. James Carroll and Dr. Aristide Agramonte, that mosquitoes were the carrier of yellow fever. Dr. Lazear & Dr. Carroll allowed themselves to be bitten by infected mosquitoes. Lazear died of the fever, Carroll's health was permanently impaired.
Walter Reed in Cuba
Dr. Walter Reed (in white), in between Dr. Carlos Finlay (who first theorised that mosquitoes carried yellow fever) and Drs. Lazar and Carroll, who put that theory to the test.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
Although they are scant remembered today, their selfless sacrifice has doubtlessly saved the lives of many in the 120 years since.
Strange Maps #1059
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Dr. Theobald Smith established that tick bits caused Texas Fever in cattle, thus proving that insects can carry diseases.
Credit: Boston Rare Maps
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.