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Source: Brooklyn Medical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Unfounded Criticism”
Author(s): Fairbairn, Henry A.
Date of publication: December 1901
Volume number: 15
Issue number: 12
Pagination: 709-10

Fairbairn, Henry A. “Unfounded Criticism.” Brooklyn Medical Journal Dec. 1901 v15n12: pp. 709-10.
full text
William McKinley (medical care: criticism: personal response); William McKinley (medical care: personal response).
Named persons
Matthew D. Mann; William McKinley.


Unfounded Criticism

     In matters medical, unscientific criticism is not for the public good. It is a source of discouragement to the worker and distrust to the patient. Time and again it has prevented the application of well tried and efficacious measures which would have worked for the preservation of health and the prevention of disease. It to-day militates against the universal use of some of the best means we have through the fear it has inspired in the public mind and that of the timid practitioner.
     This class of criticism has become, of late, too frequent in the medical press. Its occasional appearance might be pardoned as an error of judgment, but its reiteration deserves no such mild term. It reached its climax in dealing with the case of President McKinley. The operation, treatment, bulletins and post mortem formed the subject of criticism, medical criticism, well calculated to cause the profession to blush. It strengthened the opinion in the minds of some that we are an unscientific lot and a pack of adventurers. Neither profession nor public were in possession of facts on which to base a sound opinion or make a forecast. That the attending staff were unprepared to express opinion or make prognosis was manifested by their official reports, which stand to-day a credit to their judgment. They very wisely, as [709][710] scientific men, decline even now with the clinical and post mortem examination at hand to fully state the cause of death. They were unable to examine several important organs, and thus the premises are incomplete upon which to rest a firm conclusion. Their position is in sharp contrast to that of their venturesome critics. What is revealed by record and evidence shows that they did rightly and well in every particular. They have nothing of their own doing to regret. Their procedures were based on fact and are unimpeachable. They would be repeated under similar circumstances. On the other hand, the critics’ procedures were based on assumption and presumption, and their conclusions partook of the same quality as their premises and are not likely to be repeated. If these critics had come before medical bodies to discuss a case with so few data in hand they would have been silenced.
     We hear occasionally, from the public a sneer at professional courtesy; that bearing toward a professional brother which is dictated by culture and education; that hesitancy to pass an opinion without a knowledge of the facts and the observer’s interpretation of those facts. We are disposed to think that no one is benefited more than the patient by just such courtesy. The lack of it leads to machine work and mere commercialism and stifles the true scientific spirit.
     Dr. Mann and his coadjutors deserve great praise for their exact work. They deserve it for their exhibition of that inspiring trait of character—courage in the face of danger and adverse circumstances. They deserve it for their adherence as a body to facts, not allowing themselves to be drawn into the region of prophecy. The unwary individuals who were allured into this paid a not unusual penalty and again illustrated that prognosis is an uncertain field, often a matter of sentiment and not of knowledge, “of heart and not of head.” When the public force the physician into prophesying they must not expect infallibility, for the fountain of life is beyond him. Upon that conjunction “if” rests the fate of the medical prophet very much as does that of the forecaster in other fields. Quite as uncertain is the critic’s position who rests his conclusions on conjecture and not upon knowledge.



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