Leave the quacks alone

Dalrymple’s new BMJ column (subscription required) covers Joseph Sampson Gamgee’s 1857 pamphlet Medical Reform: a Social Question Comprehensively Studied with the Light of Philosophy, History, and Common Sense:
Gamgee argued that there should be no medical monopoly and no medical orthodoxy, because it was from the free play of ideas and practices that truth and improvement emerged. He then, somewhat inconsistently, argued that the bill held doctors to a standard that did not apply to quacks but would not prevent them from practising: “The quack is a business-man, and always takes his fee before he gives his advice. And if he cannot be legally appointed surgeon to a hospital or a ship, may I ask, Has the ignorant, mischievous quack ever applied for those offices? You will say he will incur penalties if he does anything to imply that he is registered under the Act: then he will glory in his superior freedom, and have a large brass plate in his door, deeply lettered, ‘John Snooks, Herbal Doctor and water-caster, not registered.’”
Not that he thought quacks should be driven out of business: “As to the question of QUACKS, I have nothing to propose for their regulation; because I am unable to define them as to ensure their recognition by the officers of the law. Such a definition would be a real addition to the English Language and to lexicography generally.”
He then utters a cry anathema to all modern British politicians: “More reality, less tinsel, is what we want.” On the contrary, reply the politicians: more tinsel, less reality.

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