Not just bluff and bluster

Dalrymple on the 1977 book Doctor at the Bar by Cyril Baron, in the British Medical Journal (subscription required):

[Baron] came to the conclusion that there was a lot of bluff and bluster to eminence in the medicine of the time. The physicians, immaculately dressed, pulled up to the hospital in their chauffeur driven Rolls-Royces and then failed to make diagnoses or effect cures. Their self confidence was their principal therapeutic tool.

This is a common view, but I think it far from the whole truth. In his 2011 book about the decline of violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says in passing that doctors in the 19th century were quacks. But if they were mere quacks, how is it that scientific medicine emerged from their tradition and no other? Our predecessors wrestled with the problem not only of ignorance but with that of the proper method of obtaining knowledge. I do not think they deserve such disdain.

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