The Year in Medical History

1 Jan – German scientist William Rontgen announced his discovery of x-rays (1896).

1 Jan – All cigarette packages sold in the US were required to include the US Surgeon General’s warning “Caution: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health (1966)

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Jonathan Potts – American Revolutionary Physician

Military physicians, just like all soldiers and military officers, should read military history. We will be better if we do.

Napoleon suggested “Read over and over again the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederic. … This is the only way to become a great general and master the secrets of the art of war. …” As true as this maxim is for line officers, it is also true for leaders in the Army medical department. By studying the struggles, victories and defeats of our forebears we can better surmount the obstacles we face today.

Dr. Jonathan Potts is a medical officer worth studying. He was born in Popodickon, Pennsylvania in 1747 and, with Dr. Benjamin Rush, attended the famous medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. He returned to the colonies on learning of the illness of his fiancé, Miss Grace Richardson. Potts married her in May 1767 and completed his Doctor of Medicine at the College of Philadelphia, the first institution to grant medical degrees in America, in 1771. He began a private practice in Reading, PA, but responded to the call of independence, seeking assignment with the Continental Hospital Department, comprised of Northern, Middle and Eastern Departments.

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Texting between Father and Son – The Nature of Causation

How can we know if something causes something else? What is the difference between a sufficient cause, a necessary cause, and a risk factor? How can we avoid traps in understanding causes and non-causes? 

An acquaintance, a devoted Catholic, shared with me a text conversation that he had with his son last weekend.  It caught my attention, so we discussed it at the dinner table at our house Wednesday night.

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Father: R U going to be home to go to 9:30 mass or 1115 or 5PM?

Teenage son: Will’s here, can I just not go this week?

Father: No, that is not an option.  Will can come if he likes.

Son: The Catholic church has survived the ages by creating wars, having corrupt leaders, and blaming our problems on others.  I think that supporting an establishment that has built itself on hypocrisy is something that you shouldn’t encourage me to do.  God can be found in all things, right?  Then why do we bow to marble tables while destroying the world he made with pollution?

Father: I would love to have a philosophical discussion with you on this topic, but texting is not my preferred medium.  In the mean time you will come to mass, not because your presence is something that either God or the Church needs but because 1) it is best for you, and 2) because I am telling you to come.

Son: I’m about to go to a week in the woods!  That’s the holiest thing I can do…Can you pick us up at 11?

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This interaction is interesting on many levels. It demonstrates communication between a father and his son, and suggests real affection and a good relationship between the two. Not knowing the son, it is impossible to know whether he actually believed what he said about the Catholic Church or whether he was simply trying to spend more time with his friend and get out of going to Mass. Perhaps a little of both? For the sake of discussion, let us assume that the boy was at least partly serious about his allegations.

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Science and Christianity

Does real science, not “scientific philosophy,” contradict real Christianity? Since honestly, we know less about science, and about the Bible, than we think we do, humility and inquiry needed to find the answer. 

My sons enjoy playing a computer game called Civilization, in which players take the role of the ruler of a historical civilization such as China, Greece or Rome and try to win by conquering the world, sending a rocket into space, or building the most spectacular culture. There are many cultural advances that a civilization can get, but getting some cultural advances eliminates the ability to get some others. For example, the designers of the game decided that piety and rationalism were mutually exclusive; it is impossible for any civilization in the game to have both.

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