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The Nihilopathist

In line with the position taken by this journal in favor of clinical drug study and faith in medicine the following from the pen of Dr. Jos. R. Hawley of Chicago, editor of The Bulletin of Animal Therapy, is indeed refreshing:

"There is a new school of medicine with a large membership and with as sharply defined tenets as those of erstwhile allopathy, homeopathy, and eclecticism. It is just as worthy of a distinct name as any pathy or ism of history. It has originated almost wholly from the regular school of practice. Its title, as usual, must be taken from its therapeutic beliefs. I suggest the name of Nihilopathy.

It is an outgrowth of the revolution that has occurred in theoretical medicine during the last half-century. The ultra-scientific and their apes (more numerous) appear to have been overwhelmed by the radical reconstruction of non-therapeutic medicine and now demand that therapeutics be equally scientific or they will have none of it. If they stopped with the demand their influence would be all constructive, but when they go farther and become therapeutic nihilists their influence becomes exactly the opposite. They have allowed the destruction of a few ancient therapeutic dogmas to make them general therapeutic iconoclasts.

The new school will live but it cannot dominate because it is based on a fallacy. It interdicts empiricism, which generated and developed therapy, and is today responsible for practically all of our remedial equipment. It not only generated treatment but medicine itself. While the physiological action of many empirically-born agents has been scientifically explained, exactly how they act in a given disease has been conclusively established regarding very few.

Practical experience alone begot, and practical experience alone explains the specific value of iodides, mercurials, quinine, colchicum, salicylates, and many less specific quipments of practical medicine.

The new school glories in its rigid theoretic tenets, refuses to recognize experience, and ridicules clinical data unsupported by plausible or at least finely drawn theories, and a thousand clinical results weigh nothing when apparently controverted by an abstract theory or even a tenable hypothesis.

The damage this school has done to therapeutic advance is immensely greater than the good it may have done or may do. It was not necessary to evolute therapeutic nihilism in order to encourage scientific therapy. The scientific study of known therapeutic agents and search for the unknown were progressing much more rapidly before the days of the nihilist than since.

No nihilist has ever discovered anything in treatment and never will, but his influence is unfortunately not negative. He, with his apes, and his friends the mugwumps, are responsible for the present unpopularity of any but the most ultra-scientific research. Empiric developments of unusual merit in therapy have been practically unknown for twenty years, and this period covers the life history of the school in question.

Its baleful influence has not been entirely obstructive. Because of the dignity and prestige which ultra-conservatism seems always to emanate, this school has destroyed the confidence of many of the other school (the optimists) in remedials invaluable but proven so by experience alone, and they unconsciously prescribe the remedies of empiric origin half-heartedly and with corresponding success.

Not only is their culpability found in their obstructive and destructive effects but likewise in their constructive. These super-scientists who cannot tolerate the least breath of empiricism, faith or unanalyzed experience, have done more than any other single or combined cause to fill the ranks of the direct antithesis of their creed—the Christian Scientists and their correlated offshoots and copyists. It is needless to itemize the many other illicit profit takers of medical misanthropy.

While this school comprises many eminent educators, it is largely constructed of gab, or pen-gifted pseudos, who view this school as the en route to the faculty and fame, and of fledgeling medicos who recently left a hospital and welcome therapeutic nihilism as they know nothing about therapeutics.

MORAL—If it is right for one school of medicine to refuse to consult with another, why isn't it infinitely more right for a real physician to refuse to consult with a nihilo-pathist?


Ellingwood's Therapeutist, Vol. 3, 1909, was edited by Finley Ellingwood M.D.



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