Elsewhere on our site, there's a lively debate raging around David H. Freedman's recent Atlantic magazine story about alternative medicine. Today, we're featuring a response by David Colquhoun, an acerbic British pharmacologist who bemoans the decline of The Atlantic, the folly of his fellow panelists, and the crumbling of the entire U.S. health care system.
Writing about the growing number of American doctors who support alternative medicine, Colquhoun laments:
This is all very sad for a country that realized quite early that the interests of patients were best served by using treatments that had been shown to work. The Flexner report of 1910 led the world in the rational education of physicians. But now even places like Yale and Harvard peddle snake oil to their students.
As it happens, the author of that report, Abraham Flexner, was an Atlantic contributor. In 1910, the magazine published "Medical Education in America," an excerpt from his landmark report on America's 155 medical schools. "Not a few so-called university medical departments are such in name only," Flexner wrote, explaining how a loose apprenticeship system turned into an unregulated industry that churned out "rapidly made doctors."
Flexner himself wasn't a physician, but his critique had a sweeping influence on the way medicine was taught. After his report, about half the medical schools in the United States closed their doors forever. Those that met Flexner's strict empirical standards were rewarded with plentiful foundation money from John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.