What the Doctor Ordered

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
First-time Visitors: Please visit Site Map and Disclaimer. Use "Back" to return here.


Chapter covers period 1750-1900, during which technology evolved rapidly. As a result there are innumerable interconnections between disciplines, making for a very complex tale. However, four main threads can be identified:

How Disease Survives

Ancient and Medieval Medicine

Circulation of the blood

William Harvey, 1628

Medicine about 1800 

Bore a striking resemblance to what we now call “holistic”

Only problem: it didn’t work

Who’s a “Doctor?”


Philosophy meets medicine

Wolfgang Rau (1764) and Johann Peter Frank (1790): national health as an economic resource.

John Locke

Immanuel Kant

Friedrich von Schelling 1805, Naturphilosophie

Effect of philosophy on medicine

The French Revolution

Effects on Medicine

Separating the Patient from the Process


Some simple concepts in statistics

Multiple events

A Few Common Statistical Fallacies

Confusing order and probability. There’s one chance 1n 1024 of ten coin flips coming up HHHHHHHHHH. There’s an equal chance of the sequence TTHTHHHTTH coming up. To the coin, one is no more “random” than the other.

Long runs do not make an event less probable. If you flip 50 heads in a row, the odds of heads on the next flip are the same as always: 50 per cent. The coin has no memory (but I’d check it for bias if I were you!)

Long negative runs do not make an event more probable. Just because a number hasn’t turned up in the lottery in a while doesn’t mean it’s “due.”

Spurious patterns: probably the basis of all other statistical fallacies. We look for order even when it’s not there. Gambling “systems” are mostly based on this fallacy. The Indians are using it to win back North America.

Clustering: a special type of spurious pattern. Plane crashes and celebrity deaths come in threes … and ones, twos, fours, etc. Princess Diana, fashion designer Gianni Versace and Mother Teresa all died within a short time of each other: a classic cluster. Then John Denver had the bad manners to crash his plane. Oh well.

Clusters don’t make events more or less probable. It is no riskier and no safer to fly after a rash of plane crashes.

After-the-fact probabilities. Almost everything that happens in life is incredibly improbable, except that some sequence of events has to happen. Calculating the probability of a series of past events having happened makes sense only if you calculate the likelihood of all the other outcomes. A series of events may have only one chance in a billion of happening, but if there are a billion other equally likely (or unlikely) outcomes, it’s not remarkable at all.

Treating non-random events as chance events. The odds of finding 50 given people in a room by chance is close to zero, but if they’re all enrolled in a class and there’s an exam that day, the probability is close to 1.  Some people argue against evolution by saying the creation of complex organic molecules by chance is near zero, except chemical reactions aren't random.

Let’s not forget poor memory and fakery. There have not been enough bridge hands dealt in history to have come up with a perfect deal (each player gets 13 cards of one suit). Claims to the contrary are almost certainly due to faulty recall or failure to shuffle the deck properly.

Discoveries in Biology

Instrumentation and Medical Techniques

The microscope

Seeing Within the Body

Cholera and its Aftermath

What causes disease?

Why Did These Developments Come So Late In History?

The Babylonians could have measured blood pressure or invented the stethoscope, so why did it take so long?

Stimuli for invention

Poor optics were a real bottleneck

Antisepsis and anesthesia require some fairly advanced chemistry

Return to Outline Index
Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page

Created 24 October 2001, Last Update 10 December 2010

Not an official UW Green Bay site