Just spotted this very interesting piece from New Scientist about ancient Greek pills confirmed by scientific analysis to be herbal remedies of one kind or another. Very cool. But predictably, the stand-alone coolness of such a find, and of being able to determine its ingredients, isn’t enough for the media. There has to be some sniff of lost wisdom of the ancients. Hence we see the sub-heading;
“Quacks no more”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this means that the scientists found viable medical ingredients in the pills. Oh, the hubris! For all our medical and scientific knowledge, we really have lost touch with nature, haven’t we? Well, maybe. But as yet, precisely bugger-all evidence has been found, as you’d discover if you read on from the sub-heading with a critical eye. Note the phrases “hopes to resolve” and “hopes to discover”. Unfortunately, this is the internet, and many of us simply skim-read to pick up the main points (tl:dr, and all that). This was no doubt the work of an editor – titles are often beyond the control of individual journalists. I’ll be as interested as the next person to see if some wonder-drug is isolated from these pills, but in all likelihood this will not happen. Before scientific testing, makers of remedies had to rely upon subjective observation to assess the effect of different pills and potions. The occasional active ingredient might have helped one patient – many of our modern treatments do derive from things found in nature. But another ‘remedy’ might have made just as many worse, and the majority of treatments will have had no physical effect at all. Most patients prior to the 19th century (and many afterward) would simply have been taking part in a form of ritual that made them feel better, without actually treating their physical problem. It doesn’t make the ancients stupid – they were doing their best with the resources available to them. It’s the ones that are still at it today that deserve that label.
PS Two posts in one day? Whatever next. I’m also changing font, as I can’t be arsed to work out how to reliably stop WordPress insisting on Times New Roman.