When George Washington fell ill in 1799, his physicians bled him relentlessly, dosed him with mercury to cause diarrhoea, induced vomiting, and raised blood-filled blisters by applying hot cups to his skin. A physician in Aristotle’s Athens, or Nero’s Rome, or medieval Paris, or Elizabethan London would have nodded in agreement at much of that hideous regimen.
Even though it’s safe to assume that the field of medicine is the epitome of scientific method, ironically, it wasn’t always so. In fact it was the opposite. It was a field marred with arrogance, hubris, and a sheer lack of scientific rigour. Most importantly, what medicine lacked was doubt. Doubt is not a fearful thing and, as we’ll soon learn, it’s in fact what propels science forward.