David Wootton

David Wootton’s Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm since Hippocrates will be published by Oxford in June. He teaches early modern history at the University of York, where he is an Anniversary Professor.


Bad Medicine

30 November 2006

Steven Shapin says Bad Medicine is ‘not history’, and advises me to ‘consider another way of making a living’ (LRB, 30 November). Are my facts wrong? Is my argument incoherent? Are there gaps in my reading? No. It’s something much worse: I’ve discussed progress. ‘Academic historians of medicine didn’t – with rare exceptions – criticise the idea of medical progress,’ Shapin writes,...

As a small child, I was afraid of the dark, or rather of the monsters that entered my bedroom under cover of darkness. As an adult, I feel safe in my bed, and, until recently, I was never in true darkness except when in bed. But I have been reacquainting myself with the dark: I have become a weekly commuter, and spend part of each week on a narrow-boat. In winter, when the sky is cloudy, I...

The road is still open: Turpin Hero?

David Wootton, 3 February 2005

“Turpin’s ride to York is not just about immortality and liberty; it also, obviously, has to do with speed: ‘The torrent leaping from the crag – the bolt from the bow – the air-cleaving eagle – thoughts themselves are scarce more winged in their flight.’ Black Bess flies along at twenty miles an hour. Turpin is enraptured, maddened, furious, intoxicated by speed . . . Harrison Ainsworth’s achievement in Rookwood was to knit together past and future, to imagine, at a time when the stagecoach took four days to get from York (with a 5 a.m. start) to London, what it would be like to make the journey at railroad speeds. His readers wanted to believe in Black Bess because they wanted to halt the pace of change around them, to think of speed as animal not mechanical. Rookwood is the first, reluctant novel of the steam age.”

I was surprised by the tone of Stephen Mulhall’s letter in response to my essay on conjoined twins, and to be told that I had demonstrated ignorance of the philosophical debates on applied ethics, personal identity and the mind-body problem (Letters, 19 August). Fourteen lawyers were in court for the Gracie and Rosie Attard case in September 2000; all recognised they were engaged in a philosophical...

“It is a basic truth that no one is ‘normal’; to be normal is simply to pass for normal. Each of us has had several genetic or other abnormalities. But if the thought of abnormality alarms us so, it is because every normal Dr Jekyll is conjoined with a monstrous Mr Hyde that he is reluctant for others to meet. If we could bear to acknowledge something of this psychological complexity we might find the bodies of conjoined twins less shocking . . . we might place less value on the ‘bodily integrity’ that Lord Justice Walker wanted to restore to Rosie Attard even at the cost of her life.”

On 11 February​, David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo) in the US, announced that his team of almost a thousand scientists had...

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In the winter of 1609-10, Galileo Galilei made a series of astronomical observations that added to the growing list of anomalies threatening the stability of the earth-centred Ptolemaic cosmos....

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Possessed by the Idols: Does Medicine Work?

Steven Shapin, 30 November 2006

Historical progress is back, even if it was only in some genres of academic history that it ever went away. It’s been some time, certainly, since historians of art saw painting as a...

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