The Lancet corrects obituary ... from 1858

The Lancet

After what it calls "an unduly prolonged period of reflection," the British medical journal The Lancet has reconsidered an obituary of Dr. John Snow that it published on June 26, 1858, and apologized for other attacks on the work of the physician, who's been dead for 155 years.

The Editor would also like to add that comments such as “In riding his hobby very hard, he has fallen down through a gully-hole and has never since been able to get out again” and “Has he any facts to show in proof? No!”, published in an Editorial on Dr Snow's theories in 1855, were perhaps somewhat overly negative in tone.

Its obituary should have mentioned that Snow contributed greatly to epidemiology, The Lancet notes. Simon Rogers argued last month that Snow's map of cholera cases was one of the first examples of data journalism.

In its correction, The Lancet notes founding Editor Thomas Wakley "may have been the most outspoken of Snow's critics but his views were shared by most medical men at the time: miasma, or the stench from decaying vegetable and animal matter, was widely held responsible for epidemic disease."

Snow's On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, first published in 1849, set out the then radical idea that cholera was a disorder of the digestive system not the blood; and that it was contagious and spread through the oral-faecal route, largely through contaminated drinking water.

The Lancet has now expanded its original 34-word obituary to 1,377 words, offering many more facts about Snow and a fuller -- if overdue -- appreciation of him.

Via Simon Robinson:


  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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