Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Then and Now

I draw your attention to the official 200th anniversary essay in NEJM, which, yielding to the awesome power of Stayin' Alive, they have made available to the rabble.

As Drs. Fauci and Morens want you to know, listen up folks! You just have no idea how good you have it living in the 21st Century. Until people figured out what the deal was with pathogenic microorganisms, starting in the 18th Century and culminating with the genomic revolution of the late 20th through right now, life was really nasty, half the children died and if you were lucky enough to make it to puberty you were grateful for every day. They choose as their illustrative anecdote the guy on the dollar bill, who died of an infectious disease, probably a plain old sore throat as we would know it today; survived smallpox, malaria, and abscesses; watched his brother die of TB, and watched most of his government flee the capital in the midst of an epidemic of yellow fever.

Living in a world where you just assume you'll grow old is very strange. But what strikes me is how little we seem to appreciate it. There's a whole industry of people who deny the validity of medical science and make billions selling worthless concoctions and bizarre rituals to people who think they're being all progressive and wise because they know better than those high and mighty M.D.s. Also, too, they don't immunize their kids.

The only reason anybody has the luxury of acting so idiotically is precisely because they are wrong. The ocean of pathogens in which people once swam has been drained by science based public health and medicine, and you don't generally notice what's missing. Here's one really important suggestion. If you want to keep it that way, stop feeding antibiotics to livestock.

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