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Dixon's text is an indictment of modern medicine for its adherence to the doctrine of ""specific etiology""--i.e., a given disease results from a given cause. This orientation has led to foolish ""wars"" on cancer or heart disease, and the relentless search for the cure or magic bullet. The point is legitimate, but Dixon, like many critics, tends to overstate the case. Many clinicians and research scientists today are aware of the variable factors involved in the onset of disease, or as Dixon likes to use the term, disease. The past decade has seen more than one analysis of personality types associated with heart disease, cancer, peptic ulcer, and the like, studies which Dixon fails to acknowledge. Environmental medicine, moreover, has underscored the multiplicity of factors (diet, stress, smoking, etc.) besides exposure to carcinogens implicated in the onset of disease. On the other hand, certain single causes--such as the chicken pox virus--are virtually certain to trigger the disease in a child exposed even briefly to it; and here too Dixon is silent. One can argue that the critic, like the satirist, exaggerates to make the point. However, exaggeration may be counterproductive if, for example, it leads to a negativism in attempts to control malaria or casts doubt on the role of biochemical factors in such complex conditions as schizophrenia. Dixon is an intelligent and clear writer and his chronicling of medical achievements and the germ theory of disease is very good. If we admonish his too-harsh attack it is done with the feeling that the public good may be better served by encouraging positive steps than by flaying the whole medical profession.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row