Did you know...

That Africans understood and practiced vaccination long before it was "discovered" by Western medicine?

9 comments:

  1. It was known to the Mongols too. One of the Mongol emperors had his entire army vaccinated against Smallpox by the method described.

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  2. I am always puzzled by scare quotes around "discovered" in such discussions. It seems to me people can discover and think things independently. If we find a tablet from a remote pacific island, carbon dated to 50,000 BCE and it contains a proof that e=mc^2 I will still think Einstein discovered that. I woulod, with a nice precision, agree that he had been anticipated.

    Jenner's achievement was convincing the world, not originating the idea. I am sure many ideas have arisen and died out only to be later discovered anew.

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    1. Ken, I place no particular importance on the scare quotes, but in this case vaccination was most definitely *not* thought of and discovered independently by Europeans. We learned it from Africans, amongst others. And as far as convincing the world goes, it seems about the only people in the world who weren't convinced by 1700 were western doctors. (I exaggerate a bit, but not too much.)

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    2. From my reading, not extensive I concede, the practice of variolation was probably used top some extent in China a thousand years ago, but was not widespread. There cetainly was some in the late 17th century in parts of Africa and Turkey. It was not widespread in China or ather parts of Asia at the time, nor in the Americas nor in most of the Islamic world apart from Turkey. Is any of this mistaken?

      I also believe the Jenner's use of cowpox rather than small does of variola counts as a significant innovation. It's a discovery.

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    3. Ken, the relevant points are:

      1) Many other people knew about it and THEY HAD TOLD EUROPEANS. There were widespread debates about the practice in the 1700s, with Western doctors being the main opponents of the practice. My point has nothing to do with the exact percentage of the world that knew about this.

      2) Yes, Jenner discovered a superior method of vaccination. That is not the discovery of vaccination, now, is it? Are you really going to play this shifting target game with me?

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    4. Well if your point is that western medicine in 1700 was disastrous that's fish barrel stuff. My point is the scare quotes, which seem to imply more than is warranted.

      But YES that is the origin of VACCINATION rather than variolation. Vaccination is named after cow pox. Variolation is the use of small amounts of variola, rather more dangerous actually, and a more intuitive connection before the germ theory. It wasn't discovered by western medicine, it was invented by Jenner. Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web although the parts were lying about for all to see.

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    5. That's basically right, Jenner discovered a superior method of doing this, but he didn't discover inoculation itself. Inoculation is a much older discovery.

      The words are a bit tricky here though. The term "vaccination" is supposed to be used to refer to the process where a form of the virus that has lost it's ability to infect is applied to the body or where inoculation against a weaker disease is used to protect against a stronger one. Applying a live virus which has the ability to infect in some circumstances is inoculation or variolation.

      Incidentally, Jenner himself was inoculated against smallpox. He became ill because of it, that was one of his spurs to create a better alternative.

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    6. That's basically right, Jenner discovered a superior method of doing this, but he didn't discover inoculation itself. Inoculation is a much older discovery.

      The words are a bit tricky here though. The term "vaccination" is supposed to be used to refer to the process where a form of the virus that has lost it's ability to infect is applied to the body or where inoculation against a weaker disease is used to protect against a stronger one. Applying a live virus which has the ability to infect in some circumstances is inoculation or variolation.

      Incidentally, Jenner himself was inoculated against smallpox. He became ill because of it, that was one of his spurs to create a better alternative.

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  3. Lemme be more explicit. Your scare quotes and ellipses suggest a subtext, that western medicine does not deserve the credit for vaccination. Lurking in the background is a hint of theft, of "appropriation". But "western medicine" doesn't get the credit, Jenner does. And he deserves it. His idea was not just a slight improvement, it was a brilliant new idea and a huge advance. It's like Watt vs Newcomen but a bolder leap.

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