A staple in graduate school was Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” fascinating to anyone interested in problem solving because it describes the sometimes non-linear progress from problem to hypothesis, to theory, to solution or temporary solution. Goetz explains the convoluted maze scientists followed to find a cure for Tuberculosis, sometimes called Consumption, the most common and dreaded disease of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Goetz begins by reviewing world- wide death statistics, specifically those during wartime where more soldiers died of infection than wounds. The attempts to improve hygiene and introduce germ theory versus that of miasma or humors preceded and began to enlighten researchers and physicians.
Germs, or “animalcules” as they were known, seemed mysterious until the invention of the microscope, and early prevention began with the creation of public sanitary systems.
The evidence of this took time for the public to believe.
Charles Darwin’s son, Francis, observed, “In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.”
Dr. Robert Koch proved germs existed and suggested they could be conquered. He also came up with a serum he said would cure TB but he was proven wrong by other physicians and researchers, one of whom was Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle.
Doyle’s first wife died of TB before a vaccine was found but he still recognized and honored Koch for his methods of discovery, which Sherlock Holmes depended on in each of his detections.
Koch observed microbes via microscope and used the scientific method to prove his hypothesis, detailing experiments that could be replicated producing the same results.
As one passage in the book said,“With the scientific method as a weapon, researchers and inventors might tackle any outstanding riddle of the ages and, in short order, produce a solution, an answer, a remedy.”
It seemed to be the case, as Pogo once observed, that we had met the enemy and it was us, where bacteria was concerned.
We are teeming with bacteria and with both viruses and bacteria there are only temporary remedies.
Scary but true. In 1945, sixty years after Dr. Koch’s discovery, a cure for tuberculosis was found in the antibiotic, Streptomycin.
The author does note that Tuberculosis can return even after one is apparently cured.
And so the research continues to discover an ultimate remedy.