Patterns of Medical Discovery

In Fred Gifford (ed.), Philosophy of Medicine. Elsevier (2011)
Here are some of the most important discoveries in the history of medicine: blood circulation (1620s), vaccination, (1790s), anesthesia (1840s), germ theory (1860s), X- rays (1895), vitamins (early 1900s), antibiotics (1920s-1930s), insulin (1920s), and oncogenes (1970s). This list is highly varied, as it includes basic medical knowledge such has Harvey’s account of how the heart pumps blood, hypotheses about the causes of disease such as the germ theory, ideas about the treatments of diseases such as antibiotics, and medical instruments such as X-ray machines. The philosophy of medicine should be able to contribute to understanding of the nature of discoveries such as these. The great originators of the field of philosophy of science were all concerned with the nature of scientific discovery, including Francis Bacon (1960), William Whewell (1967), John Stuart Mill (1974), and Charles Peirce (1931-1958). The rise of logical positivism in the 1930s pushed discovery off the philosophical agenda, but the topic was revived through the work of philosophers such as Norwood Russell Hanson (1958), Thomas Nickles (1980), Lindley Darden (1991, 2006), and Nancy Nersessian (1984). Scientific discovery has also become an object of investigations for researchers in the fields of cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence, as seen in the work of Herbert Simon, Pat Langley, and others (Langley et al., 1987; Klahr, 2000). Today, scientific September 14, 2009 discovery is an interdisciplinary topic at the intersection of the philosophy, history, and psychology of science. The aim of this chapter is to identify patterns of discovery that illuminate some of the most important developments in the history of medicine. I have used a variety of sources to identify forty great medical discoveries (Adler, 2004; Friedman and Friedland, 1998; Science Channel, 2006; Strauss and Strauss, 2006)..
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