It is all too easy to fall into a channel with the morning's readings, and perusal of news and other items on the Web. It has always been thus, of course. Reading a book like The Pox and the Covenant, I was reminded by the bitterness and vociferousness of the debates in Boston as an epidemic of smallpox spread there in 1721 -- debates which began after Cotton Mather, based on his wide reading in scientific and medical literature, had recommended inoculation as a means of preventing the spread of the disease. Most of the learned doctors and physicians were vehemently against the practice, as they believed it contributed to the contagion by spreading it to otherwise healthy people. But his urgings persuaded one brave doctor to begin experimenting with the method -- starting with his own son.
Cotton Mather got his news from many sources, including the Journal of the Royal Philosophical Society, of which he was one of a very few members then living in America. Those opposed to vaccination got their news from many sources as well, including conversations with wide-traveled sea captains and sailors with their tales of the devastation wrought among native Americans wherever smallpox spread on the continent. But in time, the evidence of those who survived inoculation, versus those who perished without it, overcame the opponents, and the physicians quickly added the technique to their repertoire of eighteenth-century remedies.
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