[LINK] "Scott and Scurvy": a reminder of the messiness of scientific progress

post by hesperidia · 2013-02-14T02:02:26.421Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 3 comments

http://idlewords.com/2010/03/scott_and_scurvy.htm

Now, I had been taught in school that scurvy had been conquered in 1747, when the Scottish physician James Lind proved in one of the first controlled medical experiments that citrus fruits were an effective cure for the disease. From that point on, we were told, the Royal Navy had required a daily dose of lime juice to be mixed in with sailors’ grog, and scurvy ceased to be a problem on long ocean voyages.

But here was a Royal Navy surgeon in 1911 apparently ignorant of what caused the disease, or how to cure it. Somehow a highly-trained group of scientists at the start of the 20th century knew less about scurvy than the average sea captain in Napoleonic times. Scott left a base abundantly stocked with fresh meat, fruits, apples, and lime juice, and headed out on the ice for five months with no protection against scurvy, all the while confident he was not at risk. What happened?

This article is a vivid illustration of just how nonlinear and downright messy science actually is, and how little the superficial presentation of science as neat "progress" reflects the reality of the field.

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comment by gwern · 2013-02-14T03:02:03.445Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Previous discussion:

comment by hesperidia · 2013-02-14T03:10:34.638Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for finding those; I searched for the title of the article but was unable to find previous posts about it.

comment by gwern · 2013-02-14T03:34:52.714Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should've also searched for the URL since people often post things as bare URLs. In any case, it would not have helped: neither Google nor LW/Reddit match search queries on embedded URLs. (Google used to support something like that, a link: operator, but the current results are so incomplete and bad I never bother any more.)

In this case, I knew we had already discussed the essay since I had found it interesting and I just went through "scurvy site:lesswrong.com" until I found the conversations.