Rules Against Spitting

Rules Against Spitting

The story of Robert Koch and tuberculosis is, in part, a story about how one scientist's discovery under a microscope works its way into a new social truth. In other words, it's one thing to prove to scientists that those bacteria under the scope are the agents of disease. But it it quite another thing to change society, so that ordinary people comprehend the true nature of germs and how they must change their own daily habits and behaviors. That is a much harder challenge, and it's one science is still struggling with.

One wonderful example of how this social shift took place is this list of 19 rules for children, a list that first appeared around the turn of the 20th century in a pamphlet called "The True Story of Tuberculosis."

The Story of The Remedy

The Story of The Remedy

In 2005, when I was mulling going back to school for my Masters in Public Health, my father sent me a recent copy of the New England Journal of Medicine with a special section on “Medical Detectives.” There were two stories that were especially compelling: the first was a tribute to Berton Roueche, a wonderful writer for the New Yorker in the 1950s and 1960s, who specialized in ride-alongs with the New York City Department of Health epidemiology squad. His stories read like a sort of tweedy version of CSI, and the collections, especially 11 Blue Men, were favorites in the Goetz household.

The other story in that issue of NEJM concerned an odd coincidence between