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CHAPTER II

THE FISHBEIN "FOLLIES"

    SIMULTANEOUSLY with the organization of "The Friends of Medical Progress," there began to appear in the medical press and in various lay journals like American Mercury, the Forum, the Nation, the Haldeman-Julius Monthly, et al., articles assailing and belittling all the healing cults in the country other than the allopathic.

    "Hygeia," a specially-designed vehicle for medical propaganda, and the official organ of political Medicine, was filled with lampooning sketches of prominent "cultists." Bernarr Macfadden, the reputed founder of Physical Culture in this country; J. H. Tilden, the ablest and most effective of all the medically-trained insurgents against the old order, and Eugene Christian, the pioneer food chemist of America, were all pilloried in the columns of Hygeia, and faithfully copied by the other periodicals friendly to the idea of medical supremacy.

    The most persistent and ruthless assailant of the Cults in the public prints has been Dr. Morris Fishbein, of Chicago, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, editor also of Hygeia, and accredited hired publicity man of the A. M. A. He is also advertised as "the associate professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Chicago," and as "a health columnist whose special articles for a newspaper syndicate reach a million readers." He is a medical Pharisee of the straightest sect, a bigot of unswerving "regularity," and organized orthodox Medicine finds in him its most fitting exponent and defender.

    A final culmination of Dr. Fishbein's attacks on the Cults, is his recently published book entitled "Medical Follies," which is a compilation of former articles in various magazines "revised and amended for this volume," as he states in the preface. The title is a bit confusing, some persons interpreting it as an expose of the foolishness of medical procedure, which is, of course, unthinkable for a Fishbein,

    When asked for an explanation of such an ambiguous title, the author of "Medical Follies" replied, "I can best answer your question by quoting from a review of my book in the New York Herald-Tribune:

    "Folly in the singular is recorded as weakness of intellect, foolishness, imbecility, etc. But in the plural, whatever it may retain of the singular, it has taken upon itself a new glory. 'The Follies,' after two decades of association with the theater, have come to mean entertainment—a spectacle, bright, flashing, exotic, devoid of plot, nude of truth and easy to enjoy except by those to whom still adheres some early piety.

    "In calling his book 'The Medical Follies,' in covering it with a yellow jacket embellished by a caricature of his characters at work, done in the manner of those grotesque prints which doctors brought back from Paris a quarter of a century ago, Dr. Fishbein has taken full advantage of this newly-acquired connotation.

    "He thereby makes a definite promise of entertainment which he provides, but mainly as a sugar coating for the bitter facts with which he doses. Moreover, he brands himself an artful person, for though he seems to be featuring entertainment, his whole aim and purpose is to present facts."

    There will hardly be any difference of opinion among readers as to the "Medical Follies" branding its author as "an artful person." But there will go up a loud chorus of dissent from the Herald-Tribune reviewer's glowing affirmation that Dr. Fishbein's "whole aim and purpose is to present facts."

    Most of this dissent will come, of course, from the caricatured Cults, and their adherents, but some of it will come from more disinterested sources. There is an increasing body of intelligent laymen in the world to-day, who do not subscribe to any school of healing, medical or drugless, but view them all with impartial detachment.

    Such persons call themselves "therapeutic nihilists." The cornerstone of their health creed is, that the Kingdom of Health, like the Kingdom of Heaven, is within you. That it depends chiefly on internal cleanliness, and that each individual can be taught how to maintain this for himself better than any outsider can maintain it for him. The only proper function of a doctor, in the creed of therapeutic nihilism, is as a teacher—to instruct laymen in the intelligent care of their own bodies. Under this system the doctor's appeal is to the well quite as much as to the ailing, and there is no inherent conflict between the health of the community and the doctor's economic needs.

    It is in the spirit of therapeutic nihilism that this volume on the Cults is undertaken. It will endeavor to tell the truth about them insofar as this can be gathered from their histories and an impartial survey of their claims and achievements. Incidentally it will check up the inaccuracies in the Fishbein "Follies" and endeavor to put both in their true light before the public.

    In order to get a better line on the author of "The Medical Follies" and his purpose in writing about them, I called on Dr. Fishbein at his office in the A. M. A. Building, in Chicago, on my way from California to the East last Fall. From the tenor of his writings, and from certain biographical items picked from the publisher's ads on the cover, I was prepared to meet an alert, aggressive, slightly defiant young man about 36 years of age, with keen features and the other things one associates with the medical "smart set."

    I was conscious of a distinct shock when ushered into the presence of a squatty, middle-aged man who might have been fifty or more, with small blinking eyes set in a smooth, full-moon face of stolid, noncommittal expression, surmounted by a glistening bald-pate extending from eye-brows to neck-fringe. One should not be too pernickety about appearances, but I could not help feeling that this was hardly the figure one would expect to see in the editorial chair of the American Medical Association, or in Dr. Fishbein's chosen role of medical "entertainer." It need not interfere with his usefulness as a publicity agent, however, and this of course is his special value to a profession which does not believe in advertising and which must have a smoke screen for this particular article of its ethical code.

    On hearing that I had come to talk about his book, the author of "The Medical Follies" turned his affable side outward and discoursed on its merits volubly. According to his report, the public's reception of his work had been quite flattering, the first edition of 1,200 copies having sold so quickly that the demand for it was not met, and the second edition of 2,000 went as quickly.

    "It is now in its third edition," he said. Oh, no, it was in no sense an attack on the Cults. It was merely "a fair presentation of their history, an account of their founders, their operation, etc." . . . Neither was it intended as propaganda—perish the thought—nor as a defense of the medical profession, "which surely needed no defense!"

    Dr. Fishbein related he had been a contributor to lay journals like American Mercury, the Forum, etc., at the earnest request of the editors and "because he got a lot of fun out of it," but not at all because he needed them as mediums of expression. For was he not editor of the Journal of the Medical Association? Also of Hygeia?" Besides which all other medical journals in the country were open to him, he said. Nor did he confine his pen exclusively to medical topics, but had wandered into various fields of literary criticism as a book reviewer. He mentioned incidentally, that in reviewing J. Ellis Barker's book on "Cancer" so highly endorsed by Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, he—Fishbein—had pronounced it "a most pernicious publication."

    Sir Arbuthnot Lane? Oh, well—with an airy gesture of dismissal and contemptuous shrug—"Not two per cent of scientists now pay any attention whatsoever to what Arbuthnot Lane says. He is simply a crank on the subject of intestinal stasis, you know."

    The thought passed through my mind that Dr. Fishbein's ambition to play the role of medical entertainer might sometimes be realized in ways little suspected by him.

    And now having read patiently through Dr. Fishbein's story of the "Cults" as "Follies," and having listened to his version and appraisal of his work, we will hear what the Cults say of it, and what they may have to say for themselves.

 

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