In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Questioning Medical Evidence

Many medical procedures, some long considered orthodox and not subject to question, are now being re-evaluated — and deservedly so.

This should come as no surprise, for the nature of orthodoxy itself has changed over time. The Greek orth "right" and doxa , from dokein, "to suppose," or "appear to be," originally made for something that initially "seemed to be right" — implying an element of tentativeness.

But before you could say rigor mortis, orthodoxy had set in.

Unquestioned and unchallenged, these tenets became dogma, also from the Greek dokein.

Dogma was also once just an "opinion." But "dogma bites man." And once more the human need for certainty trumped openness. That same penchant for sureness changed dogma's meaning from what "seems to be" into a matter of total certainty, leaving us with a set of absolute beliefs not meant to be challenged.

This left the Medical profession free to designate practices deviating from their norm as "unorthodox." They called out the deviants, dubbing them fast-talkers, or charlatans, from the Italian cialare, "to chatter" and quacksalvers, itinerant 16th century medicine men selling salves and ointments from the sides of their wagon, and whose who's chattering and fast banter sounded like so many quacking ducks.

Try saying "quacksalver" real fast and you'll understand why they were reduced to mere quacks. Today, doctors use these terms to describe practitioners who deviate from their own orthodoxies. In practice, though, it's getting harder to spot the quacks and charlatans. You really can't tell them without a program.