There are lots of medical discoveries today that are breathlessly hyped far beyond what their actual benefits are likely to be. This, apparently, is not a new phenomenon, as this story shows.

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(Click on the pictures above for larger images of all four pages of the article, which appeared in 1939.)

On the other hand, given the advances in medical care that have come about because of X-rays, such as radiographs, CT scans, nuclear medicine scans, and the use of radiation to treat cancer, this story is actually not exaggerating all that much. Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be a clue back then about the downside of this technology, you know, little things like the fact that too much exposure to X-rays can cause cancer.


  1. #1 Common Sense
    June 23, 2007

    “Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be a clue back then about the downside of this technology, you know, little things like the fact that too much exposure to X-rays can cause cancer”.

    Right… sort of similar to the scenario that vaccines trigger autism, type 1 diabetes, food allergies, other autoimmune diseases… Apparently, dopes with MD’s are too stupid to figure that out too. Dunces…

  2. #2 Orac
    June 23, 2007

    Except that vaccines do not trigger autism, the attempts of antivax loons like yourself to show otherwise–unless you can come up with better evidence than, for example, what the “experts” for the plaintiffs at the Autism Omnibus are presenting, you know, the ones who are the best that the plaintiffs could come up with after five years to work on it. The plaintiffs’ case thus far is an utter embarrassment–much like the “scientific” case for such a link. There are rare complications from vaccines, but autism ain’t one of them.

    As for the others, the evidence is almost as bad as the “evidence” purporting to “support” a vaccine-autism link.

  3. #3 Bronze Dog
    June 23, 2007

    1. We know why X-rays cause cancer: High power ionizing radiation damages DNA. Anti-vaxxers still haven’t figured out how vaccines allegedly cause autism: The hypothesis changes every week with every troll. Even when their predictions fail spectacularly, they still cling to them.

    2. Information moves much, much faster these days. If there was an autism link, we’d be seeing it quite unambiguously. No semantics games and statistical legerdemain required.

  4. #4 sailor
    June 23, 2007

    “Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be a clue back then about the downside of this technology, you know, little things like the fact that too much exposure to X-rays can cause cancer”.
    I was one of those who used to go into the shoe store and stare at my toes through a fluroscope for minutes at a time.

  5. #5 IanR
    June 23, 2007

    Actually, if you read the text of the article they are well aware of the mutagenic ability of X-rays

    The biologist has given an artificial method of producing mutations, changing species at will. This has already been done in the case of fruit flies, and studies with pigeons, mice, rats and cats are going on apace.

    and even more interesting is

    Muller used various agencies, such as heat and the X-ray, to study the process of mutation, with the result that he discovered a means for speeding up the mutation rate 150 times; he had artificially speeded up the evolutionary rate! Muller had, with the aid of radiation from X-rays, broken down one of life’s remotest secrets

    I suppose it wasn’t obvious at the time. It’s remarkable how hard it is to shed the filter of your own experience when reading something like that.

  6. #6 Orac
    June 23, 2007

    Well, yes and no.

    You have to remember that it wasn’t appreciated back then (1) just how easily speeding up the mutation rate using X-rays could cause cancer and (2) that radiation doses are cumulative, so multiple small doses (such as those used to look at your foot in the fluoroscopy machines common in shoe stores until even the early 1960s or radiation treatments used for acne) could increase the risk of cancer.

  7. #7 Romeo Vitelli
    June 23, 2007

    It was known early on that radiation had risks. Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia in 1934 due to her carelessness in dealing with radioactive materials. In spite of that, x-ray technology had a mystique that made it larger than life. It seemed only natural that Siegel and Shuster gave their new hero, Superman, x-ray vision that he could use on everyone and everything. It was a simpler time.

  8. #8 Kaleberg
    June 23, 2007

    Cancer was just showing up on medical radar in the 1930s, and they didn’t have a lot to treat it with besides surgery and radiation. There were so many other ways to drop dead that most people didn’t live long enough to get cancer.

    Interesting, one of the big breakthroughs in the 1930s was chemotherapy. That’s right, sulfa drugs were called chemotherapy back then because you ingested a chemical to cure your illness. Nowadays chemotherapy implies a chemical treatment for cancer.

    People definitely knew that X-Rays had their downside. I remember one account of problems planning a menu for an X-Ray researcher banquet. They needed food that people could eat even after having lost a few fingers to X-Ray burns. Odin gave an eye for knowledge. What were a few fingers?

    In the 1930s, they emphasized the positive because they were suddenly able to cure the incurable. The use of penicillin after the Coconut Grove fire in Boston was almost miraculous.

    In the early 1900s doctors could do just a bit more than nothing. In fact, it was hard won knowledge that doing nothing was better than what they had been doing.

    Now doctors can do a lot. When they discovered that TB could be cured with streptomycin, it was a godsend. The fact that it might deafen you was well known, but they also knew what TB could do to you, and others who caught it from you. We have alternatives, so it is worth our while to search for the best cure with fewest side effects. We haven’t always had that luxury.

  9. #9 wrg
    June 24, 2007

    I’m wondering what “the immense source of power from hemispherical bodies” mentioned at the end is. Does it have anything to do with the X-ray sex? I tend to think of stars for lots of energy, but they’re roughly spherical.

    Oh, well. Rereading and reflection suggest that the mentioned “changing of sex” refers to the property, not to the activity.

  10. #10 Common Sense
    June 24, 2007

    “Except that vaccines do not trigger autism”.

    Oh, but they do….

    I’m also pretty darn sure all those dopey MD’s back in 1930’s didn’t realize that x-rays could cause cancer either. You would have been one of them, Orac, had blogs been the norm back then 🙂 I can just see it now… mocking those morons who questioned the over-use of x-rays. There is one thing that we all know for sure… MD’s have been and continue to be the biggest morons out there when it comes to understanding what so many can see as simple common sense.


  11. #11 Orac
    June 24, 2007

    No, they don’t.

    Simply repeating it doesn’t make it so. The scientific evidence does not support a vaccine-autism link.

  12. #12 mumkeepingsane
    June 24, 2007

    “Oh, but they do…. ”

    Proof please!

  13. #13 notmercury
    June 24, 2007

    Oh, but they don’t.

    There. Now the debate is balanced.

  14. #14 Common Sense
    June 24, 2007

    Bunch of dunces… The only beautiful part of this debate is that you dopes are going to look so foolish one day… it could be 1 year or 30 years but it will be here. Some other dopey MD will be posting about how the dopey MD’s back in the 1990’s were so moronic to believe that mercury was safe to inject into babies.


  15. #15 James
    June 25, 2007

    (sniffs the air)

    Is that a Galileo Gambit I can smell?

    Actually it sounds a bit like a mad scientist:

    Fools! They said I was mad! But I’ll show them!! I’ll show them all!!! MWUWAHAHAHA!!!!!

  16. #16 PT
    June 25, 2007

    “A bill was actually introduced into the New Jersey State Legislature forbidding the use of X-rays in opera glasses on the grounds that public modesty would be outraged…”

    Interesting to see that government knee-jerk reactions to basic misunderstandings of science are nothing new.

  17. #17 Meg Thornton
    June 27, 2007

    I have just one small question: if it has been proven that vaccination causes all of these problems (and please note, I’m not saying this is necessarily the case), then surely there would be a historical record of an increase in vaccine-triggered illnesses in the 1800s, back when the first vaccinations (for smallpox) were available in England? Does the historical record show such an increase in the incidence of such illnesses?

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