The First Blind Medical Trials

Cures and treatments have always offered potential riches to their inventors. But how was one supposed to know what worked and what didn’t? 

Metallic Tractors, by James Gillray, 1801 © Wellcome Images.

In his satirical poem, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), Lord Byron mocked medical charlatans who repeatedly introduced new gimmicks in order to extort large sums of money from gullible customers:

What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
The Cow-pox, Tractors, Galvanism, Gas,
In turns appear to make the vulgar stare,
Till the swoll’n bubble bursts – and all is air.

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