Richard Horton is a physician. He edits The Lancet, a weekly medical journal based in London and New York. He is also a visiting professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Stopping Malaria: The Wrong Road

Bill and Melinda Gates, right, with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, Princess Cristina of Spain, and Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the announcement in Mexico City of the 2015 Meso-American Health Initiative, which aims to reduce malaria and other health problems in Mexico and Central America, June 2010
The US eradicated malaria in 1951. Until then, this parasitic disease, transmitted largely by infected mosquitoes, had been endemic across much of the country. In the Tennessee River Valley, for example, malaria affected almost a third of the population in 1933. By the time the US National Malaria Eradication Program …

Cancer: Malignant Maneuvers

When President Richard Nixon signed the US National Cancer Act into law on December 23, 1971, he declared, “I hope that in the years ahead that we may look back on this day and this action as being the most significant action taken during this Administration.” Nixon killed his hope …

What’s Wrong with Doctors

Few can doubt that Western medicine has been a phenomenal success. Heart disease kills two-thirds fewer people now than it did fifty years ago. The frequency of conditions as diverse as stroke and trauma is being gradually checked. Mortality from breast cancer has fallen by a quarter in less than …

Palestinians: The Crisis in Medical Care

“Nothing is changing,” says Dr. Jamil Suliman, a pediatrician and now the director of Beit Hanoun Hospital in Gaza. On a quiet January morning, he shows me a clean and well-equipped emergency room, modern X-ray facilities, a pharmacy, and a basic yet functioning laboratory. Dr. Suliman oversees a medical team …

AIDS: The Elusive Vaccine

After twenty-three years of intense research into the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), together with the accumulated experience of more than twenty million deaths from the in-fection worldwide, there is still no prospect of a vaccine to prevent AIDS. Is the discovery of a vaccine simply a matter of time? Or …

The Dawn of McScience

One of the most striking aspects of John Paul II’s papal leadership has been his frequent and outspoken forays into science, especially the life sciences. His positions on abortion, sexuality, and contraception have alienated vast numbers of Catholics and non-Catholics. Many people had seen his tenure in the Vatican as …

The Fool of Pest

The life of Ignác Semmelweis (1818– 1865) is a puzzle that admits no solution. Here was a man whose painstaking investigations, while he was still only in his twenties, led him to devise a means to control the devastating epidemic of childbed fever then sweeping Europe. Semmelweis saved the lives …

The Plagues Are Flying

No other disease—indeed, no other force of nature—did more to shape the evolution of American life than yellow fever. HIV-AIDS may, in a century or so, come to be regarded as an equal influence. But it was yellow fever that set the modern rules of engagement—emotional, political, scientific, and medical—in …

Thalidomide Comes Back

“We will never accept a world with thalidomide in it,” wrote Randolph Warren on July 17, 1998, the day after the US Food and Drug Administration licensed a chemical that had, between 1956 and 1962, caused birth defects in as many as twelve thousand children. Warren heads the Thalidomide Victims’ …

How Sick Is Modern Medicine?

As Marcus Aurelius gathered his forces against German tribes in the second century AD, he summoned Claudius Galenus, an up-and-coming physician from Pergamum, to ride with him. Galen declined, politely and imaginatively, claiming a higher loyalty to “the contrary instructions of his personal patron god Asclepius.”[^1] This early instance of …

In the Danger Zone

To enter a hospital is to pass into a zone of occasional and unusual danger. Many illnesses invite well-tried treatments with normally uncomplicated outcomes. But unintended catastrophe is always at hand. In John Murray’s unsettling account of life on the intensive care unit at San Francisco General Hospital, one story …

An Autopsy of Dr. Osler

In the early summer of 1885, a thirty-six-year-old professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania crossed the Delaware River to visit an elderly man with a “transient indisposition.” When William Osler walked into a front room on the ground floor of 328 Mickle Street, Camden, New Jersey, Walt Whitman—his …

Truth and Heresy About AIDS

After more than a decade of intensive medical research into AIDS, of energetic international public health campaigns and the emergence of a vast academic and commercial industry built around human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the confident observer might dismiss the following proposition: Despite enormous efforts, over 100,000 papers and over $35 …

Is Homosexuality Inherited?

Historians of homosexuality will judge much twentieth-century “science” harshly when they come to reflect on the prejudice, myth, and downright dishonesty that litter modern academic research on sexuality. Take, for example, the lugubrious statements of once respected investigators. Here is Sandor Feldman, a well-known psychotherapist, in 1956: It is the …

Infection: The Global Threat

“If disease is an expression of individual life under unfavorable conditions, then epidemics must be indicators of mass disturbances in mass life.” —Rudolph Virchow Begin with a thought experiment: What might it take to produce a virus with the potential to eliminate Homo sapiens? For a start, it should …