Biology in Human Affairs

By Edward M. East; Walter V. Bingham et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter VIII
THE OUTLOOK OF PUBLIC HEALTH WORK

by HUGH S. CUMMINGand ARTHUR M. STIMSON

THE inference that disease is practically coeval with the existence of life seems justified by the testimony of prehistoric animal and human remains. This evidence supports the speculation that even the earliest forms of life must have been subject to competitive, toxic, and nutritional stresses which they were not always able to withstand. Surely, for practical purposes, we may assume that disease has always been among us human beings. It thus takes its place among natural phenomena like sunlight and gravitation.

For a long time man refused to regard disease as a natural phenomenon. It presented such an affront to his assumed dominance over nature that he could conceive of it only as a visitation from supernatural sources. Only with the development of natural science within the past few hundred years has it become possible definitely to classify disease among the phenomena which are subject to natural law. In ways similar to those by which man has learned to employ gravitation and sunlight to his advantage, he is learning how to avoid the ravages of disease. These methods consist essentially of first learning by research the laws which control the operation of these phenomena, and then, by suitable conduct in accord with these laws, of securing the desired ends.

History records attempts at very early periods to escape disease both by individual and collective effort. The latter

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