A Little Further Thought on German Medical Innovation
Among the greatest benefits of blogging is the speed with which one often receives reminders against lazy thinking, and there was certainly a taint of laziness to one of the shorthand quips that I made while simultaneously liveblogging and videotaping the second Whitehouse & Reed healthcare community dinner:
A 75-year-old from German is testifying that his wife’s small business has been having trouble keeping up with payments for employees health insurance. Germany, by contrast, is a nirvana of free healthcare. Not sure when the last time Germany led the world in healthcare innovation.
The allusion that I’d intended to express was to my periodic observation that the U.S. system for X (healthcare, military security, etc.) is often a prerequisite for related European systems that leftists turn around and use as a cudgel against the States. My first error was to state the thought in a negative fashion rather than a positive one, to wit: “But the U.S. system is the foundation for national and global innovation.” Unfortunately, my first error was facilitated by my second, which was to stop shy (amidst my multitasking) of articulating the particular item I had in mind — a table of the “10 Most Important Recent Medical Innovations,” on which I remembered Germany’s absence.
The aforementioned reminder came with the following comment from Russ, after I’d provided a link to the table that I’d had in mind:
Interesting stuff, but hardly convincing unless you don’t dig into the history:
– CT scans were the result of US and British research… check
– MRIs were discovered by Felix Bloch (and an American who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics), a Jew who fled the Nazis to the US from… you guessed it, Germany!
– balloon angioplasty is a terrible example for this debate (the first angioplasty was performed by German physician Werner Forssmann), later to win the Nobel Prize (along with 2 Americans) for his contributions to medicine.
– Statins were discovered and initially researched in Japan and then picked up in the 1970s by Merck. Yep, the US subsidiary of the German firm.
– Mammography? Also discovered by a German, Albert Salomon, the first to use x-rays to study breast cancer and later expanded by research by German scientists, including W. Vogel, who described how x-rays could detect the difference between cancerous and noncancerous tissues.
My concession that the idea deserved more considered phrasing than I gave it does not dilute the fact that Russ has moved the bar considerably. My statement wasn’t that Germany has never accomplished anything of value in the medical field, but that it isn’t the world leader, and Russ’s list doesn’t contradict that proposition. If we separate CTs and MRIs, as he does, the list to which I referred has 11 items, of which he addresses five. Of those, he treats it as dispositive to find any German association with a given technology, even including corporate ownership of an American organization working from Japanese beginnings.
Again, I don’t believe minimizing the achievements of German nationals to be critical to the point that I’d intended to make, but I do find it curious how many of Russ’s examples progressed outside of their country. His reference to Bloch raises the methodology to the point of absurdity: A quick look at the link that Russ, himself, provides confirms that Bloch was Swiss and only happened to be in Germany when Hitler came to power. By the time of the achievement on the top 10 list, he had been in the United States for years and was a naturalized citizen.
Think about that, though: Russ wants to credit German society with the medical achievements of a Swiss scientists whom the Nazis chased out of Europe. I derive no small motivation for carefulness from the realization that my intellectual elisions are apt to drive those who would prove me wrong to such lengths.