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.

Some proof!

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.

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Robert Balliot
14 years ago

Denis Dutton – editor of Philosophy and Literature held the Bad Writing Contest from 1995-1998.

Dutton explains “As a lifelong student of Kant, I know that philosophy is not always well-written. But when Kant or Aristotle or Wittgenstein are most obscure, it’s because they are honestly grappling with the most complex and difficult problems the human mind can encounter. How different from the desperate incantations of the Bad Writing Contest winners, who hope to persuade their readers not by argument but by obscurity that they too are the great minds of the age.”

The similarities between the winning entries and this essay are remarkable.

Justin Katz
14 years ago

I wonder, Robert:
1. Did you just come up with (or discover) that insult and, itching to prove your cleverness, waste it on a Friday evening post responding to a comment responding to a quip made while writing extemporaneously?
2. Did you have the insult in reserve and finally find something in this post that allowed you to flush it from your rhetorical orifice?
3. Do you use that line of attack frequently in order to prove your intellectual superiority without proving anything?
Whatever the case, there’s more than a hint of intellectual laziness to your offering. Easier to insult, I suppose, than to illustrate, but how am I to learn from your insights if all you do is kick me in the shin? (I’m thinking of a scene from Bedtime Stories, here.)

14 years ago

Mr Katz perhaps you should not try and poke fun at someone for blogging or responding to one of your innaccuracies on a Friday night when you spend so much time blah blah blah blogging yourself. Perhaps you should only publish those who are in lock step with you.

14 years ago

Felix the cat
Is a wonderful wonderful cat
Whenever he gets in a fix
He reaches into his bag of tricks
#3 References to Nazis

14 years ago

Not all of your critics go to great lengths. See David, above…Those that do, do so because you cannot see your logical nose in front of your logical face. If explanations require great length it is because the first 200 yards of drilling are through solid granite.

14 years ago

I like the poem about Katz.
Robert Balliot
Thank you for the winning entries of bad writing. I needed some cheering up today.
Watch out for msteven. He/She responds to critism of Justin with lightning speed.

14 years ago

Considering that certain science majors (Chemistry, for one) in the United States used to require the student to take courses in the German language, as you have said, Justin, possibly Germany was not the country to have “picked on” in terms of medical innovation.
At the same time, your main point was correct: eight out of ten of the more recent medical innovations involved the United States. This item from your link should also be noted:

More than 70 percent of German, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British adults say their health system needs either “fundamental change” or “complete rebuilding.”

Now, how does that compare to the level of satisfaction in the United States …?

14 years ago

Sure Felix Bloch is the weakest example. But he didn’t just happen to be in Germany. He was earning his PhD in physics and doing post doctoral research. He might never have left for Stanford were it not for the Nazis.
In any case, I was surprised at just how many of those “American” inventions were linked to German research or companies.

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