Dr. Benjamin Rush was a highly respected physician and medical administrator in the early 1800’s. He was enormously influential, and widely known as a man who got things done. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and is one of the founders of American psychiatry.
Dr. Rush did not believe in relying solely on empirical evidence, but always insisted on using explanatory theories as the basis for decisions on medical treatment. His name is forever linked with one of the most widely accepted and practiced medical procedures of 19th century medicine.
Ben Rush is also a textbook example of science gone wrong. Once an incorrect theory takes hold, it doesn’t take long for a detailed framework of learning to spring up in support. Dr. Rush’s signature medical work became so solidly established that when physician William Turner had the nerve to criticize it, the State Legislature of New York ridiculed him. This therapeutic treatment that managed to so thoroughly blind the entire country’s powers of observation and reasoned thought was the practice of bloodletting.
Even today, some scars remain; 21st century medicine still hasn’t given up on bloodletting. Whether or not it finds a niche in the modern doctor’s toolkit, bloodletting will always be a leading example of how our culture can sift reality to tell us only what we want to hear.