Forgotten knowledge of scurvy

I always find it fascinating to read stories of knowledge found and then lost. There is a sense of inevitability that the process of sharing in humans is not perfect and that vital clues or important facts will be lost until the ‘system’ breaks and disaster strikes.

Over on the Naked Scientist Website, Andrew Holding tells the story of Scurvy and how lessons learnt as early as 1747 and adopted by the Royal Navy were

gradually lost … and the crew on an expedition at the beginning of the 20th century did not know how to treat an ailment that had been successfully cured over 100 years earlier

Well, read the full story and all the clues are there and make sense in hindsight, but I don’t think many would have solved this intractible problem at the time. Only with the intervention of  ‘luck’ and probably the source of our term ‘guinea pig’ in subsequent scientific experiments did an understanding of the cause in 1907 begin to emerge. I guess these were examples of ‘safe-fail’ experiments. Fascinating stuff.


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