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Science in society – politics, development and social justice.

Posts Tagged ‘Hygeine Hypothesis

Don’t fear dirt!

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An etching caricature of Faraday giving a filthy Farther Thames a card

The Great Stink of 1850s London was a pivotal moment in sanitation in the city, precipitating the building of Bazalgette's sewer. But have our lives become too sanitised?

A watershed moment in our perception of disease came with the discovery of penicillin. All of a sudden we had the power to beat infections which would have killed the strongest.

The wonder drugs that are antibiotics beat back the deadly microorganisms. With such a weapon in our arsenal it was assumed that at last we would rid our world of pestilential microbes.

William Stewart the Surgeon General of the USA in 1967 said:

“The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases. We have basically wiped out infection in the United States.”

This could be seen as emblematic of how our attitudes to science and nature have changed. In the 1960s we assumed the automobile economy was the wave of the future; we saw nature as something to master; we thought we could wipe out all infections.

As we moved from the twentieth to the twenty-first century however we have developed a more conservationist approach. Biodiversity, sustainable development and halting climate change are the recurring themes of current popular discourse. Read the rest of this entry »