Why “Trusting the Science” Is Complicated

Suman Seth in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

It is possible that John Pringle’s neighbors viewed him with some distaste. Formerly physician-general to the British forces in the Low Countries, in 1749 Pringle had settled down in a rather swanky part of London, where he began investigating the processes behind putrefaction. He would place pieces of beef in a lamp furnace, sometimes combining them with another substance — and then wait for putrefaction to commence, or not. Falsifying an earlier hypothesis, Pringle showed that not only acids but alkalis, like baker’s ammonia, could retard the progress of decay. Even more impressively, some substances, like Peruvian bark (source of the malarial prophylactic, quinine) could outright reverse putrefaction, rendering tainted meat seemingly edible again.

In 1752, Pringle used these results to make medical recommendations in a book entitled Diseases of the Army. Rot within the body, he asserted, accounted for a great many diseases afflicting soldiers in particular. It followed that substances that could slow down or reverse putrefaction could also — when swallowed — combat these diseases.

More here.