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The Germ Theory of Disease: Cui Bono?

March 11, 2010

Before reading Craig N. Murphy’s International Organization and Industrial Change, I would have thought the answer to “Who benefits?” was “Everyone.” But according to the British in the 19th century, the answer was “The French.”

Reading the following, I found it impossible not to think of contemporary attacks on the science behind climate change:

The British government also preferred to have international ocean shipping regulated by a British-dominated cartel rater than by international agreements that promised increased competition. Britain even opposed international health agreements designed to check the spread of cholera and other infectious diseases because quarantines placed an unacceptable burden on international (read: “British”) shipping interests. The British government claimed that there was little evidence for the germ theory of disease and for the public health policy it demanded: quarantine. It may be difficult not to suspect the British of the following paranoid logic: the germ theory’s greatest champion was, after all, a Frenchman, Louis Pasteur; the French certainly were interested in breaking the British hold on ocean shipping; and they had long seemed inordinately interested in sponsoring international discussions of health matters. (p. 79)

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