Science and Pseudoscience

Interest in science was high, but "real working men of science" were few. The man on the street and intellectuals alike believed in the pseudoscience of hrenology, whereby character could be read by studying the convexities of the skull. Faith in animal magnetism was also prevalent. Electromagnetic machines, designed to send a magnetic fluid through the body, were touted as a cure for all manner of ailments. To the professional scientists, not to mention a public eager for scientific information in popular form, the arrival of the distinguished--and charming--Swiss naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz in October 1846 was an auspicious event. Thanks to Harvard University and a grant from textile manufacturer Abbott Lawrence, Agassiz's projected two-year visit was extended to a lifetime. In the field of medicine, a landmark event took place on October 16 at the Massachusetts General Hospital, when Dr. John Collins Warren agreed to participate in the first public demonstration of ether. "Gentlemen," pronounced Warren after he had painlessly extracted a tumor from the jaw of his patient, "This is no humbug."

Louis Agassiz
Louis Agassiz
Unidentified photographer
Albumenized salt print, circa 1857
4 1/16 x 3 1/8 inches
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (NPG.80.239)

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