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February 08, 2010


Chris Williams

This is Not My Period Mate, so I'm going to reserve judgement until I contact my C18th Murder Adviser, who knows better than me - and indeed than anyone else.

But speaking personally, I will only be convinced by some pretty special regression analysis, and I note that if I wanted to prove a controversial case using the research methods of (say) history I would submit it to a (say) history journal rather than a (say) medicine one, in order to make sure that the editor is going to know the right peer reviewers to send it out to to make sure it gets a credible look.

Gareth Rees

Surely all they had to do was fail to wash their hands, and let puerperal fever do the rest?

Chris Williams

Perhaps trickier when you want to get the foetus inside the womb. I've checked out Don Sheldon's website, and he's a man with a book to sell. This not a bad thing: I'm a man with a book to sell, and so are many of my friends - many of the rest of my friends being women with books to sell. But I can't get at the JRSM article yet, so I can't check out the footnotes. Prediction: if he does not reveal knowledge of Liz Hurren's work on the really quite frighteningly effective way that some poor law unions could ship a cadaver to a Cambridge dissection table in the mid C19th isn't there, and yet his argument relies on negative evidence, I will not take his thesis very seriously. Big trade in recently-dead bodies, some perhaps helped on their way by plausibly-deniable contacts [this is what we already know], yes: yr actual doctors doing the killing [this is the new bit], no.

Martin Wisse

It sounds too "Shakespeare was really Baconish" too me.

Chris Williams

That appears to be the tradition he's coming out of - working out that a prominent surgeon wrote a then-famous novel under a female pseudonym. But it lacks the 'Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays cos he was a pleb' starting point which needs to be invoked to kick off Occam off the ass all the Shakespeare theories.

I wonder in fact whether DS's press release actually said something like 'created a demand for corpses which was then filled by murderers', whereas the press has headlined into 'were serial killers'.

The problem with relying on accusations of Burking as mood music evidence is that it was a trope which easily produced false accusation - such as the one that kicked off the Sheffield Medical School riot in 18236.

Chris Williams

Look, it's going to happen, OK? Or perhaps I typed the date wrong. It was 1836.


I presumed that you were talking about a Doctor Who episode.

Chris Williams

News just in - I've got hold of a pdf and it's bollocks. DS is presupposing that resurrectionists just dug at random in new graves, thus it's pretty unlikely that they'd find the 20 or so women in the 9th month who died every year. This is vanishingly unlikely, given what we know about the trade in bdoies between poor law institutions and universities in the C19th. And sure enough, no sign of Hurren in the bibliography. History FAIL.

Moral - don't trust what doctors write, or indeed choose to publish, about the history of medicine.


Hmm, googling led me to what seems like a (momentarily?) free copy of
the Shelton article. Have yet to go through it properly but a quick scan uncovers the phrase "the random probability of..." and no real discussion, as CW says above, of dependent or conditional probabilities or other confounding variables. So, erm, no.

They're not too impressed over at Obsidian Wings, neither.

(Also: what's Shelton's background? Google is just giving me all the 2nd-hand, take-him-at-his-word descriptions of him as "a historian", but that sounds awfully like describing me as "a literary critc", given that I read a fair bit, and find fault with much of it.)

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