The Story of the Anti-Malaria Wind Fans


Once upon a time, only a little more than a hundred years ago, everyone was sure that Malaria, Yellow Fever and a lot of other diseases were caused by bad-smelling air that came out of swamps. Really, of course, what brought the diseases was mosquitoes. Several US doctors had to sacrifice their lives in experiments to prove the new theory. Walter Reed was one of the heroes of this story. Despite their experiments (which were denounced by editorials in the New York Times, and many other newspapers), it took years before everyone was convinced.

Imagine an alternative past in which somebody, around 1890, had the brilliant idea of building large fans to blow the bad swamp air back into the swamp, and away from towns and people's houses, and the Panama Canal, etc, Such fans would probably have blown quite a few mosquitoes back into the swamps, also; or maybe they would just have frightened some of the mosquitoes, so that they flew in some other direction. One can only guess, but I wouldn't doubt that big enough fans could have reduced the disease and death rates from yellow Fever and Malaria, etc. by 10% to 20% or more. Furthermore, I would also guess that decreases of this size would have been large enough to convince people, once and for all, that bad swamp air really is the cause of those diseases. The result would have been that more and bigger fans would have been built along the boundaries between cities and swamps. Krome Avenue, west of Miami, would now have a line of Boeing jet engines, side by side, blasting away all day and all night, pumping bad air back into the Everglades. These efforts could be sufficient to decrease infection rates of Malaria and Yellow Fever as much as 25% to 50%. Bigger and more powerful fans and jet engines would be planned, too. Just think of all the lives that such fans would have saved.

Actually, of course, the real effect of such fans would have been the death of millions of people, in the years since 1900. They would have prevented discovery of the real cause of those diseases, not to mention all the noise, expense, and pollution.

To what extent is the same thing true of existing methods of cancer chemotherapy, and of drug treatments for Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus? Many such drugs, that were used in the past, are now used less or not at all. That is fine, as long as there are new treatments that work better. But not to the extent that these new treatments are the equivalent of anti-malaria air fans, by which I mean if they were designed, developed and tested on the basis of the same assumptions as were the earlier drugs.

At that very moment, a mosquito flew into my office!! I better get a fan.


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