Selected Publications

Was Thalidomide a Placebo Hypnotic?

Forthcoming in Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.  Published Online First, May 29, 2024.

It appears that unbeknownst to themselves, an untold number of pregnant women incurred the risks of a teratogen in return for the benefits of a sugar pill.

What If Perceived Discrimination Isn’t the Same as Real Discrimination?

Forthcoming in Journal of Controversial Ideas; 2024, 4(1), 4; 10.3390/ControversialIdeas1970010100

Literature that assumes that medicine is polluted with concealed bias validates misperceptions, foments mistrust, and sends the incautious message that black patients can expect poor treatment. 

Sherlockismus: Freud and the Romance of Detection

In Fictional Worlds and Philosophical Reflection, ed. Garry Hagberg (Palgrave, 2022)

What better way for Freud to suggests that his conclusions arise from pure observation than to give himself a resemblance to the keenest of all observers, the perceiver on whom nothing is lost, Sherlock Holmes?
 Upbringing and Agency: Three Perspectives

Philosophy and Literature 45 (2021): 348-66.

The women censured by Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman are not helpless products of their upbringing but agents who use their acquired powers to captivate, subjugate and mold others.

Buried in Silence: Homosexuality and the Feighner Criteria

Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 27 (2020): 283-98.

Upon examination, the evidence offered by Feighner et al. in support of the diagnosis of homosexuality proves to be nil.

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Satiric Turn in Washington Square

Literary Imagination 21 (2019): 158-66. 

Being right becomes Dr. Sloper’s madness.

In and of itself, the fact that the accusers so often acted out their torments in the manner of a chorus—writhing together and stopping as if in response to the same signal—suggests strongly that their behavior was staged.

In effect, Unequal Treatment altered the ground rules by making it possible to allege or suggest bias without abiding by the methodological (as well as ethical) requirements for so doing.

James Lind and the Disclosure of Failure
Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 47 (2017): 384-87. 
In confessing his lack of an unfailing remedy for scurvy and his trouble making sense of the disease’s behavior, Lind did medicine a greater service than by conducting his now-famous trial.

Cases vs. Statistics: A Crux in the History of Medicine

Who qualifies for inoculation?

 The Weight of a Term: “Substantial Evidence” and Buried Data

Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 61 (2018): 201-14.

Some might say burial in the files of a regulatory agency, or simply an officer drawer, is a fitting fate for data that lacks evidentiary import and does not factor into official judgments of efficacy.  That Congress foresaw such a loss of data even as it reacted to the thalidomide crises seems improbable.

Montaigne on Medicine: Insights of a 16th-century Skeptic
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 58 (2015): 493-506.
When Montaigne sank into melancholy upon his retirement at the age of 38, he didn’t seek medical treatment; he started writing the Essays.

The Folly of Systems: The Satiric Tradition and Mental Disorders
Philosophy and Literature 37 (2013): 472-85.
“Who can sufficiently speak of these symptoms?” asks Burton.

Deception and Transparency in Placebo Research
Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 86 (2013): 323-31.
As words come to resemble therapeutic agents in their own right, it’s only to be expected that experimenters would use language in subtly leading and misleading ways to elicit the effects they are looking for.

To Feel What Others Feel: Social Sources of the Placebo Effect
University of California Medical Humanities Press, 2013.
A humanist looks at the placebo effect, taking into account both its
history and its ambiguity and bringing out the more questionable
potential of some health fashions, trends and movements of our time.  (Available for free download)

Placebos in the Clinic
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 106 (2013): 208-09. 
The preference for placebos with an appearance of medical legitimacy suggests that doctors are uneasy with the practice of deception even if they are not about to abandon it.

From Medicine to Psychotherapy: The Placebo Effect
History of the Human Sciences 24 (2011): 95-107.
Even as the routine use of placebos in medical practice lost legitimacy, the placebo effect in the form of suggestion flourished in the practice of psychotherapy.

Reticence in Action: The Antisepsis Controversy
Journal of the Historical Society 9 (2009): 427-41.
While hospitals could be likened to fields of death, the thought that not chance but the surgeon was killing patients was not so readily admitted.

Literature and the Turn from History

Literary Imagination 10 (2008): 25-35.

While no one would deny that many things are excluded from representation in Jane Austen’s pages, the same is true of any work of fiction.

The Secularism of Fiction: A Medieval Source
Literary Imagination 10 (2008): 127-41.
Although our terminology disposes us to think of Christian civilization and Islamic civilization as walled kingdoms, each complete unto itself and a stranger to the other, these worlds were not hermetically sealed.

Shakespeare: The Drama of Generations

Macmillan India, 2007.

Arguing that Shakespeare’s vision is profoundly generational–concerned with youth and age, parents and children, succession and renewal–this book brings out the war against the young in Shakespeare’s plays in all genres.

Hamlet and the Odyssey

Literary Imagination 4 (2002): 389-410.

No cloak, no suit can denote Hamlet truly, but in the drama of testing and suspicion played out in the latter books of the Odyssey the identity of the hero is denoted truly by a pin, a scar, a bow.

The Springs of Liberty: The Satiric Tradition and Freedom of Speech
Northwestern University Press, 1999
If the novel is unbound by the presuppositions of other genres (thus constituting a sort of supergenre), the freedom of satire is such that it overflows every generic boundary and its power such that it animates different genres in the first place. (Available on