Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Online Mag Debuts With Common Misconception

Last week, Slate launched the online magazine Double X, a spinoff of its women-centric blog of the same name. Unfortunately, one of the earliest articles published on Double X featured a pretty egregious mistake. In an intriguing piece titled "Why I Give My Nine-Year-Old Pot," the last paragraph contains a factual inaccuracy pertaining to the Hippocratic Oath.

As you can see in the highlighted screen shot above, the article attributes the Latin phrase "primum, non nocere" and its English translation, "first, do no harm," to the Hippocratic Oath. However, if you read the text of the classical version and modern version of the oath, you'll notice neither of the above phrases exist in the oath. Thinking "first, do no harm" comes from the Hippocratic Oath is a common misconception, but one that shouldn't be made in print by a professional publication with proofreading, copy editing and research resources at its disposal.

Wait, how'd a Latin phrase get confused with an oath thought to be written by an ancient Greek physician considered to be the father of modern medicine? Because Epidemics, another famous medical text attributed to Hippocrates, contains the line "do no harm." Click here, scroll down to "Section II" and paragraph "5" and look for a passage that contains: "The physician must...have two special objects in do good or to do no harm."

Around 150 or so years later, Galen, a prominent physician of Greek descent, paraphrased Hippocrates. He used Latin instead of Greek to paraphrase Hippocrates because he lived and worked most of his life in Rome and was even a doctor at a gladiator school. Over time Galen's paraphrasing has become popularly confused with the Hippocratic Oath.

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