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FEBRUARY, 2010 → ← JUNE, 2010

Ptomaine … Ponseti club-foot technique and the internet 1st of March, 2010 POST·MERIDIEM 11:18

An amusing bit of indignant commentary (after my own heart, I admit!) from James Murray in the OED here :

ptomaine (pt–, ˈtəʊmeɪaɪn, ˈtəʊmeɪn). Chem. 
[ad. It. ptomaina,  erroneously formed by Professor Selmi of Bologna, f. Gr. πτωμα fallen body, corpse; see –INE⁵.
As the Gr. combining stem is πτωματ–, the correct form of the word would be ptomatine. 
Prof. Selmi’s first paper in Annali di Chimica  (1876) LXII. 165, announced the body as ‘la potomaina  o prima alcaloide dei cadaveri’; but this was partly corrected in his work of 1878 to ptomaina;  it is to be regretted that the full correction to ptomatine  was not made at its reception into English, which would also have prevented the rise of the illiterate pronunciation (təʊˈmeɪn) like domain.  —J.A.H.M.]
The generic name of certain alkaloid bodies found in putrefying animal and vegetable matter, some of which are very poisonous.
1880 Year-bk. Pharmacy  40 The identification of these alkaloidal substances, or ptomaines,  is of great interest to toxicologists.
1881 Pharmaceutical Jrnl.  28 May 984/2 The discovery of Professor Selmi as to the formation of the poisonous alkaloids, which he calls ptomaïnes, in the human body after death.
1884 Athenæum  28 Apr. 534/3 These ‘cadaveric’ alkaloids, or ‘ptomaines’ as they have also been called. 1891 Lancet  3 Oct. 752 The chemical ferments produced in the system, the albumoses or ptomaines which may exercise so disastrous an influence.

And this is encouraging, an unequivocal instance where the internet has changed medical practice for the better:

Acceptance [of the Ponseti technique] by orthopaedic surgeons has been encouraged by parents who use the internet to seek out surgeons who use this technique. Parents prefer the more non-surgical approach and can become strong advocates for the technique.
There is an awful lot of decrying of haphazardly-informed patients with net connections in the literature from the first few years of the century, and this sort of thing is great to see.

The headline here is less encouraging, it seems to have been written by someone who didn’t quite read the article; ‘meritocracy is still elitist’ would have been a better phrasing. The article itself is interesting for its insights into Britain, if you’re lucky enough to be able to read the whole thing.