Roger Bacon

Was Roger Bacon Europe's first real scientist?

This 13th-century English monk recognized that going to the source of phenomena was the surest way to understand them.

Roger Bacon

Statue of Roger Bacon at Oxford

Bacon was born in Ilchester, in Somerset, around the time King John granted the English nobles some important rights in the Magna Carta of 1215. Education was apparently an important value in his family, and he went to Oxford University probably at about age 13.

Bacon lectured at the University of Paris and pursued a life of dogged intellectual inquiry at a time when unorthodox opinions were dangerous — even fatal. At about the age of 40, he became a Franciscan friar, which limited his ability to publish his works, as any writings had to be approved by his order.

About 10 years later, though, his friend Guy le Gros de Foulques became Pope Clement IV. During the few years of Clement's reign, Bacon published his Opus Maius, about science and theology, and other works.

Bacon understood that mathematics was crucial to understanding science. He refused to accept received knowledge without testing out its tenets with experiments — and at the time, the scholarly world was all about received knowledge from the ancients.

He created the first useful maps in hundreds of years by re-introducing map projections, he was a pioneer in the field of optics, and he began a reformation of the calendar that was adopted hundreds of years later by Pope Gregory XIII.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Flexner Report

The so-called "Flexner Report," issued in 1910, was a game-changer in American medical education.

Previously, a man — or woman — could become a physician by sitting through a winter's worth of lectures at a "medical school," which might be some doctor's parlor. Only the more rigorous schools survived after 1910 — all the women's medical schools and most of those that accepted minority candidates closed.

Abraham Flexner

Candidates had to qualify for the schools that remained, and they spent years, not months, learning the craft, which began to include hands-on training with patients. All these innovations impacted the birth story.

Abraham Flexner, who wrote the report for the Carnegie Foundation, was primarily an educator. He got his start with a private laboratory school he founded in his native Louisville, Ky., after graduation from Johns Hopkins University, and wrote a book in 1908, The American College, that brought him national attention.

Flexner was deeply involved in re-structuring the nation's medical schools in the years leading up to World War I. Later, he was the first director of the Institute for Advanced Study, a colossally influential "think tank," founded in 1930 in Princeton, N.J., by Newark retailer Louis Bamberger and his sister Caroline Bamberger Fuld.

At the IAS, Flexner saw opportunity in the political clouds gathering over Europe, recruiting scientists like John von Newmann and Kurt Godel. And, Flexner personally wrote the letter that brought Albert Einstein to the United States in 1933.

Four good trends for the world’s women

"Women have long delivered for society, and, slowly, society is at last delivering for women. This is a moment to celebrate—and accelerate," The Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton wrote in a commentary that accompanied the publication of a new survey on global maternal mortality the British journal published on Monday.

Four factors associated with maternal mortality are moving in a good direction in many areas of the world, according to the study published this week, which was discussed in the previous post here on Birth Story.

First, the global total fertility rate (TFR), which reflects births per woman, has come down considerably, from 3.7 children in 1980, to 2.6 in 2008. That is a good thing, as the TFR is closely associated with maternal mortality.

Secondly, per capita income is also up, especially in Asia and Latin America. When families have more money, women get more nourishing food, and are more likely to get access to medical care.

Women are also more likely to get some education than they were 30 years ago, which bodes well for a society in which mothers can give birth in a safe environment. Women 25 to 44 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa had 1.5 years of school in 1980, but now have 4.4 years of school on average.

And lastly, women are more likely to have skilled birth attendants in 2008 than they were thirty years ago. "Some large countries such as India have witnessed quite rapid increases in skilled birth attendance in recent years," the study reports.