A Reminder and a Memorial [Book Review]

Alfred White Franklin

Abstract


Originally published in the British Medical Journal on March 22, 1980, Volume 280, pages 851-855.

The Quality of Life: the Peckham Approach to Human Ethology. Innes H Pearse. (Pp 194; £6 50.) Scottish Academic Press.1979.

The biologist studies man as a physical organism existing in a space-time world of measurable dimensions. This organism has the ability to adapt to changes in its environment; to the processes ofgrowth, development and aging; and to disease. The main objectives of medicine have been to help both adaptation and defence. Prevention through hygiene and immunisation, drugs, surgical removals, and replacements-all these make their contributions, which have increased in complexity and expense, disappointing Beveridge's hope in 1949 that a National Health Service plus rehabilitation (then a novelty) would so improve health that the Service would wither away.
To avoid and prevent ill health are worthy aims; to promote health is also worthy, but something different. It was to study healthy living that Dr Scott Williamson, Dr Innes Pearse, and their colleagues devised the Peckham experiment, of which this book is at once a reminder and a memorial. They wanted to study Homo sapiens in his natural habitat and they began their exploration as biologists. In an initial family club of 150 families they noted that disorders, however skilfully treated, recurred in the environment out of which the disorder had arisen. So, in 1935, they designed a laboratory in which human beings could be observed growing up and creating new families. The centre, purpose-built, combined maximum visibility throughout, flexibility, and free access to all members. By the outbreak of war 800-900 families had grown their own lively social life. Many of the original families rejoined when the centre reopened after the war. It finally closed in 1951. Meanwhile, the observers had invented a new role.

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