Make Sure You Thank Lincoln For Your 15 Minutes of Fame

It’s bad enough that the Washington Post decided to run a full-page article on John Sotos’s theory that Lincoln suffered from a rare genetic disorder called MEN2B, but now the science journal Nature has decided to get in on the fun.  This is an excellent example of why scientists don’t always make  good historians.

In response to a question about how he arrived at his diagnosis Sotos had this to say after discounting Loeys-Dietzs syndrome:

So, I just worked on that sort of accumulation of facts for the book, and then one night a light bulb sort of went on. I was reading a different article entirely and it made me think of medullary thyroid carcinoma which is associated with marfanoid habidis [overgrowth of bones resulting in long limbs] in a syndrome known as MEN2B. And I thought, well, maybe I’ll just check out MEN2B in Lincoln and see if that’s a match.

And what is the evidence for MEN2B and the cancer which accompanies it?:

Visitors to the White House frequently spoke of how thin he looked. Then in his last three months his health turned for the worse. He was almost continuously ill in one way or another and my suspicion — and I won’t go so far as to say my diagnosis — but it is suspicious that he had three symptoms of pheochromocytoma during this time: headache, orthostatic syncope [he would faint when standing up] and cold, clammy hands and feet, which he complained to a friend about. In fact, this friend saw Lincoln put his feet so close to the fire that they steamed.

You can read more about Sotos’s speculations in his self-published book titled The Physical Lincoln.  Turns out that shorter pieces were rejected in peer-reviewed journals for one reason or another.  I wonder why?

2 comments… add one
  • Brompton Moody Dec 3, 2007 @ 14:57

    the whole whiff of this speculative history seems to have strong similarity to the diagnosis of Poe’s fatal disease as rabies:

    At least that speculation was grounded in the historical record a bit more, and didn’t diagnose on the basis of three symptoms that could be shared a vast majority of the population. or at least one person conducting a war within the territorial confines of his own country. It gives me a headache and clammy hands just thinking about it.

  • Brooks Simpson Dec 3, 2007 @ 10:44

    People are always trying to kill Lincoln. Someday they’ll do it.

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