Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rediscovering some critical terms of use in microbial discussions: #microbiomania and #microbophobia

Earlier this week I was trying to come up with a short term to use when referring to the "Overselling of the Microbiome" and related hype. And I came up with one I really really like: microbiomania. The term just captures the essence of hype about microbiomes to me I guess.

So - of course - the first thing to do was to see if anyone else used this term.  And the number one thing I looked at was domain names.  Nope.  Microbiomania.Com and Microbiomania.Org are now mine.  And then I started to search the interwebs. And surprsingly there was not much (in English at least).  But some links showed up to books in Google Books with passages from > 100 years ago.  And this is when the digging got to be fun.  Here are some of the things I found.

1. A section from "The Medical Era"

When copying this section of the search results I discovered Google Books has an embed tool for Google Books though not sure how well it works: here is a try

Anyway - the text of this section of the book reads:

The Paris correspondent of the Chicago Tribune in a recent letter says We hear very little now of microbist or anti microbist theories Dr Koch's so called discovery is regarded with skepticism though not refuted The truth is his assertions are generally held to be not proven Dr Peters the favorite pupil of the great surgeon Dr Trousseau denounces what he calls microbiomania as a social danger and declares that the micro bians doctrine is vain sterile and objectionable in every way as both needlessly alarming and wrongly reassuring 
So I guess there were some folks who did not like the Koch and his silly theories about germs.

2. The Eclectic Medical Journal Volume 48

OCR text:
Microbiomania For five or six years past says Semolla you could not open a journal without encountierng an alleged discovery of one or more pathogenic bacilla and it is not necessary for me to tell you that the surest means of attaining celebrity is to discover in such and such a malady a new bacillus or a minute micrococcus I can not tell you what ridiculous puerilities have been brought forth by the imagination of physicians who are incapable of serious work and according to the rules of experimental medicine mount every new idea as though it were a triumphal car and think that in celebrating and exaggeraring its praises they manifest their love of progress 

Pretty awesome stuff I think.

3. The Louisville Medical Journal also comes up with a hit to microbiomania

Here is the attempt at an embed:

and the OCR interpreted text reads
and microbophobists The feeling against the theory of the microbial origin of cholera is very strong and was expressed by Prof Peter both at the Academy and the School of Medicine in these terms It is a pure satisfaction of natural history to say with the German School that there exists a microbe producer I say that there is a microbe product The parasitic doctrines have engendered a microbiomania which determined a terror which will be the opprobrium of the 19th century
Faris December 12 1884 
Now - nevermind that the OCR is not perfect (where is Faris?).  But not only is this fascinating.  But the beginning of the page has another word that seems worthy of resurrecting: microbophobists,  And this pulls up all sorts of fascinating discussions:

And the related search is perhaps more fascinating: microbophobia

So - in the end I did not come up with a totally new word.  But I do now have two words I really want to use more often and which I will use in the following ways:

  • Microbiomania which I define here as the overselling of the impact (beneficial or detrimental or otherwise) of microbiomes without the evidence to support such impact 
  • Microbophobia which I define here as the overwhelming and unreasonable fear of microbes (of any kinds).  This is similar in concept to "germophobia" but gets around the issue some people have with whether "germ" is a term that should be reserved for pathogens and thus that germophobia could be viewed as the fear of pathogens.  


  1. It is particularly important to view Koch's postulates in their proper rhetorical place; they were Koch's attempts to distinguish himself from other microbiologists, to force them to jump through a series of hoops before declaring that there was some new pathogen causing certain clinical manifestations. His intention was to reduce the discredit brought on infectious disease by minimally founded and unfounded claims. This whole story has been repeated with viruses (Virologists' Dilemma, Heubner 1957). There are probably other variations on the correlation vs disease causation theme as well.

    1. And now again with the microbiome we are encountering the correlation vs causation problem yet again.

  2. As a native speaker of Greek: you might consider changing microbophobia to microbiophobia to maintain the microbio- prefix which is linguistically correct. Suggesting this, before both great terms spread far and wide! :-) Christos Ouzounis

    1. Thanks Christos -- I was trying to stick to what I saw in the Books coming up in searches ..


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