François Magendie

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For the Navy officer, see Jean-Jacques Magendie
François Magendie
François Magendie.jpg
François Magendie in 1822
Born 6 October 1783
Bordeaux
Died 7 October 1855
Sannois
Nationality French
Fields Physiology
Known for Foramen of Magendie
Influenced Claude Bernard

François Magendie (6 October 1783 – 7 October 1855) was a French physiologist, considered a pioneer of experimental physiology. He is known for describing the foramen of Magendie. There is also a Magendie sign, a downward and inward rotation of the eye due to a lesion in the cerebellum. Magendie was a faculty at the College of France, holding the Chair of Medicine from 1830 to 1855 (he was succeeded by Claude Bernard, who worked previously as his assistant).

His most important contribution to science was also his most disputed. Contemporaneous to Sir Charles Bell, Magendie conducted a number of experiments on the nervous system, in particular verifying the differentiation between sensory and motor nerves in the spinal cord, the so-called Bell-Magendie law. This led to an intense rivalry, with the British claiming that Bell published his discoveries first and that Magendie stole his experiments. The intensity of this scientific rivalry perhaps can only be compared to that between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke.

Magendie was also a notorious vivisector, shocking even many of his contemporaries with the live dissections that he performed at public lectures in physiology. Richard Martin, an Irish MP, in introducing his famous bill banning animal cruelty in the United Kingdom, described Magendie's public dissection of a greyhound, in which the beast was nailed down ear and paw, half the nerves of its face dissected then left overnight for further dissection, calling Magendie a "disgrace to Society." There was a belief among British physicians, even those who defended animal experimentation, that Magendie purposely subjected his experimental animals to needless torture. A Quaker once visited him, questioning him about vivisection; according to Anne Fagot-Largeau's inaugural lesson at the College of France, he responded with much patience, argumenting the reasons of animal experimentation.[1] Besides drawing sharp criticism from contemporaries in both Britain and France, later scientists critical of Magendie's methods included Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley. He was also a major impetus to the antivivisection and vivisection reform movements, with Albert Leffingwell dedicating a chapter of his book An Ethical Problem to him.

The one-sided story told by Richard Martin had received a "full-refutation", but widely circulated in animal rights circle as fact. See: François Magendie, pioneer in experimental physiology ... .by Olmsted, J.M.D. (1944) p. 141

In 1831, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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