François Magendie

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François Magendie
François Magendie.jpg
François Magendie in 1822
Born6 October 1783
Bordeaux, France
Died7 October 1855 (aged 72)
Sannois, France
Known forForamen of Magendie
Scientific career
InfluencedClaude 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).

In 1816 he published Précis élementaire de Physiologie which described an experiment first illustrating the concept of empty calories:[1]

I took a dog of three years old, fat, and in good health, and put it to feed upon sugar alone...It expired the 32nd day of the experiment.

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-Largeault's inaugural lesson at the College of France, he responded with much patience, argumenting the reasons of animal experimentation.[2] Besides drawing sharp criticism from contemporaries in both Britain and France, Magendie's methods were later criticized by, among others, Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley.

Colin White credits to Magendie the earliest version of the phrase "Lies, damned lies, and statistics". While arguing against using blood-letting to treat fever, and confronted with statistical numbers he believed to be manufactured, Magendie stated: "Thus the alteration of the truth which is already manifesting itself in the progressive form of lying and perjury, offers us, in the superlative, the statistics."[3]



  1. ^ Ira Wolinsky (1997) Nutrition in Exercise and Sport, 3rd edition, page 22, CRC Press ISBN 0849385601
  2. ^ Anne Fagot-Largeau's inaugural lesson Archived 2007-10-21 at the Wayback Machine at the College of France (in French)
  3. ^ White 1964, p. 15, Ainsi l'altération de la vérité qui se manifeste déjà sous la forme progressive du mensonge et du parjure, nous offre-t-elle, au superlatif, la statistique.


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