William Bates (physician)

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William Bates
William Horatio Bates.jpg
Born(1860-12-23)December 23, 1860
Newark, New Jersey, United States
DiedJuly 10, 1931(1931-07-10) (aged 70)
New York City, New York, United States
Alma materColumbia University
Known forDeveloping the Bates method
Scientific career

William Horatio Bates (December 23, 1860 – July 10, 1931) was an American physician who practiced ophthalmology and developed what became known as the Bates method for better eyesight,[1] an educational method intended to improve vision by undoing a supposed habitual strain to see. The efficacy of the method is questionable, and his theory that the eye does not focus by changing the power of the lens, but rather by elongating the eyeball, through use of the extraocular oblique muscles, was contradicted by mainstream ophthalmology and optometry of his day and still is today.[2][3]


Bates graduated A.B. from Cornell University in 1881 and received his medical degree at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1885. He formulated a theory about vision health, and published the book Perfect Sight Without Glasses in 1920, and the magazine Better Eyesight from 1919 to 1930. Parts of Bates' approach to correcting vision disorders were based on psychological principles, which were contrary to many of the medical theories of the time and remain so. The Bates method still enjoys some limited acceptance as a modality of alternative medicine.

Bates treated many patients, who claimed to have been cured of vision defects, especially myopia. This brought him into conflict with his peers. He defended himself by claiming that other physicians were in thrall to the establishment.

Bates' publications[edit]

Because the copyrights have expired, the original version of Perfect Sight Without Glasses (or The Cure of Imperfect Sight by Treatment Without Glasses) is now in the public domain. In 1943, an abridged version was published under the title Better Eyesight Without Glasses, which removed some of the most controversial points, such as the claim that "perfectly remembering black"[4] is a suitable substitute for anaesthesia, and recommendations to look at the sun.[2]

Bates' mental health[edit]

Bates appears to have suffered from a strange episode of amnesia (or possibly psychogenic fugue)[original research?], referred to in his obituary,[5] perhaps wrongly as 'a strange form of aphasia'. In 1902, he disappeared, was found, and then disappeared again, only to reappear after his second wife, who searched in vain for him, had died. This episode was said to have given him a particular interest in memory, perhaps influencing the direction of his work.

Personal life[edit]

He was married three times, having been widowed twice. In 1928, he married his third wife, Emily C. Lierman, his long-time personal assistant.

Discovery of the medical use of adrenaline[edit]

Bates did other research. He discovered the astringent and haemostatic properties of the substance produced by the adrenal glands, and its value in medicine, especially in surgeries. The substance was later commercialized as adrenaline.[6]


  1. ^ Edited by Thomas R. Quackenbush. Better Eyesight. The Complete Magazines of William H. Bates. North Atlantic Books, 2001. ISBN 1-55643-351-4.
  2. ^ a b Marg, E. (1952). ""Flashes" of clear vision and negative accommodation with reference to the Bates Method of visual training" (PDF). Am J Opt Arch Am Ac Opt. 29 (4): 167–84. doi:10.1097/00006324-195204000-00001. PMID 14923801. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-05-29.
  3. ^ Russell S. Worrall OD; Jacob Nevyas; Stephen Barrett MD (September 12, 2007). "Eye-Related Quackery". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  4. ^ Wikisource:Perfect Sight Without Glasses/Chapter 19
  5. ^ "Obituary of William H. Bates". New York Times. July 11, 1931.
  6. ^ Bates, William H. (1896). "The Use of Extract of Suprarenal Capsule in the Eye". New York Medical Journal. pp. 647–650.