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W H Bates

W H Bates

For full details of Dr Bates, his life and work, please proceed to the links page.

Just a few quick notes here!

William Horatio Bates was born in
graduated from
in general medicine
graduated from
in ophthalmology
worked at
before taking up private practice in New York City.
He published his book, The Cure of Imperfect Eyesight in 1919
and from 1921 - 1931 published the Journal 'Better Eyesight' which comprises a mixture of excerpts from his book and later case notes and other writings
He died in 1931

It is important to repeat these simple facts at regular intervals as many opponents of the Bates Method like to begin their attacks by asserting that Dr Bates was an unqualified quack (eg. Prof Patrick Trevor-Roper, some years ago interviewed on BBC Radio4).

It is perfectly true that his theories and methods were extremely controversial: he was (as recounted in his book) dismissed from his instructor post at the Postgraduate School of Ophthalmology in New York, for unorthodoxy - but he never lost his license to practise medicine (despite a near miss in the late 1920s involving his partnership with the naturopath Bernarr MacFadden) and his early cv shows that, so far from being unqualified he was regarded as one of the finest eye doctors in New York!

It may well be that his difficulty with the authorities may in any case have had less to do with his work and theories than with his private life! He was married at least twice, probably more, at a time when straight-laced New York society embraced throughly victorian values. (The composer, Scriabin, who had followed his friends Rachmanivov and Hoffmann to the USA in the 1920s experienced professional ruin becuase he arrived with a mistress instead of a wife!)

In relation to the problems of eyesight, so far from being 'unscientific' as is sometimes claimed, it would be true to say that Dr Bates applied scrupulously scientific method, in insisting that theory should always reflect all of the facts as currently understood. He objected to the habit among medical people of distorting or ignoring inconvenient facts in order to support a cherished theory and in that light it is safe to assume that, were he still among us, he would be the first to revise his thoughts in the light of new understandiing,

Interestingly, however, as time goes on, many of the new facts and insight discovered in relation tend increasingly to support Dr Bates' essential tenet, that eyesight is responsive to circumstances and influenced by habits fo use, and not purely an accident of birth. This is the practical point which should concern anyone interested in the possibility of improving sight.

In my view, far too much has been made, on both sides of the discussion, of the anatomical theory of accommodation on the one hand, and the necessity of discarding glasses on the other: however, technical discussions of the merits of various aspects of the method belong elsewhere!

The genius of Dr Bates really consisted in his naive persistence in asking, and continuing to ask, the simple question - 'Why?'.