The birth of the Pandemic Waves theory took place some time between 1857 and 1861.  Its initiator was Robert [Lawsen] Lawson, a medical topography and Military General working for the Royal Military.

In terms of his official status and relationship with Royalty at the time he became well known for this theory, Lawson was not a military leader married into the royal line or into any of the numerous indirect Royal families that existed from the time.  At the time of this work he was not Knighted by Royalty and so could be known by the prefix Sir.  He was simple higher member of the military.  Nevertheless, this enabled him, to make his own personal discoveries and take a stance on these discoveries, even when at times they seemed a little too different for many to be fully comfortable with such hypotheses.  Nevertheless, it was not unusual for a single accomplishment, finding, discovery or action to receive the respect that Lawson accomplished with his theory.  Even though there were minimal lines of high support backing up his claims for the Pandemic Waves theory, Lawson’s theory lack enough proof to lead any listeners in some other direction.  We could neither find more evidence independently on our own to fully support Lawson’s findings and claims, nor was there anyone to have the audacity and bravery needed disprove or cast aside Lawson’s incredible theory for disease development and migration.

To some, Lawson’s theory hinted at Isaac Newton’s history within the Great Britain science world, and so too did Lawson’s theory for disease elude to Newton, as it effectively drew in some of those concepts that Newton had previously fully educated the British in two centuries earlier.  One of the amazing probabilities of relationships that could be drawn if Lawson’s theory was true is that such a bad thing as disease was a result of natural forces at stake, the fact that disease was due to some sort of balance in the universal, energy, power, force or what have you, whatever vital force concept and natural energy field you believed in for the time.

Lawson’s theory is also one of the first to take a bold step in another direction than the traditional philosophies had taken to date.  Whereas the yellow fever philosophy benefited from the improved understanding of latitude and longitude in relation to disease that we obtained due to its history, and the various behavioral attributes of endemic disease patterns versus epidemic disease patterns and the nature of the seasons and the relative placement of the earth relative to the sun in regard to our disease patterns, Asiatic cholera on the other hand too the very topographic, maritime nature of the yellow fever epidemic and cast much of this aside as it displayed a very linear flow pattern, one that stood out over the flow pattern of fevers so often recorded by earlier medical topographers and climatologists.  Cholera also added people to the equation used to determine risk for that epidemic disease patterns.  During the 1830s, as we recovered from the theory that formed about epidemics like yellow fever, typhoid, malaria, and numerous other  causes for fevers, attempts to define the geography of Asiatic cholera were being attempted and these depended more upon the remaining elements of nature, physical or metaphysical, to explain such an epidemic pattern.

One other consequence that would ultimately ensue from the study of the fevers, and then the diarrhea, like dysentery, cholera and asiatic cholera, was the realization that diseases themselves may be temporal in nature, that the diarrhea epidemics ensue after the fever epidemics as a consequence of nature and people, a behavior that would recur from one place to the next, as if such a sequential pattern of epidemics was one of the hidden natural laws yet to be revealed.  The concept of sequential disease patterns fit in with the much earlier theory out there already proposed by Benjamin Rush nearly 90 years earlier–the notion that different “species” of humans could reside on one piece of land, as if in succession with one another, due mostly to the ongoing development of a place being resided in.  On an earlier page I reviewed this as a very early example of the sequent occupancy theory for settlement out there, one proposed a century before the same ideology would be reborn due to the work of late 19th and early to mid-20th century geographers.

Benjamin Rush’s Speciation Stages of developing living settings and the changing disease type theory proposed by 1860 were never fully merged yet in the medical literature, but such an event was on its way to happening.  Meanwhile, Lawson had developed his concrete theory as to why epidemics behave the way they do, using some sort of universal energy based theory focused on the magnetism of the earth’s body as the cause for this behavior.  In Lawson’s theory, we see important very early versions of a philosophy of disease that has several times reached the popular culture world.

Returning or recurring epidemics has often attracted those who consider themselves to be highly skilled as predictors or futurists.  In the early 1900s, the study of cycles reached a peak when it came to trying to predict such things as farm produce and stock market investing in the most common crops and other farm-produced commodities.  This interest in cycles returned on and off throughout the 20th century, rejuvenating itself when the El Nino effect became a popular proof of global cyclic patterns.  Whereas earlier cycle theorists wanted to blame such events as sunspot cycles for effects upon climate, mood, behavior, 1980s and 1990s scientists were now doing the same using the sunspots and their impacts upon climate, in combination with the Mexico-Peru history of recognition for an El Nino/La Nina weather pattern.  Scientists linked this to the flow of water in the pacific Ocean, and when and where the upwelling of the richest, coldest water took place off the coast of Peru, thereby influencing the flow of water all over the Pacific Rim of the Americas, even impacting the Pacific Ocean at large, and in turn causing the large mesocyclones placed over ocean waters to move north-south, east-west, thereby influencing when and where clouds could now form, and where the most important seasonal storms might fall.  They used this theory to define where crops could become more successful due to precipitation changes, and where drught could result in serious losses of food crops, followed by local livestock and even human lives due to disease and starvation.

So, based on this recent theory that has evolved into what it is now, Lawson’s theory of the magnetic field effect on the earth’s surface, from south end to north end, is not that far from what was known for the time about the diseases and their behaviors, and how at times they seemed to engage in some sort of predictable, cyclical pattern at times, not due to sunspots, or that last time a comet or meteor storm made its way across the night sky, but due simple to the earth’s magnetic field, something that has always been there, but yet we paid little attention to in terms of how its behaviors relate to human health.

Lawson’s Theory – Part 2.

So far I have described how Lawson’s map came to be, how he produced it, and what theory he based it upon.  The next questions to ask are ‘why did it become popular? and why so briefly?

Robert Lawson’s Pandemic Waves Theory states that there are these “waves” of energy flowing across the earth’s surface, from south to north, from one pole to the next, crossing the equator, and behaving in such a unique that is mostly unidirectional due to the nature of these influences and the source of their energy–the earth’s internally produced magnetism.  These forces could also change their flow periodically and tend to fluctuate, as observed by the compass.  These fluctuations in turn could move any by-products of the earth’s energy in different ways, different directions, due to changes in the isoclines defining this magnetic energy.  The by-products included such things as living objects, the power of life, and the power of disease in life, or the theoretical “miasma.”  This is exactly the theory that Lawson used to explain the discrepancies that sometimes emerged when cholera migrated around the earth in unexpected ways and/or suddenly developed into its more fatal, malignant form.

Its fit the paradigm developing around this time by the German geographers, whose influences extended well beyond the medical fields of regular medicine and epidemiology.


2.  Malaria disease (disease processes generated by specific telluric atmospheric miasma)

  • Wechselfieber (Intermittent)
  • Gelbes Fieber (Yellow)
  • Cholera
  • Pest (possible Plague, but other lice, flea, fly, etc. related conditions are possible)
  • Ruhr (Dysentery)


These metaphysical teachings also led to several historical events in medicine for the time.  Homeopathy became quite popular during these years due to the strong following of the philosophy underlying Samuel Hahnemman’s claims as to why homeopathy works.  The zymotic theory of disease was very much alive and active, and vaccinations were now quite strongly promoted, and found to be effective for diseases other than the pox, such as diphtheria and scarlet fever.  How so small a bit of material could have such a major effect on the body led to explanations that required theories like that posed by Lawson to develop and be promoted.  Because Lawson was a regular doctor, not a homeopathy, regular physicians could not necessarily denounce his conclusions and claims, since they were more occupied with the overall homeopathic issue.

The way for medicine to make amends for the damage to the regular medical profession that homeopaths were producing, was to develop a philosophy for the practice of “rational medicine.”  Proofs were needed in order for new theories to be accepted and new treatments to be commenced.  This philosophy came about due to the writings of a researcher and sometimes critic of homeopathy–Sir John Phelps.  Both Samuel Hahnemann’s philosophy and Carl Friedrich Canstatt’s nosology provided the details needed to support Lawson’s theories.  Since Lawson’s theory was based on practical experience and observation, regular doctors found it hard to protest since they lacked similar experiences.

Moreover, one probably wondered at the time ‘how could someone other than a physician like Lawson have the experiences needed for such a discovery to be made?’

The prevalence of Fevers, Cholera, and Dysentery and the south versus north hemispheric differences in diffusion behavior were already observed by Lawson, who blamed these behaviors on some unique north-south differences involving the the earth’s core to surface (telluric).  It is safe to assume that Canstatt’s work is probably also an earlier example of the continuation of theories first proposed for terrestrial magnetism by Faraday in 1832.  Unlike Lawson, Canstatt never produced a map on this observations, so we cannot be sure of this conclusion.  However, we can state almost with certainty that Lawson produced the first map depicting and explaining the telluric theory as a global phenomenon involving the earth’s magnetic field.  Of course it differed very little, if at all, from the isolines map that Faraday’s workproduced, but no matter, Lawson was the first to link this behavior to disease patterns, and the many event that he witness that seemed to prove his theory was true.  Lawson therefore spent the rest of his life detailing the numerous epidemic patterns, at very small and well localized levels, that seemed to prove his theory was correct


Four renderings of the Earth’s magnetic field, past and present printings (the oldest is in the upper left).  Note the relationship between direction and isoclines in upper left image; the lower right image is a summation of those North to South isoclines.  These resemble Lawson’s pandemic isoclines illustration.


Medical Reform

The History of Reform.  Lawson’s theory become popular between 1861 and 1865 because it symbolized the medical reform that had taken place numerous times before, but now following a much newer path.

In 1840, Sir John Phelps wrote an essay on the water cure.  This half-supporting, half-critical writing recited its value and purpose, provided an exaggeration of it uses, noting it to sometimes be worthless methods tdue to the incurability of certain diseases.  The same John Phelps six years later wrote Homoeopathy, allopathy, and “young physic”, bringing into the spotlight what he considered to be the need for more statistically-based, truth-driven medical research and practices.  He called this a new form of learning and engaging in medical practices “Rational Medicine.”

Another famous homeopath converted to allopathy during this period as well, and he too was a disease mapper.  Between 1856 and 1860, John Charles Peters, a great supporter of homeopathy, left this field.   Prior to then, he was practicing both regular and homeopathic medicine, but the homeopaths were by then divided into the purists, who felt homeopathy alone has to be practiced, and those regular MDs who wanted to use it in replacement of other more caustic or volatile forms of administering medicines and treatments promoted by allopathy.  This mixing of the two fields began around 1837, when it was introduced to New York City and then Philadelphia. (The first few years were mostly taught, published and learned in the German dialect, and was taught in Allentown, PA and New York City until about 1845; numerous physicians produced their own translations of these German writings for their local communities and promising patients to read.) When this split in the field became troublesome to leaders like John C. Peters, he left homeopathy and began to promote medical geography and sanitation theory and teachings.

Even though medicine had finally come to grips with the role of its hard core scientific methods, there were still splits in the field of medicine as a whole regarding certain aspects of the traditional allopathic philosophy.  The greatest split in the regular MD profession involved the physicians versus the metaphysicians, or physical medicine experts versus what had become known as vitalists.  The physical science MDs focused on natural law and natural sciences to prove their points.  The MDs devoted to metaphysical, non-physical practices relied upon theory.  This included those doctors devoted to electric healing practices during the 1860s, even into the late 1890s.  Doctors more into the physical world had a hard time understanding and accepting the vital force theory of life being promoted by homeopaths and others.  As a consequence they were more aggressive in their political activities taken against homeopathy, and less aggressive against the lone exception out there for the time in allopathy–Robert Lawson and his unique energy theory for disease based on Faraday’s Laws.

Applying the Past to Today.  In recent years, this new way of proving outcomes is term evidence-based medicine.  With evidence based medicine, the focus in theory shifts to reviewing the outcomes of a therapeutic method, paying less attention to the underlying theories for why the method work, yet always still searching for a proof as to why the process is effective, at least based on traditional physical science theories.  If Lawson were to come up with his theory today, we have to wonder how different the criticisms might be against it.  One has to wonder – what evidence did Lawson base his final theory upon?

During the late 1860s and 1870s, a period of just a few years, Lawson’s theory failed to maintain much of any following.  Some of the claims included in his hypothesis just didn’t seem to fit the observations being made for the time.  Ultimately, this led to its failures to thrive in the intellectual world, and what few followers he had that continued to pass on this knowledge, ultimately died off and so too did Lawson’s fame and legacy of being a metaphysically minded radical in the medical world disappear from the professional writings.

Lawson’s few followers provide us with some important insights into this theory, and ourselves, enough for us to draw parallels between Lawson’s theories and the reactions to it, with the other theories for disease that exist today.  The comet-based theory for viral evolution, the El Nino theory for severe weather pattern changes and cyclicity, the UFO theory for the development of past life experiences, all have certain aspects to them that resemble seemingly ludicrous nature of Lawson’s for the time.

This piece of medical history also tells us that one of the things about knowledge in a profession is that it always reaches a stage when experts are defined and unusual theories begin to emerge due to the work of others.

These theories tend to take one finding and use it to deduce another related to another line of thinking.

In health statistics this refers to a kind of error known as ecological error.  Ecological error occurs when you see a relationship happening and are in search as to why, and draw the conclusion that events A and B because they are always are occurring together in relation to outcome C, that they are the cause for C.  The truth later to be found is that there is a relationship going on, but not the one deduced, based on a given cause and effect relationship hypothesized to exist.

There are many possible reasons for ecological error.  In mapping, the human perception of the way something appears on a map gives us this special insight or interpretation of what we are viewing, that due to a personal background in knowledge and a certain amount of self-certainty that others may be lacking, you become certain that you have found the “truth” so to speak.

By far the most common example of this in medicine in general is the discovery of a new cure, such as to cancer or weight loss.  The cures that are discovered are always based on a philosophy and some observations out there about why something is working, and the truth is it might work in some particular cases, but not in all, and then to use those cases as examples to market the product to everyone.  The Essaic Remedy, Laetrile, Lorenzo’s Oil, Bayer’s Teething Formula all have this kind of history.  For Essaic, the remedy when applied to a surface of a growth decomposed any and all flesh, not just cancer.  Laetrile worked once, but could never be duplicated.  Lorenzo’s Oil worked for a short time in eliminating certain spasms and palsy symptoms,  then your body adjusted to it.  Heroin prevented your baby from crying due to teething pain, and eliminated your need for morphine, but was later found to be 40 times more addicting.  Mistakes are made based on the knowledge base and observations at hand for the time.


Human behavior has crept in at this point, and perhaps a little self-centeredness and ethnocentricity.  Canstatt defined “tellurisch atmosphärische Miasmen” as the cause for some diseases, and in fact, Lawson’s telluric or earth-born nature of miasma may not at all be different from Canstatt’s, depending upon how much of the vital force concept was included in Canstatt’s paradigm.  Lawson’s philosophy most certainly depended upon some natural or vital force to cause the epidemic.  It many be focused more on this than on physical matter in the form taken by miasma, which Canstatt’s philosophy relies upon as well in certain parts.  Since Canstatt’s work, scientists learned a little more about the chemical and the particulate or atomic substance of matter.

These same two paradigms of physical matter versus energy were in conflict with each other numerous times before in  centuries prior, for example:

  • 18th C–Isaac Newton’s philosophy about the earth, gravity and his largely mechanical based theory of the spinning universe, was later countered by Cadwallader Colden who rewrote of Newtonianism and paid more attention to the vital principle of matter than Newton, developing an international following as a result and helping researchers to realize the power related to life and living, even in the smallest animals.
  • 19th C–Numerous American physicians gave theories that resemble the different parts of Canstatt nosology, such as defining diseases that ensue as a result of meteoric events, thunder-lightning activities, meteor showers and comets, and sunspot activity.

It also helps to note that over time, two definitions for “telluric” developed.  Each of these would somehow related to each of the theories being compared by Canstatt and Lawson.

Telluric (def):

  • of or relating to the earth
  • being or relating to a usually natural electric current flowing near the earth’s surface

Exactly when the second version of this definition became common defines the amount of innovation seen within Lawson’s hypothesis.

If we look at the nosology and dendrogram of the medical geographer’s disease theories over time, we learn how people change their points of view, develop strong followers, form stronger arguments for their points, and find still more followers and believers, followed by newer thinkers who then redefine the theorem, further promote it, and provide new and innovative ways to make use of these newest discoveries.  Lawson’s work constitutes a third or fourth stage in the development of medical geography theories for disease.  Whereas during the 1600s diseases were blamed on such theoretical substances as “Miasma” (all of the prior time), the 1700s and early 1800s made place and disease a reason it could be true–weather and topography–then the yellow fever and cholera epidemics provided numerous examples of support for this theory, with cholera adding significantly to the yellow fever findings, making the geographic theory for disease better localized and exact.  By the time Lawson developed his theory in the years after the grand cholera epidemic of 1846-1857, a century later, much had changed.

In terms of specifics, the theory for diseases based on metaphysical and physical observations too the following steps in change and maturation of a theory that ultimately rules the changes the medical profession and people at large would endure over time:

  • “aether” (1680, post-Newton) and miasma (post-Aristotle, B.C.E.)
  • the two miasma types iatro and koino (1800-1815),
  • the various forms of miasma created due to further exploration of knowledge due to diseases like yellow fever which was totally spatial and two three to four dimensional on the surface of the earth (1797-1823)
  • followed by cholera, which was more linear in its behaviors, not diffusive (1816-1835),
  • the merged theory and nosology of miasma is developed by scholars (1847),
  • the more solidified components of the miasma nosology are deduced due to the third cholera epidemic of 1848-1853/7
  • the resulting observations lead to the sense of a need for more small incremental changes

Bringing all of this back to the topic of Medical Geography – – Lawson’s theory developed as a result of the increasingly greater span of knowledge we had in the natural sciences, and the avenues that we can take with this knowledge.  Lawson decided to take this logic in such a way so as to result in his unique new discovery.  Other practitioners into disease mapping did very much the same–their maps was sometimes the product of their own personal point of view about things.  We see these same events for example taking place with Henry Bowditch when he develop his tuberculosis map and blamed it on the soil, or Haviland who used the map to develop his soil-geology-theory based cancer map.  In each of these cases, maps enabled a following to develop in the particular teachings of medicine, epidemiology and disease patterns being promoted.

This also suggest to us that in medicine, maps have the following effects of readers and the field’s learners and potential leaders:

  1. Maps direct the fields next routes for the pursuit of knowledge.  Maps are either accepted or they are refuted and even thrown into the trash so to speak.  It then becomes the character and charisma of the cartographer, his/her intelligence and respect received from colleagues that either allows this discovery to remain in the press and to become common, or die out a slow death or be passed on into oblivion, with no further mention of its existence.
  2. Maps increase the credibility of the theory being posed.  This means that these maps have a unique power that words alone do not have, nor do any of the many other ways we have of presenting things without the use of maps.  Drawings, illustrations, tables, charts, and figures of something other than space and time sometimes just don’t convince those who are skeptics to change their mind.  The use of a map adds another point of view or dimension to the argument already out there, enabling some arguers or debaters to find their answers and develop their following.
  3. Maps give us something to post information on and ti improve our memory of what we’ve been taught.  The human mind is predominantly left-brained in society and even though there are pictures, dendrograms, charts, etc. for use to see and to try to understand some meaning for, we rarely get an opportunity to have a place to post each of the tidbits of knowledge we are being taught.  Without maps, the scholars and scientists who attempt to review a tough topic have only a few ways to go to draw their conclusions.  The much older medical cartographic way of thinking about disease and health, still practiced in how we learn anatomy and physiology, but ignored when it comes to learning a certain side of the disease and ecology paradigm, produces unfortunate limits to how much we can know and remember on down the line.  Without a map, a pathologist interested in international health is always going to have limits to face in how limited his/her advancements in knowledge could become, if hs/she doesn’t incorporate some right hemispheric thinking.
  4. Maps give  us an avenue to take for developing new models, new theories, new philosophies, all of these based on right or wrong thinking sometimes.  A map can convince someone of a “truth” out there that the cartographer feels has to exist.  Whereas everyone else believes that cartographer’s claim is wrong, before seeing his/her map, once the map is displayed, acceptance and the redevelopment of basic beliefs begin.  In the latter stages of the development of the medical cartography profession prior to the germ/bacterial theory development in 1881, the medical map produced the evidence we needed to prove a claim about certain disease patterns to be true.

Between 1850 and 1881, maps facilitated our knowledge acquisition and learning of the rapidly growing, increasingly complex fields of

  • microbiology (formerly animalcules),
  • medical meteorology,
  • medical topography,
  • sanitation science,
  • human tissue/organ histology and pathology,
  • disease ecology/environmental health research,
  • epidemiology and the improved understanding of endemic versus epidemic diseases, the relationship between space,
  • occupation type and diseases, or early environmental and occupational disease research, and
  • epizootic (animal-human) and enzootic (animal only) disease study.

Maps added to the sense that medicine and health care in general were requiring people with more and more specialization in their knowledge base and philosophy.  The first oculists and dentists were running about during the 1790s in the United States.  The first syphilologist proclaimed his specialty sometime in the 1820s or 1830s, with more science to back up his claims and explanations to the public than were beheld by the Urologists, who were common to Dutch non-traditional medicine in the late 1600s and early 1700s (they read the crystals and other forms seen in glass containers filled with urine).

Lawson’s mapping also shows us how sometimes, the acquisition of a lot of knowledge becomes the basis for long period of midguided thinking and intelligence.  The many “errors” made in the field of medicine in general often occur due to this common human behavior. I described why smoking was health in the 1930s and 40s, or why a morbidly obese physician taking care of your child in the 1950s was so accepted.  All parents wanted their child to be as financially and intellectually successful as him or her some day!

Lawson’s map is presented here from a fair to poor version of the map that could be found, in an electronic version of Lawson’s book on Google Books.  This is followed by the much more legible and understandable version of this map produced by a great admirer and follower of Lawson’s work, Doctor and Missionarian Robert William Felkin.



Felkin’s map depicting Lawson’s isoclines


Lawson's Map with Felkin's


Once Lawson’s map was published, the opportunities for expanding upon this topic became available.  A considerable number of medical geographers mentioned Lawson’s work and tried to incorporate some of his teachings into their personal theories for disease.

At the time, Lawson’s explanation was considered to be one of the newest and perhaps best by some writers.  The critics of Lawson’s theory, interestingly, have a verbiage to them that looks and sounds very much like John Snow’s comments made about another medical disease mapper, John Lea.  This demonstrate that personality and subjectivity played the most important roles in map-production, map interpretation, and either acceptance or rejection of the theory being proposed by the map in question.

An important difference here between John Lea and Robert Lawson is that had more credentials, and in the right fields.  Lawson was a Military surgeon, with all the training and glamour attached to such a position for the time.  He based much of his mapping n direct experience and experiences shared with him by his colleagues in the military.  Like other great medical writers for the time, Lawson was trained in the other natural resources of life such as soil, geology, botany and zoology, but he was more closely tied to the physics of weather and climate, and the relationship between the earth spinning on its axis and the other planets it interacted with energetically, by gravity, reflected light and magentism.

In retrospect, even though Lawson’s theory seems to many of us today to sound ludicrous, it in fact was one of the better explanation in existence for some diseases at the time it was published, and a good example of ecological error and the Occam’s razor effect (looking at the details to such an extent that you associate two things together that don’t relate).

The following are sections of Lawson’s map depicted next to the more clearly illustrated map segment by Felkin.















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