Saturday, January 16, 2016

elementary school arithmetic & the history of wartime penicillin

Every account of wartime penicillin is sure to flatly claim that supplies of penicillin for civilians greatly worsened between July and December 1943, after the WPB took charge of all American made penicillin and gave most of it to the Army.

David Parrish Adams, (THE GREATEST GOOD TO THE GREATEST NUMBER) , page 38 and 39, is typical of many.

They usually back their claim with the fact - that I accept - that only 15% of that WPB-controlled supply now went to civilian cases.

But the facts are that between January to the beginning of June 1943, the total amount of American made penicillin available for use on civilians (as well as for a moderate number of military cases) was 400 million units - at most 80 million units a month.

Between July and December 1943, Adams claims the total available to civilian cases was was 500 million units a month - an 600% increase, not a decrease.

If I accept the OSRD's figures (20.5 billion produced over 7 months divided by 15%) I get a slightly lower figure of 445 million a month for civilians, a 550% increase.

A huge 100% of a tiny amount is still almost nothing - in absolute terms - while a tiny 15% of a huge amount is a huge amount, again in absolute terms.

And it is only absolute amounts of penicillin, not relative amounts, that save lives.

Maybe my arithmetic is too complicated for adults, so let me bring it down to the level of a hungry but very clever three year old :

"I hear ya, Sam, but as you can see, ALL of your pizza pop is much less than a third of my 16 inch pizza, but its up to you....."

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