Historical Expertise

What Killed King Tut, Another Guess

A new article claims yet again to have discovered the disease that killed King Tutankhamun: Familial Epilepsy in the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty (probably behind a paywall, so see this report or this one). Diagnosing King Tut’s illness is a favorite pasttime amongst scientists and physicians, see these claims and more here.

This latest effort combines a naive reading of historical sources with hypothetical identification of mummies and a comfortable dismissal of non-scientific expertise. Further, the author seems all to ready to see what he wants to see (much like the various physians who have studied Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel). The rejection of historical methods vitiates the articles conlcusions. Regrettably, the popular press has already picked up on this article and reported its conclusions as if they were defensible.

The publication of this article raises a broader questions: Why do science and medical journals, in this case the no doubt expensive Epilepsy & Behavior, publish such articles? Is their arrogance such that they deny other forms of expertise or such that they believe their expertise extends to all domains?