Innovation II

In 1601, an English sea captain did a controlled experiment to test whether lemon juice could prevent scurvy.  He had four ships, three control and one experimental.  The experimental group got three teaspoons of lemon juice a day while the control group received none. No one in the experimental group developed scurvy while 110 out of 278 in the control group died of scurvy. Nevertheless, citrus juice was not fully adopted to prevent scurvy until 1865.

Overwhelming evidence of superiority is not sufficient to drive innovation.

Source: Diffusion of Innovations

4 thoughts on “Innovation II

  1. Another example is the history of the typewriter. Even ignoring earlier developments, when the first American patent was made in 1829, it wasn’t until the invention of touch-typing in 1878 and its teaching that typewriters took off. As the late Dr Harlan Mills observed, even Lincoln wrote to Stanton in long hand.

  2. The story is a little more complex If I recall. Initially the navy seemed to have understood the connection between lemon and scurvy. As a result lemon were a common fare as they were brought from Sicily. As the Empire extended, lemon got replaced by West Indian lime as it looked the same. Except it is not the same, lime does not contain as much vitamin C. This information got lost because by the time the switch happened, ships were going faster and the issue of scurvy (because of long journeys) was no longer a concern, except … in long research expeditions such that of Scott to the South Pole (1905).

  3. Igor of 2011:

    While what you describe did happen, it’s not relevant to the post because it happened well afterward. The British Royal Navy first required a lemon juice ration (called, in the language of the time, “lime juice”, but made with what we know as lemons today) in 1799. At that time, scurvy was still a major problem. They switched to limes (also called “limes” at the time, so you can sort of see how this happened) in 1860, by which point their ships were fast enough, and their normal scheduling light enough, that scurvy wasn’t a risk — which masked the fact that the new lime juice was ineffective in preventing it.

    BUT… James Lancaster made this observation, that three spoons of lemon juice a day was 100% effective (!) at preventing scurvy, in 1601. Thousands upon thousands of seamen died over the next few hundred years because the Navy paid no attention. Technical snafus in 1860 are not an excuse for messing up so badly 260 years beforehand.

    So no, the navy did not “initially” understand the connection between lemons and scurvy, despite the fact that it had been known to outsiders since at least the early 1500s.

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