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What’s Your Scurvy?

We don’t talk a lot about scurvy these days. Vitamin C deficiency is still a thing, but other things feel more interesting and urgent a quarter of the way into this century.

Go back in time, and it’s a different thing altogether. We find evidence of it recorded as far back as 1500 BC, and by the 15th Century, 3000 years later, scurvy was the major cause of death and disability among sailors on long sea voyages.

If you were a British sea captain, Royal Navy, or Merchant Marine, scurvy was a big deal. Running and protecting a global empire was hard if a third of your workforce died on every voyage.

Fortunately, help was on the way (3000 years late!)

In 1601, Captain James Lancaster ran the first controlled experiment to tame the scurvy.

Four ships left England to sail to India. The sailors on one of the boats took regular doses of lemon juice. On the other three, it was business as usual.

What happened?

110 of the 278 sailors on the three “lemon-free” boats died before the halfway point.

Everyone made it to India on the fourth ship. (This is how British sailors become known as “Limeys”)

Wow. That’s pretty persuasive. Except the Royal Navy did nothing.

Fast forward to 1753. Surgeon James Lind repeats the research and publishes a gripping treatise entitled “A Treatise of the Scurvy.” He makes the same observations

Still crickets.

In 1795, a brief forty years later, Dr. Gilbert Blane was appointed physician of the fleet. He has the full support of The Eminent Admiral Sir George Rodney.

The most powerful navy on earth finally adopts the cure for scurvy, which is wiped out overnight.

It was such a miracle that the Merchant Marine only took another 70 years (1865) to finally adopt the cure for scurvy.

I’ve said this before. Never mistake a clear view for a short distance. Good ideas need more than “good” to get across the finish line. However smart Lancaster and Lind were, they failed as persuaders and influencers.

People buy for their own reasons, not yours.

What’s your scurvy?