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William Bates

For the politician, see William H. Bates. For the ship named after the same, see USS William H. Bates (SSN-680).

  William Horatio Bates (December 23, 1860 - July 10, 1931) was an American physician and ophthalmologist who developed what is now known as the Bates Method for better eyesight [1], an educational method intended to improve vision by undoing a supposed habitual strain to see. The efficacy of the method is questionable, and his theory that the eye does not focus by changing the power of the lens, but rather by elongating the eyeball, through use of the extraocular oblique muscles, was contradicted by mainstream ophthalmology and optometry of his day and is still today. [2]



Bates graduated A.B. from Cornell University in 1881 and received his medical degree at the college of physicians and surgeons in 1885. As an ophthalmologist, he formulated a theory about vision health, and published the book Perfect Sight Without Glasses in 1920. Parts of Bates' approach to correcting vision disorders were based on psychological principles, which was contrary to many of the medical theories of the time and remain so. The Bates Method still enjoys some limited acceptance as a modality of alternative medicine.

Bates treated many patients, who claimed to have been cured of vision defects, especially myopia. This brought him into conflict with his peers. He defended himself by claiming that other physicians were in thrall to the establishment. From Chapter 32 of Perfect Sight Without Glasses:[3]

Neither by reasoning, nor by actual demonstration of the facts, can you convince some people that an opinion which they have accepted on authority is wrong.

He concludes the chapter:

Between 1886 and 1891 I was a lecturer at the Post Graduate Hospital and Medical School. The head of the institution was Dr. D. B. St. John Roosa. He was the author of many books, and was honored and respected by the whole medical profession. At the school they had got the habit of putting glasses on the nearsighted doctors, and I had got the habit of curing them without glasses. It was naturally annoying to a man who had put glasses on a student to have him appear at a lecture without them and say that Dr. Bates had cured him. Dr. Roosa found it particularly annoying, and the trouble reached a climax one evening at the annual banquet of the faculty when, in the presence of one hundred and fifty doctors, he suddenly poured out the vials of his wrath upon-my head. He said that I was injuring the reputation of the Post Graduate by claiming to cure myopia. Every one knew that Donders said it was incurable, and I had no right to claim that I knew more than Donders. I reminded him that some of the men I had cured had been fitted with glasses by himself. He replied that if he had said they had myopia he had made a mistake. I suggested further investigation. "Fit some more doctors with glasses for myopia," I said, "and I will cure them. It is easy for you to examine them afterwards and see if the cure is genuine." This method did not appeal to him, however. He repeated that it was impossible to cure myopia, and to prove that it was impossible he expelled me from the Post Graduate, even the privilege of resignation being denied to me.

The fact is that, except in rare cases, man is not a reasoning being. He is dominated by authority, and when the facts are not in accord with the view imposed by authority, so much the worse for the facts. They may, and indeed must, win in the long run; but in the meantime the world gropes needlessly in darkness and endures much suffering that might have been avoided.

Bates' personal life

Bates appears to have suffered from a strange episode of amnesia (or possibly psychogenic fugue), referred to in his obituary,[4] perhaps wrongly as 'a strange form of aphasia'. He disappeared, was found, and then disappeared again, only to reappear after his second wife, who searched in vain for him, had died. This episode was said to have given him a particular interest in memory, perhaps influencing the direction of his work. He was married three times, the last time being, in 1928, to the widow Emily C. Lierman, who had been for many years his assistant. In 1943 she published an abridged version of his book Perfect Sight Without Glasses, under the title Better Eyesight Without Glasses.

Discovery of adrenaline

Bates did other serious research, and is famous for discovering a substance produced by the suprarenal gland which later would be commercialized as adrenaline. His report was published in the New York Medical Journal in May, 1886.

See also


  1. ^ Edited by Thomas R. Quackenbush. Better Eyesight. The complete Magazines of William H. Bates. North Atlantic Books, 2001. ISBN 1-55643-351-4.
  2. ^ Robyn E. Bradley. "ADVOCATES SEE ONLY BENEFITS FROM EYE EXERCISES", The Boston Globe (MA), September 23, 2003. 
  3. ^ William Bates. Perfect Sight Without Glasses, Chapter 32.
  4. ^ Obituary of William H. Bates. New York Times (July 11, 1931).

Free books and articles by Dr. W. H. Bates

  • Perfect Sight Without Glasses (unabridged book)
  • Better Eyesight magazine (from 1919 to 1930)


  • Brief biography of William H. Bates MD.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William_Bates". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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