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LI 804: Classifying Diseases in Dewey

LI 804: Classifying Diseases in Dewey

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Published by: Kelli Gilmore Doubledee on Jul 15, 2012
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Classifying Diseases in DeweyLI804, Spring, 2011Kelli DoubledeeMicrosoft Word Version 7The Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index (DDC) has contained structurallyingrained cultural biases throughout its evolution. Melvil Dewey, with his ideas shaped possiblyby the environment of which he was a part, transferred certain unavoidable views into the DDC.T
hose views, although he acknowledges, “the
inverted Baconian arrangement of the St. Louis
Library has been followed”
(Dewey 10), are historical accounts of a predominately white,Anglo-Saxon view of the world and possible reflections of the Amherst College curriculum in1873. Evidence of this reflection can be found in the preface to the 1876 edition in which hedescribes the three years trial of DDC usage at Amherst College (1870),
“Much valuable aid has
been rendered by specialists in many departments, and nearly every member of the Faculty has
given advice from time to time” (
Dewey 9). More importantly, he points out the mere bias of hisplan in the
 preface, “Throughout the catalogues the number of a book shows not only where it is
what it is”
; therefore we know that means one has to make a decision of one number for eachitem; A decision which has continued to reflect the biases of the state power and result in thegrowth of the Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index to its current size.The state power which Gramsci defines as the mechanism by which the higher, eliteimparts it views upon the lower classes without them knowing, is one reason for the biasesreflected in DDC. Melvil Dewey, being immersed in the curriculum at Amherst, established a setof principles of knowledge which could be argued as defining society, hiding its outcasts, andlabeling its subjects
. Furthermore, Dewey’s schedules
structured the very subsets of knowledgeto be researched, studied, debated, and reported. Although DDC has allowed expansion and
restructuring of its schedules, the fact remains that it is still structurally representative of 
Dewey’s original classification scheme.
 Kau (257-59), who examined the biases contained in the 400 and 800 schedules,explained one of the problems of the Dewey classification scheme is that it assumes and allowsfor the majority of space to be given to the Western world and leaves only a small amount of space for all of the others.
Class 800 (literature) is organized by language. “One problem with
organizing the literature section by language, and the one that is most cited, is this ordering of classification facets breaks up national literatures of countries that employ more than onelanguage
The problem is that it relegates non-Western languages, and thus the people whospeak these languages, to being afterthou
ghts in its organization of knowledge”
(Kau 260).There are, in fact,
other groups relegated to be afterthoughts of Dewey’s organization of 
knowledge. The class of 600, which organizes medicine and classifies diseases as affecting onebody part/system, is laden with these groups from the 1876 edition to the current edition of DDC.Before delving into one example, one might need a brief reason as to why this is problematic.Until the late 1800s disease had been thought of as: an infliction, a punishment, an evildoing of some God, and even an imbalance in body fluid that needed to be excreted out of thebody in some way (Majno and Joris 11-12). In the mid -1800s, the scientific communityembraced the cellular theory of disease. In 1858, Rudolph Virchow gave a series of lectures,
Cellular Pathology as Based upon Physiological and Pathological Histology
, which set inmotion our current understanding of disease on a cellular level (Majno and Joris 14). Yet,D
ewey’s first edition (
1876), Classification and Subject Index for a Library, listed diseases in thesubject index as affecting one body part/system, and then randomly listed specific diseases suchas bronchitis and cholera. In the 1876 edition, medicine is listed in the Useful Arts Division with
corresponding numbers 610 through 620. Examples of listings in the subject index given anumber from 610 to 620 are:Abortion 618,Amputation 617, Anatomy, Human 618, Aneurism 617, Brandy615, Bronchitis 616, Burial 614, Cancer 616, Childbirth 618, Clinics 610,Contagion 614, Cremation 614, Croup 616, Deafness 616, Death 612, Dentistry617, Diet 613, Digestion 612, Diphtheria 616, Diseases 616, Disinfection 614,Drugs 615, Dispensatories 615, Dysentery 616, Dyspepsia 616, Ear Diseases 616,Epidemics 614, Eye Diseases 616, Eye Functions 612, Family Medicines 616,Fevers 616, Heart Diseases 616, Lung Diseases 616. (Dewey 23-32)There are indeed a large number of diseases that affect more than one body system andthis allowance is not allowed for in DDC. When a disease does not fit into the schedules, it isgiven a new number which allows its inclusion, but does little to show its relationship to thewhole body. Can this oversight then affect research, understanding, knowledge, and treatment of that group of people within society?In the current edition of DDC, the disease Sjögren's Syndrome was added. One mightspeculate that, prior to its addition; information regarding Sjögren's Syndrome could be classifiedin various schedules of diseases within DDC. According to the National Institute of NeurologicalDisorders and Stroke:
Sjögren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which immune cells attack and destroy the glands that produce tears and saliva. Sjögren's Syndrome is alsoassociated with rheumatic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. The hallmark symptoms of the disorder are dry mouth and dry eyes. In addition, Sjögren'sSyndrome may cause skin, nose, and vaginal dryness, and may affect other organsof the body
including the kidneys, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and brain”
(NINDS Sjögren's Syndrome Information Page).How could you have possibly picked one Dewey decimal classification number for thisdisease prior to its establishment?Can people be misdiagnosed by doctors due to classification of disease research within aninformation classification system? Our very system of physicians and referrals for disease

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