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How Our Days Became NumberedRisk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual$
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Dan Bouk

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226259178

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226259208.001.0001

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A Modern Conception of Death

A Modern Conception of Death

(p.113) Five A Modern Conception of Death
How Our Days Became Numbered

Dan Bouk

University of Chicago Press

This chapter begins with Frederick Hoffman’s traditional, predictive risk making. It then considers how the disruption of the Armstrong investigations created an opportunity for reformers like Irving Fisher, Lee Frankel, and Louis Dublin to demonstrate how risk-making tools could be reappropriated for the purpose of extending lives. The chapter focuses on Irving Fisher’s idea of a “modern conception of death,” which held that the statistical regularities necessary for prediction should be understood to be mutable through human effort. The rest of the chapter considers this transition from prediction to control. Fisher used hypothetical life tables to make a case for significant public health expenditures and Dublin showed how an individual company’s statistical systems (Metropolitan’s) could be used to justify welfare programs, like medical exams or visiting nurse services, directed toward policyholders. Fisher then worked with Metropolitan and with life insurance medical examiners to found the Life Extension Institute, which played a key role in popularizing the regular medical screening and preventive medicine. The chapter closes with Frederick Hoffman’s unsuccessful efforts to convince Prudential to commit more energies to public health work, his transition toward preventive work, and the dismantling of his library.

Keywords:   prediction, control, Frederick Hoffman, Irving Fisher, Louis Dublin, Life Extension Institute, preventive medicine, public health, medical screening, visiting nurse

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