In an era replete with New Age quacks and frauds who assert the curative and health-enhancing benefits of anything from gemstones to the laying on of hands, not to mention their innate superiority over 'western' medicine, it is worthwhile recalling the long, hard slog of intellectual effort which laid the foundations for modern science.

Controlled trials from history, developed jointly by the Cochrane Collaboration and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, provides just such a reminder. At its heart is a series of essays on the development of the randomised controlled trial, and how researchers have struggled to control and eliminate selection and observer bias - and a gloriously tentative discourse on the danger of plundering the past for examples which fit the randomised controlled trial model in order to absorb them into an historical 'canon'.

But the most absorbing aspect of the site is that it reproduces the original text of such seminal works as Lind's 1753 treatise on scurvy, and points out the use of randomised controls in other noteworthy medical trials predating the official birth of the randomised controlled trial some time in the middle of the present century.

Those whose tastes extend further back in history might prefer Antiqua Medicina, covering the period from Homer in the fifth century BC to Vesalius in the 16th AD.

Elsewhere, there are numerous gateways to histories of health and healthcare, among the best of which are the US-based Medical History on the Internet and the Australian Virtual Library for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Be prepared for a lot about American Civil War medicine - there is a strong US bias.

More European in their orientation are the Roentgen Centennial and Bedlam: custody, care and cure, celebrating the 750th anniversary of the world's oldest extant mental hospital, offering interesting niche sites.

These and other sites of interest can be reached via HSJ's website at