Ignaz Semmelweis


in Psychology, Science

Most people have probably heard how the first person who suggested that doctors wash their hands before delivering babies in order to prevent infections was ridiculed and rejected. I didn’t realize quite how far his persecution went:

After he published his findings, though, many of his colleagues were offended at the suggestion that they did not have clean hands. After all, doctors were gentlemen and as Charles Meigs, another obstetrician, put it, “a gentleman’s hands are clean”. Discouraged, Semmelweis slipped into depression and was eventually committed to a lunatic asylum. He died 14 days later, after being brutally beaten by the guards.

Perhaps the lesson to be drawn is: don’t underestimate how willing self-policing groups of experts can be to reject important new information in order to protect their self-image and prestige.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. October 6, 2013 at 12:53 am

It’s not a good sign to see a Breakdown, death and oblivion section in someone’s Wikipedia entry

. October 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Making money on health care also depends on political goodwill in many markets. Hospitals kill many thousands of patients each year worldwide with poor hygiene. Ecolab’s hospital business has grown steadily, but would grow far faster if hygiene on wards and in operating theatres were taken as seriously as it is in, say, fast-food restaurants. In many hospitals “people aren’t even required to wash their hands,” Mr Baker says. If hospitals clean up, so will Ecolab.

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