Monday, November 5, 2012

Climate Change, Science and Politics

Today it is unthinkable to believe that infections are not caused by germs.  In the early 18th century, the general practice among doctors of washing their hands prior to delivering babies for the most part did not exist.  The mortality rate among women dying from childbed fever was around 10 percent or more.  The idea that there were bacteria that caused illness was considered to be fantasy.  It was unheard of that a doctor who was examining a cadaver on an autopsy table in one room would simply be transferring the dead man's germs  to the delivery room and infect the mother giving birth. 

In 1847, Ignaz Semmelweis, a young Hungarian doctor working in a Vienna hospital, practiced and promoted the practice of physicians washing their hands before assisting in childbirths.   Although his introduction of a basic measure of cleanliness drastically reduced the rate of childbed fever, the medical establishment, which clung to conservative traditions that considered hand washing to be sheer nonsense, fought Semmelweis in every way possible, ridiculing and humiliating him to the point of destroying his reputation and career.  

It took some decades until Semmelweis was proved right beyond a doubt.  Why so long?  Professional establishments and the general public don't like to change their minds because it is painful to be exposed as being wrong.  Why so?  Those who are proven to be wrong lose in respect and authority.

Today's opposition to well-documented evidence that there is global warming caused by man-made chemical substances put into the environment is very similar to the political opposition in the nineteenth century to the theory that microorganisms cause diseases.

For background on Semmelweis: