Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Semmelweis Reflex

My friend and former colleague, Robert “Dr. Bob" Scott, DVM would often lecture students and scholars alike about the importance of seeing everything you look at. This is a corollary to the scriptural admonition found in Matthew 11:15; “...he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Laying aside any spiritual (or political) aspects of that concept, what are some things that we commonly look at but do not see?

One example; in spite of a broad array of research revealing evidences of animal intelligence, most livestock owners still scoff at the notion that our domestic animals have nutritional wisdom. Perhaps, they equate the eating behavior of animals in a CAFO with that of relatively unconfined animals allowed at least a modicum of choice to satisfy their individual needs for energy, protein, fiber, and minerals.

When promoting the benefits of cafeteria-style mineral feeding, I am often reminded of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a mid-nineteenth century Hungarian physician who practiced in a birthing clinic in Vienna.

Appalled by the high incidence of, the often fatal, childbed or puerperal fever in his patients, Dr. Semmelweis developed techniques that lowered the incidence from over 30% to less than 5%. When he strongly suggested his colleagues at the clinic use the same technique, they ridiculed the idea. Dr. Semmelweis accused them of being murderers if they did not implement his procedures. The strife escalated. A preconceived concept of reality coupled with professional arrogance did not allow the other doctors to see what they looked at. Dr. Semmelweis was eventually committed to an insane asylum and was beaten to death by the guards.

Oh, I almost forgot! The earth shaking sin Semmelweis advocated was that doctors should wash their hands between examinations of obstetrical patients in the clinic.

In spite of all this, Dr. Semmelweis’ legacy is to be remembered as the Savior of Mothers and for the Semmelweis Reflex, a metaphor for the tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs for paradigms.

When does your Semmelweis Reflex kick in?

              This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc' Holliday's Blog on 27 July 2016

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