Question Have you heard of the Semmelweis Reflex ?


Jul 2, 2020
Semmelweis Reflex has been reviewed and written about in a medical peer reviewed paper set out in Science Direct where it states

"We aim to familiarize the readers with the term that not only has a significant historical background but also grave clinical implications." See full QUOTE later below

Whatever anyones views are we are all at risk from the Semmelweis Reflex EVEN if we are 100% correct and history proves us so.

It should be noted that this condition effects most people and that Dr Semmelweis died at 47 years old of injuries he received, probably related if only indirectly to his beliefs and, around 15 days after he was taken to a hospital against his will and without any need to be there.

When we view the Semmelweis Reflex in todays context and then add to this the use of the media by all sides wishing to distort or control new or different views or technology, even from challanging views that may be valid, it becomes even more important to remain aware of the Semmelweis Reflex for your own health

There is an inbuilt bias in all professions and cultures for the vast majority to find ways to reject changes (despite adequate evidence) that go against the established beliefs. This has caused many serious problems throughout human history


"Semmelweis reflex is a human behavioral tendency to stick to preexisting beliefs and to reject fresh ideas that contradict them (despite adequate evidence).

We aim to familiarize the readers with the term that not only has a significant historical background but also grave clinical implications.

A keyword search for “Semmelweis reflex,” “Belief perseverance,” “handwashing,” and “Idea rejection” was conducted using PubMed Central, MEDLINE, and Google SCHOLAR. Literature published in paper-based journals and books was also searched. All manuscripts pertaining to these keywords were thoroughly analyzed for this review.

The first section of our paper briefs the story of Ignaz Semmelweis and brushes on the contributions of other intellectual researchers that were rebuffed initially. The discussion further explains the root cause of this dismissal, an inherent bias against uncertainty that may be at the core of our fear for new ideas. Finally, this review explores the means by which we can prevent ourselves from being a victim of rejection.

The age-old prejudice that is Semmelweis reflex is explored in this review. With careful and thorough study design, scientific rigor, and critical self-analysis of the manuscript, one can avoid being victimized by this reflex. The dual edged nature of this reflex lays unveiled when its importance is highlighted in the prematurely accepted medical failures. Understanding that any new idea goes through the grill of being critically analyzed and perceived encourages the scientist to hold on to the original thought as it may rather be practice changing.

Names like: Van Gogh, Galileo, Dickinson, Tesla, and Edgar Allen Poe come to mind. But what all these names also have in common is that they belong to those who found no fame in life, but only in death. We may remember them as triumphant revolutionaries, but their lives were filled with more defeats than victories and their “great works” were their unhealthy obsessions.

With the passing of time, their passions were validated, but to those apart of their lives; these works were the mad ramblings and scribblings of a lost son or daughter.

Their defeats came to them at the hands of a common human reaction coined the Semmelweis Reflex,” which describes the human instinct to adamantly deny evidence of new ideas that contradict the popular established norms or paradigms.

The earth is flat. Animals don’t evolve. Your art sucks.

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, who gives the reflex its name, was a Hungarian physician in the mid 1800s and may just be the reason you are alive today.

If you ever wondered who first had the idea for hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, or disinfectant, well that was Semmelweis. Basically this guy invented hand washing.

Handwash Semmelweis

As the father of antiseptic science, he was the first to hypothesize that disease could be spread through touch via “infectious material” on the skin. This might seem like a simple idea to us now, but only 200 years ago people believed disease came from bad smells or an imbalance of bodily fluids. Mankind had no idea that germs even existed or how sickness was transmitted.

Dr. Semmelweis came to this revolutionary discovery by making a astute observation at the hospital in which he worked. This hospital, like many others in those days, had both a large maternity ward and a morgue. Thus, due to understaffing and ignorance, doctors would routinely handle both patients and cadavers in the same day without washing their hands.

Some of these doctors at Semmelweis’s hospital cut themselves while handling the dead bodies and contracted a feverish disease; a very similar disease was also found in many mothers in the maternity ward after giving birth. Semmelweis had a hunch that these two diseases were in fact the same.

The disease is now called Puerperal Fever but back then it was referred to as childbed fever.

Through trial and error, Dr. Semmelweis was able to come up with a chlorinated lime solution that cleaned the skin of any “particles” causing disease. He did this without any knowledge that germs existed or any understanding of why his methods worked.

It would not be until after Semmelweis’s death that Louis Pasteur’s “Germ Theory” would prove that micro-organisms like bacteria are the culprits of this transmission.

wash hands

Nevertheless, Dr. Semmelweis did notice that if he added a hand washing step in between the morgue and maternity ward, he could essentially eliminate a disease that was previously killing almost 20% of his post pregnancy patients.

This was a incredible feat! Seriously, the man simply told doctors to wash their hands and he saved hundreds of lives a year.

What was next? The good Doctor wanted to share this discovery with the world. So he raced all over Europe to different hospitals to give talks and published papers on his discovery. In his mind the evidence was too powerful to ignore and he was destined to be the golden boy of 1800’s medicine.

But instead he found nothing but rejection and resentment from doctors across the world who were insulted that Semmelweis was implying that they were the reason for their patients sickness.

Semmelweis was essentially telling physicians that they had been responsible for hundreds of patients deaths…

One very skeptical physician even rebuked,

“It seems improbable that enough infective matter or vapor could be secluded around the fingernails to kill a patient.” –Carl Edvard Marius Levy

And so, instead of glorious ascension, Ignaz Semmelweis fell into depression, mental instability and was eventually admitted against his will into a mental institution. There he ironically died of an infection or “blood poisoning” contracted after the guards gave him a especially bad beating leading to open wounds.

Semmelweis coin

Semmelweis died thinking himself a failure.

He had no clue that his ideas would go on to inspire Pasteur’s “Germ Theory” of disease and give us the knowledge needed to combat disease in a way unseen in human history. He would then be remembered as the “father of Antiseptic Science” and have hospitals and universities named after him. He would receive more praise in death than any humble Hungarian Physician would expect in a lifetime.

But does that change the story for Semmelweis? Does that make his decent into insanity and tragedy any less painful for him? No, Semmelweis is long gone and any adulation thrown his way in unheard from the grave.

Don’t get me wrong, it is great to honor our histories heroes so that people can remember the sacrifices made for progress. However; what have we missed out on from the time lost ignoring these revolutionaries or driving them to early graves?

Instead of being reactive to the Semmelweis’s of the world and giving them praise once they are gone; perhaps the answer is to fight against this “Semmelweis Reflex” everyday so that we wont miss out on the next great revolutionaries.

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Jul 2, 2020
That's a very interesting idea. I had no clue there was a whole reflex for willful ignorance.
In the fullness of time many of our current beliefs and ways of doing things will almost certainly be seen to be “Semmelweis Reflexes”.

Who knows we may find out many years from now that a parallel universe or universes exist as Stephen Hawking had envisaged in 2018.

Most people consider such parallel universe ideas as not worth considering, however they could be as fundamentally life saving for humanity and the understanding of why we do or do not cause things to happen to ourselves, as Drs failure to hand wash in the 1800s was to allowing known diseases to be spread to patients

A cultural and professional bias exists generally against new ideas. After Newton all was supposed to be known and the same has been said by many succeeding generations - ie that humans had reached a maximum peak of understanding or technology.

When people believed the world was flat or the sun went round the earth and refused to look at the evidence were they willfully ignorant ? Probably.

When Drs refused to accept the clear statistical evidence presented by Dr Semmelweis that hand washing saved lives in the maternity ward they were almost certainly willfully ignorant. Drs also believed bloodletting and mercury were good treatments but had no evidence.

The phrase the science is settled is often used today to limit difficult discussions. It has always been this way.

It was not so long ago that the idea of a man travelling faster than 40 miles an hour would cause death because you could not breath was accepted, later going faster than the speed of sound was considered to be some medical barrier that would kill a human

Today humanity is almost certainly being equally willfully ignorant and ignoring new or even old disruptive ideas.

Unless humans have evolved to a level at which we really know what science is settled, our existing limited beliefs and knowledge of what we think we know will still be holding us back on a range of matters such as - black holes, quantum entanglement, travel faster than the speed of light, anti-gravity devices, parallel universes or even something as simple as the way aircraft or spacecraft could be better designed and propelled.

Mar 4, 2020
I think that this characteristic comes with institutionalization. Pride, position, reputation and institutional competency is at stake. No one likes to hear they've been wrong. Imagine working on something in earnest for 40-50 years and finding out it's meaningless.
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Mar 4, 2020
Can you imagine a discovery.....strike that.....let's say next Tuesday, an off world ALIEN race arrives and makes first contact. Bearing gifts of knowledge and we can all live to 250 now. And one of those gifts was advanced physics. For interstellar travel. It is revealed that all we thought about light, mass and gravity was all wrong. How would academia react? How would government react? How would you react?

Would we first deny it? Changing belief into non-belief....and changing non-belief into belief, is shocking. A hold your horses moment.
Jan 27, 2020
First off, Hayseed, recall the 'Twilight Zone' episode titled "To Serve Man" ( TV Episode 1962 ), where the über friendly aliens land on Earth and convince our species of their advanced science and societal mores and soon begin loading vast numbers of people into their inter-stellar ships to whisk them back to their planet. The aliens continually refer to their "To Serve Man" handbook on how to treat everyone, like you and me.

While the above seems to be running like clockwork, one day a disheveled scientist staggers up to the departure gate shouting that " 'To Serve Man' is a menu..." and grapples with a gigantic alien on the space ship ramp.

to serve man.jpeg


Einstein, in retirement from Princeton's Advanced Study, was attempting to unite the force of gravity—which he had successfully described in his general theory of relativity—with the force of electromagnetism, and the two forces are similar in many ways. The strength of both, for instance, is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between two bodies, and both have an infinite range. Einstein wasn’t alone in his conviction that he could solve the problem. In 1919 the German mathematician Theodor Kaluza and, later, the Swedish physicist Oskar Klein had suggested a different way to join the two forces. Just as Einstein had introduced a fourth dimension into his equations of general relativity to describe gravity, Kaluza and Klein suggested that a fifth dimension was needed to incorporate electromagnetism.

Einstein spent the last two decades of his life refining this idea. At the same time, he tried to iron out what he saw as problems in his general theory of relativity. In cases where gravity was extremely strong, his theories broke down. Moreover, they seemed to permit the formation of what we now call black holes—objects of such enormous density that their gravity traps even light. “Einstein didn’t like black holes,” Moffat says. “The real motivation for generalizing his gravity theory was to see if he could find, as he called them, ‘everywhere regular solutions’ that fit the equations.” Such solutions, Einstein hoped, would eliminate black holes entirely.

In 1939 the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer used general relativity to show in detail how black holes could form from collapsing stars. Yet Einstein was undeterred. Throughout the 1940s, he continued his fruitless search for a revolutionary new theory, even as quantum mechanics advanced at a blinding pace. “He was in denial,” Moffat says. “Even Einstein went into denial, because he had invested so much time in this—years!” Near the end of his life, Einstein realized that he wouldn’t live to complete his work. “I have locked myself into quite hopeless scientific problems,” he wrote, “the more so since, as an elderly man, I have remained estranged from the society here.”

When John Moffat first read Einstein’s later work in 1953, he didn’t dismiss it as many physicists did. But then Moffat was no physicist at the time. As an out-of-work 20-year-old in Copenhagen, he had become interested in cosmology while browsing through the library in his spare time. To his surprise, he found that he could easily absorb the advanced mathematics and physics in popular science books and magazines. He plowed through four years’ worth of college-level material in about a year, then moved on to professional physics journals. “I got hold of some of Einstein’s papers and decided that there was some weakness in what he was doing,” he says. “So I wrote two papers and sent them to him at Princeton. I never thought I’d hear anything from him.”

Moffat had identified a mistaken assumption in the mathematics Einstein was using to describe the electromagnetic force. Einstein conceded that Moffat had a point. They went on to exchange several letters over the next six months, inspiring Moffat to pursue a career in physics. Although he lacked formal training in the field, Moffat knew that Einstein’s letters might earn him an audience with other physicists. So he contacted Niels Bohr’s secretary at the University of Copenhagen and mentioned the letters. Bohr readily agreed to meet him. “Einstein was confiding his problems in physics with me,” Moffat says, “and Bohr wanted to know what he was saying.”

During the two-hour interview that followed, Bohr mumbled so quietly that Moffat had to strain to hear him. Bohr had hoped to hear of a change of heart on his rival’s part, but Moffat’s letters disappointed him: Einstein was still openly skeptical of quantum mechanics. “Finally, Bohr said that as far as he was concerned, Albert had become an alchemist,” Moffat remembers. In his search for a transcendent theory, Einstein had lost touch with the roll-up-your-sleeves world of experimentation and drifted off into the realm of metaphysics. “He thought Einstein was wasting his time,” Moffat says. “And he told me I was wasting my time with my interest in Einstein’s ideas.”

A local newspaper went on to publish a story about Moffat’s encounters with Einstein and Bohr, and that story prompted the British consulate in Copenhagen to contact the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in London. The department brought Moffat to London and paid his way to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin, for an interview with Erwin Schrödinger.

A polymath who spoke six languages, Schrödinger was most famous for the wave equation that now bears his name—an elegant mathematical description of one of the central mysteries of quantum theory—which shows that all particles can also behave like waves. When Moffat arrived for a two-day visit, Schrödinger was sick in bed with severe bronchitis. During their interview, the great physicist would peer at his young visitor through round, rimless spectacles. Moffat knew that he wouldn’t hesitate to dismiss him as an impostor and send him back to a life of obscurity in Denmark. Once again, however, things went smoothly until Moffat mentioned his interest in Einstein’s work.

“He got very angry,” Moffat remembers. “He started shouting at me from his bed. He said Einstein was a fool. I was quite overwhelmed.” What most enraged Schrödinger was that he, too, a decade earlier, had tried to develop a unified theory with an approach very similar to Einstein’s. He had become increasingly skeptical that a unified field theory was even possible. But Einstein, in any case, was headed in the wrong direction.

Moffat was accepted into the graduate program in mathematical and theoretical physics at Cambridge University, due in part to a suprisingly strong recommendation from Schrödinger. In 1958 Moffat became the first student in the 800-year history of the school to earn his Ph.D. without completing an undergraduate degree. He now works at the Perimeter Institute near Toronto—an iconoclastic veteran among some of the world’s best and brashest young physicists. If he was first drawn to Einstein by his mistakes, he has come to believe the old man may have been on the right path after all. He just started down it a few decades too soon.

In the 1930s, when Einstein began his work on a unified field theory, physicists believed that there were only two universal forces that the theory would have to unite: gravity and electromagnetism. They have since learned that there are two other fundamental forces as well, a strong force that binds together atomic nuclei and a weak force that governs radioactive decay. “Einstein defined what later became a fundamental problem in physics,” says Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France. “But he was missing an ingredient.”

These days Einstein’s once-lonely quest engages thousands of physicists around the world, most of them working on an ambitious physics framework known as string theory. Although this work is grounded in quantum mechanics, it relies heavily on some of the same components that Einstein used. According to string theory, the fundamental constituents of the physical world are not pointlike particles but infinitesimal one-dimensional loops, or strings. All the particles and forces in the universe arise from these strings vibrating at different frequencies. But there’s a catch, one that no doubt would have made Einstein smile: The strings need 11 dimensions in which to vibrate, and those extra dimensions are described by essentially the same mathematics that Einstein used in his own unified field theory.

Moffat is not so sure that string theory is an improvement on Einstein’s ideas. On the other hand, he thinks there may still be some life in the master’s late equations. For much of the past decade he has returned to the theory that Einstein was working on when he died—the same one that prompted Moffat’s fateful letter. Moffat argues that the mathematics Einstein hoped would describe electromagnetism in his unified field theory instead gives rise to a slight repulsive force that reduces the strength of gravity. If so, that force might help solve certain long-standing puzzles in astronomy.

“If you go and visit Chartres cathedral in France, you’ll realize that it took 150 years to build, and we don’t know the names of the artisans who built it. They’re anonymous. Maybe physics is going to become like this. We may one day have a great edifice for Western civilization, but it might take 200 years to build.” To claim there is an ultimate theory is “pure hubris,” Moffat said. “There’s always something new on the horizon, and then everything starts all over again.”

Einstein was the first victim of his own success, Giovanni Amelino-Camelia, a physicist at the University of Rome, likes to tell his students. He gave rise to the romantic notion that a genius who follows his intuition can create a perfect theory that explains all the data. And then he fell prey to that notion himself. “It’s a success which has really been a mixed blessing for theoretical physics,” Amelino-Camelia says. “If we didn’t have that one example, we would have no examples. And that would teach people how science is really done.”


See: "Einstein Wrote Back: My Life in Physics" by John W. Moffatt, Publ. 9/2010.



Yet, once upon a time, Einstein did revolutionize physics, and he succeeded in large part because of his stubborn, independent, audacious spirit. The general theory of relativity was developed in defiance of centuries of physics. It consumed Einstein's life for 11 years—from 1905 to 1916—and in the end was proved triumphantly correct. It’s no wonder the memory of that achievement sustained Einstein in later years. In 1953, when the letter from John Moffat found its way to Princeton and into Einstein's office, Einstein was still doing what he had always done—asking big questions, looking for big answers and trying to construct the theory of everything without the aid of computers, massive parallel processing or anything electromechanical, just his pad, pencil and fountain pen .
Mar 4, 2020
Our modern science is based ONLY on math. And they insist upon this. This is the zenith of ignorance.

It starts with Newton and the concept of angular velocity. And is carried thru all that follows.

Next we have a famous mathematician that name starts with M. He described mathematically the dynamic of Faraday Induction........and he got it wrong......and this is also carried to all that follows.

Next...we have Maxwell. He did not realize that the only thing his EM equation described.....was absorption. His equations are ignorant of emission and propagation. Maxwell's math equations need to make time a variable, to match our measurements of Maxwell's concept.

And of course Einstein comes in.....with space justify Maxwell.

Misconception built to protect misconception. That's modern science.

Mechanical motion is the only way to understand physicality. But our modern science preaches us that reality can not be explained in this fashion.

First rule of science. Observation and not evidence. It's only apparent evidence. Helical orbits have shown us this.

Nature's rotations do not use pi........another reason math will keep you ignorant.