The Semmelweis Effect
This is Dr Michael Wilks with a second opinion, a growing number of high quality medical research. Studies challenge the status quo by providing evidence that traditional things like surgery, just don't work. It turns out that much of what we offer patients has little benefit. But that's only half the story. The other half is that once these studies come out nothing seems to change we still do the same number of useless surgeries. In part. This is due to what is called the Semel Weiss effect. This is the tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it doesn't fit with what we think are what we've always believed Ignace similize was born two hundred years ago this month. He was an obstetrician like every other obstetrician at the time who lost a huge number of babies to infect. His disease. Now remember this was way before we knew about bacteria or other infectious agents. There was no germ theory of disease at the time. It was common for obstetricians to perform autopsies on all babies who died to try to understand the cause of death. But obsta Tristesse were in high demand, and they would go back and forth from what we call labor and delivery to the morgue. Well, similize observed that when doctors washed their hands with a chlorine solution between patients or between, the autopsy and the patient death rates fell not a little poten- fold at the time. This was a remarkable observation he urged his colleagues to engage in regular hand washing. Similize wise could not explain how hand washing prevented deaths, but he was convinced. It did his hand washing. Suggestions. Were resoundingly rejected by his colleagues. They thought this was the height of nonsense. How could a man's hands possibly transmit disease by something you couldn't even see similize continued his careful handwashing and had the lowest death rates by far in his hospital while he saved hundreds bias blindness and ego cost the lives of thousands. Maybe even tens of thousands because his colleagues failed to listen to similize or even evaluate his observation. It was worse than that. He just couldn't convince them the leaders of medicine grew irritated by his letters and his lectures, which accused the medical profession of being reckless even murderers when the establishment could no longer ignore him. They accused him of being psychologically crazy for considering disease caused by things that were unseen. They. You can find him to a psychiatric hospital where ironically he died of an infection years later bacteria or discovered and found to be the cause of what was in similize time. Call child bid fever doctors hands were the main source of spread but the Semel Weiss effect is very much alive. Today. It helps explain why humans doctors in particular reject new knowledge because it contradicts. What we've always believed. This is Dr Michael Wilks with a second opinion this podcast was made by public radio station. KCRW our status as a nonprofit enables us to make bold and unusual programs. But we need your support to keep it that way donate or become a member at KCRW dot com slash join. And thanks.