How many examples of intelligent skeptics throughout history can you name? My examples (Copernicus and Galileo) were the first that came to mind, but there are many others.
Another outlier was Joseph Lister. In 1867, Lister, a forty-year-old doctor, published an article in The Lancet that fundamentally changed medicine. “An Address on the Antiseptic System of Treatment in Surgery” was a description of a new way of doing operations that he first presented in Glasgow, Scotland, where he practiced medicine.
At the time of Lister’s article, bed linen and laboratory coats were not washed and surgical instruments were only cleaned before they were put away for storage. The same probe was used for the wounds of all patients during rounds to look for pockets of undrained pus. Pus and minor infection was just considered part of normal healing. Surgeons and doctors didn’t wash their hands between patients.
A related topic is “scientific” theories that have since been debunked. Examples:
- Martian canals
- Caloric theory
- The Old food pyramid
- Disease is caused by “miasma” or bad air – replaced by the germ theory
The idea for this post came when I spotted this tweet –
as responses to this (ridiculous) tweet: