Science and Technology

‘Nearly all great scientists start out as heretics’

Something to remember when confronted with scientism.

By Matt Ridley, Wired

Nearly all great scientists start out as heretics nailing their theories to the door of conventional scientific wisdom. Galileo, Darwin and Einstein were all at some point in a minority of one; Alfred Wegener was dead before continental drift was taken seriously.

So somewhere today there is a scientific heretic being ridiculed by the orthodox scientific clerisy, but who will later be recognised as a visionary. Trouble is, the fact that all great scientists were heretics does not mean that all heretics are right. Science is plagued by self-proclaimed geniuses furious at the establishment’s refusal to recognise their disproof of relativity.

It is easy to judge heretics in retrospect. Ignaz Semmelweis was the Viennese physician who noticed in 1847 that doctors were killing women by not washing their hands in between dissecting corpses and delivering their babies. The death rate from childbed fever was twice as high for doctor-assisted births as it was for midwife-assisted births. But Semmelweis’s reward for pointing this out was vilification, ostracism and eventually the insane asylum, where he died.


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