Sometimes when people point out how wrong a prevailing theory is, others scoff or consider them crazy. But just because an idea has been around for many years doesn't make it true. Some ideas need reevaluating based on the latest knowledge. But when people turn long-held ideas into unwavering beliefs, anyone who questions them can be deemed daft or deluded.
The people on this list, whether scientists who saw the truth before others did, or public figures who brought to light issues others wanted to keep hidden, all had the clear conviction to take their statements public. Knowing they would be alone in their ideas, beliefs, and causes, they didn't stay silent. And in the end they were definitely the sane ones.
Ignaz Semmelweis was a physician who worked at a Vienna obstetric clinic in the 1840s. At the time, mortality rates for women delivering in hospitals ranged from 25% to 30%. Semmelweis set out to solve the "childbirth fever" problem, and discovered that infection rates were much higher in patients treated by clinical students who came directly from the mortuary dissecting room.
Semmelweis ordered everyone to wash their hands in a chlorinated lime solution before each examination, which lowered the mortality rate of those students' patients from 18.27% to 1.27%. Even though the students and doctors he supervised appreciated his discovery, his superiors did not. He was eventually dropped from his post and could not even secure a teaching job. He gave lectures and wrote about his findings, but the general consensus remained hostile.
About 20 years after his passing, when the scientific community accepted findings about germ theory presented by Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and Joseph Lister, Semmelweis was finally recognized for his work.
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Dr. Bennet Omalu Discovered CTE In Football Players But Had His Work Stifled By NFL-Affiliated Lawyers
In 2002 Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster and discovered evidence of a neurologic condition associated with chronic head trauma called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE had previously been associated with boxing, but Omalu suggested football players might be susceptible to a certain form of dementia from repeated blows to the head.
Omalu published his findings in 2005, thinking the NFL would be pleased and could now fix a serious safety issue. Omalu later recalled:
I was naive… There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster’s brain. It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with. Human meanness, wickedness, and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret.
After he published his report, members of the NFL's mild traumatic brain injury committee immediately called for its retraction. Omalu stood by his research and the findings were taken directly to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who dismissed them. The NFL did not acknowledge the link between concussions sustained in football and long-term neurological effects until December 2009.
Omalu's struggle is portrayed in the Will Smith film Concussion.
Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was dismissed from his company in October 2017 following sexual abuse allegations from women dating back to the late 1970s. Weinstein's alleged actions seemed to be an open secret in the entertainment industry for years, with occasional allusions thrown out as jokes.
But singer, songwriter, and actress Courtney Love went further than joking and actually warned young women about the executive back in 2005. During a red carpet interview at Comedy Central's roast of Pamela Anderson, someone asked Love, “What advice do you have for young women in Hollywood?”
Love replied, “I’ll get libeled if I say it... If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in his Four Seasons [hotel room], don’t go.”
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John Snow Knew Cholera Was Spread By Tainted Water And Not 'Bad Air'
Up until the late 1800s, European doctors subscribed to the "miasma theory" that poisonous "bad air," also known as night air, caused such diseases as cholera. Against this backdrop, physician John Snow had to convince his peers and the people of London of his findings.
During a cholera outbreak in London in August 1854, through mapping the sick, Snow traced the source of the outbreak to a water pump on Broad Street. His maps persuaded the local council to disable the pump, and indeed the outbreak subsided. Water from the pump had been polluted by sewage tainted with cholera from a nearby cesspit. Even after this victory, it took years for London to change its drainage system.
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Harry Markopolos, a former securities industry executive and a forensic accounting investigator, first contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2000 to report Bernie Madoff's elaborate financial Ponzi scheme. At that time, he was a portfolio manager and had been asked to study and analyze Madoff's money-making methods.
When the illicit activity became apparent, he acted quickly. Even though his initial warnings were ignored, he tried again to get the SEC to investigate Madoff in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2008. During the financial crisis of 2008, Madoff ran out of money and turned himself in.
For many years, the medical community believed stomach ulcers were caused by excessive stress. But after doing biopsies of ulcer patients in 1981, Australian physician Barry Marshall theorized that the ulcers were caused by bacteria and could be treated with antibiotics.
This idea was seen as ludicrous at the time. Marshall was unable to produce results in lab mice and couldn't get any of his peers to listen to his ideas, so he experimented on himself. He used some of the bacteria taken from a patient and drank it, then a few days later developed gastritis, the precursor to ulcers. A biopsy of his gut proved the underlying cause of ulcers. Stomach cancer, once a common cancer and the result of stomach ulcers, is now nearly gone from the Western world. Stomach ulcers are now treated with antibiotics.
Marshall and his colleague J. Robin Warren shared the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 2005 for their work connecting bacteria to ulcers.