Historical Figures Who Were Initially Called Crazy But Were Right All Along



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Vote up the previously shunned people who deserve major kudos now.

Heretic, nonconformer, lunatic - these are just some of the names that scientists and open thinkers have been called throughout history. 

As a society, human beings have a hard time ushering in new discoveries, even when the science is plain to see. Novel and unknown things can be scary, so rather than accept these new truths, people shun those who discovered them. 

Medical marvels, facts about our universe, chemicals that are slowly killing us - they've all been ridiculed at the time, only to be appreciated years later

So, when scientists and doctors push through the criticism and sometimes even physical threats, it shows how much they believe in their work. And today, we can read their stories and appreciate what they sacrificed for the greater good. 

  • Joseph Lister Recommended That Surgical Instruments Be Sterilized Between Operations
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In the early 1800s, surgery was just gaining steam as a way to save people's lives. And with the invention of anesthesia, surgeons were able to try more complicated procedures than ever before. 

    However, those longer surgeries meant longer time in operating rooms - which was actually more dangerous. This is because medical professionals didn't know about germs. They thought the cause of infection was from “bad air" - also called the miasma theory - so they'd simply air out the operating room once a day to get all that dangerous air out.

    Enter British scientist and surgeon Dr. Joseph Lister (1827-1912). He didn't buy into the bad air idea; instead, he started doing at-home experiments on infected tissue. He realized that broken bones often healed up just fine, while compound fractures (where bone pierced through the skin) often developed infections. 

    Lister's solution was to apply a chemical - which he called an antiseptic - to the environment prior to surgery. This would then prevent pathogens from entering the wound. 

    For years, people ridiculed his theory. How could the doctors be responsible for these horrific infections? But eventually, the medical community couldn't argue with Lister's results, and his theory was accepted. 

  • John Snow Tried Warning Everyone That A Tainted Water Supply Was The Cause Of Cholera
    Photo: Thomas Jones Barker / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Before John Snow was a fan-favorite Game of Thrones character, the name was known for the man who discovered how cholera was being spread in mid-1800s England. 

    Snow long theorized the infectious disease was caused by contamination of water, but the accepted explanation at the time was that breathing bad vapors was the cause. (People seemed to think “bad air” was the cause of many things around this period.)

    His idea was dismissed, but Snow kept looking for evidence. When a cholera outbreak killed 500 people in his neighborhood, he started tracking the contamination radius and found indisputable evidence that every case originated from drinking water from a specific town pump. Even more telling was that the prison in the neighborhood - which had hundreds of inmates - didn't contract a single case of cholera. They were essentially breathing the same air as the infected people - but the prison had its own well. 

    Despite this overwhelming evidence, officials still wouldn't recognize Snow's theory - that was, until an article appeared that showed a leaky cesspool just a few feet from the pump was likely responsible for the deadly outbreak. 

  • Marcello Malpighi of Bologna Was Physically Assaulted - And His Home Was Burned - Due To His Views On Anatomic Pathology
    Photo: Carlo Cignani / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Sadly, when it comes to new ideas, sometimes opponents can turn to violence to make their point known. This was the case for Marcello Malpighi, who is today regarded as the father of microscopic anatomy.

    Malpighi lived in Italy during the 1600s, attending the University of Bologna. Although his birthplace is unknown, it's recorded that the university authorities didn't like him because he was non-Bolognese. (This will become an important, and tragic, sentiment throughout his life.)

    After completing his studies, Malpighi traveled to other parts of Italy where he researched the pulmonary and capillary network, for the first time connecting small arteries with small veins. He also identified taste buds for the first time, and made revolutionary observations about the brain, optic nerve, and red blood cells.

    Elsewhere in Italy, Malpighi's work was widely accepted. However, when he returned to Bologna (often due to poor health), he was ridiculed and ostracized. This behavior heightened to physical assault, and culminated in his house being ransacked. Vandals shattered his microscopes, destroyed his books and papers, and ultimately burned down his villa. 

  • Gen. William 'Billy' Mitchell Was Accused of Insubordination And Court-Martialed For His Advocacy Of Air Power
    Photo: Harris & Ewing / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    No one can deny the power of aircrafts in the military. Today, small, unmanned drones can bring down entire buildings with explosives. Yet the importance of flying machines wasn't always recognized by military officials. 

    After WWI, despite using planes to inflict major damage upon the Central Powers, the US didn't see a strong need for an aerial department. One general who strongly disagreed with this was William Mitchell. He had commanded aerial units in France during the war, and could see the potential they had in the future.

    Mitchell lobbied endlessly for expanded American air presence. He even was approved to give a demonstration of how planes could sink an “unsinkable” captured German battleship. When the simulation succeeded, officials accused him of cheating. 

    Then, when one of the US's few, precious airships sank, Mitchell was livid. He even wrote to the press:

    Brave airmen are being sent to their deaths by armchair admirals who don't care about air safety.

    This public statement proved to be the end of Mitchell's military career, as he was court-martialed for discrediting the military.