People The World Mocked Who Turned Out To Be Right

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Over the course of history, many scientific and medical discoveries have been ignored, mocked, or met with open hostility. A physician was thought to have lost his mind when he theorized that medical personnel simply washing their hands before examining pregnant patients greatly reduced the chances of the patients dying of childbed fever; he eventually was confined to a mental institution. The British explorer who discovered that members of a lost expedition may have resorted to cannibalism in a failed attempt to survive became the victim of a vicious smear campaign that damaged his reputation and may have cost him a knighthood. Both men's theories turned out to be spot-on.

Of course, scientific discoveries aren't the only things that can struggle to find wide acceptance. So can speaking out about controversial topics. Sinéad O'Connor learned this when she received major backlash after tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II during an appearance on Saturday Night Live; the singer was attempting to expose the Catholic Church's complicity in covering up child sexual abuse being committed by some priests. Corey Feldman, meanwhile, was accused of trying to destroy an entire industry when he spoke out about how he and other child actors had been abused. And no one believed Greg LeMond when he accused fellow cyclist Lance Armstrong - regarded by many as a hero - of doping. Again, all of these allegations eventually proved to be true.

Below are some of the more memorable times when people who were originally mocked, ignored, or called out turned out to be correct about what they claimed.

  • Joseph Lister's Peers Didn't Believe His Theories About Keeping Germs Out Of Surgery; Then His Ideas Became The Norm
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In modern surgical procedures, antiseptics help destroy the pathogens that cause infections - sometimes life-threatening ones - from getting into a patient's body. This technique, originally called the Antisepsis System, was developed by a 19th century British physician named Joseph Lister.

    Lister began to study medicine in 1848. At that time, anesthetics had recently been introduced to surgeries. That made operations pain-free for patients and allowed surgeons to attempt more difficult procedures, but it also increased the risk of  patient succumbing to infections such as sepsis or gangrene. And while the doctors recognized the infections, there was no consensus about what caused them or how they spread.

    The risk of a patient surviving surgery but dying from an infection was so severe that in the 1860s, Lister's contemporary, a prominent British surgeon named Sir James Young Simpson, warned:

    A man laid on the operating table in one of our surgical hospitals is exposed to more chance of death than was the English soldier on the field of Waterloo.

    After gaining experience as a surgeon, Lister ran tests in his home laboratory and established hospital clinical trials in an attempt to the discover the cause and nature of surgical infections. In 1864, he learned about Louis Pasteur's germ theory, which speculated that the spread of pathogens in the body could be the cause of infection. Pasteur also suggested that infections could be controlled if the wound was treated with germ-killing chemicals.

    Lister decided to apply Pasteur's theory to surgical infections. Using carbolic acid, he developed an antiseptic that formed a chemical barrier between the wound and the surroundings. The carbolic acid killed germs on contact, but Lister's work received a mixed response when he published his findings. Many surgeons didn't believe germs caused infections, so they found his antiseptic procedure to be unnecessary. Others thought Lister was claiming carbolic acid was a cure rather than simply a preventive tool.

    As more surgeries were performed and the infection rate began to drop drastically, Lister's theory started being accepted by surgeons all over the world. He even got royal approval for using carbolic acid during a surgical procedure he performed on Queen Victoria.

    • Age: Dec. at 84 (1827-1912)
    • Birthplace: West Ham
    5,852 votes
  • People Still Didn’t Believe John Snow, Even After He Stopped A Cholera Outbreak
    Photo: Thomas Jones Barker / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Although John Snow is now considered one of the founders of modern epidemiology, the British physician's work was not always so accepted.

    A worldwide cholera pandemic raged from 1846 to 1860. In 1854, an outbreak in the Soho section of London resulted in the deaths of more than 600 people. When that outbreak occurred, Snow had been researching cholera epidemics for many years. He was skeptical of the then-dominant miasma theory, which stated that diseases like cholera were caused by pollution of a noxious form of "bad air." Instead, Snow believed contagious diseases entered the body through the mouth; he published this theory in his 1849 paper, "On the Mode of Communication of Cholera."

    During the Soho cholera outbreak, Snow was able (after talking to locals) to identify a public water pump on Broad Street as the source of the contagion. Although a pump water sample didn't provide definitive proof of its danger, Snow was still able to persuade the local council to disable the pump. Soon after, the number of local cholera cases began to decline. Despite this, Snow's theory about the disease's transmission wasn't widely accepted for several more years.

    • Age: Dec. at 45 (1813-1858)
    • Birthplace: York, United Kingdom
    5,937 votes
  • Ignác Semmelweis Championed Washing Hands To Avoid Spreading Disease; He Was Ridiculed And Ended Up In A Mental Institution 
    Photo: Jenő Doby / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Anyone who has ever been told to "wash your hands!" before eating, after using the restroom, or after playing outside, can thank (or blame) a 19th-century German-Hungarian physician for this mantra.

    Ignác (also known as Ignaz) Semmelweis has been dubbed the "savior of mothers" for his discovery that cases of puerperal fever - then called childbed fever - could be drastically reduced by the simple method of having obstetrical doctors and nurses wash their hands. In the mid-19th century, most women in Europe still gave birth at home, but those who gave birth in clinics and hospitals saw a mortality rate of 25% to 30%. Semmelweis was not the first doctor to suggest medical personnel were spreading puerperal fever - that had been done by multiple physicians before him.

    In 1842, British doctor Thomas Watson had even suggested those working in obstetrics should change clothes and wash their hands with a chlorine solution "to prevent the practitioner from becoming a vehicle of contagion and death between one patient and another." And in 1843, American physician Oliver Holmes received an angry letter from a prominent obstetrician that stated "doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen's hands are clean" after Holmes had suggested doctors and nurses were spreading childbed fever.

    In 1847, Semmelweis determined that hand washing with chlorinated lime solutions reduced the percentage of fatal childbed fever cases from 12% to 2%. He also discovered fever cases were more than six times higher in women who'd been attended by doctors versus those attended to by midwives or nurses.

    At the time, doctors performed autopsies in the mornings and did not wash their hands either before or after performing vaginal examinations on pregnant women. Semmelweis suggested that "cadaverous particles" transmitted from doctors' hands after autopsies were mainly responsible for the fatal cases of childbed fever. 

    Sadly, Semmelweis's theory was mocked by the medical and academic establishment. He lost his job at the hospital and struggled to find other work as a physician. Angered by how he was treated, he began writing letters to prominent obstetricians working in Europe, sometimes even calling them murderers. This behavior led many of his peers and his own wife to believe he was psychotic. In 1865, he was confined to a mental institution. He passed just 14 days later; some believe this was due to beatings from hospital guards.

    The hand-washing theory didn't gain widespread acceptance in the medical community until around 1879, when Louis Pasteur, in developing his germ theory, showed that streptococcal bacteria could be found in the blood of women with puerperal fever.

    • Age: Dec. at 47 (1818-1865)
    • Birthplace: Buda
    7,525 votes
  • The BBC Banned Johnny Rotten Of The Sex Pistols For Calling Out Jimmy Savile's Behavior; Decades Later, Savile's History Of Sexual Abuse Went Public
    Photo: Koen Suyk / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    7,143 VOTES

    The BBC Banned Johnny Rotten Of The Sex Pistols For Calling Out Jimmy Savile's Behavior; Decades Later, Savile's History Of Sexual Abuse Went Public

    In 1978, John Lydon, AKA "Johnny Rotten" of the iconic UK punk band the Sex Pistols, did a BBC interview in which he called out the behavior of Jimmy Savile, a British radio and TV personality perhaps best known for hosting "Top of the Pops." 

    The comments about Savile came when Lydon was asked if he'd ever like to make a film. After replying that he'd like to make a movie in which he could kill the people he didn't like, the interviewer asked how he'd go about pulling this off: Lydon replied:

    I don’t know, I just want to make a film of it. I want to kill Jimmy Savile - he’s a hypocrite. I bet he’s into all kinds of seediness that we all know about but aren’t allowed to talk about. I know some rumours... I bet none of [these comments] will be allowed out.

    Within a year of Savile's 2011 passing, hundreds of people stepped forward to accuse him of sexual abuse: men, women, and children. Allegedly Savile's horrific behavior was known by the BBC as well as many others in the industry, but they covered it up because of his popularity.

    In 2015, Lydon told Piers Morgan that the BBC not only refused to run that part of the interview, but they punished him for trying to warn the audience about Savile:

    I’m very, very bitter that the likes of Savile and the rest of them were allowed to continue. I did my bit, I said what I had to. But they didn’t air that. I found myself banned from BBC radio for quite a while, for my contentious behaviour. They wouldn’t state this directly; there’d be other excuses.

    7,143 votes
  • Corey Feldman was a child star in the 1980s, appearing in film such as Gremlins (1984), The Goonies (1985), and Stand By Me (1986).

    In 2013, Feldman, then in his early 40s, published a memoir titled Coreyography in which he claimed he had been sexually abused by a man he identified only as "Ron" - an assistant of Feldman's father. The actor also claimed that fellow child star Corey Haim told him about how he had been sodomized by a man he had mat on the set of Lucas (1986). The man allegedly convinced the teenaged Haim that "it was perfectly normal for older men and younger boys in the business to have sexual relations, that it was what all the guys do."

    Both Feldman and Haim (who passed in 2010) spoke out about how they were basically passed around to pedophiles working in the film industry:

    They would throw these parties where you'd walk in and it would be mostly kids and there would be a handful of adult men. They would also be at the film awards and children's charity functions.

    The actor went on a tour to promote his memoir. In his October 2013 appearance on The View, Feldman explained:

    [T]he people that did this to both me and Corey [Haim]... are still working. They're still out there... some of the richest, most powerful people in this business.

    Barbara Walters, one of the show's co-hosts, ended up cutting off Feldman's comments. She told him:

    You're damaging an entire industry [with his allegations].

    Walters was not the only person who refused to believe Feldman's allegations could be true. Others wondered why he wasn't naming names. In 2016 he told The Hollywood Reporter:

    People are frustrated, people are angry, they want to know how is this happening, and they want answers - and they turn to me and they say, "Why don’t you be a man and stand up and name names and stop hiding and being a coward?" I have to deal with that, which is not pleasant, especially given the fact that I would love to name names... But unfortunately California conveniently enough has a statute of limitations that prevents that from happening. 

    Shortly before Feldman's interview with THR, another former child star, Elijah Wood, had given an interview that reignited the discussion about pedophilia in Hollywood. Wood later clarified that his comments hasn't been based on his own experiences, but rather by news reports and the 2015 documentary An Open Secret, which explored child sexual abuse in Hollywood.

    In 2020 Feldman released the documentary (My) Truth: The Rape of 2 Coreys, in which he named his abuser. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly prior to the film's release, he explained his decision to do this:

    It’s been a tumultuous and very risky and very scary time period. The last two years have been insurmountable, but I believe that with great risk comes great reward. And I believe the reward in all of this, if nothing else, will be that these guys are finally exposed. I’m hoping that what happened to [Harvey] Weinstein [will happen], that multiple victims will come forward. And as a result, these guys will finally get indictments and we can put them out of business.

    • Age: 52
    • Birthplace: Chatsworth, California, USA
    8,245 votes
  • Lindy Chamberlain Almost Became A Punchline; Horrifically, She Was Right About The Dingo And Her Baby
    Photo: Unknown / Wikipedia / Fair use
    5,437 VOTES

    Lindy Chamberlain Almost Became A Punchline; Horrifically, She Was Right About The Dingo And Her Baby

    In 2012, coroner Elizabeth Morris ruled that a dingo had killed Azaria Chamberlain on August 17, 1980 after taking the infant from her cot on a family trip. The Chamberlain family was camping near Uluru (then called Ayers Rock) in the Australian outback when the 9-week-old girl was attacked, prompting Azaria's mother Lindy Chamberlain (now Chamberlain-Creighton) to cry out, "A dingo's got my baby!"

    Lindy was then the wife of Seventh-day Adventist pastor Michael Chamberlain, a respected member of the community. But in November 1982, a supreme court jury in Darwin - the capital of Australia's Northern Territory - convicted Lindy of killing the Azaria by slitting her throat, while Michael was convicted of being an accessory after the fact. The verdict was widely praised. The six-week trial had been covered heavily; some people even paraded outside of the courthouse wearing shirts with the slogan, "The dingo is innocent!"

    Lindy received a life prison sentence, while Michael received a suspended sentence. Three separate inquests took place; the first coroner believed a dingo had indeed taken the baby, but his findings were quashed after forensic investigators suggested foul play was involved.

    The second inquest found evidence of infant blood in the couple's car and on some of their belongings, The Chamberlains (who divorced in 1991) were tried and convicted after this inquest, but it later turned out that no such evidence actually existed. A royal commission was then ordered, which ended up exonerating and pardoning the couple in 1987. A third inquest in 2005 returned an open verdict.

    Other dingo attacks on young children had occurred in the years since Azaria's passing, including a 9-year-old being mauled to death in 2001. It was the circumstantial evidence from these attacks that led to Morris ruling that Azaria had indeed been killed by a dingo.

    Shortly after the ruling went public, Lindy stated:

    No longer will Australians be able to say dingoes are not dangerous and will only attack if provoked... We live in a beautiful country, but it is dangerous and we would ask all Australians to beware of this and take appropriate precautions.

    Her ex-husband Michael added:

    I am here to tell you that you can get justice even when you think that all is lost. But truth must be on your side.

    • Age: 75
    • Birthplace: Whakatane, New Zealand
    5,437 votes