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Scientific Discovery and the Future of Medicine
June 16, 2015

Science, Medicine, and Society: A View From the Wellcome Trust

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Wellcome Trust, London, United Kingdom
JAMA. 2015;313(23):2315-2316. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.2004

In 1847, Ignaz Semmelweis introduced a policy of handwashing at the Vienna Maternity Hospital to prevent medical students transferring disease from bodies in the morgue to patients on the wards. Although this policy considerably reduced mortality, it was not adopted in other hospitals. Semmelweis was an uncharismatic champion of progress, but there was also resistance from physicians who rejected the idea that diseases could be transmitted in such a way and concluded—in the face of the evidence—that handwashing could not possibly have any effect.1